CONIFA Paddy Power World Football Cup is an international competition like no other. It is football you don’t see on TV but you want to love. Teams you don’t know but you’ll absolutely want to know more about. Stories you had no idea they existed but you’ll be desperate to discover. Fans committed to give the best support to their team. It is about people coming together because of their origins, but also for the love of football.
For those who don’t know, CONIFA is the international football confederation for teams not part of FIFA. It gives the opportunity to states, partially recognised states, regions, minority groups and sports-isolated territories to play in a tournament after intense qualifiers. Previous edition was held in 2016 in Abkhazia and saw the hosts of the competition lifting the trophy. This June, the event is happening in London and in addition to the defending champion, gathers teams such as Padania (a region of Italy), Ellan Vannin (Isle of Man) and Northern Cyprus as the main favourites. Tibet, Matabeleland, Kabilya, Cascadia and Tuvalu are among the teams making their CONIFA debut. Barawa, a region of Southern Somalia, are the official tournament hosts, the Barawa FA being a diaspora group based in London.
We went to Enfield Town, North London, on a sunny Saturday afternoon. It was for the game between Tibet and Northern Cyprus. The one that really caught our attention the minute the schedule of the tournament has been released. We were super curious to discover this team of Tibet, and to see the opposition of styles with the athletic team of Northern Cyprus. On top of that we could feel that the atmosphere would be special around this game, knowing that Northern Cyprus community is quite important in North London. We’ve been really surprised to see so many Tibet flags in the stands of Enfield Town F.C ground, the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium. As the warm-up ended and players came back to the pitch for the anthems we could really feel the atmosphere heating up, with fans of both sides singing traditional chants, playing drums and other local instruments. Like FIFA football there’s a deep connexion between fans and their favourite teams, kids looking up at the players like their heroes, trying to touch them. But unlike FIFA football, there’s a true and authentic proximity between the ones on the pitch and the ones in the stands. It is not about being the star as a player, it’s all about wearing the colours of your community with pride. And give everything on the pitch, whatever the difference of level might be.
And that, Tibet players got it right. As they conceded a goal in the first 5 minutes and really struggled to release the ball from their own half, they finally managed to get hold of the ball after 20 minutes, and found ways to create troubles in the athletic Northern Cyprus defence. After several chances, they managed to equalise before the half time, and to let the stadium explode to celebrate. Looking at Tibet fans celebrating as their team scored, you could feel a pretty unique feeling of joy and pride on their face. Even if the second half was more complicated for their team, with Northern Cyprus scoring 2 additional goals to win 3-1, this is actually what matters most than the final result. To make your people proud of where they come from, proud of who they are. The unity at the end of the game between Tibet players and their fans was just beautiful. Authentic and true.
Congrats to Northern Cyprus for their performance, and congrats to Tibet for the emotions. We wish all the best to these two teams for the next stage of the competition, and we hope to see them again on the pitch this week-end for the final games of CONIFA Paddy Power WFC 2018.