Hoping for an international debut
Few footballers are as isolated as those of St Helena, but with a link to the outside world finally available the island is now trying to raise £90,000 to make its international debut. Stranded in the South Atlantic, the British overseas territory is 7,250km from London and 2,700km from Cape Town, and until 2016 the only link to the mainland was a Royal Mail ship that made the trip every three weeks in a voyage that took three weeks.
However, a new £285million airport has opened on the island and the locals are hoping to raise the money to send a team to the Inter Games football tournament at Yns Mon in north Wales next summer.
The actual Island Games are in Gibraltar, but for the first time since 1989 football will not feature due to a lack of pitches, so Yns Mon – known in English as Anglesey – will host a one-off football tournament from June 15-22.
In the past, the Faroe Islands and Gibraltar have both used the tournament as a springboard to becoming a FIFA member and the St Helena Football Association (SHFA) wants to follow suit.
Founded in 1900, the SHFA runs a flourishing local league consisting of nine teams, with the current champions being Rovers. But apart from games against passing ships, the island has never fielded a representative team.
After the island’s government drew up a new social policy plan in 2013, the SHFA approached FIFA but was knocked back and told to affiliate to its governing body’s association.
Nick Stevens, who would be St Helena’s coach in Wales, says: “FIFA said we would need permission from our governing country’s FA. We approached the FA and they stated we need to be an EU member.”
The FA encouraged St Helena to explore other opportunities and a second application was submitted this year. But although FIFA funds six Dutch and French Caribbean islands that are not in the world body so they can take part in the CONCACAF Nations League, no similar help was offered to St Helena.
The SHFA wants to take 25 players and officials to Yns Mon, flying from the new airport via Windhoek in Namibia to Johannesburg and then on to Wales. The cost of flights, hotel and kit is £3,940 per person.
“Although this is a long shot the SHFA is determined to make this happen,” says Stevens. “We have already started to contact potential sponsors.”
A kit sponsor has pledged £7,000 and the SHFA had raised £18,900 by the end of October.
If the islanders do get to Wales they have no idea how they will fare but the past experience of the only representative side from St Helena at international level was better than expected.
A team of cricketers took the mail boat to a T20 competition in South Africa in 2012 and won three of their seven games. This year the cricketers took part again, flying to Botswana, where they once again posted some wins.
Some Saints have already gone to the Island Games, with Jeremy Henry and Adam Glanville, who emigrated to the Falkland Islands, both representing their new home.
Despite a smaller playing base than St Helena, the Falklands have managed a few wins over the years and Stevens is hopeful of emulating his island’s cricketers with at least one win in Wales – if they make it that far.