2018 CONIFA World Football Cup: a trip down memory lane with fans and organisers

Six years ago today, Enfield Town Football Club hosted the final of a very special tournament in London that featured teams from politically unrecognised nations.

While not as prestigious or on as large a scale as its more mainstream FIFA counterpart, the Confederation of Independent Football Associations, or CONIFA for short, offered fans and players alike an incredible experience.

The 2018 CONIFA World Cup final was played in North London on Saturday 9 June 2018 and featured the national teams from the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus and Kárpátalja, representing the Hungarian minority in western Ukraine.

The game drew a record crowd for its non-league host Enfield Town, a world class referee in Mark Clattenburg and a major sponsor in Paddy Power, whose involvement helped the tournament reach a far wider audience than CONIFA could have imagined.

T-VINE steps back in time, recapping the events of this incredible game and tournament, with input from the those who were closely involved in its organisation and those present on the day.

Non-recognised nations playing competitive football

CONIFA was launched back in 2013 to allow politically non-recognised nations and territories, such as the TRNC and Tibet, to play competitive football.

The organisation is an alternative to FIFA, which only admits the football associations and clubs of countries recognised by the United Nations.

FIFA’s admission rules mean Turkish Cypriots and their national and club sides are excluded from all international competitions organised by the global football body and its affiliates.

Even friendly games against FIFA-registered football clubs and nations are banned, meaning Turkish Cypriots and millions of people like them from unrecognised nations miss out on meaningful competitive football against their peers.

CONIFA tries to plug the gap with its international events, and the powers that be decided the third edition of this “alternative World Cup” would take place in London in 2018.

The groups for the 2018 CONIFA World Football Cup

The 10-day tournament started on 31 May 2018 and featured a total of 16 teams from around the world. With the exception of Tibet, Western Armenia and the TRNC, the teams were mainly from places few of us would have ever heard of prior to the tournament.

The sixteen territories were split into four groups of four, with the top two in each group going through to the knockout stages.

Northern Cyprus was drawn in Group B, also known as the “group of death” as it included reigning CONIFA World Cup Champions Abkhazia. It was of no surprise that the group ended up producing the tournament’s two finalists.

Group A: Barawa, Ellan Vannin, Tamil Eelam, Cascade

Group B: Abkhazia, Northern Cyprus, Kárpátalja, Tibet

Group C: Padania, Székely Land, Tuvalu, Matabeleland

Group D: Panjab, United Koreans in Japan, Western Armenia, Kabylia


The group stages and knockout rounds of the tournament were hosted by ten non-league sides in England: Aveley, Bedfont, Bracknell, Bromley, Carshalton, Enfield Town, Haringey Borough, Rotherhithe, Slough, and Sutton.

Of the ten grounds, the smallest venue was Rotherhithe with a capacity of 1,000, while three, Sutton, Bromley and Carshalton, could all host up to 5,000 people.

Record fans attended the CONIFA 2018 World Cup final at Enfield Town FC’s iconic Donkey Lane Stadium, London, 9 June 2018. Photo © Ram Ismail
Young Turkish Cypriot fans on the pitch as flares set off at CONIFA 2018 World Cup final at Enfield Town FC’s Donkey Lane Stadium, London, 9 June 2018. Photo © Ram Ismail

The CONIFA tournament grabbed international media attention, with leading broadcasters like Germany’s DW and Euronews, along with the Independent, Guardian and The Times, all previewing it, ensuring news about the alternative world cup travelled far.

It also meant these small clubs benefited from the added visibility and income in their close season, with hundreds of football mad fans joining Londoners from these little known nations to watch the games.

World class sponsor and refereeing

Betting firm Paddy Power stepped in as the tournament’s main sponsor, injecting vital cash to help CONIFA cover the costs of organising this international event, whilst also bringing the brand’s trademark humour to coverage of the games.

A total of 28 referees were involved in the tournament, the most prominent being former Premier League official Mark Clattenburg, who officiated the final.

Referee Mark Clattenburg and fellow officials at the CONIFA 2018 World Cup final pre-kick off at Enfield Town FC’s Donkey Lane Stadium, London, 9 June 2018. Photo via Ram Ismail


One innovation during the tournament was the use of a green card, in addition to the usual red and yellow ones. Referees were encouraged to show the green card to players for dissent or diving, which would require them to be substituted immediately. The idea had come from Paddy Power.

A match made in heaven

The UK is home to an estimated 200,000 Turkish Cypriots, the vast majority living in or near to London. The largest concentration can be found in the north London Borough of Enfield, where one in five residents of the borough speak Turkish.

Naturally, finding a club in Enfield to host tournament games became an important target for CONIFA.

It was a match made in heaven when Ramadan Ismail, a director of Enfield Town of Turkish Cypriot heritage, contacted the tournament organisers to say the non-league club’s Donkey Lane stadium could be used as one of the venues.

