Wondering how to survive the abysmal void between the play-offs and the World Cup? You are so in luck.
Because the ConIFA (Confederation of Independent Football Associations) World Football Cup is in London right now, with the teams of 16 stateless, or downright confusing, nations – diasporas and minority peoples – celebrating the global joy of balls.
Cynics might say some of these teams represent ‘made-up’ countries. In truth, all countries are made-up at some point. That’s one of the things makes nationalism so preposterous. However, if your people are oppressed by the more powerful or uptight, nationalism becomes essential and you should, at the very least, have your own football team.
Here at Deserter, we look beyond the struggle, past the politics and the snazzy kits – to the pubs. With World Football Cup games in the South London fringes at Bromley, Carshalton and Sutton, we foresaw new frontiers to explore, like Captain Kirk with an Oystercard.
For the opening day I managed three games, putting it straight into the top 1 post-season, pre-World Cup skives of all frigging time.
United Koreans of Japan 0 Western Armenia 0
First up, I met fellow Dulwich Hamlet fans Pompey Dunc and Dodger at the midday kick off at Carshalton’s lovely little ground, between United Korean of Japan (Koreans living in Japan, who are united) and Western Armenia (indigenous Armenians in a bit of Turkey that used to be Armenia).
It turned out to be a textbook battle between big, strong lads against a small, mobile outfit, but ended goalless. The Koreans were the happier of the two, coming over to thank the crowd for their support, while the Armenians trudged off grumpily. But we may have been the happiest of all, having compensated for the lack of goals with a couple of fine golden ales from the club bar.
We were perfectly placed to visit the The Hope pub, which as any visitor to Carshalton knows, is top notch. Impeccable cask ale, delicious pies, welcoming staff – Pompey reckons it’s the best pub in London (if it is in London).
Next we headed to nearby Sutton United’s ground, where we caught up with the Dulwich Raider, Half-life (who was sporting a media pass and identifying as Tibetan) and their new Manx friend, Ean, who had just seen his Isle of Man side (Ellan Vannin) win 4-1 against Cascadia (secessionist, enviro-libertarians from Oregon, Washington State and British Columbia, if you must know).
The Raider was very taken with the non-league feel of it all.
‘Loved the Manx players piling into the bar afterwards for cheeseburgers and a go on the fruit machine,’ he said. ‘Like they were on a school trip.’
Along with some more Hamlet types, we formed the Matabeleland Ultras and stood behind the Padania goal, at the opposite end to most of the action. The Ndebele suffered decades of persecution under Mugabe, who thankfully fucked off last year. Padania represent the wealthy northern regions of Italy and were marshalled by experienced former Lazio defender Marius Stankevicius. So the underdog was an easy choice for the neutral.
Faced with more powerful and clinical opponents, Matabeleland soon found themselves behind – Padania scoring some excellent goals. But even at 6-0 down they played with the same spirit as they had at 0-0, constantly looking to make things happen and never letting their heads drop. The Ultras sang ‘Sexy football! Sexy football!’ after some sweet skills from Shylock Ndlovu and got their reward when Thabiso Ndlela pulled one back, prompting scenes behind the goal.
At the final whistle, the entire Matabeleland squad came over and shook hands with every one of us. Coach Justin Walley tried to console his hurting squad afterwards, asking them if they’d heard the crowd singing ‘Sexy football’ and telling them they might have lost the game but they had won the fans. He was right. As far as we were concerned, Matabeleland were champions.
There was a bit of a trek to game number three, travelling across South London from Sutton to Bromley, but we had tinnies and a beer buzz to protect us from what now appeared to be rush hour. Millions of tired, disappointed people travelled from work to home, unaware of the festival of obscure international football in their midst.
At Bromley South, Half-life complained loudly that his pass wouldn’t open the barrier.
‘I know you’re in Zone 5, pal, but you must have seen fucking media accreditation before.’
The bewildered member of staff let him through to shut him up.
We marched purposefully to the Star & Garter, Bromley CAMRA’s pub of the year. It’s grade II listed, has 16 craft kegs and 8 casks, the latter priced at £3 a pint, in the year of Our Lord, 2018. It’s a pub that deserves all the plaudits it gets.
At Bromley FC we’d missed the opening ceremony but saw the impressive host team, Barawa (Somali diaspora in London) beat Tamil Eelam (Tamil diaspora in Canada and Europe), though the game was closer than the score suggests.
2016 Euro Final ref Mark Clattenburg, who is currently head of referring in Saudi Arabia, was in charge. Apparently, the ConIFA president, Per-Anders Blind pulled some strings to get him on board having met him on the ‘Saudi party scene’.
‘You’ve been Tango-ed, Clattenburg,’ shouted Roxy, who’d arrived with a bag o’cans. It brought a smile to the ref’s tanned face as we wrapped up a long day’s football with a third cracking non-league ground.
The Quarter-Finals and the 9th-16th Placement Rounds are on Tuesday (June 5th) and I can only urge you to catch as many games as you can. It’s a joyful tournament that brings attention and pride to oft-ignored peoples. And crucially, it’s an absolute hoot.
Half-life was gutted that Tibet – his people – had gone down 3-0 to current ConIFA champions, Abkhazia (Only recognised by Russia, officially part of Georgia), at Enfield Town earlier. Why Tibet? I’d asked, somewhat reluctantly.
‘I grew up there,’ he said.
‘Yeah. For nearly three weeks, I grew up there,’ he said. ‘High-fived the Dalai Lama once too. In Wales.’