Last year, just before all that football stuff kicked off in Russia, I wandered from my home in South East London to Hayes Lane, the home of Bromley Town F.C. There, after purchasing a reasonably priced pint of beer and taking my seat in a spartan stand behind a new born baby and a man still wearing his cycling helmet I watched Cascadia (a region of the Pacific Northwest) take on Western Armenia (a region of Turkey) in the CONIFA World Cup. The game was entertaining for many reasons: It was end to end, it had four goals (all to Cascadia), and it was soundtracked by the father of one of the Cascadia players whose general anger at decisions made during that 90 minutes would rival anything Alex Jones is capable of. It was wonderful.

I’d long yearned to attend a CONIFA game, and here I was, on a Tuesday afternoon leaving my pregnant wife at home to do the hoovering, watching one. All my Christmases and all that.

Actually, that’s not strictly true as CONIFA was only founded in 2013.

I’d long yearned to attend a competitive fixture organised by the N.F. Board, a predecessor of CONIFA since I’d worked with a chap in a small office above a Ladbrokes in North London. The days were slow but filled with joy. We’d listen to Jeremy Vine’s Radio 2 show and marvel, ponder the life stories of the people passing on the busy street below and spend hours eking out increasingly esoteric facts about, well, anything. But often, about football. And not a week would pass without a wistful and yearning conversation about the romance of the N.F. Board, now CONIFA.

CONIFA, if it wasn’t already clear, operates as an alternative to FIFA. They put together competitive football fixtures for regions, areas and islands not officially recognised as countries (in most cases), and therefore not recognised by the official body of the sport. All told, they give an opportunity for glory for those who don’t subscribe to accepted geography. Heroes one and all.

* * * * *

CONIFA is, as these things so often seem to be, headquartered in Sweden and currently represents 54 different teams from all corners of the globe. Five of these teams also have a women’s team which is to be applauded.

At this point on Citius, Altius, Nerdius, I’d normally list the nations for you complete with icons of their flags rendered in emoji. But these nations not being the kind of nations that are recognised by anyone much, let alone the good people who make the emoji, I can’t do that. Instead, here is a snapshot of the CONIFA rankings – yes, of COURSE they have rankings – as at October 2018:

Here’s the top 40 rankings, and here’s the full list of members (flags and all).

Wikipedia also gives us a great breakdown of the qualifying criteria for members that I’ve brazenly reposted here for those of you too engrossed to click the links above:

CONIFA expressly uses the term “members” rather than “countries” or “states”. A football association may be eligible to apply for membership of CONIFA if it, or the entity (ethnic and/or linguistic minority, indigenous group, cultural organization, territory) it represents, is not a member of FIFA and satisfies one or more of the following criteria:

  • The Football Association is a member of one of the six continental confederations of FIFA, which are: AFC, CAF, CONCACAF, CONMEBOL, OFC, UEFA
  • The entity represented by the Football Association is a member of the International Olympic Committee
  • The entity represented by the Football Association is a member of one of the member federations of Association of IOC Recognised International Sports Federations (ARISF)
  • The entity represented by the Football Association is in possession of an ISO 3166-1 country code.
  • The entity represented by the Football Association is a de-facto independent territory. A territory is considered de facto independent if it meets all of the following criteria: (a) a well-defined territory; (b) a permanent population; (c) an autonomous government, and (d) diplomatic recognition by at least one of the Member States of the United Nations
  • The entity represented by the Football Association is included on the United Nations list of non-self-governing territories
  • The entity represented by the Football Association is included in the directory of countries and territories of the Traveler’s Century Club.
  • The entity represented by the Football Association is a member of the UNPO and/or the FUEN
  • The entity represented by the Football Association is a minority included in the World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples, maintained and published by Minority Rights Group International
  • The entity represented by the Football Association is a linguistic minority, the language of which is included on the List of ISO 639-2 codes

If you’ve read this far, you will now I imagine be suitably inspired to get lost in a CONIFA shaped rabbit hole that will fill you with joy and numerous browser tabs, and I encourage you to go deep. The history of non-FIFA related football is a wonderful one only made more wonderful through self discovery.

But I will leave you with one snippet…

When I went to Bromley, just beyond the borders of South East London to attend that match at the 2018 CONIFA World Cup, the event itself was not actually hosted by England or the UK. It wasn’t even hosted in Europe. It was hosted by CONIFA member Barawa, a region on Somalia. Not that the Barawa FA are based in Africa. They are based in London, officially representing the Somali diaspora in the city. And so, it was to Bromley (and Haringey, Carshalton, Enfield and beyond) that far flung football fans made their way to watch the beautiful game.