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Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Out of the world's myriad of independent countries, only a few are not part of FIFA, and out of those, only three or four at most do not have an international football team of some description. Even fewer have no organised football at all. According to Matt, an acquaintance of your correspondent, the tiny Pacific nation of Palau is one such place. He called in to the homestead a few weeks ago whilst on the way to somewhere else, and we fell into conversation, during which he mentioned that he had just come back from a ten-day holiday in Palau, which he enjoyed immensely, and had spent no small amount of time diving among the tiny Pacific nation's coral-reefs.

When asked about the football scene in Palau, he merely shrugged his shoulders and said that the Palauans didn't play football, or, at least, he had heard nothing about the game being played locally. That came as no big surprise, to be fair, as Matt is no fan of what that icon of British broadcasting, Stuart Hall, calls "the beautiful game." However, the game is indeed played in Palau, but not entirely as per the FIFA rule-book. Before we go on to that, however, time for a quick geography lesson (not least for yours truly).

The Republic of Palau (Belau in the Palauan language), situated some 500 miles due east of the southern Philippine island of Mindanao and 2000 miles south of Japan, was the final Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands to achieve independence when it became a sovereign state in 1994. It, together with the Northern Mariana Islands, the Marshall Islands and what are now the Federated States of Micronesia, was a United Nations trusteeship under American supervision from 1947 until independence.

Palau, an archipelago spread over thousands of square miles of the Pacific Ocean, consists of more than 250 islands covering a total land area of less than 180 square miles with a population of just under 21000 people, more than half of whom live on Koror Island.

Koror is also home to the Palau Football Association, which was formed in May 2002, and the PFA's first ten years in existence have not been without their fair share of problems; a local league was initiated in 2004, but it was discontinued in 2007. Charles Reklai Mitchell, a Palauan-American who grew up in the Californian city of San Diego and played college football for California State Northridge between 2000 and 2003, moved to Palau in 2007 and began working with the PFA early in 2008. He is now the association's president, and has overseen the return of an organised league in the archipelago, which is still only based on Koror and the neighbouring island of Malakal.

When Mitchell arrived in the islands, he found the PFA, and football in Palau in general, in a state of neglect. Only now, four years on, has he and a small band of fellow volunteers, been able to sufficiently resurrect organised football in the tiny republic to the extent that Koror's league has been revived and an inter-island youth tournament created.

He said: "It almost feels like we are starting from scratch..Football in Palau was around [when he arrived in 2008], but [there was] no-one to organize it properly." The league stopped after the 2006-07 due what Mitchell called "a lack of personnel."

"In Palau," Mitchell continued, "it is very difficult to find volunteers to organize a league. There is a handful of us wearing 3 hats, so to say. That league [2006-07] was mainly [staffed] with foreigners, which is not a bad thing, but my mentality was to develop the youth for the future in order to have higher quality local players. The league went on for years and we haven't gotten anywhere [near] international play. It's better to have strong roots or the whole thing will collapse. Without consistent development, gaps begin to form and weaken the influence of football within the community."

This season, there are five teams competing in the PFA Spring League, which only lasts a matter of weeks. It began on 11/3/12, and this season's participants are Team Bangladesh - who won the last national league championship, played in 2007, and who are also the only team from that era to take part in this year's competition; they could justifiably be called the current league champions - Belau Kanu Club, Biib Strykers, Kramers FC, and, last but not least, Taj.

Judging by their names, some of the teams who participated in previous incarnations (and the current version) of the PFA League seem to have comprised at least partly of migrant workers: Mount Everest Nepal, Taj and Team Bangladesh to name but three; a throwback to Mitchell's earlier comments. The teams competing this season have all been sponsored by local businesses; Taj, for example, is the name of a local restaurant, while Kramers FC is sponsored by a café based on Malakal.

What sets adult football in Palau apart from that played in most of the rest of the world is that teams are 9-a-side, and comprise of both men and women. The country, or Koror, at any rate, has just 57 registered players: 53 men and 4 women. Each team plays each other once, with matches lasting 60 minutes instead of the regulation 90, and the top four teams then move on to the classic semi-final and final format.

