Interview: The Struggle of our Vice-President

The Isle of Man, or Ellan Vannin like it’s called in Manx, gave us the best Vice President we could dream of: Malcolm Blackburn (51).

In the short time we have known Malcolm, it is apparent that he has an obvious affinity with football and a drive to change what is considered the normal for the benefit of others. It has often resulted in him being seen as somewhat of a Maverick, suffering both abuse and ridicule along the way. We wanted to find out what makes him tick and what have been his successes and failures along the way. And listened to his very interesting monologue:

“I suppose I have always questioned anything I believe could be improved. At the age of 10 I was not happy that we didn’t have many football matches against other primary schools. I believed that I could organize a team at my school and contact other schools on the Island, all without adult help. I got the first bit right and managed to get a group of lads to stay behind after school for training sessions on the playground. It was probably quite comical seeing a boy of 10 screaming and shouting as though he was Sir Alex Ferguson (laughs). This whole idea came to an abrupt end when a skyward shot hit a bus travelling past the school which resulted in the cane for me and a ban on using the playground after school.”

We want girls!

“Next up was an extremely enjoyable time of my life when I became a Cub leader and started to push the boundaries of the scout movement. I believed that although the values of the scout movement were inspirational, a lot of their methods were outdated. My philosophy was modernizing to improve numbers without losing the core values. This all resulted in the Cub pack becoming one of the largest on the Isle of Man.”

“From Cubs I decided that the next progression was to start a Scout Troop in the area, and this is where I had my first battle with authority. I wanted to admit girls into the membership! It was unheard of in the United Kingdom. Over six months and a lot of letter writing I eventually got permission which resulted in a thriving Scout Group, the first with girl membership in the United Kingdom. In excess of thirty years on I still have contact with various Scouts who refer to their time as some of the best experiences of their lives.”

Buying Leeds United

“One of my passions in football is the love of Leeds United. I suffered along with many other Leeds fans when our club went into administration and was relegated to the third tier of English Football. As per usual I couldn’t just sit there and watch this all unfold and I became involved in a fans consortium to see if we could get the support to buy the club. I was responsible for setting up and running a website where fans could pledge donations for our campaign. We reached in excess of 100.000 members and I was generally amazed at the support we were receiving from the fan base of other clubs.”

“I was also involved with a local football club, Michael United, firstly as a player – not a very good one – and then as a committee member. I held various positions: secretary, treasurer, joint first team manager. The club was always seen as a second division team and my dream was to see it promoted to the Premier League. This was achieved and I had three great seasons involved with the first team as well as continuing on the committee.”

The records of St John’s United

“After some 35 years with Michael United I felt that I couldn’t move the club any further and I myself was becoming stale. After the ambitious plans for a ground redevelopment, including a leisure and fitness club, did not receive much support, I decided it was time to move on. I left with Nick Hurt (one of the best players ever on the Island) to take up the position as Assistant Manager of St John’s United. I also took up a position on the committee. Our job was to get them back up to the Premier League as quickly as possible. We achieved that in one season winning every match.”

“I was determined to see how I could get off Island competition for the players and when I found out that the IOMFA were not going to enter a team in the Island Games in Bermuda, I suggested that St John’s United could represent the Isle of Man. This went down like a lead balloon with the IOMFA and what took place was a very public debate on the subject with surprisingly a lot of public support for the idea. However, it became a failure. The Island Games Association would only accept St John’s United as representing the Isle of Man if put forward and approved by the IOMFA.”

“I am a great believer in fate and I suppose that is why I keep coming up and moving forward with ideas that push the boundaries. The failure with Bermuda Gate resulted in the Tynwald International Football Tournament with then the formation of the Manx Independent Football Association. And a Manx Team: Ellan Vannin. Now I am at the start of what appears and could be a success story. I really believe in the MIFA, in CONIFA too. There were many knocks along the way but football certainly keeps me going and striving for improvement. As our Manx motto of our three legs says: Whichever way you throw us, we will always stand.”

