England, France, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, Sealand, Seborga, the Minerva Reefs, the Hutt River, the Republic of Saugeais...
“Micronations—sometimes also referred to as model countries and new country projects—are entities that claim to be independent nations or states but which are not recognized by world governments or major international organizations” - Wikipedia.
In the North Sea some 6 miles off the Suffolk coast stands a former World War II Sea Fort, HM Fort Roughs. Or rather, the Principality of Sealand. Since 1967 this abandoned platform of a mere 550 square-meters has declared independence from the United Kingdom, with Major Paddy Roy Bates proclaiming himself Prince of Sealand. The Principality has it’s own currency, national anthem, flag, passports and stamps. So surely it would only be right to have a national football side too? Despite having a permanent population of 3, the Sealand passports allow people living outside the Principality to become a ‘Sealander’, thus making representation in sports a possibility. The Sealand National Football Association (SNFA) is currently run by president Neil Forsyth, who lives in London after he took control in 2009.
‘For now the priority is sponsors. I have opposition lined up, media, and the plan is to form a squad of former professionals’.
Forsyth’s association are perhaps surprisingly affiliated to a non-FIFA governing body, the N-F Board. Unfortunately sponsorship (or lack of) has meant that Sealand couldn’t attend the N-F Board’s VIVA World Cup last summer in Gozo, and the same issue seems to have ended any hope of reaching the next edition in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2012. The national side have however managed a game before, when the SNFA was run by Danish hotel manager Christian Olsen.
Olsen was in charge of a veteran’s side, Aalborg based Vestbjerg Vintage Idrætsforening, and on May 30th 2003 he wrote to Prince Regent Michael Bates asking permission for his team to represent Sealand. The Prince Regent agreed the proposal and remarkably the semi-autonomous island group of Åland accepted the challenge of a friendly against Olsen’s side, in the summer of 2004. Åland compete in the biennial Island Games so a 2-2 draw was good going for Olsen‘s men, and he and friend Poul Jeppesen decided to apply for NF-Board membership in 2005, which proved successful. In the early months of that year there were plans to face Tibet, but money proved too big an obstacle again. Then, with the SNFA having what seemed an active future, Olsen & co. simply vanished and have not been heard of since. A strange death of Sealand football? Enter Neil Forsyth, with Bates welcoming the new president in a press statement in December 2009 –
‘As Prince Regent of the Principality of Sealand, I am excited…We are looking to the Viva World Cup as a way of telling the Sealand story to the sporting world.’
Some micronations have a more historic claim to independence, with the Italian commune of Seborga declaring sovereignty in 954, with no mention of the Ligurian town in the 1861 Act of Unification for the Kingdom of Italy. I visited the charming Principality in 2008 and was greeted on the mountain drive up by houses littered with Seborgan flags, and a border control box on the road in. Prince Marcello I currently overseas matters in the 312 strong community that boasts it’s own 5 a-side pitch. The Federazione Di Calcio Del Principato Di Seborga have had meetings with the NF-Board before but aren’t members, and have played only one game before, way back in December 1995. A squad of 16 travelled to France to play FC Mentore and ran away 2-0 winners, an achievement that was seen fit to adorn national stamps back home.
The FCPS concentrate on indoor football nowadays and are members of the Federazione Italiana Football Sala. In September 2010 the tiny Principality, captained by Massimo Alborno, competed in the FIFS Europa Cup. Facing indoor football sides from FC Bellinzona, AS Monaco and FC Torino the Seborgan’s secured a shock title after beating Monaco 15-13 in the final. Whether Seborga will follow Sealand into NF-Board affiliation remains to be seen as the last micronation that attempted to apply suffered rejection.
The Minerva island reefs, off the south coast of Fiji, announced independence under American millionaire Michael Oliver in 1972. After communication with the N-F Board in 2007 an eventual membership application was rejected at the 2008 Milan general meeting, with the non-FIFA governing body’s South American confederation CSANF strongly against the bid. Hutt River, a breakaway state situated on a Farm in Western Australia, were rumoured to enter the 2008 VIVA World Cup in Sweden with an English based side but the project never took of. With a resident population of 33 I’m not surprised when Sir Steve Baikie tells me ‘we do not have enough people in Hutt River to form even a 5 a-side team’.
In the eastern French department of Doubs lies another claimant nation - the Republic of Saugeais. Apparently formed with the French governments blessing in 1947 the locals even have their own language, Langue Saugette. With a population of 3,000 spread out over 11 communes Saugeais, like Sealand, has its own currency, stamps and royal family. Also, like Sealand, it is a member of the N-F Board, and has been since 2004. The sport is popular and the Fédération Saugette de Football, headed by Jean-Marie Nicod, oversees 6 club sides as well as over 400 players of all ages.
On August 21st 2009 they made their international bow, facing the French province Franche-Comté at home, in the economic capital Gilley. The opposition squad was mainly players from the regional Ligue de Franche-Comté, but also included some individuals who played in the 6th tier of French football. The Saugeais people’s appetite for football was reflected by a healthy crowd of 600, and their new national side made the perfect start when midfielder Arnaud Faivre-Pierret of Saugette club US Entreroches opened the scoring in the 26th minute. Managed by Jean-Jacques Boucard the tiny republic could not hold on, and Vincent Michel scored in the 34th and 65th minute before Cedric Simonin concluded a 3-1 victory for the visitors with 10 minutes to go. Defender Maxime Marguet, who plays for La Saugette Sport, explains the standard of the side ‘the best player...played in 6th level…but it’s about 12th level for all the team of Saugeais (sic)’.
So what now for micronational football? ‘Hopefully a game against Chagos Islands in October to get things started’, SNFA chief Neil Forsyth tells me. Seborga too make plans, aiming to compete in the coming autumns FIFS Europa Cup. Eccentric, dubious or just imaginary - it’s the unique pride of these people that keep micronations, and its football, ticking along.