After travelling down from Edinburgh in the morning, we arrived in Colindale where the event would take place a few hours later. We ran immediately into our friends of Matabeleland, who arrived at the same time as their first opponents from the Padania team.
The atmosphere was different than for other major football events. All the teams were there, exchanging, talking about their adventure and the long journeys some of them took to get to London. Funnily enough, Matabeleland and Tuvalu arrived at the same time at Heathrow yesterday.
The Tibetan team was also present, sponsored by our partners COPA, in their beautiful burgundy polos. This is something that strikes you here: the colours. All teams mix together and chat, in the conviviality that some might argue has abandoned the highest spheres of world football.
We were early, thus we had the opportunity to chat to a few of the players and managers, who were all seating down around the tables of the venue.
We sat down with our friend Justin Walley, the coach of Matebeleland. Exhausted from the organisation and the journey from Zimbabwe, he told us what he already told us last time: they made it to London. For him and the players that was their first victory. Stressful days, wondering if the visas would come through (they did, 3 days before the departure), booking tickets in advance that had to be cancelled, only to buy news ones the day before, travelling down to Johanesburg (17 hours bus ride) and then fly to London. He told us most of his team, if not all of it, never travelled to Europe or took a plane before.
“They’re excited, I saw a lot of energy this morning at the training session. Maybe a bit too much!”. It was the first time his team trained on 3G pitch and with the shoes donated by Bruce Grobbelaar, the former Liverpool player and goalkeeping coach of Matabeleland. “Bruce took 5 of our players in the back of his van to take them back into London! He is fantastic!”.
Waiting on the delivery of his game shirts, we also talked pure football and the game that will be played tomorrow in Sutton against their Italian counterparts. “They’re a good team, they have Stankevicius playing at the back, the former Sampdoria player”. Worried about the small size of his team, he is preparing a few tactical coups to counter the former Lithuanian international on set-pieces, as Stankevicius stands at 1.90m.
Justin leaves us to speak to other media. CNN is here and have followed the team since January. “We will speak again tomorrow at the game!”. We sat down with a few colleagues covering the event, discussing the favourites for the tournament: people see the champions, Abkhazia, and Padania as strong favourites. But surprises are paradoxically expected, in a tournament where everything is possible. Cascadia seem to be very popular, and we hope to talk to them soon.
Arriving late is Northern Cyprus, who had issues with airlines and struggled to get here. But they made and this seems to be a win for almost everyone here. It’s the result of months and often years of work. Making it is an achievement.
It's time for the press-conference. Post 2 is coming soon!