Luton Town & the VIVA World Cup

With the second part of his look at the complications surrounding Cypriot football, here's Ryan Hubbard.

Next year celebrates the 80th anniversary of the Cyprus Football Association. In 1931, football clubs from the Greek and Turkish communities on the island of Cyprus came together to set up the CFA.

Of the eight founding members, 7 were Greek-Cypriot clubs - Anorthosis Famagusta, APOEL Nicosia, Olympiakos Nicosia, AEL Limassol, Aris Limassol, Trast AC and EPA Larnaca. Meanwhile, Nicosia-based Lefkoþa Türk Spor Kulübü were the only Turkish-Cypriot side in the inaugural Cypriot First Division.

After the Second World War, fanaticism became rife in Cyprus, with tensions between the Greek and Turkish communities at an all-time high. In 1949, Lefkoþa merged with fellow Turkish-Cypriot club Çetinkaya Türk Asnaf Ocaðý and assumed the name Çetinkaya Türk Spor Birliði.

Çetinkaya quickly went on to with their first league title in 1951, and followed it up with the Cypriot Cup in 1952, and again 2 years later. The Turks also became the first club to keep the Pakkos Shield, after three victories in four years. However the rapidly deteriorating social situation on the island made the club quickly become one of the most hated teams in the country.

The situation eventually reached a head in 1955, when Çetinkaya were barred from playing a game with Greek-Cypriot team Pezoporikos. This incident prompted the Turkish-Cypriot clubs to abandon the CFA and shortly after, they created the Kibris Türk Futbol Federasyonu”(Cyprus Turkish Football Federation) or KTFF for short.

The CFA had 7 years previously joined FIFA, however the independence of the country from British rule didn't come until 1960. When the Republic of Cyprus was formed, the Turkish-Cypriots claimed that the independence deal allowed for the two Associations to run.

After the hostilities in the newly-formed Republic came the 1974 Turkish Invasion of the island. Approximately 600 were killed in the attack, and many thousands were forced to leave their homes and relocate to safer areas. This included thousands of Turkish-Cypriots who were forced to move from the south. As well as the four clubs made to move south of the new border, a number of Turkish-Cypriot clubs had to move north with the biggest - Türk Ocaðý Limasol Spor Kulübü - having to move from the now-popular holiday destination of Limassol on the south coast to Kyrenia on the north shore.

Flying under the flag of Turkey, the Turkish-Cypriots were allowed to play against international teams, with their first game - a 5-0 loss to the motherland - coming in 1962. The KTFF claim an agreement with then FIFA Secretary Dr. Helmut Kaiser allowed for the representation of a national team, and in 1980 they took part in their first international tournament. The Islamic games in Izmir pitted them against Libya, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and the hosts Turkey.

Ironically, it was the independence of the North on November 15 1983 that spelled the end for the Turkish-Cypriot footballers. FIFA were unprepared to sanction the FA of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus citing that there is only one recognized Football Association on Cyprus, and that is the CFA.

The TRNC has only ever been officially recognized by Turkey, but without FIFA's backing the Turkish-Cypriots were trapped. Left in limbo, they were a national team who weren't allowed to play international games. Even their state-sponsors Turkey were banned from sending teams to the island to play games. Turkey treat the TRNC as a foreign country, but their membership to FIFA stops them from participating in games with a non-sanctioned team. In the 1990's, Turkish team Fenerbahçe sent a team to Northern Cyprus for a game against a local-team but after FIFA-intervention the game was cancelled and a training camp held instead. Around this time, an application by the country to join FIFA was rejected.

A possible solution for the Turkish-Cypriot footballers was a United Nations Peace Plan for Cyprus, which quickly gained in popularity on the island and in Ankara. This would have seen a unified government, split into two separate sections, representing the Greeks and the Turkish communities. This could have paved the way for a unified Cypriot team, however the Turkish-Cypriots would prefer to follow the UK's footballing model and keep two individual teams.

However talks broke down after the Turkish-Cypriot Government refused to open up shipping ports to Greece, and the Greek-Cypriots voted no in the following referendum. The Turkish-Cypriots were forced to participate only in their domestic league until 2004 when their application to join the Nouvelle Fédération-Board was processed.

The NFB is an football association formed in late 2003, which gives unrecognized states, ethnic minorities, regions and stateless peoples which are not affiliated to FIFA a chance to participate in international competition. The organization also seems to work alongside FIFA as a temporary base for teams before gaining membership of FIFA.

Since joining the NFB (or Non-FIFA Board as it is informally known), the Northern Cypriots have been able to participate in tournaments around the globe, facing teams in similar situations to their own.

The TRNC's first Non-FIFA tournament was to be held in 2005 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Turkish-Cypriot Football Federation. The three-team round robin featured Sápmi (representing the Sámi people of Northern Scandinavia) and the newly-formed state of Kosovo.

The following year, TRNC took part in the six-team FIFI Wild Cup hosted by German club FC St. Pauli. Teams included Greenland, Zanzibar, Gibraltar, Tibet and a team representing the so-called Republic of St. Pauli representing the host-club's area in Hamburg. The Cypriots went on to win the tournament by defeating Zanzibar on penalties in the final.

In the same year, due to the success of the 50th Anniversary Cup, Northern Cyprus was selected to host the inaugural (and creatively-titled) VIVA World Cup. However, a new government was elected in North Cyprus. A government that was intent on forging relationships with new countries, with the intention of becoming a politically-recognized state. This government wanted to restrict the teams that could take part to avoid any political arguments. The NFB then took the decision to relocate the tournament to the Southern European region of Occitania.

In retaliation to this decision, the TRNC decided to host their own competition - The ELF Cup - at the same time as the VIVA competition. To poach teams away from their rival tournament, the KTFF promised to pay travel expenses for the participating teams. The ELF (Equality, Liberty, Fraternity) Cup went ahead with 8 sides taking part. Again, Northern Cyprus proved their strength by defeating Crimea in the final and lifting the trophy in Nicosia.

In recent years, the political tensions between the North and South of Cyprus have relaxed dramatically. The movement of citizens between the two is now a common practice, with increasing numbers now crossing the UN-imposed Green Line for work. This has not however changed FIFA's stance on the KTFF.

In 2007, English side Luton Town scheduled a match with Çetinkaya in Nicosia, but after complaints by the CFA, the game was cancelled. Only the KTFF know for sure if it was a publicity stunt, but the debacle finally made FIFA take notice, even more so than the Non-FIFA events. TV pictures of Luton players playing against each other in a training game - whilst Çetinkaya players watched on - were beamed around Asia. Talks between the CFA and KTFF were hastily arranged in Geneva, though they eventually amounted to nothing.

People in the TRNC believe football can unite people in a way that politics cannot. They also feel that the recognition of the KTFF may lead to better links between the north and south - as well as other nations, yet FIFA's embargo on the de facto state is preventing the Turkish-Cypriots from being able to compete with the majority of the world.

The Federation are still trying to get their message out to the world, recruiting diplomats and lobbyists to help fight their cause. Though many more meetings with FIFA lie ahead for the still-unrecognized federation if they hope to join the 208 other members, things are beginning to look positive. Meanwhile, the TRNC continue to play faux-internationals whilst hoping that FIFA allow them to take part in real ones. The 2% population of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus who are registered footballers will continue to play in their domestic leagues as well, and maybe one day if the suits in Geneva permit - their league will be opened up to the rest of the world.

Sometimes people forget that FIFA do not ‘own’ football, but the Turkish community in Cyprus know no other way.

Ryan can be found on twitter here & his own blog can be viewed here.

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