OCEANS APART

Foot­ball in the South At­lantic

Late Tackle Football Magazine - - CONTENTS - LT

FOOT­BALL in Eng­land is chang­ing: ticket prices are ris­ing, and bil­lion­aire club own­ers are spend­ing ob­scenely large sums of cash on foot­ballers. How­ever, on a se­ries of re­mote is­lands in the South At­lantic Ocean, foot­ball con­tin­ues to do what it does best: bring com­mu­ni­ties to­gether.

Saint He­lena is best known as Napoleon Bon­a­parte’s is­land of ex­ile – the great French gen­eral died there in 1821.

Bri­tish-owned Saint He­lena has a pop­u­la­tion of just 4,000, and this num­ber de­creases as more young is­landers opt to study and work in the UK, un­sur­pris­ingly as St He­lena’s av­er­age an­nual salary is just £5,500.

How­ever, Saint He­lena has a foot­ball league and a foot­ball as­so­ci­a­tion.

The league be­gins in May and fin­ishes mid­way through win­ter to al­low the cricket sea­son to start. Saint He­lena’s lo­ca­tion means its win­ter runs through the UK’s sum­mer.

The league is an ex­cit­ing af­fair for the closeknit is­land com­mu­nity, and large crowds are reg­u­larly in attendance. The league com­prises 12 teams with sides like Rovers, Harts and Wire­birds do­ing bat­tle.

Saint He­lena have as­pi­ra­tions in in­ter­na­tional foot­ball. The is­land’s FA at­tempted to send a team to the 2011 Is­land Games in the Isle of Wight, an Olympic-themed com­pe­ti­tion for small is­lands through­out the world.

The aim was to send a squad of around 17 play­ers – five from the is­land and the rest from the UK with Saint He­le­nian roots. Un­for­tu­nately, fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties meant noth­ing ma­te­ri­alised.

The Saint He­lena FA have also con­tacted FIFA. With Gibraltar, another Bri­tish over­seas ter­ri­tory, a mem­ber of UEFA, there is hope that St He­lena may be able to join the global gov­ern­ing body.

This may prove slightly more dif­fi­cult for Tris­tan da Cunha.

A vol­canic is­land some 1,000 miles away from Saint He­lena, Tris­tan da Cunha, named after the ex­plorer, has a pop­u­la­tion of just 300.

Foot­ball is an in­te­gral part of is­land life and a main sup­porter is Leon Glass, who founded Tris­tan’s only foot­ball club, Tris­tan da Cunha FC.

“The club was founded in 2002 as the in­tro­duc­tion of TV in­creased the in­ter­est in foot­ball,” he says. “We play as soon as we get vis­it­ing op­po­nents, but there have been none in the last few years.

“I don’t think it would be pos­si­ble to start another team here as there are few op­po­nents

to play – in­ter­est in join­ing the team has dropped.”

Tris­tan da Cunha FC are the most re­mote foot­ball club in the world. And although they have played matches be­fore, against Navy ships, their lo­ca­tion is ob­vi­ously an enor­mous dis­ad­van­tage.

Glass has con­sid­ered the pos­si­bil­ity of send­ing a team to the Is­land Games.

“We have dis­cussed it, but the lo­gis­tics and fund­ing makes it very dif­fi­cult for us to travel,” he said.

“We would love to take the club abroad should we ob­tain fund­ing and the right op­por­tu­nity ar­rives.”

The lack of matches has taken its toll on the club, who now field a five-a-side team. De­spite the team’s grandiose “re­motest in the world” ti­tle, they con­tinue to strug­gle on­wards, a team with­out an op­po­si­tion.

How­ever, on an is­land more than a thou­sand miles away, the sit­u­a­tion couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent.

As­cen­sion Is­land has about 800 in­hab­i­tants, the majority of whom are orig­i­nally Saint He­le­nian, Bri­tish or Amer­i­can.

Like Tris­tan da Cunha and Saint He­lena, As­cen­sion Is­land is owned by Bri­tain. Foot­ball is very popular on the is­land and, like Saint He­lena, they boast their own league.

How­ever, the only foot­ball pitch on the is­land is sit­u­ated be­side the beach, and tor­toises can reg­u­larly be seen rest­ing on the play­ing sur­face.

The field has barely any grass and there are plans to build a new one at some point, as lo­cal foot­ball jour­nal­ist Cather­ine Leo ex­plains: “A new pitch will be built but there is lots of his­tory steeped in the cur­rent Long Beach foot­ball field that some peo­ple won’t want to let go of.

“But I be­lieve when a new one is built it will prob­a­bly of­fer a bet­ter fa­cil­ity in that it can be used for other sport and will most likely be close to the is­land school so they, too, can make use of it.”

Due to the fact that there are no per­ma­nent res­i­dents on the is­land – the in­hab­i­tants are all on work per­mits – plac­ing a team in the Is­land Games is all but im­pos­si­ble. The league, how­ever, is in full swing.

The As­cen­sion Is­land Foot­ball League fea­tures six teams, in­clud­ing In­be­tween­ers, Two Boats United and the reign­ing cham­pi­ons, VC Mi­lan. It’s the most popular sport on the is­land and the lo­cal news­pa­per, The Is­lan­der, in­cludes match re­ports and anal­y­sis, while Saint He­lena’s Sentinel of­ten ded­i­cates a page to the As­cen­sion League.

The As­cen­sion Is­land’s pop­u­la­tion may be mea­gre, but driven by de­ter­mi­na­tion and a love for the ‘Beau­ti­ful Game’, their teams con­tinue to ar­rive at the Long Beach foot­ball pitch ev­ery Satur­day, to find it in­vaded by tor­toises or flooded, but carry on nev­er­the­less.

De­part­ing As­cen­sion Is­land, and head­ing south, you’ll find the Falk­land Is­lands, the lo­ca­tion of the in­fa­mous war be­tween Bri­tain and Ar­gentina.

The Falk­land Is­lands have some­thing no other is­land in the South At­lantic Ocean can boast – a na­tional foot­ball team. But, de­spite this, they do not cur­rently have a league.

Foot­ball on the is­lands has been dwin­dling over the last 10 years. The Falk­land Is­lands Foot­ball League – the gov­ern­ing body for foot­ball on the is­lands – gave up on the league in 2011 when there were just four teams com­pet­ing. A lack of in­ter­est is one prob­lem with cricket the more popular sport. But, de­spite not hav­ing a league, the Falk­lands con­tinue to com­pete in the Is­land Games, fac­ing the likes of FIFA mem­bers Ber­muda and UEFA mem­bers Gibraltar, as well as the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Green­land.

Their record in the tour­na­ment is fairly dire, but they did man­age to clinch a bronze medal in the 2013 event, held in the Bri­tish ter­ri­tory of Ber­muda.

Sadly, play­ing foot­ball at FIFA level is im­pos­si­ble for the Falk­lan­ders, as their Foot­ball League chair­man Michael Betts says: “Due to the pol­i­tics in South Amer­ica, join­ing FIFA is not, and never will be, an op­tion.”

Hope pre­vails that the league will recom­mence and sig­nify a re­turn to or­gan­ised foot­ball on the Falk­land Is­lands. The FIFL are hop­ing to re­ceive a grant from the Falk­land gov­ern­ment for an ar­ti­fi­cial foot­ball pitch.

From a league that has to clear off the tor­toises be­fore they can play, to a team that are so re­mote they have been un­able to play a com­pet­i­tive match for three years, the is­lands of the South At­lantic Ocean go to ex­tra­or­di­nary lengths just to en­joy a game of foot­ball.

He­lena The beau­ti­ful land­scape of Saint

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