Team Bangladesh finished top of the 5-team "regular" season this time round, winning all of their games in the process. They were drawn against Biib Strykers in the semi-finals, with second-placed Taj taking on Kramers FC in the other semi. (Belau Kanu Club finished bottom of the group and pointless.) Team Bangladesh disposed of the Strykers in some style, winning by 6 goals to 1, thanks in part to a Malakai Bitu hat-trick, is second of the campaign.

In the other semi, which proved to be even more of a high-scoring affair, Taj defeated Kramers FC 8:4 with Futa and Toni Ililau scoring hat-tricks for Taj; Futa registered his treble in the first 10 minutes, and that after Kramers FC had opened the scoring through Tabet Kano in the first minute. The result of the final between Taj and Team Bangladesh, played on 22/4/12 was a 2:1 win for the "current" league champions, though the match details were not to hand at the time of writing.

That takes care of the present, but what of the future of the game in Palau? Mitchell reckons that the future of the game in the islands definitely belongs to today's youth. There is a national sports tournament, the Belau Games, which takes place every two years, and football was included in the set-up for the first time in 2011. The tiny republic is divided into 16 states, with 10 of them, including Melekeok, which houses the nation's capital, Ngerulmud, situated on the largest island in the republic, Babeldaob. Four states (Airai, Koror, Ngardmau and the eventual winners, Ngeremlengui) sent representative football teams, though there were problems even here, according to the PFA president.

"The Belau Games in 2011 for all sports were open to adults. [Having said that], there are not enough Palauan adults who play football," he said. "I put an age limit of 14 and under to cater to the youth build-up for years to come. In 2013, the soccer event will have no age limits since most of the kids in the program now will be around 16 years of age. In June of this year, the youth games will be conducted, which [will feature teams of age] 18 & under. We will hold two competitions with the age groups being 14-18 and 10-13 years of age."

The Palau Football Association also organise after-school "camps" for local children of primary-school age at the PCC Track & Field (also referred to as the Palau National Track & Field), the country's national stadium, and the PFA estimated that more than 100 schoolchildren have already taken part so far this year.

Meanwhile, the PFA are also looking to expand senior football further, at least on Koror. The 5 clubs taking part in the association's Spring League are, as mentioned earlier, all sponsored by private businesses, and the PFA are looking for locals to come together and organise clubs which are not financed by private companies. Biib Strykers are also planning to develop the nation's first proper youth team later this year. According to Mitchell, the format of the PFA's Autumn League - or, failing that, future editions of PFA league championships - may well change as the number of clubs increases.

"We will be conducting another adult league in the fall which will be longer. Depending on the number of registered teams, every team will play each other twice before moving on. There is a possibility in the play-offs we might adopt the UEFA ruling on "legs". That will something to really consider. We hope to begin the fall (autumn) season in October."

Mitchell also mentioned that the PFA are looking further ahead, and further afield. "In 2014 the Micronesian Games are held in Pohnpei [in the Federated States of Micronesia] and I hope they offer football as an event. It will give a chance to have all islanders watch and play football."

Not only that, but the PFA joining a continental confederation should not be ruled out, and, according to the PFA president, this may happen sooner rather than later, though he remains realistic.

"In order to apply for FIFA, I believe we need to join an international federation first. We have been exchanging emails with the Guam Football Association. GFA president Richard Lai recently said he will mention our interest in joining the EAFF[East Asian Football Federation], AFC at a meeting in Shanghai.

"There are pros and cons with everything, but the EAFF is a better choice. The chance to conduct friendlies with various nations would be logistically easier than trying to send a team to Papua New Guinea, Samoa, etc. The competition is strong in the AFC and [participation in major tournaments is unrealistic at this time] because we are just getting our footing and will be thrown into the deep end. At this point we will go with whatever federation that is willing to accept our application, but leaning towards EAFF."

