HELP SAINT HELENA’S FOOTBALLERS MAKE HISTORIC TRIP
By Rob Nichols
Monday 10 Jun 2019 22:24:00
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St Helena football team have written to us and other fanzines to help raise funds to take part in an inter island football tournament in Anglesey this summer. You probably knew that Napoleon was exiled on St Helena but did you know our own Captain James Cook visited the British Overseas Territory twice half a century before.

 

The tiny South Atlantic island of Saint Helena has an ambition to play in the Inter Games in Anglesey. Having once before failed to raise the funds to take part in an international tournament the island is reaching out to the international football community for help.

A crowdfunding initiative on behalf of the Saint Helena Football Association (SHFA) unsuccessfully attempted to raise the funds necessary to take part in the 2011 NatWest Island Games football tournament, and the association also tried – and failed – to obtain membership of FIFA a couple of years later.

Eight years on from their first abortive attempt to play in the Island Games, the SHFA are aiming to take part in the (unofficial) edition, the Inter-Games Football Tournament - or, more colloquially, in the style of “London 2012”, “Ynys Môn 2019” - which will be held on the northwestern Welsh island of Anglesey (Ynys Môn) this coming June but they need our help to achieve this.

Saint Helena sent a team to the Commonwealth Games on the Australian Gold Coast last April; this was followed by the Saint Helena cricket team which caused a stir when they finished third in the Twenty20 World Cup sub-regional qualifiers in Botswana in November. And, at the end of last year, only the second-ever all-Saints team competed in the prestigious Cape Town- Saint Helena sailing race, finishing in a highly satisfactory sixth place in their class. The Inter Games will be the fourth international sporting event involving teams from Saint Helena in the space of just over twelve months.

The SHFA, together with the Saint Helena Island Games Association, immediately signalled their interest in taking part, and were informed at the beginning of June last year that the tournament will take place this coming June. They informed the general public of their intent via a press statement, which was released later that month: “Following Gibraltar’s announcement that football would not be a part of the 2019 Island Games, Ynys Môn got permission from the Island Games Executive Committee to contact member islands and formally announce that they were intending to host the tournament in June 2019. We, the St. Helena Football Association, accepted the initial invitation to take part.

“We have since received notice that the tournament will take place from the 15th June to 22nd June 2019. We have also received costs of travel and accommodation. The SHFA has put together an average cost per player which is just under £4000 [since revised]. “Although this is a long shot, the SHFA is determined to make this happen.”

Thirty-five players from the island’s nine clubs put themselves forward for inclusion in the final squad of 20, and training got under way in September, taking place twice a week despite a four-week period of inactivity due to inclement weather which saw the island’s only football pitch at Francis Plain waterlogged and led to the suspension of the nine-team league, which was eventually won by Harts, who defeated reigning champions Rovers 1:0 in a play-off after both teams finished level on points. Rovers gained their revenge on their rivals, winning the Knockout Cup by four goals to two.

The SHFA had forwarded another application for FIFA membership to the headquarters of football’s governing body early last year, and whilst awaiting FIFA’s response, Nick Stevens said that they had been “trying to become affiliated with FIFA, but so far we have been unsuccessful. This is frustrating for us, as football is a major part of life here on our island of 4500 people and sport is our biggest pastime.”

“Our committee strongly feels that if we do get affiliated with FIFA, it will create opportunities for our players to compete internationally. We certainly have some very talented youngsters who could easily play professional football. They just need the opportunity to show what they can do.”

Undaunted, the Saint Helena national team have been busy preparing for the Inter Games; they are currently training four days a week, and at the beginning of February played three practice matches in the space of four days against local selections, winning all three convincingly: 12:0, 9:2 and 12:0. Rico Benjamin – who scored at least three goals per game - Matthias Young and Brett Isaac were in particularly prolific form, with the domestic season’s top scorer, Ronan Legg, scoring a hat-trick in the first match. At the tail-end of February, the team took part in a second series of friendlies, and also won all three of these convincingly.

The chairman has noticed the difference in the players since they began training intensively, and is optimistic about his team’s chances: “We are aiming to shock a few people. I am happy with the coaching team we have here, and we’ve got the boys playing a good standard of football. We have already shocked the local footballers as to how much we have improved the standard of the squad in terms of fitness and [the standard of their] football.”

Ten teams will be competing in the men’s Inter Games tournament: together with Saint Helena, hosts Ynys Môn (Anglesey) and the Norwegian island of Hitra, Shetland, Orkney, Isle of Man , Isle of Wight, Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney entered the hat at the end of January. (Six teams, meanwhile, including Gibraltar’s women’s team, will be playing in the women’s tournament.)

All being well, Saint Helena will be one of those teams lining up on the football pitches of Anglesey next June, but they will need the help of the general public to achieve their goal.

The response on the island of Saint Helena to their fledgling national side’s appeal for funds has been phenomenal; over £42000 has been raised so far, and that is some effort for an island with a tiny population where the median wage-earner takes home £158 per week, where the cost of living is extremely high and a large percentage of adults end up having to work abroad in order to make ends meet. However, the island’s wallets can only take so much, so the SHFA have set up their own crowdfunding appeal on gofundme.com (St. Helena football team to Ynys Mon 2019), should anyone living abroad wish to make a donation.

They have set a target of £20,000 for their crowdfunding initiative, and an overall target of £80,000 in order to cover the cost of sending the team, plus four officials, to Wales, with a percentage of this to be invested in the island’s infrastructure, such as a set of portable goals and new kit for local youth teams. They’ve passed the half-way point of their overall target; it would be a huge boost to football on, and the people of, Saint Helena if their national team could make its bow in Wales.

St Helena Football Team to Ynys Mon 2019 - GoFundMe https://uk.gofundme.com/st-helena-football-team-to-ynys-mon-2019

Should you wish to know more about football on the island, kindly visit the St.Helena Football Association’s Facebook page, or the @SHFAunofficial page on Twitter.

The latest news is that the team have flown in to Wales to prepare for the competition.

#SaintstoWales #thelongestjourney



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