Veteran striker Martyn Clarke – the Falkland Island footballer who caused an outcry in the South Atlantic islands by going for trials in Argentina – has been included the British territory’s squad for football tournament at the 2013 Island Games in Bermuda.
In 1996, Clarke was offered a trial at Argentine giants Boca Juniors. While in Buenos Aires, Clarke got to watch Boca play Independiente with Diego Maradona and then went out for a pizza with the World Cup winner.
Clarke was also dragged onto a national TV chat show with Argentinian veterans of the Falklands War and asked to discuss the idea of having two flags on the islands, where more than 900 British and Argentinian solders died during the islands invasion and subsequent recapture by Britain in 1982.
The Boca Juniors stint never extended past a trial but Clarke subsequently had spells with El Porvenir and Defensore before returning to a tense situation back home. In 2002, he left to settle in Britain.
Despite his departure, Clarke (fifth from left in the back row in the above squad shot from 2005) subsequently played for the Falkland team and scored a penalty in the side’s most famous victory. At the 2005 Island Games in the Shetlands, the South Atlantic side defeated Saarema, an Estonian island whose team include an Estonian international with more than 70 full international caps.
Clarke featured again at the 2009 Island Games in Aland but did not travel to the Isle of Wight for the last Island Games in 2011. His time appeared to be up, particularly as the Falklands were not certain of sending a side to Bermuda until the government stepped in to help cover travelling costs and Clarke is now among a squad of 20 players due to arrive in Hamilton on July 8 for this year’s event.
The Falkland team will be captained by Wayne Clement, who plays as a striker or forward, and be managed by Ian Betts.
The veteran St Helenian Adam Glanville is not travelling this time but a number of players from previous Falkland appearances overseas will go to Hamilton, including Chilean Rafa Sotomayor and imposing central defender Bill Chater (seen in action below in red for the Falklands against Gotland two years ago in the Ryde suburb of Oakland).
A number of the Falkland players are traveling from the UK, such as Dan Biggs, Josh Clayton and Josh Peck.
With no prospect of any kind of international recognition at football, the game on the islands has suffered from the acceptance of the Falkland Islands Cricket Association as an associate member of the International Cricket Council in 2007.
The Falklkand Islanders first cricket match was only in 2004 but acceptance by the ICC has given the Falkland’s cricketers a level of opportunity that the footballers can only dream of. In 2011, the Falklands played in the inaugural ICC Americas Championship Division Four tournament in Mexico and even beat Costa Rica. Last year the islanders toured the Caribbean, visiting Barbados, Belize and Jamaica - a prospect way beyond the imagination of the islands' footballers.
Founded in 1947, the Falkland Islands Football League once had a five team league operating out of Port Stanley with one side made up purely of players from St Helena, another British territory further north in the South Atlantic.
At the 2011 Island Games, then Falkland manager Richard Franks suggested using the ‘air bridge’ - as the RAF link between Port Stanley and the UK is known locally – to enter a team in an English league. Franks left his position soon after and those plans have failed to materialise.
The decision to stage the 2013 Island Games in Bermuda has decimated the entries for the football tournament. Although hosts Bermuda will be clear favorites, the Falklands will have a chance to win a trophy with the biennial Small Islands trophy being contested with the tiny Norwegian island of Froya in the opening game at the Bermuda Athletics Association on July 14.
An opening victory is essential as, though beating the hosts the following day looks a tall order, if the Falklanders can then win their fixture on July 17 with Greenland - the only other entrants – that would secure a place in the final at the national stadium in Hamilton on July 18.
The Falklanders have won just three matches in four previous Island Games appearances: 4-1 vs Orkney in 2001, 2-1 vs Saarema in 2005 and 3-0 vs Alderney in the Isle of Wight two years ago, a game that Wayne Clements scored in.
Beating the Channel Islanders secured 12th place for the Falklanders in 2011. In Bermuda, Clements is already guaranteed a better placing and the chances of a medal of some hue surely seem possible.
Falkland Islands squad for the 2013 Island Games in Bermuda
MARTYN GILSON CLARKE
WAYNE CLEMENT (Captain)
IAN BETTS (Manager)