'If Messi's mum was born in Barnsley, we will take a look at him' – Yorkshire launches own international team
“God’s Own County” is about to become part of the global game.
No longer will the people of Yorkshire have to rejig an Olympic medal table to imagine themselves standing alone on the world’s sporting stage.
The Yorkshire International Football Association (Yifa), founded in July, will stage open trials on Sunday for the chance to represent the White Rose county in world football.
Long known colloquially as “God’s Own County”, Yorkshire’s aim is to compete in a global sub-strata of teams that have, for one reason or another, not been given membership of Fifa.
Tibet, Darfur, Greenland, Kiribati, Zanzibar, South Ossetia and Abkhazia are among possible future fixtures.
But Ellan Vannin – the Isle of Man’s notional national team – will provide the opposition for Yorkshire’s debut, with a match set for late January.
The trials to be part of the team will be held at Hemsworth Miners Welfare FC and are open to all, with one caveat.
“If Lionel Messi’s mum was born in Barnsley we will be happy to take a look at him, but otherwise we are just looking for those born in Yorkshire,” jokes Yifa chairman Phil Hegarty.
By that criteria, Manchester City full-back Kyle Walker and Leicester striker Jamie Vardy, both born in Sheffield, are theoretical contenders.
But their top-level experience would only count so for so much.
“The sort of football they will be playing will be proper Yorkshire football, not Premier League football, ” adds Hegarty.
“We don’t want people diving on the floor and shouting at the referee. In our constitution, that is a disciplinary matter.
“We have had a lot of interest from amateur level to National League – we are getting some really quality applications in.”
After taking part in a cultural programme, the players will also have an off-pitch ambassadorial role to fulfil.
“We want them to talk about what it is to be from Yorkshire, the heritage and history of the region and what makes us that bit special, ” explains Hegarty.
“It will be a way of reaching out to grassroots Yorkshire people and saying: This is our football team; this is what we are about, what the region is about and why we are representing it.”
It is not just how the players conduct themselves that is important. The way that Yifa operates reflects its values of solidarity and identity.
Partnerships with a local club, kit supplier and marketing agency have helped get the project off the ground, along with donations of time and money.
The ultimate goal for Yorkshire is to win the World Football Cup – the global tournament for international teams outside Fifa.
Yorkshire are too late to qualify for the 2018 tournament, which will be held in London and will feature 16 teams from across five continents.
Indeed Yorkshire currently falls short of tournament organisers Conifa’s entry criteria. Teams need to represent a state or people recognised by one of a variety of global sporting and political bodies.
But Conifa general secretary Sascha Duerkop says Yorkshire could yet earn admission if they apply.
“Currently they do not qualify to the clearly defined internal regulations,” he told BBC Sport
“However, we do see them as culturally distinct to their surrounding and thus an interesting team to work with, either as a member or as an opponent in future friendly matches.
“I expect the cause to lead to a very open and intense debate, as Yorkshire surely has a case, which might just not be covered by our regulations.”
And no region is more practised in debating its own exceptional qualities than Yorkshire.