Hong Kong Premier League

Meet the Hong Kong footballer who’s playing at the World Cup – just not in Russia

Lee Man’s Korean defender Son Min-chol is going to the alternative tournament in London, while local clothing giant Giordano is a sponsor

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 May, 2018, 3:10pm
UPDATED : Monday, 04 June, 2018, 8:04am

Hong Kong Premier League side Lee Man Warriors’ Son Min-chol is playing at the World Cup, but rather than the Fifa-sanctioned tournament in Russia he is at the “alternative World Cup” in London which kicks off on May 31.

This World Football Cup is organised by CONIFA, the Confederation of Independent Football Associations, a body that recognises “nations, de-facto nations, regions, minority peoples and sports isolated territories”.

CONIFA was founded five years ago and its first World Cup was a year later in Sweden. This year’s tournament in the English capital is the third, the first won by the County of Nice and the 2016 edition by Abkhazia, a disputed territory in Georgia.

The holders are one of 16 teams taking part including United Koreans in Japan, the team made up of the “zainichi Koreans”, Japan’s long-term ethnic Korean community.

Instead of putting his feet up after a long season where his side finished eighth on the 10-team table, Son will be in London and hoping to still be there for the final on June 10 .

Son used to play for FC Korea, an ethnic Korean team that play lower league football in Japan, and also went to the country’s Korea University before joining up with Lee Man in Hong Kong from Indian side Mumbai FC.

He has also represented North Korea at age group level and he is not the only pro footballer who will be taking part in London.

Padania have former Lazio, Sampdoria, Sevilla and Valencia man Marius Stankeviciu, who also has 65 caps for Lithuania on his CV, while Mario Balotelli’s brother, Enoch, played for them in 2014.

Son’s teammates include students, with one coming from the US, and a number of Japanese regional league players, most of whom play for FC Korea and one English-based player – Staines Town under-19 midfielder Tong Soung-lee.

He is one of the footballers who will be familiar with the grounds even if they are not familiar with the opposition teams as many of the WFC squads ply their part-time trade with non-league English sides.

United Koreans are in group D and will play 2016 runners-up Panjab, who represent the Punjabi diaspora, wild cards Western Armenia and Kabylia, a group based in northern Algeria.

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Many eyes will be on group B where the other wild card team, Tibet, are joined by champs Abkhazia,

Hungarian minority in the Ukraine representatives Karpatalja and Northern Cyprus, the Turkish controlled part of the island.

Hosts Barawa, with the Barawa FA representing UK-based members of the Somali diaspora, are in group A with inaugural runners-up Ellan Vannin, also known as the Isle of Man, Cascadia from Northwest Pacific and Tamil Eelam, a team made of Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora.

Group C rounds the WFC out and sees Padania, which represents eight regions in northern Italy, play Tuvalu, who came into replace Kiribati, social media favourites Matabeleland from western Zimbabwe and Szekely Land, a group of people based in Romania.

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While bookmakers Paddy Power are the main tournament sponsor, Hong Kong clothing giant Giordano is supporting the tournament too by being shirt sponsor for Cascadia and Tuvalu.

Their logo will be sported in the opening game.

Ellan Vanninn kick things off at 7pm Hong Kong time today when they face Cascadia.

Almost all games are streamed on CONIFA TV.

Let’s face it, where else are you going to get your football fix before the mainstream World Cup kicks off on June 14?