Football gets an international flavour at The Camping World Community Stadium this Sunday as the representative sides of the Chagos Islands and Panjab go toe-to-toe in a qualifying fixture for next year’s sixteen-team CONIFA World Cup finals.
CONIFA – the Confederation of Independent Football Associations – is the governing body for teams such as Tibet, Western Sahara, the war-torn Sudanese region of Darfur, Zanzibar, Jersey, Greenland, Northern Cyprus, Quebec and even Yorkshire, each of them states, minorities, stateless peoples or regions unaffiliated with FIFA. It’s finals tournament has been held biennially since 2014, with Kárpátalja – a team representing the Hungarian minority living in the Ukraine – the current champions.
Despite its international connotations, there is a local feel to Sunday’s fixture as the Chagos Islands are managed by Jimmy Ferrar, who masterminded Alfold’s promotion to the Southern Combination League Premier Division at the end of last season.
Geographically the Chagos Islands are located in the Indian Ocean, some 500kms from the Maldives, and has been under UK rule since 1814. But a decision by the British government to permanently evict residents and allow the US to build a military base on the islands resulted in a large number of Chargossians settling in Crawley, among them a group of men who decided to form a football team to represent their fellow Chagossians dispersed around the globe.
As unlikely as it sounds, Chagos Islands FC played in the Crawley & District League and were crowned Division Two champions in 2009 before getting the international recognition they craved, defeating Swiss side Raetia 6-1 in a friendly at Crawley Town in 2011. They reached their first, and so far only, CONIFA World Cup Finals in 2016 but came last in what was a twelve-team competition, suffering some heavy defeats in the process.
Their opponents, Panjab, are relative newcomers, having been formed as recently as 2014 with the primary aim of representing the community of the Punjab across the world. Their first match took place at the end of that same year yet, by the time of the 2016 CONIFA World Cup, they had established a strong enough squad to reach the final where they were beaten on penalties.
The two sides have met once before, when Panjab were 4-1 victors in a 2015 friendly at Sutton Coldfield, so with the Hornets not in action this weekend, why not get your footballing fix with this rather unique fixture and see if the Chargossians can get their overdue revenge?
Kick-off is at midday, with the gates and clubhouse open from 11am, and admission is just £2!