Interview: The Shirts of Our Secretary

Sascha Düerkop sighs. We just asked him how many football shirts he has. “Pfuh, a lot.” Our 26 years old general secretary starts counting. “So… I have 153 different FIFA shirts. And 20 from outside FIFA. When you take into account a few doubles, I will have about 200 shirts.”

His unique hobby started in 2011. With his… Master Thesis. “You know, I wanted to do something during the breaks.” He found the blog of Nick Warrick, and got inspired by the English collector. “Before I bought shirts during holidays. Or before the World Cup. Most of them were fake. Thanks to Warrick I found out that there were a lot of shirts available on Ebay for only 5 euros. And so I bought the first ones…”

A half year later it all freaked out. Düerkop met other collectors, and it became hard not to gather jerseys. “When I got into that community I started to swap a lot. And people all over the world helped me getting the rarest ones.”

Sascha doubts when we inquire him after the most special ones. “I love them all basically.” Finally he chooses some shirts with a story. “I have one of Central Afrika, gifted by a player who wore it in a game against Cameroon. I also have a unique piece, from a Madagascar player who scored more than 100 own goals in a league match, as a protest. And there also are the matchworn shirt from Equatorial Guinea and the Eritrean jersey that I got from my friend Dorian Marin. I admit, I fell in love with African football! So those are always the ones I want most. Especially Comoros and Djibouti seem to be impossible to get, which makes them even more sexy to me.”

Teams not in the top 100 of the FIFA-ranking? Hard to get. “Until one day, you find them somewhere by accident.” In that case: buy them immediately. “Otherwise you will regret it for a couple of years.”

However, another tip from our expert: keep yourself under control. “Some shirts are less than 10 euros, others cost like 200. You always need to save some money for the lucky day, when someone offers you a rare shirt for 150 euros. That’s also the reason why I never bought many of the easy but expensive ones, like Canada for example. I just needed to save up a bit and concentrate on the rare ones.”

Then there’s only one question remaining: what’s all the fun about collecting football shirts? “The global village! Having the world in your wardrobe! Each shirt tells a story. I am in contact with people of at least 150 countries and met many of them. It is just a nice experience to connect yourself to the world and hear the issues and joys of others. I had political debates with Central Africans and scientific talks with people from Swaziland. I send them little gifts for their help sometimes and see pictures of those years later. So I am also printing my footstep in the world and can bring a happy moment to others. That is what it is all about, I guess.”

Blog: The Love of Football

Last week Calum Morrissey from Ellan Vannin wrote this blog for the website of Darfur United:

I have played for the Isle of Man National League representative side for 10 years, traveling throughout many countries in Europe, participating in various tournaments, competing against numerous Clubs and National League representative opposition made up of a wide range of standards.

It’s always been my ambition to see our small Island, located in the Irish Sea, become a full National team. By this, I mean, in order for players to be eligible for selection they have to either have been born on the Isle of Man, or be able to demonstrate a “clear connection” to our island, be it through either their parents or grandparents.

Last year, the Manx Independent Football Association (“MIFA”), and subsequently the Ellan Vannin National team was established to give our elite players the opportunity to represent their country on a world stage. This can be achieved by exploring a number of off-Island tournaments which it could enter that are of a higher standard than those currently available to our Island-based players.

At the recent CONIFA AGM, MIFA were confirmed as one of only 12 teams based from around the world to compete in this summer’s World Football Cup, which will be held in Sweden.

I have played football now for over 20 years and there are over a million reasons why, it is in my opinion, the greatest game on earth. One of the reasons is that only last week I sat in Cologne, Germany, with Sara-Christine Dallain from California, talking about how my Island and MIFA can help a team called Darfur United get to the World Football Cup in Sweden this June.

Is there any other sport in the world which can make such connections possible?

After meeting with Sara-Christine and talking about Darfur United and the challenges their people have faced, it made me realize how lucky I am. Even though we are worlds apart, we still share one thing in common… ‘The Love of Football’!

In the future, I would like to visit the refugee camps on the Chad border and gain a valuable and no doubt life-changing insight into their lives whilst also having the opportunity of sharing our different knowledge base and life experiences on “our beautiful game”.

– Calum Morrissey