Flares, beer & world domination – international football in Yorkshire

In Depth

Yorkshire people are renowned for being incredibly passionate about where they’re from – and now we get to see how far that pride can take a football team representing the county.

It’s been a tumultuous six months between the Yorkshire Independent Football Association being created and the team playing its first game as a CONIFA (Confederation of Independent Football Associations) member on Sunday.

Joining the likes of Abhkazia (current CONIFA World Cup holders), Northern Cyprus, Iraqi Kurdistan, United Koreans of Japan, Zanzibar and the Rohingya People, it hasn’t been an easy first six months for Yorkshire.

Head coach Ryan Farrell was only announced in November, while a squad wasn’t put together until a couple of weeks before their first fixture against Ellan Vannin (Isle of Man). Yorkshire were only officially confirmed by CONIFA on January 6, while a letter from the FA discussing the use of contracted players potentially threatened to spoil their first game during the week of build-up.

“I’m really excited to be managing this team,” said Farrell before the game. “We’ve got aims to go and compete in the European Championships and the World Cup, but it’s baby steps for us at the moment.

“Our players are all semi-professional or non-contract footballers, that’s where we’re at right now. I believe it can get bigger and I believe we’ll be really successful in the future – I’m very passionate about it.”

The day had come, hundreds of fans crammed into the stadium belonging to non-league side Hemsworth Miners Welfare, with an array of non-league players on show against a fellow CONIFA member well established.

Ellan Vannin was one of the first CONIFA members after the creation of the international governing body back in 2013, taking part in the first CONIFA World Cup a year later. They reached the final, only to come second to the County of Nice.

Chief Executive of the Manx Independent Football Association, Malcolm Blackburn, said before the game: “We’re a small nation, you always feel like you’re being downtrodden by other people, so the only way forward is to promote yourselves.

“Ellan Vannin came as an idea to me in 2013, I wanted to present a MANX national team. The Isle of Man FA team play in the Isle of Man league, but with this team you can live anywhere as long as you have MANX heritage.”

It means in the future, players such as Celtic’s Kieran Tierney could represent Ellan Vannin, with Blackburn hinting Tierney had expressed hope of representing the team in the future.

The Yorkshire IFA website states they have four aims, to ‘Empower the Yorkshire Region’, ‘Raise the Profile of Yorkshire’, ‘Create Cultural Exchange’ and ‘Make Yorkshire Football Competitive’.

With flags of the White Rose hanging all around the stadium on Sunday, supporters queued to buy their replica shirts, flags and bobble hats as families both young and old came together to support a team which could find themselves travelling to locations such as Tibet, Kiribati or Greenland in the future.

There was a relaxed, excited feeling around the ground as players, coaches and staff mingled with each other and supporters.

A small clubhouse allowed families to eat, drink and socialise, while a small terrace saw fans stand with plastic cups of beer and enjoy a good day out and a rare occasion where not a single footballer was being paid.

In fact, nobody in CONIFA gets paid, not the players, the managers or even the President of CONIFA. It’s a refreshing breakaway from modern-day football.

There was no discussion on the terraces of Aymeric Laporte’s £57million move to Manchester City or the Premier League – all eyes and minds were on Yorkshire making history.

The game

Made up of players from clubs such as Bradford Park Avenue, Ossett Town, Penistone Church and Stocksbridge Park Steels, Yorkshire took to the pitch for the first time, flanked by mascots each waving the Yorkshire IFA logo, a white rose on a plain blue background.

The team didn’t look out of place given they had spent no more than a couple of training sessions together, more than matching a side more experienced within CONIFA and a previous World Cup finalist.

Seon Ripley was handed the opportunity to make history during the first half when Ben Rhodes was fouled inside the box. Blue flares were sent into the air by a partisan section of the predominantly home crowd as Ripley stepped up to the penalty spot, but Dean Kearns got down well to spoil the moment.

With players – and fans – refreshed at half-time, substitute Furo Davies put a spanner in the works when he fired Ellan Vannin in front with a thumping volley that flew in off the crossbar.

However, the lead lasted only a matter of minutes before the Yorkshire community got what they came for. A neat ball over the top of the defence from captain Pat McGuire found Penistone’s Jordan Coduri, and the striker took it in his stride and smashed the ball into the bottom corner.

It was the catalyst for more flares and much spilt beer on certain sections of the terrace, and despite the visitors going closest to winning the encounter, nobody was disappointed when the full-time whistle blew under the now floodlit sky in Wakefield.

Next steps

Ensuring he’d written himself into the Yorkshire history books, Coduri told us post-match: “I can’t really say how it feels, it’s a massive, massive moment for me and a massive moment for all of us here. We’re all proud to represent Yorkshire, it’s been a quality day and the fans have been fantastic.

“We want to qualify for the Euros in 2019. Judging by that performance today and the chance to get to train more together I don’t see why we can’t do that.

“The chances to go away with a football team is great, to get a taste of that pro-life, to go away with the lads and just play football is brilliant.”

The performance was even more impressive given Coduri said the players had only trained together as a team briefly during the week leading up to the game, and very few of them knew each other coming into the encounter.

“We only know each other really from battling it out on a Saturday,” Coduri said. “We don’t really know each other at all, there’s only one other player from Penistone I really knew so we’ve all come in out of the blue.”

Whatever the future of the Yorkshire team and CONIFA as a whole, there was a real sense of community and togetherness in a region famed for its grit.

This year’s World Cup, hosted in London, can and should only provide further inspiration to take Yorkshire football around the world to other independent nations trying to either prove a point or inspire a certain region.

For now, though, Penistone’s Jordan Coduri can dine out on being the first player to ever score a goal for an international team in Yorkshire. By ‘eck that’s grand…

By Rich Laverty

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