Membership of the EAFF might well be a better option for the PFA; travelling costs would certainly add up to a lot less than were they to join the OFC (Oceania Football Confederation). For instance, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands are, in comparison to Samoa, a hop, skip and jump away from Palau. The Philippines, too, are a lot closer than most of the OFC member nations.

And, when your budget is as limited as that of the Palau Football Association, every penny counts; according to the PFA website, the association's annual income (garnered mostly thanks to the kindness of others) averages out at around just US$800 per annum, while annual expenditure is put at some US$500. Of course, with such a tiny population, an equally small budget, not to mention an apathy for the game among large sections of the country's adult population - American team sports such as baseball and basketball are still the most popular in the archipelago - expansion is difficult, Mitchell added.

"I would say our biggest needs are coaching and refereeing qualification courses along with the strengthening of our adminstration. It's very hard to do [any of this] without a budget. It would be nice to have a certified instructor on island to conduct courses for all interested volunteers. Eventually the PFA will need to provide coaches and referees that hold the credentials that will allow them to perform their duties at an international level."

He concluded by saying: "I think football in Palau is another great team sport to create productive people for the community. I don't expect Palau to win a World Cup, but there is potential for kids to possibly get scholarships for school. There is a lot of natural talent, its just a matter of constantly working with them. The biggest problem here is our population. It is really low and kids here do not concentrate on one sport. It is hard to keep a kid interested in a sport if there is no incentive such as travelling to other islands for youth tourneys."

Palau, then, although hampered as it is by having a small population, many of whom are apathetic towards football, and the distances between it and even its closest neighbours, has a football association staffed by volunteers who, although inexperienced, are determined to see it grow and improve. The PFA may well be taking baby steps at the moment and finding their feet - in Charles Mitchell's own words: "This is the first time I have organized a league and with that I have learned what to improve on" - but every tiny step forward is a sign of progress.

Membership of FIFA, or even the EAFF, may well be a long way off, but it is heartening to see Palau's local governing football body look at things in a sensible manner. In fact, the world's biggest clubs and federations could learn a few lessons from what the Palau Football Association are doing, and how they are doing it with about as much money as what would keep Cristiano Ronaldo in football boots for a couple of months. It augurs well for the future of football in the small republic..and going to a game at the PCC Track & Field might give Matt something else to do with his Sunday afternoon the next time he's in the area.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many thanks to Charles Mitchell for his kindness, patience, co-operation and permission to glean information from the Palau Football Association website:

Other information was taken from the RSSSF website:

HELP BILLY WALK APPEAL: The Help Billy Appeal, ongoing since last year, aims to raise enough money to enable a young 3-year-old boy, Billy Douglas, who comes from a village just outside Belfast and who suffers from spastic diaplegia, to undergo an urgent and potentially life-changing operation. Should you wish to know more, Billy's plight has been highlighted in a recent entry here on Pat's Football Blog:

Or, of course, for those who might want to bypass the article and go straight to goal, the appeal's website address is:

If you can donate, please do so. If not, kindly post either link on your Facebook page if you have one and share, or tweet. Many thanks.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Maybe this article will highlight a case of someone floating through daily football life in a blissfully unaware fashion, but I was sitting down to a very recent edition of Football Focus (broadcast on the BBC every Saturday afternoon during the regular football-season) when Stoke City's Peter Crouch began talking about his father "doing the Poznań up in the gods." Er, doing the what?? This was new to me, but it wasn't long before I was able to put two and two together, and it was certainly different to what I call "doing the Crouch."

(Remember the Crouchmeister's little robot-dance after scoring for England against Jamaica all those years ago? A few of us exiled Reds fans, living in the same small town in the middle of continental Europe, regularly performed the "Crouch" whilst watching Liverpool games on TV in the local bar, singing "Do the Peter Crouch" - to the tune of the "Monster Mash" - much to the obvious bemusement of the natives. Stoke City fans have my permission to imitate, with the proviso that an acknowlegement be given.)

