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Wednesday, December 22, 2010


One of the biggest news stories to have come out of the British territories in the South Atlantic Ocean this year was the news that the island of Saint Helena is to get its own airport, which is scheduled to be built by the end of 2012.

Until then, the island's inhabitants will have to leave and return to the island by the only means available: the Royal Mail steamship RMS Saint Helena. This also goes for the island's athletes, who are due to compete in the 2011 version of the Island Games, a competition held every two years involving small islands from across the world, which will be held this coming July on the Isle of Wight.

However, the local football association's plans to send a team to the tournament
may well be thwarted by a lack of funds. Nick Stevens, the chief co-ordinator of Saint Helena's fledgling national side (known by the acronym SHIFT - Saint Helena International Football Team), stated back in April that they hoped to send a team comprising of 7 or 8 players from the island itself and a contingent of expatriates based mainly in and around Swindon, England. The 2011 Island Games would see Saint Helena's first-ever international football match.

But, finances were a stumbling-block. Stevens said: "We are struggling with fundraising to be able to send a team to the Isle of Wight. We need to raise about £30,000; so far, we have raised about £1,000." Saint Helena has at present a population of about 4,000, and the average weekly wage is just over £100.

Stevens' worries were shared by SHIFT's representative in the UK, Robin Benjamin. who described the hardships which would be faced by any Saint Helenian living on the island chosen to play for the team.

"They are hoping to bring 5 players from the island. As you probably know, there is no airport there, so the journey would entail a 3 day ship to Ascension Island, and then an 8 hour flight in to Brize Norton, UK.  Taking into account travel costs and accomodation, we expect it to be around £3000 per player."

In the meantime, a team compromising expatriates and sons of Helenians resident in the UK has been organised in good time for the games and have played a couple of games in the Swindon area over the last few months. Benjamin has actually represented the Falkland Islands at previous Island Games tournaments, having lived there for a number of years before going to university in the UK. He is now resident in Brighton, working in the fitness industry whilst also running his own business, and was enthusiastic about the SHIFT initiative.

"We have got the recruitment process well underway here in the UK and....played our first friendly match against a local Swindon team (unbeaten in 2 years, I must add) back on the 19th July.  We lost 7-2, but the the team showed plenty of great potential and did well considering this is the first time any of them had played together.  Most of the players were born on the island, but we did have a young chap who was born here in the UK, with a St Helenian mum and an English dad, and he was very good." 

"I've played for the Falkland Islands international teams at 2 Island Games competitions, but am really looking forward to representing my home Island in the next one."

Meanwhile, news of the Saint Helena team's progress has been rather hard to come by over the last couple of months, though they had played another Wiltshire side in August, and Benjamin had this to say in October: "Our last match against a local Saturday team in Swindon ended in a 4-2 loss, but....that was only our second match and we were looking good. We just need to get used to playing together."

Meanwhile, back on Saint Helena itself, the 2010 league season reached its conclusion in mid-December, with the Bellboys finishing top of the heap with a game to spare and Harts filling the runners-up spot this time round.

As said, news of the island team's attempt to send a team to the Isle of Wight next year has dried up somewhat over the past few months, in the media, from their representatives, and even on SHIFT's Facebook team, things are more than a little quiet.

One would hope that this is not a sign that the whole project has died a slow, lingering and silent death, as it is a more than worthy initiative and would give the island's footballers something to aim for and support. Not only that, it would be a wonderful experience for the local players and put the island on the map.

On the other hand, there are a team of expatriates who are seemingly ready and willing to take up the challenge on behalf of those left behind on the island, and this may well be the only route open for the Saint Helena FA and their (potential) international team to be represented at the Island Games for a while, seeing that the 2013 edition is due to be held in Bermuda. However, there is always Jersey in 2015..

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