Welcome to a continuation on the regular series on The 94th Minute, called “Starting XI”. This is where I ask various people, who are fans of football, a number of questions to get to know them better! The majority of the questions will differ for each person, but the final question will always be:
“Who would be in your all-time, favourite starting XI?”
This is a question where anyone can be put into their starting eleven, whether they are famous footballers, football legends, past or unknown players who had an impact on their childhood, or even players they have played with or coached. Anyone is acceptable in their XI providing they give a reason for their inclusion!
The twenty-seventh instalment of the series is with Pat McGuinness, the mastermind behind Pat’s Football Blog. In addition, he also runs the (unofficial) St. Helena FA Twitter account, and helped the team be able to compete in the 2019 Inter Games (the Island Games football tournament) held in Anglesey. In addition, he has recently created an account for West Papua, which is a new team that has been included in CONIFA, the Confederation of Independent Football Associations, which is the football federation for all associations outside FIFA. He also recently attended the organisation’s AGM held on the Channel Island of Jersey (another CONIFA member, known as the ‘Parishes of Jersey’).
I wanted to know more about how he got started writing the blogs, St Helena football, the 2019 Inter Games, and CONIFA in general, especially the upcoming CONIFA Football World Football Cup (which will include Jersey and Kernow in its sixteen team tournament). Also, I wanted to know which eleven players were in his all-time, favourite team.
Q. Thank you for taking part in Starting XI! Firstly, how did your blogs all come about?
You’re very welcome; I was flattered to have been asked! To answer your question, I’ve always enjoyed writing, and I’ve always tried to follow football in the smaller and more remote countries around the world, but often felt that, when I read something about them, there was always something missing. Thanks to the advent of social media, I discovered that there were many more people like me, and I thought: “Well, if I can’t read about it, I’ll try and get the information I want and write about it.”
Q. What is the football situation like on Saint Helena? Do they have a football league, cup etc.
The Saint Helena Football Association (SHFA) was founded in 1922, as far as I know, and have had a league championship ever since, with some interruptions. I think that the SHFA, or Knockout, Cup started more recently as did the island’s Inter-District competition, which involves teams representing a number of the island’s eight districts. The island’s two top teams are Rovers and Harts, who have monopolised the two club competitions in recent years, followed by Bellboys, one of the oldest clubs on the island. I expected Wolves, who were formed a few years ago, to challenge strongly last year after performing well in 2018, but they unexpectedly broke up during the close-season.
Q. Who are the key players in the St. Helena squad?
Captain Rico Benjamin is the talisman of the team in midfield, and kept the team going during the Inter Games in Anglesey last year, despite a couple of heavy defeats. He’s a skilful and determined player who knows where the net is, as does Ronan Legg, who has been featuring highly in the domestic goalscoring charts over the past couple of years. Another player who caught my eye was Dane Wade, who impressed me greatly during the tournament with his skill, determination and courage.
Q. What was it like to watch St. Helena at the 2019 Inter Games, and did you enjoy the tournament?
I was delighted to see the team achieve their target of taking part in the tournament, as the whole of the SHFA set-up, from chairman Nick Stevens and secretary Happyman Makamure on down, really put their heart and soul into getting the team to Anglesey. The entire organisation, plus the staff and players from all the clubs on the island – well, everyone on Saint Helena as well as a large number of exiled Saints and others interested in the island who live abroad – deserve every credit for what they achieved, in getting the funds together to send the team to Wales, providing logistical and moral support, spreading the word of the team’s existence and coming to the games to support the team. It was a phenomenal effort.
I know that Nick and everyone who went to Wales deeply appreciated the help and support they received from everyone on-island; the island was proud of them, and they were proud of their island. The team more than did their island justice; they played with courage, enthusiasm and no little skill. They now have a better idea of the standard of football outside the island, as well as what they need to do themselves to improve, and I think that, should they make it to Guernsey for next year’s Island Games, you’ll see a much-improved, stronger Saint Helena side. They could surprise a few people, and I hope to be able to travel over to Guernsey to cheer them on.
I enjoyed being back in Anglesey for the first time in over twenty years; it has lost none of its character and the people were as friendly as ever. The football was good, with Anglesey deserving to win the tournament, with a fine Guernsey team coming second. But, the thing that always sticks with me wherever I go is the people I come across. I met a lot of good people during the tournament; everyone from the Ynys Môn 2019 committee and matchday organisers, such as Jamie Thomas, Paul Scholes and Emma Rogers, to name but three, was very helpful and always up for a chat. I also had the pleasure of meeting others such as Dennis Bryant from the North Wales Coast FA, who was keeping a close eye on things, and who is a terrific ambassador for football in North Wales.