"Doing the Poznań," of course, refers to the action of whole sections of supporters turning their backs to the game, locking their arms together and bouncing up and down in lines along the stand, usually whilst indulging in a sing-song or chant. The term, if not the bounce, was born after Manchester City fans, attending the away game against Polish side Lech Poznań in the UEFA Cup (sorry, Europa League) in 2010, witnessed the occurrence and were so impressed with what they saw that they immediately began imitating it, and named the action in honour of their hosts. Obviously, City fans (not to mention the rest of the British public) had never seen the like of it before, or, at least, those under the age of 20, and not in football stadia, at any rate.

However, the "Poznań" has been done within borders of the United Kingdom before, when the action had no known name, and you can thank a bunch of Croatians for that. Croatia, of course, qualified for Euro 96, and brought several hundred supporters with them, who bounced their way up and down England, attired in Croatia's famous checked shirts all, many of them wearing bobby hats and all of them confusing and bewildering the natives.

It remains odd, however, that their jumping and up and down whilst facing away from the pitch wasn't picked up by the British followers of football at the time; there was the odd comment in the press and the odd photograph in the occasional footie magazine or two, but that was about all.

The "Poznań" is actually reputed to have began life on the terraces in either Greece or Turkey - which is entirely plausible as it imitates the classically stereotypical wedding/party dance performed in both countries - sometime in the 1960s and is, understandably, more properly known as "la Grècque" ("the Greek") throughout Europe (according to information contained in a discussion on the Video Celts forum).

It can be performed whilst either facing or turning one's back on the pitch, and a perfect example of this was to be seen at the beginning of the 2000 UEFA Cup final in Copenhagen between Arsenal and Galatasaray, when the Turkish club's supporters kept it up for minutes on end early on in the game. They did the "Grècque" whist facing the pitch; this is still most common in Greece and Turkey. In some other countries, most notably Germany and Holland, pogoing is very popular.

In 2006, Derry City fans took up the Grècque after watching Paris Saint-Germain supporters indulging in a bit of a knees-up during their UEFA Cup match at the Parc des Princes..and have to continued to do so to this day. Celtic fans will claim that they were busy with their terrace version of the "Huddle" for years, but it may well have been that the Candystripes' support was the first in the British Isles to take up "la Grècque." 

Apart from when your team are losing to Manchester City, watching the City support "doing the Poznań" is fun to watch, certainly more so than the "Mexican Wave", and probably a lot more fun to participate in as well. Mind you, when the Celtic fans "do the Huddle", it takes on a life of its own, a stadium-shaking form of almost awe-inspiring proportions.

The only problem some football philosophers seem to have with the little dance routine is that it seems to have, in several cases, become "merely" a goal celebration instead of something more spontaneous. Others seem to think that their club's set of fans invented the "Poznań", and resent others imitating it.

Then again, we've all seen that with football chants, songs and what not; football fans, by nature, imitate and adapt where neccessary. Witness the ongoing debate between Liverpool and Celtic supporters as to who first sang the old Rogers & Hammerstein classic (superbly covered in the early 1960s, of course, by Gerry & The Pacemakers) "You'll Never Walk Alone." Let's face it, who cares?

Personally, I find the "Poznań" a lot less irritating than having to hear supporters, sitting in half-empty grounds, singing along to Dario G (the man who fired the final, fatal shot into the cadavre of pop music by ruining a perfectly good Italian terrace song from the early 1990s and turning it into the theme tune for the 1998 World Cup) - or singing the tune the whole way through the game - The Fratellis or Pigbag before the ball bounces after hitting the back of the opposition's net. It's also infinitely more preferable to the "[Fill in your own club name here]..till I die" routine, especially when performed to the accompaniment of the England "band" at international matches.

Regardless of whether the media and every fan connected to a club in the Premier League will eventually get bored of talking about, or doing, the Poznań, Grècque, Huddle, Olimpia, Croatia or whatever you want to call it, at least it temporarily gave the flock something else to do than harping on about goal-line technology..

