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Saturday, June 27, 2015


The Falkland Islands are one of the most far-flung members of the Island Games Association, situated some 8000 miles from the association's base in the Isle of Man, but it doesn't stop the archipelago sending a team to every tournament, something they have been doing since 1991, and they have undertaken yet another arduous journey of around a day's duration, following a day's delay, to reach Jersey in order to participate in this year's competition, which begins tomorrow (28/06/15).

Being so isolated from most of the rest of the world, and with Argentina basically refusing to have anything to do with the islands and their people because of the country's claim to the islands, leading to much ado and expense whenever Falklanders wish to venture abroad, the Island Games tournament is the only competitive outlet for the nation's footballers. A team representing the Falklands first competed in the Island Games in 2001, and since then have been ever-present (apart from the 2007 tournament), and achieved their first-ever victory in 2005 when they defeated Saaremaa (Estonia) in the Shetlands by 2 goals to 1.

Football has been played on the islands for a lot longer than the casual observer would think; records show that the game was first played there towards the end of the 19th Century, and Stanley FC, the only club currently operating in the Falklands, was founded back in 1916. For most of the time since then, Stanley FC, which now - to some extent, at least - doubles as the Falkland Islands national side, has only played friendlies against soldiers stationed on the islands, Royal Navy teams or teams representing other visiting vessels.

The islands did have a fully-functioning league system, together with a cup competition, for a number of years until 2013 when it ceased due to the only pitch in Stanley being deemed unfit for purpose (Chandlery FC won the championship in 2012-13, the last season in which it was played). Progress as far as football in the Falkland Islands is concerned has also been hampered due to the increase in popularity of various other sports, such as cricket. 

Not only that, but the fact that the Falkland Islands Football League is not a member of any international organisation limits the opportunities footballers from the islands get to play against international opposition. This differs from the experience of the islands' cricketers; the Falkland Islands Cricket Association have been an affiliate member of ICC Americas since 2007 and have been competing in the ICC Americas Championship since 2010.

That isn't to say that the FIFL has been moribund over the last couple of years; not a bit of it. They have been busy holding 7-a-side league and cup competitions, with the FIDF (Falkland Islands Defence Force) coming out on top in the league, which began in November last year andfinished in early February, on goal difference from Malvina. Sealed PR finished third, whilst Falkland Holidays finished the season with the wooden spoon. 

In the cup competition, Malvina, who had defeated Sealed PR over two legs in the semi-final, got their revenge on FIDF (who received a walkover after Falkland Holidays withdrew), beating them 3:2 in the final, which was held on 13/03/15.

The FIFL have also been keeping a close eye on the younger generation of Falkland Islanders, holding training sessions and also sending a contingent of under-12 players last November to the southern Chilean city of Punta Arenas to compete in a Unifying Continents at the South of the World Cup tournament. Two teams competed on behalf of the islands and, although neither won the tournament, both teams performed well, giving the FIFL hope for the future and something to work with now.

Back to the present now, and Michael Betts, former chairman of the FIFL and current player/coach of the Falkland Islands team who will be competing in Jersey, explained the current situation on the islands at length.

"I think football in the islands is at a crossroads.  It is still the most popular sport in the islands, but it is competing with more and more sports in the islands, which have less requirements for time, resources, equipment, facilities and still offer international competitions.  

"The Football Club is trying to become more strategic and involved in football at all levels and ages in the islands.  In the past we neglected players from the ages of 4-16 and this has had a big knock-on effect with the senior team as most are now over the age of 30.  We are addressing this issue and the under-12s' trip to Chile is the start of trying to look to the future.  We intend to have a trip to Chile every 2 years.

"Our next issue is coaching and equipment.  In the past we relied on volunteers trying their best with whatever equipment we had.  Now we are aiming to send those volunteers away to get their coaching badges and we are looking to have closer ties with the English FA and with the Falkland Islands Government to see if we can benefit from more support.  We are still in the early stages, but we are optimistic we can develop official relationships.

"However, no matter what we do with the above, the largest barrier in the islands that prevents us from developing football is the lack of adequate facilities.  We have a pitch that is maintained on a tiny budget and a small indoor sports hall that leaks when it rains.  Both are not equipped to handle the demands of football in the islands and it is stifling the sport’s development.  I am on a working group that involves Government and the Falkland Islands Overseas Games Association which is tasked into investigating how to best develop an all-weather artificial turf sports field.  I believe this is the solution, but the Football Club needs to ensure that the dimensions and turf type and length are what football needs.

"Overall all though, the future is bright but we are working to make sure football can develop to its full potential.  Especially with the number of kids coming through now.  In 5-10 years’ time, we will have a very exciting team."