A big thank-you to everyone at Aberffraw, Holyhead Hotspur, Gwalchmai, Glantraeth, Bodedern Athletic and Cemaes Bay is due; they were a terrific advert for their clubs, for their towns and villages and for Anglesey. (You know who you are!) I should also thank those involved with the various teams in the tournament who took the time to sit down and have a chat with me. A special mention should go to the Shetland lads, who were an absolute howl, and showed great character both on and off the pitch, and also to the irrepressible Chris Walker, who not only provided radio coverage of Saint Helena’s matches via his one-man station (CW Sport Radio), but entertained fans and listeners across Anglesey and beyond despite sometimes improbable odds. Ynys Môn have applied to host the Island Games in 2025; I think the island would be a perfect place to host the Games, which would in turn leave a wonderful legacy for sport on Anglesey and north-west Wales as a whole, and would do the local economy the power of good.
Q. Will we be seeing the St Helena football team in CONIFA any time soon?
I doubt it; the Saint Helena FA applied for FIFA membership a little under two years ago, and the impression I got from the SHFA was that CONIFA membership was not something they were actively looking for.
Q. Is there any region / nation you would like to see become members of CONIFA any time soon?
West Papua and East Turkistan were amongst a number of associations admitted to CONIFA at the recent AGM, so that answers the question, I think! I would like to see FIFA admit a few more associations as members, though. There are, in my opinion, several associations who should be in the FIFA set-up but aren’t, thanks in part to FIFA’s attempts to keep Gibraltar from obtaining membership a few years ago, when Spain objected to their application for membership and threatened to leave both FIFA and UEFA if they didn’t get their way, leading FIFA and the confederations to block membership applications for associations not belonging to independent countries.
Gibraltar were eventually admitted to both FIFA and UEFA, as they should have been years earlier, but, thanks to the Spanish FA’s intransigence and FIFA’s bowing to it, places such as Saint Helena, who applied for membership in 2018, and Greenland are no longer eligible due to them not being ‘independent nations’, which is rather unfair on them. There are other criteria for membership, apparently, such as the standard of footballing infrastructure, and the infrastructure of the country in general (transport links, the ability to accommodate visiting teams, and so on), and both countries are on course to pass both tests, although neither has a stadium which meets FIFA standards.
Neither do Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Federated States of Micronesia, or Palau, but, again, the associations (and countries) meet all other criteria, even if some of them are on a basic level due to the isolation of, and the facilities in, each country. The Monaco FA would like to join both UEFA and FIFA, but they are worried that AS Monaco would be expelled from the French football pyramid if they applied for membership of either organisation.
If FIFA won’t admit the FAs of these countries to its ranks, it could, at least, open a development fund so that they could bring their facilities up to the necessary standard, and give solidarity grants to the likes of Greenland, Saint Helena and the Falkland Islands in order for them to improve their infrastructures and also to develop the game further, not least by bringing in foreign coaches and helping train locals to become qualified coaches and referees. Greenland might yet get its own national stadium; the Greenland FA, and the national and regional governments are looking into the possibility of building a football stadium in the capital, Nuuk, but a grant from FIFA would not do any harm. FIFA’s dismissal of these nations, and others like them, makes a mockery of their slogan “For the Game. For the World.” I think it’s unfortunate that non-FIFA football is pretty much ignored, and that the smallest nations under FIFA’s umbrella are treated with such disrespect by the media and general public in many of the bigger footballing countries.
Q. Will you be going to the CONIFA World Football Cup this year, and who are your picks to win the tournament? Who do you reckon may be the outsiders for the cup?
I’ll be there, all being well, and I’m looking forward to it. Out of the last four from the last World Football Cup, only Kárpátalya will be appearing in North Macedonia, and there is no guarantee that they will be able to get a team together. If they can, they will be amongst the front-runners. I would also tip Cascadia and Panjab to do well. Teams such as Kernow FA and Parishes of Jersey will not be going there to make up the numbers, and South Ossetia, who won the European tournament last year, will be worth looking out for.
NOTE: To read more about the 2020 CONIFA World Football Cup, which will be held in Skopje, North Macedonia, follow the link below:
Q. What do you have planned for the future of your blogs?
I’ve had very little time to do any blogging over the past couple of years for a few reasons (not all positive), so I hope to finally get something written in the next couple of weeks, starting with the Inter Games and reviews on events in Greenland and the Vatican City. I usually write in long form, which doesn’t help when it comes to churning out stuff on a regular basis!
I intend to continue with the same approach I’ve always had: write about the subject matter that matters to me and give some support to the smaller countries and regions, both within and outside FIFA and the various confederations, which need and deserve all the help and exposure they can get. I’m hardly the most talented of writers, and only a tiny voice in a world full of people screaming about the Champions League, the EPL and all that, but if one person likes what I do, then that’s good enough for me. If they can share it with someone who can carry it one step further, then I’m happy. I’ve never been interested in the numbers game (though job offers would be very welcome!), so expect no podcasts or an appearance on Instagram. I’ll be keeping it simple.
Q. Finally, which players would be in your all-time, favourite eleven, and the reasons for your choices?
I’ve drawn up two teams, an All-Star Starting XI and a Minnows’ Starting XI.
