Page last updated at 15:48 GMT, Monday, 17 August 2009 16:48 UK

Pair's hopes for football minnows

A team of Pohnpei players in Yeovil shirts
Players walked long distances to attend a two-week training camp

Two Londoners are gearing up to coach the national football team of a remote island which has not won a match since it began playing the game 25 years ago.

Paul Watson, of Hammersmith, and Matthew Conrad, of Kensington, both 25, will fly to Pohnpei, in the western Pacific Ocean, in September.

They had the idea of coaching the side - the world's lowest ranked - during a search for the most remote teams.

The pair hope to turn around the team's fortunes by next summer.

Pohnpei, the largest of the four island clusters forming the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), was introduced to football in 1985 by an expat from Ghana but the island has never won a match.

The first time I got their mail I thought it was a prank
Charles Musana
Former Pohnpei coach

The state has been ranked last by the Nouvelle Federation, an association of football-playing countries not recognised by football's world governing body, Fifa.

Pohnpei lies between Papua New Guinea and Guam and is more than 1,600km (994 miles) east of Guam.

Mr Watson, a sports writer, and Mr Conrad, a film student who has been studying in the US, came across Pohnpei in December 2007 in the federation's list while researching for a documentary.

They have now been appointed by the Pohnpei Soccer Association as managers to the team.

Mr Conrad said: "We found Pohnpei was at the bottom of the ratings list so we were interested and we made contact."

Paul Watson (l), Pohnpei's Lieutenant Governor Churchill Edward  and Matthew Conrad
Paul Watson and Matthew Conrad hope to get sponsors

The football lovers got in touch with Charles Musana, the island's former football coach, who now lives in Chingford, east London, and floated the idea of coaching.

Mr Musana said: "The first time I got their mail I thought it was a prank."

He said baseball and basketball were the main sports on the island and football was mostly a "recreational and non-competitive" game which meant it lacked sponsors and political support.

In 2003 Pohnpei players played their last international match, with eight players joining the FSM team at the South Pacific Games.

Mr Musana said: "When they came back the team disintegrated and from 2003 onwards international competitive football ended.

"This is a project we don't want to let down. We want Pohnpei and FSM to become a football-playing nation rather than this being a one-time thing after which football dies."

Playing barefoot

The Londoners visited the Pacific state with Mr Musana for the first time in July.

Mr Watson said: "We ran training sessions and between 13 and 25 people turned up for the sessions depending on the weather.

Charles Musana and Paul Watson with a team of Pohnpei players in Spurs shirts
The first objective for the new coaches is for the team to win their first match

"Some people walked 5km (3.1 miles) each way from their homes everyday in driving rain with no shoes.

"We took lots of boots with us but none of them wanted to wear them, as they are used to playing without."

Mr Conrad said: "They are a really tough bunch of people. The kids have no fear and you find the smallest child tackling the largest players, they are like little Hercules."

Before their trip in July, Mr Watson and Mr Conrad received kit donations from Norwich City, Yeovil Town and Tottenham Hotspur.

They plan to go back to the island on 17 September.

And their long-term ambitions do not simply focus on the team winning their first match.

Mr Conrad said: "The highlight would be to get football infrastructure, government funding in place and win certainly one game and then establish dominance in the South Pacific and then the world."



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SEE ALSO
Football strip makes Pacific trip
10 Aug 09 |  Somerset
Country profile: Micronesia
29 Sep 11 |  Country profiles

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