BACK in the summer of 2019, Anglesey hosted the 2019 Inter Island Games Football Tournament – which saw the Ynys Môn Men’s side win gold for the first time since the 90’s and the Women’s team claim an impressive silver medal finish also.
However, it was also special due to the fact that it brought a range of different people from a diverse backgrounds to our wonderful island for a week-long footballing event.
Among them were the likes of Guernsey, Hitra and Jersey. But perhaps the most interesting journey of all to the tournament came courtesy of St Helena.
Back in 2011, the remote island outpost, where Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled, had hoped to compete in the Island Games, but couldn’t crowdfund enough cash to make the voyage.
But fast forward eight years, and having raised the funds they needed, St Helena were able to achieve their dream of playing the Inter Island Games Football Tournament which just so happened to be on Ynys Môn.
The final squad of 20 players, along with their coaches, other staff members and a good number of supporters, made a 4,780 mile trip around the world to North Wales.
It was St Helena’s first ever international outing of the island’s football team – as they have not yet been able to get FIFA membership (because the island is not a member of the Confederation of African Football or recognised as an independent country by the United Nations).
Once they arrived on Anglesey, it may not have been the tournament St Helena would have hoped for, but nevertheless its an experience which will no doubt stay with all involved with the team for the rest of their lives.
Their fans provided plenty of noise and players donned their smart yellow and green tracksuits to provide the colour at the tournament. Despite losing every game they played, the Helenian’s never stopped smiling and even turned up to support the Môn team in the final!
Many of them had followed the tournament through AFEFootballNews that summer and still follow the blog to this day (if you’re reading this and you’re one of those people – thanks for the support then and now!).
Back in the summer of 2019, I spoke to St Helena captain Rico Benjamin (below), who also scored during his visit, about his experience at the tournament and he told me Anglesey was a place which reminded of home nearly 5,000 miles away.
He said: “Anglesey is a lot like St Helena as it’s beside the sea and the local people are so friendly, they were always saying hello and waving at us as we went by.
“It was an amazing feeling to score an international goal for my country. Despite losing all our games, I really enjoyed the experience and will always remember it.”
Rico, 25 years old at the time of the tournament, lives in Jamestown on St Helena. When I spoke to him, he added that he hoped St Helena’s visit to Anglesey could inspire future generations of footballers from the island to do the same.
He said: “I think it will encourage more youngsters to play football on the island because now they have something to work towards.
“There’s a chance to play for the island team and that will cause a lot more people can train to train harder because now they see we can send a team across the world.”
A journey of a lifetime and a wonderful story associated with our island. Let’s hope we can welcome St Helena back some day!