Football’s Forgotten Nations

Many countries do not have a platform to showcase their footballing talents.

Andy Alston and Paul Irving

While the main focus in football on the global stage is towards the major nations, few people cast an eye over the smaller countries that participate in FIFA tournaments. Some nations are unable to take part in these competitions as they are not acknowledged by FIFA and do not have a platform to compete. But one 15-year-old schoolboy decided to change the face of football forever and give minority countries their moment in the spotlight.

There are many sovereign states and disenfranchised people throughout the world who have no official football team. There could be for many reasons for this – the countries are too small to have a national side, having an identity towards a country that no longer exists or even a history of persecution.

Despite this, there are opportunities for teams to be created and to compete on some level. There are a number of organisations that have been set up to act as a vehicle for non-FIFA teams to play other nations in a similar situation. One of the most well-known of such groups is the Federation of New European Federations Board (N.F. Board), who created European tournaments for unrecognised states. Nathan Mackenzie was the Vice President of the European Association and explained how he got involved.

“I was only 15 at the time but I was really interested in it all and thought it was quite geeky at first. I emailed them to say that if they needed any assistance with anything then I’d love to help out. I got a reply soon after saying that they’re looking to start up a European Confederation and asked if I would be interested in getting involved. I was ecstatic, I couldn’t believe it.”

Mackenzie was elected as Vice President of the organisation and soon began to invite countries to join the group. Several well-known nations such as Greenland and Monaco are not allowed to participate in FIFA competitions and they became two of the flagship names for the Confederation. “There were just 10 board members at the beginning,” Mackenzie said. “I was the only one from the UK and there were people from all over the world including Spain, France, Belgium, Germany and Ukraine. Everything was done online, we just set up a forum to talk together and share ideas.”

Although the Inverness-born pioneer was unsure about taking on the position at first. He said: “I was really apprehensive at the start because they wanted me to fly around the world and people were going to be thinking: “Who is this 15-year-old kid?” But I knew a lot about it and I had a good bunch of contacts. The language barrier wasn’t a problem. Most people speak English and you can get the hang of what they’re saying in an e-mail.”

Countries from all across Europe soon began to sign up all with a passion for playing football on a global stage, although some teams found the initial starting up process to be difficult. Many nations lack both the funding and knowledge to get started but Mackenzie was determined to help some of the poorest nations in the poorest parts of the world. He said: “When you’re trying to get people from all around the planet together, the one thing you need to get going is money. These associations don’t have money. You’d try and find sponsors but you’d discover that they have their own agenda. What you’d find is that certain nations wouldn’t want to be involved with other nations and sponsors wouldn’t want to be involved in certain countries that games were played in.

“I even had one guy contact me who said that he represented Somaliland that he’d be very interested in becoming members with us. I had to say that it was meant to be a European Confederation but he told us that their entire team was based in Birmingham! It was just a team of refugees so we had a tournament organised for them.”

The organisation went from strength to strength under Mackenzie’s time as Vice President with the standard of football improving as the number of countries signing up increased. “Some of these teams are certainly good enough to compete at FIFA level,” he said. Several nations even fielded professional footballers in a bid to come out on top in the competitions.
Although the project was soon dealt a killer blow when the N.F. Board revealed that the Confederation was set to be abolished and Mackenzie’s hard work would be in vein.

The Scot was upset at the news and recalls the anger that he experienced at the time: “Two years ago the Board came to us and said that they no longer wanted a European Confederation. Instead, they wanted all of our members to become a member of the N.F. Board and scrap the project and all the hard work we had done. It was quite annoying at the time to get told all of this work was not needed.
“They said that they didn’t want all of our members. They only wanted a few of us and they wanted me to be their head of European Operations, which was a paid job, and they wanted me to help set up the VIVA World Cup. I was happy myself but we wanted to keep our project going but the Board responded by saying that we had all lost our positions and we could either take membership with them or leave.”

Mackenzie left the N.F. Board disillusioned with the organisation and was determined that he could continue the project elsewhere. He started his own governing body soon after and sent over eighty application forms to countries across the globe but only two were returned as the countries feared being expelled from the N.F. Board, who had warned them not to join the new group. “In the end we were only left with just a couple of islands and the only other countries that were interested were micro nations that people made up in their bedroom and in the end we decided that it wasn’t going to make it and the project was over,” he said.

While the teams and nations involved may not be playing for major honours or contain players which are household names, Mackenzie believes that allowing them to compete in at least some capacity adds to the essence of what the game is all about. He said: “They say that we should let everyone play. There’s a lot of nations that we helped that we knew wouldn’t get into FIFA but that wasn’t the point – we helped them to play with their own identity. People want to play for their culture and by setting up a framework for competitive football that’s their stage and they’re happy with that.

“I think it adds to the beauty of football. If you remember the 1974 World Cup with Zaire, everybody thought at the time “What’s the point in having them?” but now you look at the likes of DR Congo and other African nations who, at the beginning, people said weren’t good enough but now they’re beating European teams. It just takes time and money to get these things going.”


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