You Might Not Know – Football at the Island Games

I’ve made an effort throughout the years to try and always leave room to learn about the lesser knowns in the world of football. I consider myself a fan of the underdogs, outcasts, and misunderstood. I’ve enjoyed keeping an eye on all sorts of tiers of football in all sorts of countries, whether that be amateur, low level professional, or even the likes of CONIFA, an organization which helps represent stateless and otherwise unrepresented communities on the pitch. That all being said, when I stumbled on to the Island Games, I was shocked at the utter lack of knowledge in my grasp.

The Island Games are a series of sporting events, first held in 1985, which feature a range of island nations competing in the sort of activities standard to multi-sport events like the Olympics. There’s swimming, gymnastics, archery, tennis, and even basketball on some occasions. The event which caught my eye, however, was the football. The Island Games, which are held every two years, have hosted football every iteration, except for 1987 and more recently in 2019. The latter was due to a lack of facilities in the host nation of Gilbralter.

What stood out to me the most about the football (both men’s and women’s) at the Island Games is that it sees FIFA and non-FIFA members ducking it out against one another. FIFA members like Bermuda and the Faroe Islands have managed success in the tournament, while Greenland, a CONIFA member, have reached the final twice (note: one final was reached prior to CONIFA membership was granted in 2016). Other teams, often independently operated or working within a local federation, have also found success. These include the Isle of Man, Ynys Môn, and the Isle of Wight. Other major European islands with FIFA recognition have either not taken part or left over time, including the likes of Iceland and Malta.

The 2006 FIFI Wild Cup Greenland squad. Photo courtesy of the XenonX3.

To have FIFA, CONIFA, and otherwise run football associations agreeing to consistently meet on the pitch in a competitive nature, in addition to giving otherwise poorly represented areas to host said events, is minor miracle. There is, it should be noted, a clear focus on a certain area of world. All current members have a direct connection to Europe, either by being in Europe or by being a territory of a European nation. The only example breaking this rule is Prince Edward Island, who took part in various activities from 1991 to 2007. Prince Edward Island is a province of Canada, which, while certainly still holding close ties to the UK, is obviously not in Europe.

Another issue in this otherwise surprisingly bright situation is that even more involved FIFA members have not always participated. The last to play were Gibraltar in 2015, with Bermuda not taking part since winning gold in 2013. There is a slight Asterix for that disengagement, however. Because football was not played at the 2019 Island Games (due to a lack of available pitches), a separate tournament was played in Wales, titled the 2019 Inter Games Football tournament. The tournament allowed teams to not go completely inactive and featured a development squad from Gilbraltar.

Along the way, the Island Games have seen a share of proper professionals, particularly via the presence of FIFA-recognized sides like Gibraltar and Bermuda. Rai Simons and Tyrell Burgess, who’ve played for the likes of Chesterfield and the Vancouver Whitecaps respectively, both showed for Bermuda. Liam Walker, who’s had stints at the likes of Portsmouth and Notts County, did his time for Gibraltar. Alexander Weckström, who’s played the for likes of prominent Finnish club IFK Mariehamn, represented the Åland Islands.

The Isle of Man senior squad line up during the 2019 Inter Games Football Tournament. Photo courtesy of Paul Hatton.

All of this to say, the Island Games are just one the many tournaments outside of the upper echelons of the game that football fans should be keeping on eye on. I was deeply unfamiliar with the tournament until recently, a situation I immediately felt the need to help prevent. The Island Games, along with similar tournaments in other portions of the world and other global tournaments, are yet another part of the puzzle. Support local, support the underdog, support the underrepresented. In the end, however fits you best, support the game.

A document explaining all by-laws for football at the Island Games can be found and explored here. The International Island Games Association (IIGA)’s contact information can be found here.