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Rising Nations: The World’s Largest Island Dreaming of Becoming Official

Greenland is over nine times the size of the United Kingdom.

The world’s largest island sits just North of Scandinavia and technically belongs to Denmark. Despite its gargantuan appearance, Greenland is home to just 56,800 people. Which means places such as Barnsley, Torquay and Wrexham all have bigger populations to work with.

Although Greenland is an autonomous territory within Denmark, the region has endless cultural differences and as result has almost full control over its own domestic affairs. The area itself is made up of 80% ice, which means life has never been straightforward for the locals.

The people of Greenland are 88% greenlandic inuit, this side of the population is recognised internationally as an ‘indignieous’ people. The rest of the population are largely made up of Danes who have migrated North. Whatever the specifics, this population is football crazy.

Football in Greenland

Domestic football in Greenland is played in an incredibly unique way. The ‘problem’ with creating a strong league there is that the population aren’t all based in a couple of big cities near each other. In fact the locals are spread out pretty sparsely across the country, with some towns such as Kulusuk and Tasiliaq separated from the rest of the country by a vast ice desert.

Naturally two major problems occur from the geography of the territory; firstly there are not many good road connections between cities/towns and secondly due to limited landing space air travel is very expensive.

So any idea of playing a normal league system has always been off the cards. Instead local teams battle it out in what can only be described as micro-leagues, before the eventual winners of each region meet at the National Championship.

The Championship was first played in 1958 and has run ever since, the top teams from various regions play out in a week-long competition to be crowned Champions. B-67 Nuuk is the most successful team in the tournament’s history with 11 titles to their name.

The conditions for the Greenlandic Football Championship are often far from ideal. Many of the regional rounds are played on gravel pitches due to a lack of funding for artificial pitches and impossible conditions to preserve decent grass pitches. It’s also important that all the football is squeezed in between mid June and late August so that the weather isn’t reeking havoc.

If anything these adversities only make it even more impressive when the teams come together to play out the week-long final of the tournament at the Nuuk Stadion, which is also home to the national side.

FIFA and UEFA Rejection

Greenland’s ventures into the international football scene have so far been met with rejection. Despite having a larger population than Litchenstein, San Marino and Gibraltar, all of whom are now recognised by UEFA, there is still no room at the inn for the Nordic state.

This situation is made further frustrating by Greenlands Nordic neighbours Faroe Islands. They also have a smaller population but compete at a very solid level throughout the qualifiers for both the EUROS and the World Cup.

It all boils down to the fact that UEFA are no longer accepting autonomous states into their list of recognised teams. Despite the fact Scotland and Wales both technically fall into this category, it appears that the rule change will only affect the teams who weren’t already recognised.

The FIFA issue is more complex, FIFA initially rejected Greenland due to their inability to sustain a grass pitch due obviously to weather issues. However this was back in 2016, FIFA now does allow artificial pitches like the one laid for the Nuuk Stadium also in 2016 but apparently the stadium still misses a large number of features needed to be FIFA recognised.

The rumours are that Greenland will turn their attention to trying to join CONCACAF, which is the footballing body for North America, Central America and the Caribbean. Obviously Greenland would join the North America category which, in fairness, the state is much more aligned to ethnically and geographically compared to its political ties to Europe. Although the idea in itself is a sign of hope, we still seem a long way away from any sort of deal being struck.

The National Side

The Polar Teddy Bears (Greenlandic national team) have so far had to endure a life feeding on the scraps of the international game, often turning to other rejected or unrecognised states in hope of competition. Frequently taking part in the Island games, Greenland have finished runners-up on two occasions; once in 2013 losing out to Bermuda and again in 2017 suffering a surprise defeat to Swedish island Gotland.

While the struggle continues to find a consistent source of opponents, there is no doubt that the standard on the World’s largest island is improving.

This September’s tour of Denmark gave plenty of promise for the next generation, in particular an excellently crafted goal to put them one up against FC Nordsjælland. The ball was moved effectively from their own third to the opposition six yard box in a matter of seconds, not bad for a team who train on pitches not deemed acceptable by FIFA. Despite an eventual 3-1 defeat the performance was impressive, especially playing against the biggest talent factory in Scandinavia.

Although Greenland doesn’t currently have any players abroad, many will be hoping for more opportunities as progression and investment continue. Talented young players will hope to emulate Jesper Grønkjær, the state’s most famous footballing son. Chelsea fans will remember the winger fondly for his four year spell at the club. Even though he played for Denmark over 80 times Grønkjær’s birthplace of Nuuk will always see him regarded as a hero in his homeland.

The Future

There are ambitious plans in place for a new stadium to solve a few of Greenland’s problems. The aptly named Arctic Stadium was designed in 2016 with the aim of being completed by 2020. The 20,000 seater venue is being built in the Capital Nuuk to replace Greenland’s current pitch for home games.

One just needs to look at a few photos to see how wildly ambitious these plans truly are, and last November it was confirmed inevitably that the plans were on hold while the Greenlandic government looked for more investors. 

The future of the Greenlandic national team, in a similar way to the Arctic Stadium, is pretty uncertain. As it stands CONCACAF looks to be the only viable route to international football but it is presumed stadium improvements would have to take place first and there is no official word on communication between the two bodies. Regardless of circumstances, One thing is certain; the people of Greenland deserve a team to get behind.

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