St Helena Attempting To Make International Debut | Steve Menary
Few footballers are as isolated as St Helena’s but with a link to the outside world finally available, they are trying to raise £74,000 to make their international debut.
Stranded in the South Atlantic, the British possession is 7,250-km from London and 2,700-km from Cape Town. Until 2016, the only link was a Royal Mail ship that made the trip every three weeks in a voyage that took three weeks.
A new £285 million airport has now opened and the islanders are raising money to send a team to the Island 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 lack of pitches, so Yns Mon – known in English as Anglesey – will host a one-off football tournament from June 15-22.
The Faroe Islands and Gibraltar have used the tournament as a springboard to becoming a FIFA member and the St Helena Football Association wants to follow suit.
Founded in 1900, the SHFA runs a flourishing local league with nine teams with the current title held by 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 were knocked back and told to affiliate to their governing body’s association.
Nick Stevens, who will be St Helena’s team manager in Wales, says: “FIFA said we would need permission from our governing country’s FA. We approached the FA and they stated that we need to be an EU member.”
The FA encouraged St Helena to explore other opportunities and a second application was submitted this year.
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, but offered no help to St Helena.
In a letter emailed to SHFA treasurer Happyman Makura, FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura wrote: “St. Helena is not an independent state recognised by the international community. Therefore, it appears that SHFA would not be in a position to fulfil the required criteria.”
Potential new FIFA members need to be a member of a regional confederation first, so the SHFA has now contacted the Confederation of African Football about membership.
The SHFA want to take 25 players and officials to Yns Mon. The team would fly from the new airport via Windhoek in Namibia to Johannesburg then on to Wales.
Stevens adds says: “Although this is a long shot the SHFA is determined to make this happen. We have already started to contact potential sponsors.”
A kit sponsor has pledged £7,000 and the SHFA had raised £34,000 by the start of January.
If the islanders do get to Wales, where they are due to face Guernsey and the Shetland Isles in Group C, they have no idea how they will fare but the experience of the only representative side from St Helena at international level was better than expected.
A team of cricketers from St Helena took the mail boat to a T20 competition in South Africa in 2012 and won three of seven games. This year the cricketers took part again, flying to Botswana, where they also posted some wins.
Some Saints have already gone to the Island Games, such as Jeremy Henry and Adam Glanville, who emigrated to the Falkland Islands team and represented their new home.
The Falklands have a smaller playing base than St Helena but have managed a few wins over the years and Stevens is hopeful of emulating the island’s cricketers with at least one win in Wales – if they make it that far.
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