Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Chagos Islands 1 v 1 Sealand

Chagos Islands win 4-2 on penalties
Monday 5th May 2014
Non FIFA International Friendly
Broadfield Stadium, Crawley
Admission: £3.00
Programme: None
Attendance: 500 (estimate)
Match Rating: 4

For my third and final game of the day, I jumped back on the train and headed north-westwards for a very quirky looking international fixture played at a Football League stadium.

The Broadfield Stadium has not noticeably changed since my last visit in October, although only the main stand was open for this fixture, which was no hardship to me as I had never sat there previously. Half of it was packed full of supporters of the Chagos Islands, whilst the other half was more sparsely populated, with only a handful of people related to their players seeming to support Sealand. No programmes were produced for this game.

This would be a curious match between a group of uninhabited islands (apart from US military personnel, after the population was evicted in the seventies) and the world's smallest (officially unrecognised) microstate - a sea fort on a platform in the North Sea, several miles off of the Suffolk coast. Whilst the Chagos Islands side could be classed as representative of their nation, being descendents of those who had been born there, Sealand's national team would seem to be utterly pointless, apart from being quirky in nature and raising the profile of Sealand, with random players chosen who have no connection to the sea fort.

The two nations have met twice before, with a win apiece. Sealand triumphed 4-2 in February at Godalming Town's ground, whilst in May 2012, the Chagos Islands won 3-1, with the fixture again played at Godalming.

With the skies having become overcast by now but with conditions still warm, the contrast in the two styles of plays was fascinating. The Chagossian players, backed by a loud and excitable following, proved to be quick, tricky and with plenty of skill on show but were a little lightweight, whilst Sealand had a slower, more physical approach, but lacked creativity. Goalscoring chances were at a premium, and it was little surprise that the scoreline was goalless at half-time.

Into the second half and it was more of the same, and a nil-nil seemed more and more inevitable. The game sparked into life in the final ten minutes though, and on 82 minutes a free kick was awarded to the Chagossians right on the edge of the area when a Sealand defender pulled back the striker through on goal, and he would certainly have been sent off had this been an official match as the last man. The free kick was powerfully struck but palmed over by the keeper, whilst a minute later, after the Sealand keeper came out of his area to clear the ball just before the onrushing striker, the ball fell to a Chagossian player about 35 yards out, and he lobbed the ball towards the empty net, only just clearing the crossbar. As the game entered added on time, Sealand had a header from a corner cleared off the line, but in the first minute of added on time, the Chagos Islands took the lead. An outrageous piece of skill in the penalty area saw their forward flick the ball up and over a couple of defenders, driving to the touchline before pulling the ball back for it to be smashed into the roof of the net. That sparked joyous celebrations on and off the field, but in the seventh minute of added on time, Sealand grabbed an equaliser. A free kick from deep on the right sailed over the keeper and was stabbed in at the far post.

1-1 was how it finished, and the result was to be decided by a penalty shoot-out, without any extra time. The Chagossians saw their first penalty saved, but then scored their remaining four, whilst Sealand saw their second and fourth penalties saved to give the Chagos Islands a 4-2 penalty shoot-outs victory, to spark wild celebrations amongst the players and fans. This was an entertaining, slightly surreal game, certainly brought to life with the colourful and enthusiastic support of the Chagossian support, and the pacy, skilful play of their players.

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