Northern Cyprus’ progression to the final

Northern Cyprus’ first game was on the opening day of the 2018 CONIFA World Cup, which commenced on Thursday, 31 May 2018.

A 3pm mid-week kick-off at Enfield Town’s Queen Elizabeth II Stadium meant the crowds were not the largest, but those present would see Northern Cyprus  draw 1–1 with Kárpátalja.

Billy Mehmet scored first for Northern Cyprus on the 13th minute, with Kárpátalja levelling after half time with a goal from I. Sándor in the 53rd minute.

The Turkish Cypriots were back in action two days later, playing Tibet at the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium. They won 3-1, with two goals from Turan  (2′, 67′) and a third from Gök  (73′), with Topgyal  (38′) getting one back for the Tibetans.

Northern Cyprus played their third and final group game against the much-fancied reigning champions Abkhazia, the next day, 3 June. The match was again at the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium, with the ground attracting a large crowd.

The evenly contested game had looked like it was going Northern Cyprus’ way after Oshan put the Turkish Cypriot side 2-1 ahead in the 77th minute. Abkhazia had opened the scoring with a goal from Maskayev on 21 minutes, but Kaya responded for Northern Cyprus just six minutes later.

There were dramatic scenes as the CONIFA reigning champions were awarded a penalty in the final minute of the match, which Argun converted, resulting in the game ending with honours even, 2-2, at the final whistle. The result, however, was enough to propel Northern Cyprus into the quarter-final stage.

Turkish Cypriot kit man at CONIFA 2018 World Cup final at Enfield Town FC’s Donkey Lane Stadium, London, 9 June 2018. Photo © Ram Ismail
Enver Safir and relative Akmen Sitki at the CONIFA World Cup Final 2018, Kárpátalja v North Cypru, at ETFC Donkey Lane, London, 09 June 2018. Photo © Enver Safir


The Turkish Cypriots then travelled to Sutton for their next match, on 5 June, where they faced Barawa, an African team with roots to western Somalia. The game was one-way, with Northern Cyprus thumping their opponents 8-0 to book their place in the semi-finals on 7 June.

CONIFA’s European Champions Padania, from northern Italy, now stood between Northern Cyprus and the final. The two teams had played each other the previous year in the final of the CONIFA Euros, with Padania emerging triumphant after penalties.

Padania scored first in the 2018 encounter at the Queen Elizabeth II Stadium, with North Cyprus then equalising through striker Billy Mehmet. Just before half time, against the run of play, Padania scored again to go into the break 2-1 up.

The second half saw the Turkish Cypriot side press forward, eager to get another equaliser and it finally came courtesy of Halil Turan with 10 minutes to go. Four minutes later, Billy Mehmet scored what proved to be the winning goal.

Hysteria beckoned when the final whistle went as Turkish Cypriot fans invaded the pitch to celebrate with the team.

CONIFA 2018 World Cup final pre-kick off at Enfield Town FC’s Donkey Lane Stadium, London, 9 June 2018. Photo © Ram Ismail


The 2018 CONIFA final: Kárpátalja vs Northern Cyprus

Enfield Town’s Queen Elizabeth II Stadium was chosen to host the final of the 2018 CONIFA World Cup. Some 4,000 people – mainly Turkish Cypriots – packed out every conceivable part of the ground, making it a record attendance and bumper payout for their non-league hosts.

The game saw end to end action between Kárpátalja and Northern Cyprus, with the Turkish Cypriot side having the better of the chances. Yet neither side could find their way to scoring a goal. The match ended 0-0 and went to penalties.

The first two for Northern Cyprus were taken by Billy Mehmet and Yasin Kurt, who both missed after the Kárpátalja goalkeeper made two good saves. There were no such problems initially for Kárpátalja, who scored their first two penalties, but then failed to convert their next two. Northern Cyprus managed to bring the scores level at 2-2 after their third and fourth penalty takers scored, but it was not their day.

Kárpátalja scored their fifth penalty, while Halil Turan missed for the Turkish Cypriot side. It meant the game ended 3-2 to the Hungarians of western Ukraine, who lifted the CONIFA World Cup trophy as their fans and neutrals celebrated in the stands.


T-VINE asked Enfield Town’s Ramadan Ismail, Turkish Cypriot football fan Enver Safir, who attended multiple games, and CONIFA then head Sascha Düerko about their reflections of this epic tournament.

Enfield Town FC is the UK’s first fan owned club and many of the roles are manned by volunteers. Ismail served as the lead contact between Enfield Town and CONIFA and was also the match day organiser for the hosts.

When we asked Ramadan about the challenges the club faced whilst hosting the tournament, he said, “The biggest challenge we had was to manage the expected larger attendances than what we got for Enfield Town fixtures. Attendances grew as we got further into the tournament and the staggered increases helped prepare us as attending numbers got bigger.

