28 April ~ A recent visit to Jersey by a FIFA delegation could be the first step towards the Channel Island playing international football. The trip to the island, just over a week ago, was led by Geoff Thompson, formerly chairman of the Football Association, but more latterly a vice president of both FIFA and UEFA. In tow was Urs Kluser, development director for FIFA's grandly titled "member associations and development division". "They were extremely positive about what they found," said Ricky Weir, president of the Jersey Football Association (JFA). "Of course nothing is guaranteed but I do believe there is now a genuine recognition and understanding of the international void we find ourselves in."
Jersey has a population of 87,400 – roughly double that of FIFA members Andorra, the Faroe Islands, Liechtenstein and San Marino – but as a British Crown Dependency is not eligible for FIFA. Not because of FIFA's regulations, which simply require recognition by the undefined "international community" but because the JFA needs to get into UEFA first. The European body has far tighter membership criteria. Potential entrants must be members of the United Nations – a rule designed to keep out Gibraltar and appease Spain. As a result, Jersey is on the international touchlines along with the likes of Guadeloupe and Kosovo.
What makes FIFA's visit to St Helier significant is that, firstly, there seems to be an acceptance that a grey area exists between regional and international football, and, secondly, that Jersey has successfully promoted itself into this limbo zone. Not content with the football tournament at the Island Games – a sort of mini-Olympiad for islands – in 2008, Jersey staged a three-way tournament with two other rejects, Gibraltar and Madeira, and plan another tournament with Guernsey. The latter are looking to field a club side in a UK league but under Weir, who was born in Coatbridge and played internationals for the British Virgin Islands before moving to St Helier, Jersey will not let the idea of international football drop. Weir has been in contact with UEFA president Michel Platini but enticing an official FIFA delegation is the JFA's biggest success to date. After returning home, Kulser told the JFA: "As discussed in our meetings, we will do what we can to further the question of the Jersey FA within the international football family." Kulser's working party has also visited an unidentified Asian region and another in Concacaf.
According to FIFA: "Geoff Thompson and Urs Kluser's visit was as part of working group chaired by Mr Thompson to look at the issues faced by small nations and territories, such as Jersey, not currently recognised internationally. The key purpose of their visit was to understand the football organisation within the island, the current island situation with regard to football development and the relationship with and support currently received from the FA." FIFA said the other places included could not be "clarified" until later this week but one place in Concacaf also stuck in international limbo is Guadeloupe. As a French department, Guadeloupe is not eligible to be a FIFA member and the island's footballers traditionally aspired to play for France. Players like Marius Trésor and Lilian Thuram did so with success but that all changed in 2007, when Jocelyn Angloma, a veteran of Euro 92 and 96, accepted that his French international days were gone and returned home. Led by Angloma, Guadeloupe reached the semi-finals of the 2007 Gold Cup (the North and Central American regional championship) where they were edged out 1-0 by Mexico. Angloma had retired by the time of the next Gold Cup in 2009 but his compatriots still made the quarter-finals.
Alain Soreze from the Ligue Guadeloupéenne de Football confirmed that the LGF had heard nothing about a visit from FIFA. But without something greater to play for than the Gold Cup, Guadeloupe's flourishing football scene will wither, as will the hamstrung game in Kosovo. Dozens of countries recognise that Kosovo is a country. Sadly, the Serbs and Russia do not, forcing the likes of Lorik Cana and Valon Behrami into adopting other countries to play internationals. Bournemouth's St Helier-born striker Brett Pittman might not seem to be in the same bracket, but with FIFA showing signs of wanting to solve the dilemmas that a combination of politics and football generate, an international call-up could soon be on the way. Steve Menary