Greenland conjures up images of blisteringly freezing cold ice, Inuits and formidable polar bears padding over blankets of snow. Nobody can imagine football being played on stony, sandy pitches. Yes, the beautiful game not only survives, it thrives in that bleak and barren autonomous territory within the Kingdom of Denmark. Football is so important, that despite the geographic difficulties and challenges the players and fans face when organising and attending matches, the entire population of 57,000 inhabitants still strangely aspire to participating in the World Cup……….some day.
Danish settlers brought the sport to Greenland where up until 2016, the players tackled and dribbled the ball on sand and rocky areas where many a bone was broken. However, things have changed to a certain extent and after an agreement between the Danish Football Association and the Greenland Ball Games Union, players now have it easier and can enjoy playing the game on twelve artificial grass pitches throughout the island.
Yet, pitches are not the only obstacles that Greenland’s five thousand players face. Distances are great and the world’s largest island lacks roads, making transport more than difficult. This means to get to the rudimentary sports grounds, players are forced to travel by air or by sea. The former is extremely expensive and the latter extremely slow.
The league is not the smallest in the world. That honour belongs to the Scilly Isles. It is in fact the shortest in the world, and takes place between mid-June and late August, when the ice and snow have melted. The Greenlandic Football Tournament, also known as the Coca-Cola GM, for obvious reasons, lasts a mere one week. However, it is an intense seven days as the games, unlike those in many other countries, generate a great community spirit. Amongst bragging and boasting, families and friends encourage their teams by blasting on air horns in the hopes of being able to make the long, slow slog back to their homes with the taste of triumph on their tongues.
The Football Association of Greenland is not a member of FIFA or any other continental confederation due to the natural obstacles that the country has to contend with. Yet, their most successful team, G-67 is revered and is often compared to Real Madrid as it has won the championship thirteen times.
The football league may be the shortest in the world, but it is driven by enthusiastic organisers who will most surely make that long, ardous journey to play in the World Cup equally short.