AUTHOR'S LINK: Some more articles for your reading and viewing pleasure now..

Never mind the Poznań, here's la Grècque, performed in Paris, Derry City-style:
Slovenia fans at Euro 2000:
Olimpia Ljubljana fans against Liverpool, UEFA Cup 2002:
Video Celts - Lech Poznan; invented in 1961 and called the "Grècque"?:
Saint-Etienne fans showing how it should be done:
In the interests of fair play, first up, the Celtic support shaking Paradise to its roots:
And, just to balance things out, Man City fans doing the same at Wembley:
To finish off, the "original" and still the best; Lech's supporters just couldn't not be included:
HELP BILLY WALK APPEAL: And now that you're all Poznańed-out, time for a serious message. The Help Billy Appeal, ongoing since last year, aims to raise enough money to enable a young 3-year-old boy, Billy Douglas, who comes from a village just outside Belfast and who suffers from spastic diaplegia, to undergo an urgent and potentially life-changing operation. Should you wish to know more, Billy's plight has been highlighted in a recent entry here on Pat's Football Blog:

Or, of course, for those who might want to bypass the article and go straight to goal, the appeal's website address is:

If you can donate, please do so. If not, kindly post either link on your Facebook page if you have one and share. Many thanks.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


The football world was shocked and dismayed at the sudden collapse of Bolton Wanderers’ Fabrice Muamba during the FA Cup quarter-final tie against Spurs on St. Patrick’s Day, which resulted in him reportedly suffering from a cardiac arrest. Happily, the 23-year-old DRC Congolese-born player is showing encouraging signs of progress, although it remains to be seen if he will ever recover enough to play professional football again. It is hoped that, at least, he shall recover enough from his ordeal to lead a normal life.

The by now (at times tackily) well-documented story of Muamba’s ordeal, and that of Aston Villa’s Bulgarian ex-international Stillian Petrov, who was more recently diagnosed with acute leukaemia (and good luck to him in dealing with it), really should put football, and the nonsense which frequently surrounds it, in its proper place in the pecking-order of life, as the subject of this particular blog most certainly does.

Pat’s Football Blog, meanwhile, has covered many subjects related to the world of football, from the world's remotest football club (Tristan da Cunha FC) to the goalposts used in the deciding game of the 1950 World Cup, through to all the fun of the FIFA fair. Time for a first for this blog, though; time to cover something which is as far removed from the parallel and often unreal world of football as it can get - the story of a young boy's struggle to walk, one which is rapidly turning into a race against time.

BRAVE..Billy Douglas

Three-year-old Billy Douglas lives in the quiet Northern Irish town of Ballygowan, and is a bright, happy youngster, who suffers from Spastic Diplegia, a form of cerebral palsy which can affect the arms, but more commonly affects the legs. In Billy's case, Spastic Diplegia left him unable to move his legs or feet.

Billy was first diagnosed with the condition at a year old after his mother Savien brought him to Belfast's Musgrave Park Hospital when it became apparent that he failed to begin crawling or walking. Savien and husband William were shattered to learn that Billy had been diagnosed with brain-damage.

The couple have two healthy children, teenage daughter Catherine and seven-year-old Robert, but the Douglas family had been shadowed by tragedy even before Billy's birth. In 2003, Savien and William's first son, also called William, was born.

Sadly, baby William died just after birth from a condition called Potter's Syndrome (also known as Renal Agenesis), which happens when the baby, whilst in the womb, has no kidneys, and this means that without said organs, the unborn child cannot produce amniotic fluid in the womb. This, in turn, restricts lung development in the baby. Many babies with Potter's Syndrome are still-born; those which are born alive almost invariably die within a couple of days of being delivered. William was born without a bladder or kidneys.

Then, in 2006, the family were dealt another cruel blow when another son, Charlie, was still-born. The deaths of both children, and Billy's current health problems, would be shattering blows for any family, but the Douglas family are determined to ensure that their youngest child will have a bright future.

