Leone rangers

The annual Inner City World Cup for foreign communities living in London was held earlier this month. Filippo Ricci went along to see if England could make home advantage count

England has just staged a World Cup, though needless to say the hosts didn’t get past the group stage. The competition in question is the Inner City World Cup, a tournament open to London’s foreign communities and held annually since 1994. African teams have dom­inated, Ghana winning two tournaments and Sierra Leone five, including the most recent edition, played on August 12 and 13 in Raynes Park, when Pakistan lost 2-1 in the final.

The hour-long first round games were held on the Saturday, spread across eight pitches, with the knockout stage the following day. There were proper referees and assistants, an am­bulance on hand to assist flagging play­ers and a Colombian mobile restaurant to feed the fans. Some teams had real shirts (the Japanese even with names on their backs), others wore an approximation of national colours.

There were real World Cup habitues, like England, France and Holland, and parvenus such as Bangladesh, Finland and Somalia. The players communicated in their own language but all used English to berate the officials and to insult opponents when necessary. Some encounters were none too friendly but overall the matches were played in a great spirit.

According to organisers and supporters, the African dominance is explained by the arduous nature of the tournament. The finalists played seven games in two days, four hours of football just on Sunday, all of it in searing heat. In seven tournaments, Sierra Leone have yet to lose a match. Their only two defeats have been on penalties to Ghana.

This year’s winners were a Peckham-based team who play in the London Print & Design Intermediate League. They had a tough semi-final against a Bulgarian side that included a member of their 1994 World Cup squad, Boncho Genchev, once of Ipswich and Luton and more recently with Hendon. Genchev, who is about to open a restaurant in London, is still a great player by amateur standards and the Sierra Leonians struggled to contain him.

Bulgaria took third place by beating Cam­eroon, who included two famous names: Em­manuel Foé, younger brother of Marc Vivien, and Antoine Songo’o, brother of Jacques and also a keeper. Cameroon were a perfect replica of the real thing: flamboyant, spectacular but unable to kill off the game. They lost on penalties in the semi-finals to Pakistan, who had caused a major upset by beating Ghana.

The Ghanaians sailed through the second round without kicking a ball, when their scheduled opponents Ecuador failed to arrive in time for kick-off, having apparently over­slept. England had no such excuses for finishing third in their group, though they did at least go one better than the cricket team by beating Sri Lanka.

From WSC 164 October 2000. What was happening this month