Ben Sledge 6th July 2018
Yorkshire is known for its tea, its flat caps, and its football. Bragging the oldest football club in the world (Sheffield FC, not to be confused with Sheffield United or Sheffield Wednesday) and three England defenders in this World Cup, it’s no wonder that Yorkshire made the headlines in the dying moments of 2017 for announcing a national team.
The Yorkshire International Football Team is a part of the Confederation of Independent Football Associations, ConIFA, which describes itself as “the football federation for all associations outside FIFA”.
It’s a global non-profit supporting “teams from nations, de-facto nations, regions, minority peoples and sports isolated territories”.
Yorkshire fits the “regions” category but you’d be forgiven for thinking that Yorkshire’s involvement in the international football scene is somewhat comical and even insulting to some of the other teams involved.
Tibet is perhaps the most politically-charged team in ConIFA, due to the fact that Tibet is a historic region in Central Asia, but has seen numerous Chinese invasions and subsequent uprisings in its fight for independence. In recent years, protests led by the Tibetan Independence Movement have erupted globally, denouncing the Chinese rule and the human rights abuses of brutal arrests and torture that have been widely reported.
As such, people of the Tibetan diaspora, mainly located in India, have come together under their national flag, to reclaim their identity and play football at an international level. As Tibet is not a country recognised by the United Nations, they cannot apply for FIFA accreditation, leading them to apply to ConIFA, where they can face other unrecognised countries in tournaments, and wear their country’s shirt with pride.
Yorkshire represent the speakers of the language Old Norse and promote that linguistic minority and heritage
As important as it is to the Tibetan people that they have a national football team, not all ConIFA teams are fighting systematic oppression with their involvement. For instance, Tuvalu are a member, and it seems like the UN-recognised country will only be a member until their FIFA accreditation comes through and they can play at a higher level. Ellan Venin (better known to us as the Isle of Man) are also a ConIFA member.
The Isle of Man is a tiny island swimming in the Irish Sea, between Liverpool and Dublin, with a population of well under 100,000. Its main sources of pride comes from being the first legislative body to give some women the right to vote in 1881, and being the first entire nation to be declared a UNESCO biosphere, but still it has an international football team through ConIFA. Does Yorkshire have as distinct a culture as the Isle of Man?
Rules-wise, ConIFA has 10 criteria, of which a team must fulfil at least one to be considered for ConIFA status.
“Regarding Yorkshire, they technically ticked one of our 10 membership criteria by representing the speakers of the language Old Norse and promoting that linguistic minority and heritage,” Sascha Düerkop, ConIFA General Secretary, tells The Overtake.
There aren’t any speakers of Old Norse in The Overtake’s office in Yorkshire but the local dialect is heavily influenced by the Viking language, which explains why southerners find it impossible to understand what anyone is saying.
If that feels a bit thin on the ground, the decision to accept Yorkshire’s bid for international status was also voted for unanimously at ConIFA’s most recent AGM, where all represented countries are invited to participate.
The 2018 ConIFA World Cup took place just over a month ago, bringing surprisingly large crowds to small grounds around London where the hosts Barawa elected to play the tournament. The Barawa FA represents the Somalian diaspora, predominately in England, so it made sense for them to host it here.
The notable difference from standard football rules was the inclusion of a green card which referees gave to players found guilty of diving or simulation, and resulted in a compulsory substitution for the offending player
A total of 16 teams battled it out in the exotic climes of St Paul’s Sports Club, home of the mighty Fisher FC, and Arbour Park in Slough, until eventually Kárpátalja, a team simultaneously representing the Hungarian presence in Carpathian Ruthenia in Ukraine and the highest scoring Scrabble score for any team involved, took home the trophy.
The tournament was presided over by a team of referees led by Mark Clattenburg, of Premier League and Champion’s League fame. The notable difference from standard football rules was the inclusion of a green card, an idea brought to the tournament by sponsor PaddyPower, which referees gave to players found guilty of diving or simulation, and resulted in a compulsory substitution for the offending player.
Multiple green cards were shown at the tournament, begging the question of whether they are needed in FIFA tournaments, to decrease players’ diving. Neymar specifically has come under fire at the 2018 World Cup for his simulation as some people have pointed out there has been an increase in diving coinciding with the introduction of VAR, as many players seem to believe that they are more likely to be given a penalty.
Could some version of green cards make their way to the biggest stage of all? Perhaps a player who wastes three minutes clutching his ankle after a clear foul could not only be awarded a free kick, but also be forced to be substituted for his ridiculous exaggeration of the foul? Maybe FIFA could learn from ConIFA.
Whether or not you believe that Yorkshire stands up culturally against the likes of the Punjabi diaspora or Koreans living in Japan, they’re not the only team from a region of a country that already has a strong international side: the 2014 ConIFA World Cup was won by the county of Nice in France.
The ConIFA teams are people who embrace their heritage, and want to support where they are truly from. This is the case for every team in ConIFA, whether they are Hungarians in Ukraine, Punjabi outside of India, or Tibetan and desperately trying to hold onto their national identity.
And the Yorkshire team represents a lot more than immediately meets the eye.
Dominic Stevenson, PR Manager for the Yorkshire International Football Association, says: “Yorkshire being recognised as an international football team means that we can work towards our goal of creating a unified passion across the region. We want to give the people of Yorkshire a Football Association that they can be proud of, both on and off the field.
“Yorkshire is already known to many people throughout the world. We want to build on that awareness and support Yorkshire as it grows to become an internationally renowned region to visit, invest in, and become the premier location to watch attractive, passionate football.
“[Being] part of ConIFA means that Yorkshire will compete with, establish relationships with, and share in cultural exchanges with people from a diverse range of regions from around the globe. From Tibet to Cascadia, and all in between, we want to export the love and hospitality shown every day by the people of Yorkshire.”
However, it is also worth noting that Yorkshire and other counties in the north of England can often feel abandoned by the London-centric politics of the UK, and northern cities do find themselves maintaining a more regional sense of identity. For many people, the Yorkshire International Football Team represents one part of a split country, a country in which the north is feeling increasingly isolated.
The positive messages being spread by Yorkshire International Football Association, and the team itself, are enough to persuade even the most stubborn fan that there is no harm in Yorkshire acquiring international status, and that it may in fact, encourage positive relationships between people of all cultures, through football.
And of course, when England are inevitably beaten by France in the World Cup final, the 2020 ConIFA World Cup will give Yorkshire a second chance to bring football home.
Ben Sledge 6th July 2018