Nick RobbinsComment

Holy smoke! It's the Vatican!

Nick RobbinsComment

IBWM will resist the temptation to say "and now for something completely different"....Gah! We said world football, we never said we recognised boundaries.  IBWM is blessed by the presence of Nick Robbins.

When you think of priests playing football it is hard not to instantly think  of the Annual All-Priests Five-a-Side over 75s Indoor Football Challenge Match from Father Ted. But in fact priests playing football isn’t as far-fetched as you might think. Of course with Vatican City being fully encamped in the middle of Rome it is perhaps unsurprising that football permeates the residents of those in the Holy See’s closest circle. The last two Pope’s have been well documented in their love for the beautiful game. Karol Wojtyła, later Pope John Paul II, was a goalkeeper in his youth and followed his home team Cracovia Cracow throughout his life, while Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, is a lifelong Bayern Munich fan and spoke about the “honesty, solidarity and fraternity” that football can foster in the younger generations.

As a cursory search on Google will inform you, Vatican City is one of eight sovereign states who are not FIFA-members and thus any “international” matches they play are not ratified by a governing body. Any “internationals” they play are the equivalent of the unofficial matched played by the Basque country for instance. A 0-0 draw against fellow non-FIFA member Monaco in 2002 pretty much counts as the best, and only, result the national team has achieved. I hear the match was a pretty tense affair with the Vatican still struggling to come to terms with the loss of their best player, God, who had retired 18 years earlier after his Man of the Match Performance in the 1986 World Cup quarter final. According to a French sports website, the possibility remains that both the Vatican and Monaco may be joining FIFA in the near future.

However, football has managed to thrive in the Vatican City. Aside from the national team, which apparently will be under the guidance of current Ireland manager Giovanni Trappatoni in the near future, the small state hosts my new favourite football tournament: the Clericus Cup. Initiated in 2007 it has grown into the premier football tournament in the Vatican City, overtaking the ‘Communion Wine Cup’, and becoming more internationally recognised than the ‘Johnstone’s Paint Trophy’.

Comprising of 16 teams, made up of various seminarians and ordained priests, the tournament takes place in February every year, and there is an English team that takes part, though perhaps unsurprisingly it is another tournament we have failed to win. Thanks to the wonder of the internet, the highlights of the Clericus Cup are available for all to see, the best game perhaps being the quarter final in 2009 between Mater Ecclesiae and Istituto Patristico Augustinianum, a game played at a standard similar to most semi-professional football around the world, a compliment for the priests-to-be as they are all amateurs, and with a surprising amount of bite in the tackles, the game ending with IPA down to 10 men. The Mater Ecclesiae number 9 looked like a particularly good prospect, scoring one and assisting another with a pass that seemed to part the IPA address like Moses did the Red Sea. Apparently Harry Redknapp is interested in bringing him to White Hart Lane. At the end of each match, in a move I want to see replicated by all Premiership teams in the future, both sides have a good pray afterwards instead of an ice-bath.

The tournament is growing each year and garners a fair amount of press coverage despite its amateur status. The tournament last year introduced a third card to the referee’s armoury with the Blue Card which placed the offender, without a hint of irony, in the ‘Sin Bin’, which gave the tournament exposure on a large number of major news outlets including the BBC. And with players coming from 65 different countries it truly is an international tournament. Perhaps in an era with match fixing claims dogging sport, especially in Italy, the Clericus Cup can act as a beacon of pure football.

Kick off for Clericus Cup 2011 is in February and I will make it my mission to bring the highest standard of coverage to the tournament, giving you the players to watch out for, who might make it at a higher league and which player has the highest chance of beatification later in life. My early tip would be the 3 times Champions Redemptoris Mater, but you can never rule out the Brazilian College. But wouldn’t it be nice to see the English win something?

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