Turkish Cypriot folk dancers at CONIFA 2018 World Cup final at Enfield Town FC’s Donkey Lane Stadium, London, 9 June 2018. Photo © Ram Ismail
Behind the goal at the CONIFA 2018 World Cup final between Kárpátalja & Northern Cyprus at Enfield Town FC’s Donkey Lane Stadium, London, 9 June 2018. Photo © Ram Ismail


“In the first game, Northern Cyprus v Akbakzia, we had 500 people. In the second game, there was 1,500 fans for Northern Cyprus v Tibet. For the Final Northern Cyprus v Karpatalya, which was packed out, the attendance was around 4,000 – the largest crowd we have ever hosted.”

“The larger crowds needed us to ensure we had enough stewards on hand, as well as staff and stock serving our bar, food and club shop outlets, all done on a voluntary basis,” Ramadan said, adding, “It made me appreciate what the level of demands are for even larger venues, such as Tottenham Hotspur and Wembley.”

Former CONIFA Chief on the 2018 tournament challenges: “Spreading the word enough to fill the stands, while keeping a profile low enough to not cause a diplomatic crisis with the involvement of Tibet, Abkhazia or Northern Cyprus”

When asked about his favourite memories of the tournament, Ramadan said he had “too many and all so positive” before going on to say:

“The Turkish drum and zurna [Turkish clarinet], the singing Tibetans, the folk dancers, and the various crowds from different nationalities all mixing and partying.

“If you push me it’d have to be the final, with record attendance, reffed by Mark Clattenburg and flares being let off every 5 minutes,” he states, laughing.

Another positive memory for Ramadan involved the Tibetans: “I’d say the experience of watching a game with the Tibetans was wonderful. Warm, friendly, fun and to the spirit of the occasion.”

One of the most enduring aspects of the tournament for Ramadan was meeting new lifelong friends: “What CONIFA 2018 gave me was new friends for life, the joy and huge satisfaction that Enfield Town hosted an international tournament and that we welcomed new football fans to our stadium that otherwise wouldn’t have heard of us.”

Back in 2018, Sascha Düerkop was the General Secretary of CONIFA and also the the Head of the Organisation Committee for the 2018 CONIFA World Cup.

For his and his CONIFA colleagues, the biggest challenge of the tournament was “Spreading the word enough to fill the stands, while keeping a profile low enough to not cause a diplomatic crisis with the involvement of Tibet, Abkhazia or Northern Cyprus. The political pressure grew with every ticket sold, almost.”

His best memory of the tournament “by a big margin” was the final: “It was just a pure celebration of the beautiful game, hosted in one of the most beautiful stadiums I’ve ever worked at.

“Over 3,000 fans and some 500 players from all continents were contained by a handful of stewards this day, as each and every one of them wanted this to be a common success. They all came for the football and to celebrate themselves, not for defeating anyone.”

Tibetan fan at CONIFA 2018 World Cup tournament, Enfield Town FC’s Donkey Lane Stadium, London, June 2018. Photo © Ram Ismail


The tournament was also full fun and unusual moments, as Sascha recounts: “I love to remember the Tuvaluan players, who all were sitting on some buses to watch the match from there. Or the fact that we only had 1 or 2 match balls left, as they all got kicked over the fence during the tournament somewhere.”

For the former CONIFA chief, one of his lasting memories of the tournament was the people involved in the non-league clubs who hosted the games, which he said was “the best experiences” of his career to date.

“I can’t say this often enough, but working with non-league football clubs from across London was by far the best experiences of my work life. People like Kayne Steinborn-Busse from Bracknell Town or Ramadan Ismail from Enfield Town just are the personification of the beautiful game.”

For South London football fan Enver Safir, the CONIFA World Cup in London was a chance to get behind the Turkish Cypriot national side. He heard about the tournament via social media and attended games in near Croydon and in Enfield.

“I liked the South London game more, as we really supported the [Northern Cyprus] team throughout the match. Community wise, there’s a much smaller Turkish Cypriot supporting crowd based in South London compared to Enfield. When I visited the Enfield Town ground, there was a vast crowd that included more local community fans.”

Enver Safir and friends at the CONIFA World Cup Final 2018, Kárpátalja v North Cyprus, at ETFC Donkey Lane, London, 09 June 2018. Photo © Enver Safir
Enver Safir and friends at the CONIFA World Cup Final 2018, Kárpátalja v North Cyprus, at ETFC Donkey Lane, London, 09 June 2018. Photo © Enver Safir


Enver was at the final, which he described as “a fantastic day”, giving him and his friends and family the chance “to watch and support  our team that represents TRNC.”

Describing the experience, Enver said, “Once it was confirmed North Cyprus was in the final, a few close friends and I got together at short notice. We wanted to be present and be able to participate with our very large TRNC flag, which we hung from the club’s balcony. I’m sure the team appreciated knowing we were there and proud.”

There are rumours that a second alternative World Cup tournament in London could be on the cards for 2025. Given the hugely positive impact the 2018 event had on so many people, from organisers to hosting clubs, the players and fans, such a prospect would be mouthwatering to say the least!