Written by Pat McGuinness – Twitter: @patsfballblog
The CONIFA Paddy Power World Football Cup 2018 is now a happy memory – but it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the thousands of people who came to watch the tournament’s 16 teams battle for the Cup over 48 matches.
People from across the globe came to 10 venues in and around London to watch the tournament: football fans – supporters of non-league clubs, and groundhoppers, were very much in evidence – as well as Hungarians living in south-east England who followed Szekely Land and Karpatalya from start to finish; plus, the politically motivated who had gone to games to lend their support to Tibet, for example; and the curious, who had come along just to see what all the fuss was about.
Two of that number were Darren and Matthew, who had travelled down from Manchester to watch both the final and the Bronze match. Speaking during the Bronze match between Szekely Land and Padania, Darren said: “I’ve been following the tournament online and came down from Manchester to watch the final. I saw this on a website and I thought it would be a good opportunity to see a bit of different football. I’ve been following it online, it seems really competitive and the standard of football I’ve seen today has been better than I expected. I want Karpatalya to win tonight, but I think Northern Cyprus will smash it; they’ve got a really good centre forward.”
Matthew continued: “We go and watch Welsh league football and this is a far better standard than that. I’ve been surprised by the standard actually, it’s a really good. Northern Cyprus have been playing really well; their domestic league is quality, and I think they’ll win the final.”
Peter and Roger were another pair of supporters who had come along to watch the two matches at Enfield, and Peter kept his comments short and sweet: “The tournament seems to have been very well organised and the games are competitive; I’ve really enjoyed it, even though this (Szekely Land v Padania) is only the second game I’ve been to.”
Roger: “It’s a wonderful tournament; I only hope that there’ll be more tournaments in England. It must be very difficult in other countries to organise. You’ve got a real ethnically diverse population here, people from everywhere, so I’m hoping the next tournament will be here as well. It’s lovely. You’ve got a team here representing Tibet playing football, that’s quite incredible. But here today, you’ve got Szekely Land playing Padania; that’s more like football as we know it, a bit more cut-and-thrust.
“I’ve been to Aveley and Fisher as well as here; the crowds have been quite good. It’s in the middle of summer as well; it wouldn’t be much good in December, it wouldn’t quite draw the crowds. But it’s been brilliant. I just wish I’d gone to a few more games.”
Marlow season-ticket holder Gordon, who was watching his ninth match of the tournament, said that he had seen the tournament advertised and, as a non-league football supporter, “thought it would be [his] sort of thing.”
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it; I’ve only been to eight games. I’ve enjoyed watching the teams that haven’t been competitive; they’re playing for their countries, and it shows. It’s been excellent. Playing on 4G pitches has helped. The two semi-finals were absolutely excellent games, and they were competitive, very competitive. I’ve been very surprised by the standard as I didn’t know any of the teams. I’ve really enjoyed it. The size of the crowd has surprised me; I’m happy that I’d bought my ticket for both the third-place game and the final when I came in today.”
Dave Barnett, who has been following non-league football for a number of years, was also attending his ninth World Football Cup fixture and, like Gordon, was pleasantly surprised by the size of the crowd at the final between Karpatalya and Northern Cyprus. “I saw this tournament advertised in the Non-League Paper. I’ve been to five or six different venues, all very friendly; it’s very well-organised as it seems to be a new set-up and I’ve been very pleased with it. I’ve been very surprised by the size of the crowd today, there’s a lot of local interest [thanks in part to the large Turkish ex-pat population, who lent their support to Northern Cyprus]. I’m very pleased with it, but the final’s not living up to its billing; it’s a typical final with too much to lose.
“I’ve also enjoyed the naivety of the tournament, which has been nice, it’s been a joy to watch at times. I’m not so sure about the green card, I don’t think a lot of people understand what it’s all about, including the players. One of the players got one this morning, didn’t know what it was for and ended up getting a red card [for dissent]. But, it’s all new, and it’s a good start for it.
“I was very impressed with the United Koreans in Japan; they couldn’t score, but they were a very good side. The football’s been of a high standard; not knowing any of the countries participating, the tournament’s been of a very good standard.”
Phil Bailey had clocked up 14 games at the CONIFA World Football Cup before the final kicked off and was another spectator who alluded to the comparative lack of publicity for the tournament, and, like several others, to Ellan Vannin’s withdrawal from the tournament after the group stages.
“It’s been really good. I’ve really enjoyed the tournament, I’m surprised that there have been so many people going to the games. There’s been a couple of 8-0s, so I’ve seen plenty of goals, so it’s been good. The best game I’ve been to was the first semi-final [between Padania and Northern Cyprus], it was really quite exciting. It would be nice to know where the next one is.”
CONIFA is still a very young organisation, having been founded only in 2013, so it is only natural that it suffers growing pains, and that it continues to do so from time to time. Many lessons will be learned from the 2018 World Football Cup. But, it is heartening to know that the feedback from the majority of spectators who attended matches was generally positive, and hopefully many of those who passed through the turnstiles at this year’s World Football Cup venues will follow future tournaments, wherever they may take place.