Photo credit: Peter Murden

If you think that’s it for international weeks, at least until the World Cup preparations culminate in friendlies held at Wembley and Elland Road in June, think again.

There’s at least one Leeds United fan with no intention of going anywhere near that latter fixture, as he contemplates another World Cup tournament entirely and mucks in putting on an ‘away’ game for Yorkshire, to be held in Haringey this very Sunday.

Tom Learoyd, General Secretary of the newest recruits to Conifa (the Confederation of Independent Football Associations) has his mind on the logistics involved in giving a serious work-out to Barawa, a territory in southern Somalia, most of whose squad now counts London as ‘home’.

“The stadium is actually quite close by White Hart Lane,” according to Learoyd, “and we have just decided by an internet poll that we will be playing in our new white away kit, as opposed to our home kit, which is blue.”

It qualifies for the term work-out because Barawa have the imminent World Football Cup to get in shape for, something Yorkshire’s joining of the Conifa fold left them too late to enter. Spread between a variety of South-East English non-league stadia, you can find more details here if you fancy an alternative football feast between May 31 and June 9.

It’s taken a couple of years but the YIFA committee has come a long way, with help from Isle of Man, whose administrators “bent over backwards to give us with the more detailed stuff and give us all the encouragement we needed” plus an open door to push at when it came to joining the assortment of future/former nations and downright oddities that constitute the club they were asking to let them in. “We see Yorkshire as culturally distinct and thus an interesting team to work with,” said Conifa General Secretary, the German, Sascha Duerkop, before their membership was confirmed.

Their 46 fellow travellers include Zanzibar, Matabeleland (their goalkeepers coached by Bruce Grobbelaar), Tibet, Abkhazia, Darfur, County of Nice, Padania, Greenland, Franconia, Luhansk, Kiribati, Western Armenia, Cascadia, Kabylie, South Ossetia, Ellen Vannin (aka Isle of Man), Chagos Islands, Delvidek, Donetsk People’s Republic, Felvidek, Barawa, Panjab, Karpatalja, Tamil Eelam, Northern Cyprus and Szekely Land. The wording of the remit goes: representatives of international football teams from nations, de facto nations, regions, minority peoples and sports-isolated territories.

And while ‘home’ so far has been Hemsworth, near Wakefield in the West Riding, Learoyd seems adamant the next  five years will see Yorkshire taking the show on the road.

“We want to show off the region and the main reason for having played so far at the Nubuilds stadum, home to Hemsworth Miners Welfare FC, has been that we owe them so much for their help so far with holding trials and so on.”

There is also a mini tournament on home soil on the cards for next season, the Jorvik Trophy, and a Czech away day to look forward to.

The opposition for their first two fixtures were Isle of Man, aka Ellen Vanin (the Manx translation) on January 29, and Chagos Islands on March 25… a 1-1 draw and a 6-0 win, with Jordan Coduri of Penistone Church FC having grabbed the distinction of first ever scorer in that very first game.

What of the others, when we can guess for ourselves, roughly at least, where they born? “We’ve got Ryan Farrell from Bradford City’s Academy as head coach, assisted by Micky Long from Ossett, while the players range from National League North to Northern Counties East Football League,” says Tom.

Rich Collier, the Miners Welfare forward, was, appropriately enough, on target twice at his home ground of Hemsworth, while Josh Hobson and Ben Rhodes play for Jamie Vardy’s old side, Stocksbridge Park Steels.

For the second outing they drummed up a crowd of 532, and more than their fair share of media attention, but what about the officials? “We flew them in from Germany, and the policy is to only use fully qualified referees and assistants,” insists Tom. “For our first game we had Steve Lynch in the middle, with Mick Leadbetter and Jason Miller running the lines.”

Given concerns over possible issues with the status of Yorkshire’s players, who are fully insured, Chairman Phil Hegarty spoke to David Newton at the FA and was reassured their players would not face any sanctions for representing their roots.

The relationship between the FA and YIFA is that between affiliated and unaffiliated football and as such the FA is clear it cannot sanction such matches, but, what with the laws of association being what they are in the 21st century, Hegarty does not expect any obstacles to materialise that will deter prospective recruits.

It’s a different kind of football to the mainstream they are looking to offer after all, as he put it: “We don’t want people diving on the floor and shouting at the referee. In our constitution, that is a disciplinary matter. “We have had a lot of interest from amateur level to National League, some really quality applications.”

There is no sparing the internal rivalries, as Tom’s and another committee member’s Leeds jostle with fans of Bradford, Halifax and Hull. “Oh there’s plenty of banter on that front alright, but what has pleasantly surprised us all is the lack of animosity from rivals, and the closest to home, for example Isle of Man, have been the most helpful.

“That’s the exact position we would adopt if, for example, Devon, Cornwall or some other region with legitimate claims wanted to get involved and considered making their own bid for membership. We would only welcome more members, not deter them.”

A similar example of solidarity went down in the annals of Yorkshire’s most recent opponents, all of them exiles from the Chagos Archipelago, now a military base leased to the United States, where effectively no civilian can live any longer. Back in pre-Conifa days, in 2011, for the islanders’ very first friendly, their visiting opponents, the Alpine province of Raetia, even brought over an entire set of kit for Chagos to wear and donated it to their hosts’ cause! Chagos Islands duly won 6-1 and never looked back, from their movable southern English base.

“At the end of the day we are all very keen to promote Yorkshire through sport, and that means strengthening the local economy and partnering with Yorkshire business wherever possible. If people think of us as doing some of the work of the tourist board, that can only be a good thing!”

So if you fancy watching Barawa take on Yorkshire, why not get along on Sunday at 1700? The venue will be used as part of the forthcoming World Football Cup and the price will be a far cry from the Premier League or televised alternative!

Haringey Borough FC, Coles Park, London N17 7JP.

Previous fixture

Yorkshire: George Clarke, Ben Rhodes, (Eddy Busfield 71 mins), Hunter (Collier 75), Pat McGuire, capt (Adam Hayton 75), James Hurtley, Andy McManus (Ben Rhodes 75), Nathan Keightley (Cameron Rigby 46), Adam Hayton, (Josh Hobson 46), Seon Ripley (Billy Mole 65), Jordan Coduri (Matt Bradley 46), Richard Collier (Ste Crawford 46).

Head coach: Ryan Farrell

Chagos Islands FA: Mike Sakir, Lamb (Vincent), Leonce, Nicholas, Fortune, Dylan Tiatous capt, Sooprayen, Robertson, Steven Leelah, Hansley Sagai, Gulliaume Augustin (Stefan), Subs: Desire Sambouang, Edouard, Axelle Augustin

Head coach: Serge Jeanlouis

Hemsworth Miners Welfare FC/Yorkshire Nubuilds Stadium WF9 5AJ, Attendance: 532

Score: 6-0.

More info at @YorksIFA


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