The political message behind Yorkshire’s international football team

This afternoon in the most unlikely of international arenas Yorkshire International Football Association will take on the Isle of Man in a first-of-its-kind Conifa league fixture.

The 1,000-capacity Hemsworth Miners Welfare FC Community Club based in Fitzwilliam, just outside Pontefract, will be the venue for Yorkshire’s first game against Ellan Vannin, the Manx name for the Isle of Man team, who are ranked fourth in a world league for “repressed minorities, independent nations and stateless peoples”.

That Yorkshire counts itself part of such a league, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Tibet, Quebec, Zanzibar and Northern Cyprus, has already ruffled some feathers among the footballing governing bodies. The English FA sent an advisory notice to YIFA threatening sanctions against players and clubs, although concerns that such action would disrupt today’s fixture have since been downplayed.

It does, however, speak volumes at a national political level, where northern regions such as Yorkshire are feeling increasingly isolated in the national political debate at a time when countries such as Scotland and Northern Ireland are getting more of a voice.

“Every single one of these regions, to some greater or lesser extent, feel like their culture isn’t being given a voice or representation in some way, whether that’s to the extremes of Tibet, [or] to Yorkshire, which is having a fight against the government’s version of devolution,” YIFA chairman Philip Hegarty told the Guardian.

In his eyes the white rose region is engaged in a similar political struggle to regions such as Tibet.

“Everything that reaches the outside world about Yorkshire goes through this London-centric lens,” he added. “There is no voice internationally for Yorkshire, even through we’re a significant region. As far as the outside world is concerned, we’re just a subdivision of England, but of course we consider ourselves much more than that.”

It’s a belief that surfaced first on a national level in 2014 when the Yorkshire Party put itself forward in the European Parliament election campaigning for the establishment of a Yorkshire Parliament within the UK, similar to the Scottish Parliament or National Assembly for Wales. Although it sounds like a bizarre notion to people in other parts of the country, when you consider that Yorkshire has a larger population than Scotland and Wales and a regional identity that is also comparable to both it doesn’t actually sound that perverse.

And where Scotland and Wales have national outlets to debate issues that are important to them, Yorkshire has to campaign on local issues in London-centric Westminster, where its representation was reduced when constituencies were redrawn. Little wonder why the county backed Brexit in 2016. Starved of political air elsewhere, this was the protest vote of all protest votes for Whitehall’s forgotten Vikings.

So although today’s fixture, expected to pull fewer than 1,000 people, may not cause a huge stir on a footballing front, when the squad emerges emblazoned in blue kit and white rose of York we could be seeing a precursor for a wider political movement for independence in Yorkshire. One to keep your eye on, Theresa May.

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