Tuesday, 24 June 2014
That Which Has Been Born: Part 1 of 2
In the interests of keeping up the facade that we champion 'proper' football writing every now and then, please give a warm welcome to Frederic Carver, who delves into a very different World Cup.
“The working men have no country. We cannot take from them what they have not got. Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself the nation, it is so far, itself national, though not in the bourgeois sense of the word. National differences and antagonism between peoples are daily more and more vanishing, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to freedom of commerce, to the world market, to uniformity in the mode of production and in the conditions of life corresponding thereto. The supremacy of the proletariat will cause them to vanish still faster. United action, of the leading civilised countries at least, is one of the first conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat” – the Communist Manifesto
Nationalism is a form of capitalist false consciousness designed to divide the working classes and prevent them from challenging the political elite. But all the same, flags are pretty cool and a nation seems like just as valid an arbitrary thing to base a football team around as anything else. In fact I’m not sure there is anything in the world more boring than lefties pretending not to enjoy the world cup. Sure the idea of a nation state is flawed and oppressive, but if that is what you are thinking about when you watch the world cup then you are doing it wrong, and you don’t deserve the workers’ state.
Besides, funnily enough International Football doesn’t quite relate to the nations we have. Eight UN recognised countries don’t have a football team, and 22 of the international football teams that FIFA recognise aren’t actually UN recognised countries. Can you name them? Write them down in your book (or just look here, they are mostly British and Dutch colonies in the West Indies).
But even more interesting than these countries are the places that aren’t real – the places that neither Fifa nor the UN will accept as valid. They are an odd bunch: a mix of places that are nations in all but name but are ignored by the international community, places with disaffected minorities who wish they had their own nation, and places that are only places in the minds of mad eccentrics. These misfits cling together for support, recognising each other for no one else will recognise them. This is the story of their world cup.
The 2014 ConIFA World Football Cup
The ConIFA or Confederation of Independent Football Associations is the organisation for all the football associations that either can’t or won’t join Fifa. This is their first attempt at hosting a world cup, although a similar organisation, the Nouvelle Fédération-Board, hosted a similar tournament (the VIVA World Cup) every two years between 2006 and 2012. For reasons that will become clear the tournament was held in Östersund in the far north of Sweden – and held at a frenetic pace. 28 games were held in just eight days – the first eight in June – with many teams having to play matches just 16 hours after their previous fixture.
Arameans Suryoye is the national football team of the Assyrian people. The Assyrian empire was a big deal in the Syria-Turkey area around 4,000 years ago, but haven’t had such a good last millennia or three. A couple of thousand years ago the term started to be used to describe the Christian minority of the Arab world. They also haven’t had such a good last millennia.
Their football team is quite good because they play in the Swedish premier league. Honestly. Björn Borg’s home town of Södertälje (population 70,000, a good seven hours drive south of the host city of Östersund), has – for reasons unknown - a sizeable Assyrian population that founded their own football team: Syrianska FC. In 2010 this team won promotion to the highest tier of the Swedish club system, where they have stayed ever since.
The Kurds are a much oppressed ethnic minority that live in a sort-of elongated blob that spreads across the borders of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. They are still fairly oppressed in most of those countries, but in Iraq they actually did fairly well out of the 2003 invasion and now have a reasonable degree of both autonomy and say in Iraqi politics. And a football team.
The Iraqi Kurdistan football team is made up of players from various club teams in northern Iraq, and so have a fair deal of experience playing together. Moreover with an entirely contiguous population of 35 million from which to draw, and with few footballing distractions with whom to vie for attention (Iraq are rubbish), their situation is far better than most. They hosted and won the last tournament of this kind in 2012 and were favourites to win again.
Sri Lanka has a big problem with ethnic violence and war crimes. For the last 30 years the Tamil Tigers have been fighting for an independent state (using such delightful tactics as child soldiers and suicide bombings) and the Sri Lankan Army have been trying to stop them. In the end the Sri Lankan Army succeeded by killing not just virtually all the Tamil Tigers but around 70,000 civilians who happened to get into harm’s way. Tamil Eelam is a football team made up of people who are looking for a rematch.
