A Football Blog. @MANXIFA talks about his experiences of the Ellan Vannin team that took to the World Football Cup in Sweden and shocked the footballing world.
How do you create an International Football Team that can compete on the World Stage to represent your nation in a period of nine months?
That was the task I set myself as a proud Manxman living on an Island in the Irish Sea, the Isle of Man. Football here is ultimately governed by the English FA through the Isle of Man Football Association a designated County Association.
Yes the IOMFA had a team that they referred to as the National Team of the Isle of Man but to be selected all you had to do was sign on with a local club with no real affinity with the Island. This team played UK club sides and took part in the Interleague Cup going forward to represent England in the UEFA regions. The only International Tournament they take part in is the Island Games where at least you have to have two years residency to be selected.
I wanted a Manx Team that played with “pride and passion” for its nation of birth, one that would promote the Island and its rich heritage and culture on a Global and International stage. So the first rule, you either have to be Manx born or have “Grandfather Rights” to be considered for selection.
Who would this team play? It couldn’t be or wouldn’t possibly be a member of FIFA so what was out there and on offer?
A new Governing Body of Football, the Confederation of Independent Football Associations (ConIFA) enabled International Football Associations outside FIFA to play on a global stage. This appeared to tick the box for me and I immediately applied for membership for the team that only existed in my head and on the kitchen couch, the birth of Ellan Vannin, Manx for Isle of Man. At the same time I made ConIFA aware of my intention to enter this team in their World Football Cup in June 2014 and asked for a “wild card entry”.
It was now time to make the Isle of Man Football Association aware of my intentions and to put it mildly it went down like a “lead balloon”. I informed them that my Football Association, the Manx International Football Alliance was going to play International Football matches with its team Ellan Vannin. Response was very simple “its non-affiliated football, anybody who either plays or is involved in the management who is registered with them will be sanctioned”.
It was back to the kitchen couch to draw up a battle plan. How could they threaten sanctions against individuals competing at an amateur level? How could they dictate what individuals did in their own free time? How could they stop individuals from joining any organisation? In the modern world none of this rang true especially considering that other members of ConIFA included players who were full professionals.
An intensive four weeks followed from the kitchen couch with numerous documents and letters to FIFA, the English FA, the IOMFA and the Football Ombudsman. I threatened action under Human Rights and Freedom of Association as well as demonstrating that the IOMFA had been competing for many years in non-affiliated football, the Island Games. The replies I was receiving were very non-descript and it appeared to be a battle of attrition which I had to bring to a head. I still didn’t have a team or any management structure and it was getting close to Christmas, seven months away from a World Football Cup. “Don’t panic Captain Mannering”
I started to use the local media to try and gain public support which all that did was divide the local football fraternity with the “NOs” becoming extremely vocal and myself being referred to as a “nutter who had lost the plot”.
And then Eureka! A letter arrived from FIFA over Christmas stating that they did not wish to get involved as it should be dealt with at Local Association level. As both the IOMFA and English FA had used FIFA in their arguments as being totally based upon direction from them. The door was open and next I was summoned to the IOMFA Headquarters to agree a “memorandum of understanding” allowing MIFA and its team Ellan Vannin to operate between the 1st June and 31st July each year and at other times by their permission.
Four months to the World Football Cup in Ostersund, Sweden and ConIFA had confirmed we had been accepted and would face Nagorno Karabach and Zanzibar in our Group matches being ranked 11th out of the 12 teams entered. Not bad to get 11th ranked when we didn’t even have a team or had not even played a match.
I did a lot of ‘soul searching’ over selection of a manager and with the help of a well known ‘star’ of Manx Football, Calum Morrisey who had been the only player to “put his head above the trenches” during the threat of sanctions we managed to persuade Chris Bass, the most successful Manager in local football over the last decade to take the helm. Master stroke as within two weeks he had a full management structure in place and had selected a squad of 26 players for a friendly he wanted organising for early April so that he could reduce it down to the twenty he could take to Sweden. This included four players based in the USA playing college football, all Manx born. Chris bought into the promotion of the Manx Culture and Heritage and over the month of March we started to educate and remind the players of their “roots” and the transformation in such a short time was amazing with the buzz phrase being “Three Legs not Three Lions”
The friendly happened and my dream became a reality with a 10-0 thrashing of the Principality of Monaco and a Manx Pride and Passion that even I had underestimated and I knew we were onto something special.
June came and it was goodbye to the kitchen couch and hello Ostersund, Ellan Vannin had arrived and despite our result against Monaco we were 250/1 to reach the final. Zanzibar had withdrawn and had been replaced by the County of Nice, a team of full time professionals and we were expected to fall at the first hurdle and rightfully be the whipping boys of the Group.
First up Nagorno and within ten minutes we were 2-0 down. On the stroke of half time we were awarded a penalty, 2-1. The second half was a much more even affair and in the 90th minute we equalised with our winner coming in the second minute of injury time. Next up County of Nice and dreamland we were 3-0 up in 30 minutes and they were down to ten men after their goalkeeper was sent off. In the second half they made some changes and their quality showed and they brought it back to 3-2 with 10 minutes to go but as pushing for an equaliser, we hit them with a sucker punch. 4-2 and Ellan Vannin topped the group!
Next came the Quarter finals and Kurdistan, previous winners of the Viva World Cup, population of 30 million against Ellan Vannin population of 80,000 of which most are over the age of sixty. At full time it was 1-1 and straight to a penalty shootout with our lads converting every spot kick. WE WERE THROUGH TO THE SEMI FINALS!
Back home with the matches being televised and live streamed the Island woke up to football at the same time as the World Famous TT races were being staged and pubs were showing the matches rather than highlights of the days racing.
Social media was going crazy and the International media wanted to know everything about this enigma in the middle of the Irish Sea that had a team of amateur footballers who could match and beat teams consisting of professional players, some of which were playing in the top leagues of Europe.
The Semi-final against Arameans Suryoye who we had become firm friends with took the gloss off an amazing 4-1 victory due to the support and advice we had received off them through the tournament. Our lads were showing a Manx Pride and Passion that was being commented on by everybody and was the deciding factor on how we were able to compete with technically far better players.
The final was in some ways an anti-climax with a very negative 0-0 draw against our previous group Opponents County of Nice after 90 minutes. The result was a loss in the penalty shootout.
Football has a way of bringing you back to earth.
Yet this was all achieved in 9 months and I am sure my kitchen couch will go down in Manx Football History as where it all started, the representation of a Nation on the International Football Stage.
On a side note… Roy if you’re reading, I can give you Chris Bass’ phone number if you want to know how to get out of the Group Stages of a World Cup!
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