For now, though, Betts and his team are concentrating on the forthcoming NatWest Island Games tournament, and they face some stiff competition against two former winners of the tournament, the Isle of Wight and the Shetland Islands. They were also drawn with the Norwegian island of Hitra, the neighbouring island to Frøya whom the Falklands defeated twice in Bermuda two years ago; victory against Hitra may be the best chance of a win for the Falklands team. The Norwegians will be the Falkland Islands' first opponents at the games in an late-afternoon match at St. John's FC on 28/6/15.

The Falkland Islands side busied themselves with playing friendlies against teams from the British Army and RAF until the winter weather set in during March. The games mostly took place at Mount Pleasant but two were also held in Stanley. Results in the series of friendlies have greatly encouraged Betts ahead of the team's trip to the Channel Islands, but he has kept his feet firmly on the ground with a healthy mix of hope and realism.

"The team hasn’t really discussed aims for this tournament and I think this is due to the age and inexperience of the squad.  We have six new players going to their first Island Games and one going to their Island Games as a footballer.  There is an understanding that we won’t perform as well as we did in Bermuda, mainly because there were only four teams in that competition and there is such a strong group of teams going to Jersey.  The hope is that we compete against Hitra and give them a tough game.  We are hoping to win, but it is so difficult to say as we know very little about them.  But we know the Isle of Wight and Shetlands will be incredibly strong teams and we face a real challenge to stay in the game.

"Preparations have gone well, but it hasn’t been without its challenges.  We have had injuries to key players and we have had to bed in a lot of new players, who aren’t used to the strains and pressures of preparing for an Island Games.  It also has been very difficult in the last couple of months as it has been winter here.  The lack of light and the snowy conditions has forced us to train indoors, which is not ideal.  We are the only team coming from winter to play in these games, and I think that affects our preparations.  But on the positive side, we are fit and very committed and we will step up our game when we are in Jersey."

Betts picked out Island Games débutants Sam Toolan and Aiden Morris plus the more experienced Kyle Biggs and Josh Peck as players to watch. Sixteen year-old Toolan is regarded by Betts as being "by far the quickest player in the team and likes to take players on.  He has a terrific shot as well."

Fellow newcomer Morris (21) is, in Betts' words, "a hard-working, attacking player who likes to create.  He will mainly be deployed on the left-side of midfield, but as a right-footed player he will like to drift infield."

Biggs represented the islands at the last NatWest Island Games tournament in Bermuda (and also at the 2011 tournament in the Isle of Wight) and will captain the team in Jersey. Betts: "He is our most important player and leader.  He will be expected to play every minute of every match, as he did in Bermuda."

Peck also played in both tournaments for the Falkland Islands, and Betts had this to say about him: "Josh is our attacking full-back.  He likes to get forward and try and get into the box.  He is a very athletic player who can keep running up and down the left-side of the pitch all day."

As Michael Betts mentioned, there have inevitably been injuries and withdrawals in the run-up to the Island Games; defender Josh Clayton had to withdraw in early April, whilst fellow defender Javier Sotomayor picked up an injury at the beginning of June. Clayton and Sotomayor have been replaced by Lucas Biggs and veteran Bill Chater, who has played for the Falklands in five Island Games tournaments, and has also represented the islands at the Games in athletics.

A win against either the Isle of Wight or the Shetland Islands for the Falklands team seems unlikely, but one can never tell, of course. Victory against Hitra, whose club side Hitra FK plays in the fifth level of Norwegian football and are currently in fourth place after nine games, and a tilt at winning the Small Nations trophy for the third time in a row, might be a more attainable target for Betts' side. 

The team only landed in Jersey less than 30 hours before the game against Hitra, but the trip didn't just begin early yesterday morning for the Falklands squad; the team and Falklands football in general have endured an arduous journey of sorts over the course of the last two years. Let's hope for something positive for them at journey's end. 



DEFENDERS: 2 Josh PECK; 3 Luke CLARKE; 5 Kyle BIGGS (CAPTAIN); 14 Zaza "Georgie" ELBAKIDZE; 16 Bill CHATER; 20 Doug CLARKE


FORWARDS: 9 Rafa SOTOMAYOR; 10 Aiden MORRIS; 18 Alejandro SANTANA; 19 Declan BONNER




AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many and sincere thanks are due to Michael Betts for his kindness in assisting with the above article. Some of the information contained above was obtained from the Falkland Islands Football League's Facebook page; for those who wish to know more about football on the islands, here's the link:

The Island Games Association's website was also perused - the link follows here:

One or two little details were checked on Wikipedia.

Good luck to the team in Jersey, and also to the FIFL for their plans for the future.

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