This beautiful region is the latest member of CONIFA – find out more about Kernow FA here

-written by Pat McGuinness / photo credit: Kernow Drone @ Lee Pascoe

The English county of Cornwall is known the world over for its stunning scenery, its surfing, its fishing and its former tin industry, and the region has been immortalised in song, poetry and prose.

Over half-a-million people live in Cornwall, and over ninety-nine percent of them speak English as their mother tongue. The native language, Cornish, became extinct in the 19th century. However, a revival began to take shape in the late 1980s, and now around 300 people speak Cornish as a first language, and some 5,000 have a basic working knowledge of the language.

Cornwall has always been a fairly isolated region, located as it is in the extreme south-west corner of England and bordered on three sides by water. That isolation has also long been the case for football, but now Cornwall’s footballers, with the blessing of the Cornwall Football Association, are about to step out of the shadows. And it’s all thanks to the recent founding of the Kernow Football Alliance (Kernow FA), which was officially created on 27th October 2018.

Kernow FA is the brainchild of its director of football Andrew Bragg, who explains that he was chatting with his son, Josh, over dinner in 2016; Josh was playing for a club in Sweden at the time, and mentioned that one of his team-mates had played for the Sápmi side at a previous CONIFA World Football Cup.

“As I’d never heard of either”, Bragg says, “I asked him to explain… and it occurred to me that the Cornish were also a race. So, over the next few months, I started to investigate our eligibility [for CONIFA membership], and after speaking to CONIFA general secretary Sascha Duerkop, set in motion the formation of Kernow FA.”

Allied with Bragg in the creation of Kernow FA was Jason Heaton who, amongst other things, organised freestyle football events in the town of Newquay. Shortly after hearing about Andrew’s plans early in 2017, he contacted CONIFA president Per-Anders Blind to find out more about CONIFA, and eventually became CONIFA’s global business director.

Bragg says, “I had known Jason for many years through both football and business. He was just the sort of innovative person I would like to have involved.

“We carried on trying to form a Cornwall team but got bogged down with bureaucracy… but we kept plugging away and on 27th October, Kernow FA was formed. The primary reason for creating Kernow FA was to get Cornish football onto the international stage, and to make people aware what a great nation we are.”

Famous Cornish footballers are relatively few and far between, but include the likes of ex-England goalkeeper Nigel Martyn, Mike Trebilcock – whose double won the FA Cup for Everton in 1966 – and Chris Morris, who played for the Republic of Ireland at the 1988 European Championships and the 1990 World Cup. Bragg is well aware of this, and says, “That would be something we would like to improve upon, but with no professional clubs in Cornwall it will be difficult to achieve.

“No clubs have yet become [Kernow FA] members, but we’ll pick our players from local leagues. I’ve also spoken to a few of the Cornishmen playing professional football who are also interested but it’ll depend on their clubs.”

Any players representing Kernow FA will, according to Bragg, “have to have been born in Cornwall. The staff – including Heaton, manager Phil Lafferty and also Darren Wright, who worked with the Panjab FA until after this year’s World Football Cup – are not all Cornish but I didn’t see that as an issue… The important thing is the players.”

“We will evolve obviously, but our first objective is to qualify for the 2020 CONIFA World Football Cup… We haven’t got our own stadium yet but there is a stadium for Cornwall in the pipeline so I would like to think we could use that in the future.”

The last word goes to Heaton, who has been involved with youth football in Cornwall for over 10 years and says: “Football is my life and my children play football here, too. Because of how Cornwall is geographically, it’s tough for players to represent Cornwall at a professional level via what is a great football infrastructure, one that Cornwall FA should be very proud of, one in which I play a part. But [Kernow FA] can offer something they can’t, and it’s something we need – international football in a place that I know and love as a great football family, one that is about people: CONIFA. It’s exactly what Cornwall needs for players to look up to, for the good of the game and for the next generation.”