The global game’s many frontiers

  • Football is played in every part of the world

  • Microstates, small nations and football outposts in the spotlight

  • We review some of the highlights of our Global Game series

Few sports, or indeed pursuits of any kind, can claim to touch every corner of the globe quite like football. If ever evidence was needed of football’s status as the world's game it was underlined in our Global Game series.

From tiny islands in the Pacific to Asia’s colourful lesser-known nations, from the smaller football havens of Africa and the Caribbean to Europe’s microstates and beyond, let take you on a virtual ride throughout planet football.

Eriskay Football Club, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Eriskay Football Club ground in South Uist in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland.

Football’s spiritual connection in the Old Continent

The world’s smallest sovereign state is Vatican City, a place visited by millions of pilgrims and tourists annually. Few, however, realise the Holy See is also home to a thriving football community. With its location in the football hub of Rome, and Pope Francis a well-known supporter of Argentina’s San Lorenzo, that is perhaps less surprising upon further examination. Home to a variation of football for some five centuries, the Clericus Cup, Vatican City’s own mini World Cup, takes place every year.

A few hundred kilometres north lies San Marino, with the tiny enclave now boasting genuine hopes of one day qualifying for the UEFA Futsal EURO. Other microstates forged centuries ago around mountainsides are high-aiming Liechtenstein, with the principality boasting a strong record of overachievement, and Andorra whose relative success is also impressive considering the nation boasts just two official pitches.

We visited several locations in northern Europe where battling the elements is as much part of the game as overcoming the opposition. A significant chunk of the Greenland population plays football despite the world’s largest island sitting in the Arctic Circle. A similar mastering of the elements is required in the beautiful windswept Scottish island of Eriskay, while community-level football continues to thrive in Isle of Wight, the English Channel island more famous for its music festivals.

Bairiki National Stadium, Kiribati

Island dreaming

Football, palm trees and white sandy beaches are utopia for many. The good news is that the combination is not mutually exclusive. Indeed, Tahiti is not only a bucket list destination for sun-lovers, it also boasts a strong football culture. Moorea, just a short boat ride from Tahiti and still part of French Polynesia, is, in a sense, the spiritual home of beach soccer in Oceania. The first continental tournament was held here, proving a launch pad for Tahiti’s much-admired FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup high-flyers and the goalposts still stand, almost lapped by the reef’s gentle waves at high tide.

At the northern end of the region, Micronesia nation Kiribati has strong ambitions for the local game despite little infrastructure and pitches that would test the most hardy of footballers. Cook Islands, OFC’s smallest member, face the dual challenge of a tiny population and an ocean area that would cover a large chunk of western Europe. East of Tahiti sits Easter Island with a couple of its iconic stone statues casting a shadow over the Hanga Roa Municipal Stadium, home to all of the island’s matches.

Seychelles is another island paradise with a raw passion for the round-ball game. The smallest sovereign nation in Africa, Seychelles’ football infatuation is as great as anywhere, despite their remoteness. It is a similar scenario in the Indian Ocean nation of Madagascar.

In the Caribbean, cricket’s sporting pre-eminence is being seriously challenged, notably in tiny St. Kitts and Nevis. It is a similar scenario in Anguilla and Montserrat, the FIFA World Ranking cellar-dwellers who once famously took part in The Other Final against Bhutan in a 2002 match which contrasted with the concurrent 2002 FIFA World Cup Final™. Elsewhere in the region, Sint Maarten, formerly part of the island group known as the Netherlands Antilles, is benefitting from KNVB’s WorldCoaches programme, even enjoying visits from the likes of Johan Neeskens.

His majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck of the Kingdom of Bhutan

Asia’s broad cultural canvas

No continent boasts as much cultural diversity as Asia, and our whistle-stop tour during the year was a testament to that. In Bhutan, as in the likes of Brunei Darussalam and Mongolia, football’s growing popularity offers a sometimes incongruous contrast to cultural traditions and conventional lifestyles. No nation in the world is considered to play at a higher average altitude than Bhutan’s Premier League.

Further societal contrasts are evidenced by the likes of Korea DPR, home to the world’s largest arena in an often-freezing Pyongyang, and Timor-Leste way down near the equator where there is an undiluted infatuation for the game despite modest wealth.

Anniversary of the 2007 inter-Korean summit, Oct 5, 2018 : North Koreans perform the large-scale gymnastic and artistic show, the Glorious Country at the May Day Stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea in this picture taken by Joint Press Corps Pyeongyang. A group of South Korean government officials, politicians and civic and religious leaders visited Pyongyang from Oct 4-6 to celebrate the 11th anniversary of the 2007 inter-Korean summit held in Pyongyang between then-South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun and then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il. (Credit: Joint Press Corps Pyeongyang Pool/AFLO)