PAT’S ALL-STAR STARTING XI (Formation: 4-3-3):
Goalkeeper: Dino ZOFF
Defence: Paolo MALDINI, Alan HANSEN, Franz BECKENBAUER & Jamie CARRAGHER
Apart from the unflappable, safe and stylish Dino Zoff in goal, I’ve selected a team in which each player could pop up anywhere on the pitch. Liverpool supporters still dream of a team of Carraghers, and they aren’t far wrong, I’d put him at right-back on my Starting XI in a heartbeat. There could surely be nobody better than Paolo Maldini to fill the left-back position. Alan Hansen was deceptively quick, good going forward and very perceptive, and together with the imperious Franz Beckenbauer would make an imposing central defensive partnership.
Midfield: Clarence SEEDORF, Kenny DALGLISH & Lionel MESSI
I would consider Clarence Seedorf to be the best player to appear in a Holland shirt for the last thirty years, a man who possessed vision, speed, grace and who could score goals. Lionel Messi‘s inclusion speaks for itself, and he would get a free role in my team. But, even he doesn’t compare with Kenny Dalglish in his pomp; a man who could play in a holding position in midfield, and defend as well as attack, and someone who delivered killer balls with unerring accuracy.
Forwards: George BEST, PELÉ & GARRINCHA
Garrincha just did his own thing on the right, and, until alcohol and constant injury finally caught up with him, did it wonderfully well. A man with immense skill who knew where the net was. With the one and only George Best on the other wing and Pelé as a centre-forward who could also drop back into midfield, goals would almost always be guaranteed.
PAT’S ‘MINNOWS’ STARTING XI (Formation: 4-4-2):
Many of these names won’t be immediately be familiar to readers, but they are some of my favourite players for Europe’s lesser lights down the years.
Goalkeeper: Pierluigi BENEDETTINI
Pierluigi Benedettini is my choice to go between the sticks; the AC Libertas and San Marino keeper was a safe pair of hands between the sticks, and he’s a nice bloke as well!
Defence: Massimo BONINI, Ildefonso LIMA, Jeff STRASSER & Birkir Már SÆVARSSON
Although normally a midfielder, I’ve put Benedettini’s compatriot (and European Cup winner with Juventus) Massimo Bonini back in defence; he was a calming influence as well as a hard-working midfielder who could drop back into defence if needed. Ildefonso Lima has been terrorising attackers on Andorra’s behalf for over twenty years, and there has been nobody more committed to the Pyrenean state’s national side in that time. Solid, no-nonsense, dependable. The unflappable, amiable Jeff Strasser was someone Luxembourg and a host of clubs could depend on for years until his retirement in 2010 with 98 caps to his name. Birkir Már Sævarsson might well get his hundred – he’s been one of Iceland’s best players during the last decade and fully deserves his spot at right-back.
Midfield: Hans-Karl BERTHELSEN, Louis PILOT, Gerson RODRIGUES & Birkir BJARNASON
Hans-Karl Berthelsen is one of Greenland’s most exciting players, and has proved his worth for B-67 and IT-79, two of the country’s leading clubs, down the years, although he’s had a couple of relatively quiet years recently. Louis Pilot was voted Luxembourg’s player of the last 50 years back in 2003, and was the star in a team which experienced very few ups during his playing career, which ended during the 1970’s. His compatriot Gerson Rodrigues is still in his early twenties and an undoubted talent who has just signed for Turkish side Ankaragücü. Birkir Bjarnason is another Icelander who has proved his worth in recent years; tigerish and driven in midfield, and eager to both attack and defend.
Forwards: Eiður GUÐJOHNSEN & Ari HERMANN
Eiður Guðjohnsen is another player who surely needs no introduction; his goalscoring record speaks for itself. Another Greenlander makes the side: B-67’s Ari Hermann, and deservedly so. He has consistently been the country’s best player now for several years, and, like Berthelsen and N-48 pairing Markus Jensen and Nick Reimer, thoroughly deserves to play at a much higher level. He recently suffered a long-term injury, which will put him out of action until at least the autumn.
A massive thank you to Pat for answering my questions on Saint Helena football, the 2019 Inter Games in Anglesey and CONIFA in general. It is really interesting to find out about the ‘smaller’ nations who play football, especially those who are part of the CONIFA family. In addition, I really enjoyed his answers and his starting XI teams. The ‘all-star’ team is fantastic, whilst the ‘minnow’ XI is superb – probably one of my favourite teams so far!!
To find out more about Pat, the links to his blogsites, and social media accounts can be found below:
- Twitter: @PatsFballBlog
- Pat’s Football Blogsite: https://patmcguinness.blogspot.com/
- St Helena Blog Twitter: @SHFAunofficial
- CONIFA Twitter: @CONIFAOfficial
- CONIFA Website: http://www.conifa.org/
To read or catch up on the previous Starting XI episodes, they can all be found at the following link HERE.
If there you have any feedback, comments or suggestions who I should interview next in the series, let me know either below in the comments box, tweet me @The94thMin or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! It would be good to hear what you think about the series, and what have been your favourite episodes so far!
Finally, I am currently in the depths of doing a charity challenge of staying sober for the entirety of 2020! It’s not easy but I am hoping to raise a lot of money for the mental health charity, MIND. So if you would like to see how I am progressing in my challenge, or even be kind enough to add a donation, the link is here: