Alex Griffiths talks to Tom Learoyd of the Yorkshire Independent Football Association
Founded in July 2017 and only admitted to Conifa (the Confederation of Independent Football Associations) as recently as January 2018, the YIFA has made a big splash in remarkably little time.
And this is no separatist’s pipe dream, in case you are wondering… the team has a head coach, a team coach and is two friendly games in already, with the first having taken place in January (drawn) and the second, a thumping 6-0 victory, in March.
What is more, there is a Jorvik Trophy (JT1 for short) involving four teams in the pipeline, to be held across the county next season, as well as a Czech away day, while perhaps as impressive as anything else is the business YIFA are doing in the replica shirt department.
“We are looking to boost the local economy and spread the word. We might all be football lovers ourselves, but we happen to agree that it’s not all about kicking a ball. We are also all in boring lines of work,” YIFA General Secretary Tom Learoyd told the CFS Blog, “so when you ask if we have anything to do with the tourist board we’ll take that as a compliment! We certainly want to strengthen the region through sport as a deliberate strategy.
“As you might very well expect, there is a particularly vocal diaspora all over the globe, plus supporters in the Navy on leave, and so on, who want to be seen flying the flag, as it were, so they are big factors in why the kit sales have taken off like they have.
“We were determined, obviously, to have it made in Yorkshire and GodzOwn have been great to work with. We are selling the shirts for 40 quid via their website plus a lot of other branded merchandise besides, and it was important to us not to go anywhere near the sweat shop end of the market! We think we have struck a great deal and it’s been wildly successful so far.
“The home shirt we were already extremely proud of: it’s a darker blue at the bottom, getting lighter at the top, with a white rose on the chest, naturally enough.
“Even though it’s open to abuse, we went down the website route when it came to polling all those interested in the design of the away kit.”
The result? It came in at Yellow 33%, White 67%, at the end of March, between the options you can see here, with one correspondent chipping in to suggest the losing all-yellow outfit could very well serve as part of a future goalkeeper’s kit, instead.
In a recent radio interview YIFA Chairman, Phil Hegarty, even mentioned that contact had been made by the auspicious Colo Colo museum based in Santiago, Chile, who want to put the kit on display.
So we asked Learoyd to talk us through the results so far: “The first game was symbolically important for the choice of opposition, so from a diplomatic point of view we were relieved we drew 1-1 with Isle of Man [Ellen Vanin in the Manx language], who bent over backwards helping with our bid to join Conifa last year.
“We also owed a big debt of thanks to Hemsworth Miners Welfare FC, for helping us with holding our trials, so it only seemed right for them to host our home debut in January, when we attracted a crowd of over 600.
“Strathclyde were very busy with their own bid to join Conifa and had to pull out of our second fixture, which led to the March 27 game being rescheduled to feature the Chagos Islands FA, also at Hemsworth. This one we won comfortably, although I wasn’t able to attend myself.”
Given such a high profile from the outset, perhaps a degree of aggravation was always going to be inevitable, and as Learoyd puts it: “We do get negative messages over social media, which you would not class as hate mail exactly, but those must have been outnumbered by about a hundred to one by positive ones.”
The players themselves have been drawn from the National League North to Northern Counties East Football League, coached by Bradford City Academy’s Ryan Farrell and Ossett’s Micky Long.
So which FIFA rebels and new kids on the block make up the membership of Conifa, exactly? There are 47 and counting, including Zanzibar, Matabeleland (their keepers coached by Bruce Grobbelaar), Tibet, Abkhazia, Darfur, County of Nice, Padania, Greenland, Franconia, Luhansk, Kiribati, Western Armenia, Cascadia, Kabylie, South Ossetia, Ellen Vannin (aka Isle of Man), Chagos Islands, Delvidek, Donetsk People’s Republic, Felvidek, Barawa, Panjab, Karpatalja, Tamil Eelam, Northern Cyprus and Szekely Land. The wording of the remit goes: representatives of international football teams from nations, de facto nations, regions, minority peoples and sports-isolated territories.
If they have caught your imagination, match footage is also available on YouTube, while next up is Barawa away, a territory in southern Somalia whose squad also, conveniently, lays claim to many London residents.
That’s on April 15 at 1700 and and the venue will be Haringey Borough FC, “…close by White Hart Lane,” according to Learoyd, but to be exact, at Coles Park, London N17 7JP.