In the early nineties many supporters, particularly ex-pats, kept in touch with other fans via email. These people tended to be mainly people in the technical or academic worlds as email was widely available in those professions. As more and more email lists sprung up across the football world, talk inevitably turned to playing matches between teams made up of subscribers to the various Email lists. As a result, the first ever internet organised football match was held at Nottingham on 30th July 1995 between Leeds Lards and Internet Hotspurs. Leeds won 6-3, the attendance was just 12!
At the time of Euro 96, Dave “Voice of Football” Walmsley wanted to show that football fans could come together in the spirit of the game, play football and build bridges between their respective teams. This was after Graham Kelly the then chief of the FA was publicly sceptical about the ability of English football supporters to behave themselves at Euro 96. Through the use of the email lists and other internet based discussion groups, Dave organised a tournament to be held on June 9th 1996 in Nottingham, one of the host cities for Euro 96 and EuroNET 96 was born.
Following the success of that first tournament, Dave stepped down as tournament organiser and was replaced by Roger Goodair and John Boocock, who had helped out with the first event. EuroNET97 was run over two days, 28/29 June 1997 and was held in Middlesbrough at the Wilf Mannion Sports Centre. A former Great Britain and Middlesbrough player, Wilf memorably presented the trophy.
With the expansion of the world wide web, more and more teams came forward and began to play games against like-minded groups of supporters from all backgrounds and walks of life, who communicated via message boards and email lists across the UK. Following the success of the first two tournaments, and to encourage more and more fixtures between the teams, 1997 also saw League and Cup formats introduced and the name Internet Football Association was born to run these competitions.
Since the IFA’s formation, we have grown from the original 16 teams to over a hundred teams. Under John and Roger’s stewardship, EuroNET evolved into WorldNET, an annual two-day knock out tournament, and the IFA League and IFA Challenge Cup competitions continue to go from strength to strength. During the season a number of regional competitions, such as the Scottish League and Cup, North West, Midlands and London Cups are also run by individuals throughout the IFA. The Big Tam Veterans Tournament was also introduced into the WorldNET schedule in 2008 as the original teams began to grow old gracefully.
IFA teams are made up of players who must be members of an email list or forum and be bona fide supporters of the club they are representing. Our competitions have always encouraged fans to play football regardless of their ability, gender, race or age. Matches take place on Saturday mornings, usually before “the big match” between the same two senior teams later that afternoon. Teams are encouraged to embrace the social element of being a football supporter and lay on food and refreshments for all players between the games in order to help build bridges. Not all senior clubs have an IFA side and many games are moved for TV or international breaks, so where no fixture can be arranged as above, teams are encouraged to organise fixtures against local sides from other divisions. Each team has a fixtures organiser, who often doubles as a team manager, and matches are arranged across the Internet, via the IFA message board, Email group and, increasingly, using social media sites such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter.
Wherever possible we encourage teams to forge links with their parent clubs – to the point where teams who have won our competitions have been presented to supporters on the pitch at senior games, have featured in club programmes and in the case of some clubs have been given official recognition along with support of a more material kind. This has taken the form of donations of kit, use of facilities and assistance with transport costs. Several clubs have also been very helpful in ensuring that all those who have played in IFA matches are able to attend “the big match” that follows. Some clubs give free tickets to the visitors, others ensure that the visitors are able to buy tickets for the match. This is often done in conjunction with official supporters clubs, supporter’s trusts and ISAs in which many of our players are leading lights. We have also ensured that we involve ourselves in major football issues of the day especially anti-racism and anti-sectarianism. We have been successful in bringing fans of opposing teams together in the spirit of the game, to the point where quite unusual alliances and friendships have sprung up.
When Dave Walmsley organised that first tournament, little could he have known about how things would have developed. The IFA now has members from all the Scottish and English divisions, as well as non-league teams from both sides of the border, while a number of teams from Ireland, mainland Europe and Africa have also entered our competitions. IFA football is not just about winning. It’s about taking part and building bridges between rival sets of supporters. Having said that we consider our leagues, competitions and tournaments professionally run and allow for an element of competition and pride in supporting one’s home team. Please take the time to browse our website for more information, and do not hesitate to contact us if you’d like to know more. Or better still, get involved.