The team is made up from Tamil nationalist youth movements mostly in Canada, the UK, and Switzerland. What they lack in ability they more than make up for with their edited highlights packages. This was their highlight video for a 9-0 defeat: Spot the goals.
The collapse of the Soviet Union didn’t go entirely smoothly . Abkhazia was an autonomous ethnic minority area within Georgia which fought for independence from Georgia and, with Russian support, got it. The only catch is that very few countries are willing to recognise that. Russia, Russia-buddies Nicaragua and Venezuela, and “us too” Nauru think Abkhazia is a real country, the rest of the world thinks it is a bit of Georgia that Russia is occupying.
Abkhazia has had its own domestic football league since 1994. Here's some stories about it. current team’s stars are the identical twin Adzhindzhal brothers who are Russian Premier League players.
Occitania is the south of France (and tiny bits of Spain and Italy). Specifically it is the bit of the south of France (and tiny bits of Spain and Italy) where some rural people speak an ancient pre-French language called Occitan. Occitania has never been a country, and there aren’t even really many Occitan nationalists as such, but there is a general anti-Paris feeling in rural southern France and Occitan is quite easy to rap in, so it isn’t totally imaginary.
Occitania has had a football team since 2004, mostly made up of people playing in amateur or lower division pro French sides looking for a bit of extra practice.
Sapmi is the team of the Sami or Laplanders – the ethnic group of choice for people who live really really really far north. Many of them herd reindeer but some of them play football.
They were the hosts of this world cup which meant that all the games were played in the 6,000 seater Jämtkraft Arena in Östersund, Sweden – although attendance was fairly sparse. Various Sami players have played for the Norwegian national team in the past (Blackburn’s Morten Gamst Pedersen for example) but at the moment the team is currently made up of players from the lower tiers of the Norwegian and Swedish domestic league. Club Brugge defender Tom Høgli was supposed to play, but in the end he didn’t.
Padania is the name for northern Italy. Politically it is the idea of the Liga Nord, an extreme right wing Italian political party which wants northern Italy to be separate from southern Italy because southern Italy is full of poor people. They also hate immigrants and taxes. They used to be totally batshit mental in a some-of-their-supporters-built-a-tank-out-of-an-old-Fiat-digger-and-invaded-St-Marks-square way, but then Silvio Berlusconi invited them to be part of his ruling coalition (of course he did) and since then they have subsided to mere UKIP-grade mental.
They have had a football team since 1998 which is essentially part of the Liga Nord’s social club (although they do have an Albanian premier league player and Balotelli’s brother Enoch Barwuah). They are actually pretty good, having won the last three non-Fifa world cups in which they have participated.
South Ossetia is another Russian-supported breakaway part of Georgia. Although there are different regions and ethnicities involved, its situation is almost identical to that of Abkhazia, except that it has less of a footballing tradition.
Darfur is a region of western Sudan; I do not suggest you go there. Aside from the famine Darfur has been torn apart by a number of recent conflicts: Dafuris vs Sudanese, Christians vs Muslims, “Africans” vs “Arabs”, and farmers vs herders. It has been suggested that there is a rough mapping in each case between the former and the latter groups, but when it comes to determining who is Darfuri that is doubtful. This hasn’t stopped mass murder from being carried out against them on a frankly terrifying scale. It is in the running for Stephen Colbert’s title of “worlds war-tornyest place”.
Darfur’s football team, or Darfur United, was the brain child of two footballing philanthropists, one British one American: Mark Hodson and Ben Holden. Wikipedia says that this is the same Mark Hodson who is an Anglican bishop and the same Ben Holden that is a CBS Ice Hockey commentator – but in actual fact Mark is an American soccer coach and Ben is a PE teacher from Hartlepool. They had the idea to get kids in 12 different Darfuri refugee camps in neighbouring Chad playing football, and turning the best 16 into a national team. It is a beautiful and inspiring story, so we shouldn’t mock them for being utterly terrible at football. As far as I can tell they have only scored one goal in their international history and have never not lost a game.
