There’s a park match taking place at the side of the pitch at Fisher FC, in the shadows of the towering buildings of the Isle Of Dogs. Kids in Bristol Rovers shirts and kids in Tibet shirts have little idea what’s going on over on the pitch, but their intense battle for supremacy isn’t a bad contest.
Bristol Rovers fans’ affinity for Tibet is a strange side angle on this tournament, one that’s jumped out like the Tottenham fans’ strange love for Hungarian side Szekely Land, and the Watford fans’ love for Panjab.
It’s the final day, and I’m completing my ‘clean sweep’ of every team in the CONIFA World Football Cup: by sheer good luck, the two I haven’t seen – Tibet and the United Koreans In Japan – have drawn each other in an 11th and 12th place playoff, in a convenient location in fairly central London that allows plenty of time to head over to the final.
Tibet have been followed passionately, by all accounts throughout the tournament, and while they’ve been close, they’re yet to pick up a win. They take the lead, through a powerful edge of the box drive, but spend most of the game pegged back into their own penalty area.
The largely dominant Koreans equalise with about ten minutes left, and threaten to snatch it. Instead, they win on penalties, though not before Tibet score their first, and their striker rips off his shirt and does a Hulk impression to celebrate. The Tibetans are sung out by the haunting melodies of their fans: they’ve massive underdogs and they’ve been close in most games, playing a multitude of players from semi-pro leagues. They’ve done themselves proud.
I decided to skip the third/fourth place play-off and spend a couple of hours writing – as you can probably imagine, I have a substantial amount of work to do on my CONIFA book now, and also a certain amount of football fatigue. The two games today bring me to a total of 16 live games in a nine-day period (and only six of those nine days had any games at all on them), so I’ve been going some.
The final, way up north in Enfield, drew in a massive crowd. An entire squad of Abkhazians were draped over the closed off area of the stand. Tuvalu players climbed trees to get a better look at the pitch. Behind one goal, a large group of Hungarians set off flares and sung throughout, while the Northern Cyprus fans responded with melodic pipe and drums, and countless flags.
The Northern Cypriot kit man was a star of the show, running to all four corners of the ground to whip up fans, with his spiky red haircut and comic dancing. The anthems were drowned out, the grass banks behind the stands packed, and the feeling of it all extremely tense.
This was to be a typical cup final, however, with two cagey sides – both of whom had been models of attacking flair and efficiency in their fantastic semi-finals – trading blows that almost invariably saw the defences come out on top.
Karpatalya had slightly the better of the first half, though they created little to bother the Cypriot ‘keeper. Northern Cyprus hit the post through Billy Mehmet late in the second period, as they enjoyed ten minutes of late dominance and pressure, but it was to be penalties.
A few in the crowd were surprised by the lack of extra time. The explanation is simple: these players are playing their sixth game of football in nine days. They are, inevitably, fading, and to ask for the extra half hour would be really pushing it. So penalties it was, and what a shootout.
Karpatalya went into a 2-0 lead, with saves from Bela Fejer in the Karpatalya goal, who seemed to be faring better despite Mark Clattenburg’s tolerance of some very obvious straying from his goal line by the man between the sticks for the Cypriots.
Karpatalya hit the post and Cyprus scored to bring it back to 2 – 1, before an exchange of sharp finishes, a third save from five by Fejer and an empathic finish from Alex Svedjuk saw an ecstatic Karpatalya over the line.
The new champions, representing the Hungarian diaspora in the Ukraine, came into the the tournament late as replacements for another withdrawing side, and are the second team in three CONIFA World Cup’s to take home the title under such circumstances, after County Of Nice in 2014.
They’d come through the ‘group of death’ alongside holders Abkhazia (who went out in the group stage) and other finalists Northern Cyprus. They won it the hard way.
Final results (games in blue I attended):
Final: Karpatalya 0 – 0 Northern Cyprus (Karpatalya win 3 – 2 on penalties)
Third/ Fourth play-off: Padania 0 – 0 Szekely Land (Padania win 5 – 4 on penalties)
Fifth/ Sixth play-off: Cascadia 3 – 3 Panjab (Panjab win 4 – 3 on penalties)
Seventh/ Eight play-off: Barawa 0 – 7 Western Armenia
Ninth/ Tenth play-off: Kabylia 0 – 2 Abkhazia
Eleventh/ Twelfth play-off: Tibet 1 – 1 United Koreans In Japan (United Koreans win 4 – 1 on penalties)
Thirteenth/ fourteenth play-off: Matabeleland 1 – 0 Tamil Eelam
Fifteenth/ sixteenth play-off: Tuvalu walk over (Ellan Vannin withdrew, Tuvalu defeat the Chagos Islands 6 – 1 in a friendly)
Final CONIFA World Cup 2018 standings:
2 Northern Cyprus
4 Szekely Land
7 Western Armenia
11 United Koreans In Japan
14 Tamil Eelam
16 Ellan Vannin (withdrew ahead of the placement rounds)