Minor countries

Guernsey v England? It could happens says Steve Menary

Imagine crowds thronging into St Peter Port to see Guernsey play England in a World Cup qualifier. It could happen, as the island are considering an application to join FIFA.

The latter’s rules stipulate that members require recognition by the “international community” and also allow for nations not yet independent to join. Palestine, the French colony of Tahiti and the former colonies of Macau and Hong Kong – now part of China – are all members and play competitive internationals. Each member receives $1 million (£520,000) every four years regardless of size. “We are currently exploring whether Guernsey could be recognised as a nation in its own right and the early indications are positive,” says Guern­sey FA secretary Matt Fallaize. If ap­proved, they would compete in the World Cup, but not the European Championship.

Guernsey’s national stadium is being turned into a 5,000-seat ground for this year’s centenary derby against Jersey. This would satisfy UEFA’s licensing criteria of at least 3,000 seats for internationals, but while the Channel Islanders might be allowed to join FIFA, they wouldn’t be admitted to membership of European football’s governing body. UEFA shut out places such as Guernsey after the influx of new mem­bers caused by the break-up of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Just as Georgia and Ukraine were starting to play internationals, smaller nations such as San Marino joined in, helped by UEFA’s annual grant of 500,000 Swiss francs (£223,000) a year. With the Faroes – not even a country but a self-governing part of Denmark – playing international football and this cash on offer, Jersey explored the possibility of competing, but as their FA secretary Gill Morgan put it: “UEFA decided to close the door on small islands and refused us.” The catalyst for UEFA doing this this was an attempt by the Gibraltar Football Association (GFA) to join. The British colony plays other countries at sports such as cricket, but neighbours Spain objected to the idea of international football on the rock and the GFA application stalled.

A decision could not be avoided indefinitely and in 2001 UEFA decided that all future members must be recognised as countries by the United Nations. As the United Kingdom is a member of the United Nations, this would have exiled England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, so UEFA declared that the ruling would not be retrospective. This also meant that the Faroes could continue playing. The rejected GFA took UEFA to the international Court of Arbitration for Sport. When the CAS ruled in UEFA’s favour, the GFA tried to overturn the ruling in a local Swiss court, but this attempt failed last year and the colony has yet to make a further appeal. Kazakhstan did recently transfer to UEFA from the Asian federation, but the GFA’s failure to overturn the ruling has effectively ended the chances of any new European “nations” starting to play in UEFA competitions.

So FIFA is also where a campaign to get international recognition for the Isle of Man will have to head. The island, a British crown depen­dency with its own parliament, made significant progress in football in the late 1990s when a summer tournament was launched involving Football League sides. Since then a cam­paign has begun for a Manx international XI, backed by a local political party, the UIP. How­ever, this enthusiasm is not currently shared by the Isle of Man FA, who receive English FA grants for ground improvement and administration.

There is also a body set up to represent ambitious non-countries looking to compete more regularly at international level. The National Football Board is based at Liege in Belgium, charges members just €150 (£103) a year to join and wants to set up a non-UEFA regions cup. Monaco and Sapmi in Sweden are members, as are Western Sahara, a north African territory attempting to break away from rulers Morocco, and the Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is only recognised as a nation by Turkey.

With eastern Europe full of breakaway states, such as Transdneistria in Moldova, Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, and Nagorno-Karabakh in Armenia, the NF Board’s membership could rise soon, although somehow South Ossetia don’t seem quite such an attractive draw for Guernsey as England. The island might even produce a team that would be competitive given that its population of 64,000 is double that of Liechtenstein, who recently drew 2-2 with Portugal in a World Cup qualifier. And, as the errant Stuart Pearce will remember, San Marino only took nine seconds to score against England in 1993…

From WSC 218 April 2005. What was happening this month