Ellan Vannin is the Manx name for the Isle of Man. The Isle of Man was a Viking kingdom, then a Norwegian colony, then was conquered by Scotland, then England, then Scotland again, then finally England again (although there were a couple more rebellions along the way). It is now a self-governing colony of the UK, with its own laws (they gave women the vote 50 years before Britain did but only abolished birching in 2000) and parliament.
Ellan Vannin are a new (2013) breakaway football team from the more established “Isle of Man official football team”. The official team is part of the English FA and they occasionally make up a representative side from the players in their domestic league. In 2000 they beat Burnley 1-0, in what was widely agreed to be their finest hour. Ellan Vannin was set up by a rival group who insisted that to be a proper national team they couldn’t just pick players who happened to live on the island but you should apply Fifa eligibility criteria. This isn’t just a subset of the official Isle of Man team however; they also brought in a couple of players with Manx origin from American universities. They have a midfielder called Daniel Bell who Wikipedia insists is the same Daniel Bell who wrote The End of Ideology and died in 2011 at the age of 91. I find this unlikely because if you are going to pick the ghost of a famous American sociologist for your team you would surely give him a floating role.
County of Nice
Nice used to be part of Italy – Garibaldi (he of the biscuits) was born there. It was annexed to France during the Italian wars of Independence after the Treaty of Turin. This decision was ratified by a controversial local referendum in 1860. My grandfather (who wasn’t born until 40 years later, and in any case was Swiss and so didn’t really have a stake in the matter) felt that this was hugely unfair and insisted on calling Nice Nizza in protest for the rest of his life. While my grandfather is almost on his own in this opinion he is not entirely so, and Nizza supporters have their own football team.
And, while new, the football team is actually pretty good. This is because Nice is a big city in France and has lots of quite good French footballers, some of whom don’t mind trotting out for a worthy, if slightly eccentric, cause. Hugo Lloris is a big fan, but didn’t offer to play. Stars of the Nice team are Éric Cubilier, who plays for SC Bastia in the French Premier league, and Mansour Assoumani of Stockport County. Assoumani has a cap for Mali and is, for reasons unknown, enough of a folk hero that the University of Central Lancashire have named their football team after him – Assoumani Thistle FC. Nice weren’t intending to form their football team until September, but were persuaded to come together more quickly after Quebec dropped out of the tournament, leaving something of a last minute hole.
The Soviet plan for ethnic harmony was based around the idea that if you gave every ethnicity their own country then they would be happy even if that country had no political power and the people of that ethnicity didn’t even live there. This plan reached its absurd conclusion in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, an area of extreme eastern Siberia that contains no Jewish people whatsoever. Nagorno-Karabakh was another experiment along similar lines. It was the country designated for ethnic Armenians living within Azerbaijan, but it was designated in a sort of lizard-shape in south western Azerbaijan, which wasn’t necessarily where the Armenians lived. Nevertheless when Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a war in the early 1990s some of this area, and some other bits too, fell into Armenian hands – and some of the ethnically Armenian locals took the opportunity to declare Nagorno-Karabakh an independent country. In an attempt to soothe tensions following the Armenian/Azeri ceasefire no country, not even Armenia, thought it would be very politic to recognise Nagorno-Karabakh as its own nation, but the Armenian army continued to occupy the area (sitting your ranks on someone else’s land is apparently diplomatically not as big a deal as accepting the locals’ passports) and so the Nagorno-Karabakh Government kept on going.
Their football teams are allowed to play in the Armenian leagues. Their players include the Armenian league’s top goalscorer Norayr Gyozalyan and pro kickboxer (Muai Thai Super Welterweight world champion, pro record 62-10-1) Armen Petrosyan. His brother is apparently “universally regarded as the greatest middleweight of all time and possibly the best ever pound-for-pound kickboxer”, but doesn’t play football.
So how did they do? Tune in next post (tomorrow).