This article was published in Dutch on voetblah.nl Due to the fact that football and the Aramean community are world wide phenomena, I decided to publish it here in English
About 600 kilometers north of Stockholm the ConIFA World Footballl Cup for stateless peoples and independent football associations is well under way. In Östersund’s Jämtkraft Arena, which seats 6000, 12 independent football associations from around the world are playing for the World Cup. One of the participating nations are the Arameans/ Suryoye, one of the oldest peoples of ancient Mesopotamia. Coach and co-founder of ‘Football Association Arameans Suryoye’ Mr. Melke Alan, also found a number of players in Netherlands. Andreas David, Marco Aydin (both Excelsior ’31) and Gaby Jallo (Willem II) are capped players now. Other stars like Chris David (Fulham) and Sanharib Malki (Kasimpasa) could not participate due to other commitments, Sharbel Touma (old FC Twente, now Syrianska FC) is injured. I spoke with coach Alan about the tournament, the team and the chances for the title.
ConIFA, Östersund and Arameans, what and who are we talking about?
“ConIFA is the Confederation of Independent Football Associations and was founded in 2013. The Federation members represent nations that do not participate in FIFA or FIFA affiliated competitions and tournaments. For the first time ConIFA has organized this tournament for the World Cup and Östersund offered to host it. It is the largest city in Lapland, the land of the Sami and home of FA Sápmi. The Arameans, or Suryoye, are an ancient Christian people that spread all over the world over the years. Their home countries are modern Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.”
What is it like to play as a national team in a real World Cup?
“Besides wanting to play good football it is even more important that we can represent our people. Football is a very good means to reach out and connect with each other. We participated in the 2008 VIVA Cup, the forerunner of this tournament, but we are seeing a lot more impact now because we have also organized ourselves in an association. Our own players who speak our own language poorly, are now forced to speak Aramaic, and they have improved it over the course of two weeks. This is wonderful to witness and it shows once again how important language is. Furthermore, we get to learn new people such as the Padanians and the Occitanians and they get to intereact with us. This is a great experience for the boys. As the technical staff, we do not only teach the players how to play as a team on the field, but also how they can represent the Arameans. Via FaceBook and other channels we see that a lot of fans are following us and watching the games. The reactions are all positive and encouraging. The atmosphere is similar to games played by The Netherlands or Sweden in big tournaments.”
How did players react when you asked them to play for the team?
“We had limited time to get a squad together. In 2008 we played with guys who all came from Sweden, but because the tournament is now aligned with the leagues in Western Europe, we can also use players from the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany. We even selected a guy in Turkey. With the boys living outside of Sweden I have had contact by phone and had to find some of them through others. Sometimes you cannot tell by the name if someone is Aramaen or not, they can have Turkish or Arabic names or English sounding like Chris David. But we managed to pull a group of 22 players together. Everyone responded enthusiastically and came here in high spirits. We don’t have the money for a training camp and players paid some of their own expenses. This left us with only two days of preparation time for the tournament but our organization coped pretty well with the situation. We have a decent squad with good players and are even tipped as contenders for the title. With our association, Syrianska FC and Aramaen clubs worldwide, we hope to continue to professionalize. We need the help and support of our people if we want to succeed.”
ConIFA and Östersund are not really names that capture one’s imagination, does the tournament draw the attention it deserves?
“With ConIFA we set forth on a new path. It is carried by the individual associations and really serves as a platform for all participants to present themselves. Regional departments are working on the further professionalisation. It’s true that there are not that many spectators in the stadium, but everyone around the world, poor and rich, can stream the games online for a small amount of money. Thanks to the internet we are not dependent on TV networks who need to buy the rights and distribute the images. ConIFA and this tournament are growing and we are working together to develop them further. The world should embrace this tournament and aid us. We do not have the money or the sponsors, but we are just as legitimate as FIFA. In ConIFA the associations have a bigger voice in the organization and they reinforce each other. It’s not about money or being the best in football, it’s about giving people a chance to show themselve to the world and help to give those people a sense of dignity.”
You are being tipped as favorites for the title, but Friday you must face Ellan Vannin, the Isle of Man, in the semi-finals first. How do you perceive your chances?
“My experience with this kind of opponent is that all depends on concentration. It will be an open game and the team that makes the fewest mistakes will win. They have a strong side with ten players who all play on the same team on the home island. We really have to operate as a unit and make as few mistakes as possible in order to win this match. Despite our short preparation time, I noticed that the boys share the same winners and survival mentality distinctive for our people. This is a very good quality in a tight match. We talk a lot to them about this and they may have gotten a bit bored, but opponents and people here in town all say that our group shows the most joy. There can hardly be a bigger compliment.”
I’ll post an update on Saturday. The game against Ellan Vannin will be played 19.00 CET Friday June 6. Check for more info, the schedule and live streams http://worldfootballcup.org/
The picture of the Aramean squad is from the FaceBook page of Football Association Arameans Suryoye
The panorama of the Jämtkraft Arena is from http://www.groundhopping.se/Ostersund.htm