Written by: Alun Macer-Wright
Ellan Vannin, better known to most as the Isle of Man, will be the only team representing the British Isles at this year’s CONIFA Paddy Power World Football Cup in London, and will hope to make the most of this ‘home advantage’.
Ellan Vannin will enter the tournament as one of the favourites on paper, sitting in fourth in the latest CONIFA World Rankings, and having reached the final the last time they competed in the Confederation’s flagship competition in 2014. On that occasion, they lost on penalties to the County of Nice. In 2016, they withdrew from the competition after receiving advice from the British Home Office not to travel to the host nation of Abkhazia.
Manx International Football Alliance (MIFA) chairman Malcolm Blackburn said: “Everybody associated with Ellan Vannin is counting down the days to our first match against Cascadia on the 31st May.”
Blackburn describes the tournament as “going into the unknown” with regard to the strength of opposition teams, but was optimistic about the Manxmen’s chances: “As a team made up of mainly amateur players, we always appear to be able to ‘kick above our weight’. The enthusiasm of our players and management is infectious and does appear to take us to a level where we can compete with the best,” he said.
The island iteself is a self-governing British Crown dependency in the Irish Sea, having never become part of the United Kingdom. The legislature of the Isle of Man, called ‘Tynwald’, was put into place by Vikings more than 1,000 years ago and thus is the oldest continuous parliamentary body in the world. It was also the first national legislative body in the world to give women the right to vote in a general election, although married women were excluded.
The Isle of Man has a distinct identity, including the Manx language, in which “Ellan Vannin” is the name of the island. The language is closely related to Scottish and Irish Gaelic, and although the last native speaker, Ned Maddrell, died in 1974, and it was declared extinct by UNESCO in 2009, it has enjoyed somewhat of a revival on the island since that point.
Participation in London will add to an exciting summer period in Manx sport, with the island also sending 33 athletes to the Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast. With a population of fewer than 85,000 people, the Manx are certainly punching above their weight in the sporting arena.
The Ellan Vannin side is CONIFA-affiliated and players are required to have Manx ties. This makes it distinct from the Isle of Man FA side which competes in competitions such as the Island Games. After initial friction around the idea of the Ellan Vannin team from MIFA and IOMFA (the English FA county association), the two parties executed a Memorandum of Understanding in March 2014.
Following their breakthrough success at the World Football Cup in Sápmi in 2014, the Manxmen went on to claim bronze in the 2015 CONIFA European Football Cup and gold at the 2015 NIAMH Challenge Cup.
Amongst their key players in London will be the likes of captain, Frank Jones, who has played in every one of their 25 games since their first against Monaco in 2014. MIFA chairman Blackburn was keen to stress the importance of the team unit as a whole however: “The strength of Ellan Vannin is that we play as a team and as such it would be very difficult to single out any one player.”
Ellan Vannin is the twin team of Darfur United, a team consisting of refugees on the Chad border, for whom they have raised funds. In the same CONIFA spirit, Blackburn said: “Who knows what London holds for us but I am sure that once again Ellan Vannin will make a lot of friends in the CONIFA family.”
Ellan Vannin were the first opponents of new CONIFA members, Yorkshire, with the sides playing out a 1-1 draw in Fitzwilliam in January 2018.
The team’s preparation for this summer’s tournament will include a match against England Universities in Sandbach on April 29. They will also participate in the Yorkshire-based Jorvik Trophy against Yorkshire and Tibet from May 24-26, shortly before the CONIFA World Football Cup gets underway.