By Jonny Whitfield
Yorkshire is home to some of the biggest football clubs in the country – Leeds United and Sheffield United are just two. And while any number of people in Yorkshire adore their football, what do you think they would give to represent their region on the national stage? Meet the county’s latest brainwave, Yorkshire’s International Football Association (YIFA).
YIFA gives people in the region the chance to play for their county – forget representing England at Wembley. It was an idea first thought out by Phil Hegarty, the Assocation’s chairman, last summer. He was joined in his grand venture soon after by general secretary Tom Learoyd and deputy chairman Darren Moss. But their story is not your average one.
“It was Phil’s brainchild I guess, me and Tom only met him through Twitter,” says Moss. “We weren’t friends previous to this. We just saw what he was doing and what help he needed, and I just contacted Phil about marketing the association.”
The seed had been planted. The Association took time to grow, however, with YIFA only accepted into CONIFA (Confederation of International Football Associations) in January. The leg work had been done, though. Eventually.
“We were planning on hosting an open trial in December, and we were overwhelmed that around 100 people registered their interest,” recalls Learoyd. “Unfortunately, on the day it did get snowed off, which is absolutely typical.”
With such a big idea in the pipeline, there were always going to be obstacles to overcome. YIFA’s trial eventually went ahead on January 7, and since then, it has been success after success for the Association.
YIFA played Ellan Vannin from the Isle of Man in their first game at Hemsworth Miners Welfare FC ground on January 28, drawing 1-1, with joiner-cum-midfielder Jordan Coduri netting the team’s first goal.
“It was a little bit unreal,” Moss says. “We couldn’t really get ourselves ready for it, what it would actually mean with the fans out there cheering us on. As new as Yorkshire IFA is, getting 600 people or so out there is a testament to the work the guys have done in the background.
“We play pretty well, most of the players have never played together before. We held our own and put in a good performance. At the end of the day, we were pretty upset that we didn’t manage to sneak the win, and that shows the passion that the people of Yorkshire have for football.”
As Moss mentions, it’s the passion for football that encapsulates this journey. YIFA has fielded claims of nationalism and of being divisive in their ways, but Hegarty, Moss and Learoyd are here simply for the love of the game.
“There’s been a lot of talk about whether we’re anti-English or anything like that – we’re not,” Learoyd insists. “All we’re hoping to do is bring world-class football to Yorkshire.
“Our aim is to be inclusive. We want an outlet for people to really show pride in their region and what better way to do that than by playing the most popular sport in the UK?”
Yorkshire’s second game, against the Chagos Islands, took place on March 25, and over the past three months, the Association has certainly enjoyed a growth in popularity.
“We’ve got continued growth on social media,” says Moss. “Our Twitter followers are growing massively, we have tens and tens of people every day signing up to the email newsletter and liking us on Facebook as well.
“We just started a poll for the new away kit and within a few hours we had 500 people or so enter the poll. We have people who are not just interested, but genuine fans.”
Talking of away kits, the Association is branching out, with a first trip on the road planned to London on April 15. Yorkshire will then host the first Jorvik Trophy in May, the first opportunity for YIFA to get their hands on silverware.
“It’s going to be an annual event and, however big we make it this year, we expect it to grow,” Moss reveals. “These are going to be our first real competitive games, so even though the games we’ve had so far have been good, this will be the first with a trophy on the line as well, so that’s really exciting.
“Having those games in Yorkshire too will be a great way to meet people from around the world, that’s what CONIFA is all about. If we’re able to do that more intensively over one weekend, then it’s going to be really cool.”
In the long term, YIFA are ruling nothing out. Having seen the Tour de France pass through the county in 2014, Learoyd is hoping for the passion shown by Yorkshire then to be transferred to his team.
“I was at the Tour de France through Yorkshire and it was phenomenal. I remember getting back home after it had finished, watching the cyclists go up through the Dales, and you’ve never seen a Tour de France like it,” he says.
“That’s the important thing about people from Yorkshire, we’re an outgoing people who really get behind big events when given a chance.”
Whatever path YIFA takes in the next few years, they’ll have plenty of people along for the ride.