Introducing Yorkshire's international football team
PUBLISHED: 00:00 12 June 2018
As the cream of English football head to Russia hoping for World Cup glory, Yorkshire’s own national team are preparing for an international tournament of their own.
Gareth Southgate faces the challenge of his life this summer as he attempts to galvanise his squad of millionaires into a side capable of lifting the World Cup and ending 52 years of hurt. But while England battle it out against the world’s best, a forklift truck driver from Leeds knows what Southgate is going through.
Phil Hegarty is the manager of Yorkshire’s international football team and this month he is leading his team into their first competition. While Brazil, Spain and the rest of the world’s elite are busy in Russia, the Yorkshire team will be competing for the Bohemia Shield in Prague.
‘It’s very exciting,’ Phil said. ‘We’ve come a long way in a short time and I’ve been gobsmacked by the support we have received – it has really gathered momentum.’
Phil had been kicking around the idea of a Yorkshire national team for almost 20 years before he started to look into it seriously.
‘I first had a conversation in about 1999 about who would make a Yorkshire XI and that has stayed with me for a long time,’ he said. ‘Then last year I read about the Isle of Man IFA and started to look into it and it became apparent that Yorkshire would have a good chance.
‘All I had to do was to get some support. I contacted the Ridings of Jorvik and we started to put the word out and to get people interested. We got some key players on board who really helped it move along and all these little pieces came together to make it grow.’
Last year the Yorkshire Independent Football Association applied to applied join Conifa, the Confederation of Independent Football Associations, which was formed in 2013 and now has 47 members across the globe, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.
The Conifa website describes the organisation as ‘the world leading organization for people, nations and sportingly isolated regions who share the joy of playing international football’.
And while Yorkshire is anything but ‘sportingly isolated’, the YIFA was voted in to Conifa unanimously. Phil added: ‘We owe a lot to Gary Verity, he really introduced Yorkshire to the outside world. He raised Yorkshire’s profile enormously and that made it so much easier for us.
‘Internationally, the view of Britain is seen through London-centric eyes but this is a unique cultural region. It is recognised as being different to the rest of England but it was difficult to convince people internationally – particularly Europeans – that we are anything other than England but it was a matter of breaking down those barriers and explaining what makes Yorkshire unique.
‘We ticked certain boxes really well and not many other areas could do that. Cornwall could, I’m sure, but not Lancashire. I don’t think they’d have a chance. We are making a statement that Yorkshire is a unique cultural region.’
Sixteen Conifa members will be taking part in an alternative World Cup in London this month, while the Yorkshire team will be playing in their first tournament abroad – the Bohemia Shield in Prague.
If their early form is any guide, they should acquit themselves well – we went to print before the results from May’s inaugural Jorvik Trophy were known, but in their first three matches they drew 1-1 with Ellan Vannin (that’s Manx for the Isle of Man), then beat the Chagos Islands 6-0 (an archipelago in the Indian Ocean) and won 7-2 in their first away game, against Barawa, in Somalia.
The Yorkshire players are drawn from the lower reaches of the English football pyramid, but Phil is confident many of them could play at a higher level. ‘The players are from tiers six to 11 but they are all really good players,’ he said.
‘We didn’t have a great start; our trial day was postponed because of a cold snap and we only had one training session before our first game. And that was cut short by the weather as well so they had hardly played together at all before that first game but they have gelled together really well.’
To check their most recent results, go online to yorkshireifa.com