Savien and William were told by doctors at the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald (East Belfast) that they were unable to operate on Billy, and were instead advised to consider a process called Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy, which involves cutting the nerves at the base of the spine. 

The operation is not available in Northern Ireland, and was scheduled to have been carried out in the United States city of St. Louis, but, the couple have recently received news that there is a surgeon in the south-western English city of Bristol who may be willing to carry out the operation. However, the operation, whether carried out in St. Louis or Bristol, together with corrective physiotherapy, does not come cheap. The operation and physiotherapy combined will, Savien and William estimate, cost in the region of £50000.

For the Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy operation to be have any chance of success, any child with Spastic Diplegia would have to undergo it somewhere between their second and fourth birthday. Billy will be four years old in September. 

The clock, then, is ticking for the brave youngster, and for his fundraising campaign, the Help Billy Walk Appeal, which, in less than a year, due to some superb fundraising events, ranging from concerts to Savien and company abseiling down the front of Belfast’s Europa Hotel, has raised an admirable £40000, to the immense credit of one and all involved. To get Billy walking is the campaign's first target; any excess monies raised will go towards the creation of a holiday-home in Northern Ireland for kids with cerebral palsy.

One of the simplest descriptions of cerebral palsy can be found on the Scope website (Scope is a UK-based organisation, and its website address is:

"Cerebral palsy is a condition that affects muscle control and movement. It is usually caused by an injury to the brain before, during or after birth.

"Children with cerebral palsy have difficulties in controlling muscles and movements as they grow and develop."

The Help Billy Walk Appeal is an entirely voluntary operation; Savien and a host of friends are running the campaign. There is no paid CEO taking charge, nor will you see any Children In Need-style adverts on telly for this one; cerebral palsy (still less Spastic Diplegia) is definitely not a "sexy" disease - it affects roughly 1 in 500 children, according to some NHS estimates dating back to 1997 - nor is it something in which the present British government (or many other governments across Europe) would be terribly interested, if current trends are anything to go by.

After all, they've left the disabled, the elderly and the vulnerable out to dry and to more or less fend for themselves over the past few years. So, in place of a government which doesn't really have the interests of the less-fortunate at heart, the onus is on the general public to do what it can. 

In this case, it means helping one young boy towards having a viable future, and could end up helping many more like him. No chance of Fearne Cotton or Gary Lineker dropping by to lend a hand, much less the Department of Health releasing funds to pay for Billy's operation and further assistance, unfortunately, but the Help Billy Appeal is certainly in full-swing regardless of the lack of any major backing. However, it must be stressed that time is running out for Billy to have his operation.

Dear reader, wherever you are in the world, your help would be gratefully received, be it financial or merely passing on the link at the end of this article to, for instance, your local football team - or, indeed, their supporters' club - and requesting their assistance.

If you are someone who writes a blog, why not post the link to this blog - or the link to the appeal - on your blog and earn some brownie points? (Please drop this scribe a line, if at all possible, if you are planning on doing so, or, better still, raising money for the appeal, preferably by leaving a message on Pat's Football Blog's Facebook page.) Good publicity for your blog, good publicity for the Help Billy Walk Appeal. Everybody wins.

If you are able to donate, any amount of money (pounds sterling, preferably), be it £1 or £1000, would be a help and, at the same time, greatly appreciated. (Details of how to pay can be found on the appeal’s website, via the bottom of this article.) It would be, financially, more valuable than the Jimmy Glass goal which kept Carlisle United in the Football League. It would mean more than the Crouchmeister's winner for Spurs against Man City the season before last which put Harry’s boys into the Champions' League. It would mean, in all sorts of ways, an immeasurable amount to a family, and a young boy, who are all due some good fortune.

Please follow the link to the Help Billy Walk Appeal website - the appeal also has its own Facebook page -  which includes not only news on fundraising activities and information on Billy and his condition, but how to donate (via trusty old Paypal) to what is a very deserving cause:

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Any factual errors contained within the above blog, while unintentional, are the responsibility of the author and the author alone.

An update on how the appeal is progressing will be posted in May.