Let’s talk about the Marshall Islands…
It’s a story I’ve not mentioned so far on this blog site, BUT it is currently a huge part of my life.
On the back of completing my Masters, I realised that I missed writing. I missed discussing football and networking with people worldwide – that’s how this blog site was born but it also set the stage for football in the Marshall Islands.
Reverse to November 2022. I spoke with Ali McLae and Russ Gurr of the Samoa Football Federation for a coaching interview for this site. What happened next was a crazy journey that is still only just beginning in terms of a long-term project.
The interview was a success. It gained huge popularity and opened up new connections for myself across the world, notably in the Oceania region. I came across Jacob Whiteheads fantastic article for The Athletic on Marshall Islands Soccer and realised that I needed to be a part of it. Some mutual connections later, I was discussing my background, my personal aims and the project for Marshall Islands Soccer Federation with Shem Livai, president and founder of MISF itself.
By mid December 2022, I was offered the role of Technical Director…… this brings us to January 2023 and how this story begins!
It was the same in January as it is now, (though that’s starting to ease off!)… “where is it?”, “why would you do that?”, “how….?”. All valid questions, all easily justified.
Where is it? It’s in the Central Pacific Ocean, between the Phillipines and Hawaii. It’s mostly accessible via Hawaii and Brisbane and to put it into context for follower UK readers – 30 hours is the shortest journey from London!
Why? Well, why not? It’s an opportunity to work on the international stage, showcase ability and improve myself as a coach, an organiser and culturally, as a person. It is also an opportunity to help raise awareness to a greater cause – climate change and the unfortunate situation that the Republic of Marshall Islands finds itself in.
How? With difficulty… but in all honesty, a shared passion between myself, our working group and the board is making this easier day by day.
So January… my first point of call was to ask for help. I knew Justin Walley virtually. We’d spoken a good few times on Twitter and I had followed his work in similar roles keenly for a while. We put together a plan of attack and within the same time frame, Matt Webb finalised our working group, mutually connecting via LinkedIn. Justin came in as Director of Communications with Matt as the new Director of Marketing. Our group was finalised, it was time to go.
We hit the ground running on January 6th and went live on Twitter, Facebook and instagram. Within 4 hours, we had reached 300 followers and had been contacted by so many journalists that we didn’t believe this was real.
January was our biggest month for media awareness. 20 podcasts/YouTube interviews, newspaper coverage and biggest of all, radio and TV appearances on the BBC as well as Al Jazeera.
January was also the month that organisational plans began to take shape. On a technical front, I created the National Identity/Philosophy for how we as a nation approach the game. Also, a school curriculum, youth structures and blue prints for league ideas. Matt began logo and website design whilst also networking with donors and companies for potential sponsorship. Justin was looking after social media and growing our awareness with media outlets worldwide.
Some other key notes: featuring in Sky Sports and the Mirror as well as Radio Australia.
February was a follow on with more media, more awareness, more networking and more approvals. We now had a new National logo and were beginning to create a brand thanks to Matt’s experience and skill set. Justin was beginning his travels worldwide and somehow managed to meet with the Maldives FA president and TD …. Some hugely helpful people! I, meanwhile, had the huge pleasure of speaking to TD’s from Iraq, Phillipines, Pakistan, Turks and Caicos and Dominica. Grateful for their support.
March and April:
These months are joined for the reason that a lot merged, a lot happened but we also found this to be our hardest month. The time difference between myself and Matt in the UK, Justin in Africa and the board in RMI was not the problem, we somehow made this work… instead, it was just the logistics. A lot of waiting for things to happen – approvals of programs, shipments being organised from amazingly kind donors (Net World Sports especially with with their kind donation of £1500 worth of equipment). Also, a huge mention to KitAid Australia who are kindly donating kit and boots to Majuro.
We found this spell largely frustrating but also recognised that it was part of the journey and in reality, we are still ahead of our initial aims.
However, a huge thing did happen. We held a social media kit competition and announced a kit partner – PlayerLayer. We have a kit winner….. shirts will be on sale in due course!
Another key note: featuring in ESPN.
So, may.. may has been interesting!
Zealand created a YouTube episode purely about our project on his popular channel. This spiralled £3000 worth of donations and a huge spike in Twitter followers (at the time of writing, we have 3220!).
Networking with community groups in the US took a lot of shape. We were aware of Marshallese community groups in the US, especially in Arkansas but we are now beginning to take steps there too… we are looking at camps and school coaching to raise awareness in the areas.
We have a potential sponsor – a BIG one who are currently sponsoring, and working with, large events… keep posted for more info’!
Myself, Justin and Matt have contracts and are in place until April 2025 minimum.
Recruitment worldwide is beginning to take shape. We have player lists for eligible Marshallese citizens.
My visit to Majuro is all but confirmed. I’ll be there at the end of July for 2 weeks.
Coach Education is happening – I’ve created courses that will be delivered in a hybrid manner – online elements and in-person workshops when I visit.
A lot! We have a huge network to reach still, a potential list of sponsors and a growing list of players wanting to represent the nation.
We have plans for league football. I will visit community groups when I am in majuro as well as the education minister and Olympic committee.
We have National plans – futsal looks likely as the first step with 11 a side closely following. We also aim to implement the youth system ASAP and will encourage inter-school competition.
How can you help?
Keep following our journey, keep looking for updates on social media platforms and if you wanting to, any donation is welcome (link below).
Quotes from Matt and Justin:
“The first 4 months working on this project has flown by, but we can be rightfully proud of some of the milestones we’ve hit.
From my point of view, it was clear that we needed to invest energy into improving ‘the brand’ of the Soccer Federation. We’ve got a really unique opportunity to connect with soccer fans the world over, but we need to look the part. Without any funding our operation is completely bootstrapped, and it was clear from the outset that merchandise would be integral to both revenue generation and attracting sponsors.
I’m also really proud of some of the networks we’re building, we had a breakthrough when an article was published in the Marshall Islands Journal which led to a surge of new followers from RMI. Until then, most of the interest in the project had been from the UK, but ultimately our success will be judged by how well soccer is received by the Marshallese people.
Hopefully we can strengthen this further when we can visit RMI during the coming months.”
“When Lloyd told me about the project back in December, my brain lit up with the possibilities. The opportunity to bring football to the last nation on earth that does not play the beautiful game is – in some senses – the ultimate football project. It’s the football equivalent of discovering a previously uncontacted tribe in the Amazon.
First and foremost, it’s a great honour to be one of those responsible for trying to turn this dream into a reality. When (not if) we succeed, we will create something truly beautiful which will bring benefits tangible and intangible to an entire nation. It will help improve the physical health of many young people. It will create role models and enable many of those young people to dream previously impossible dreams. It will help put a nation – often forgotten by the international community – ‘on the world map’ and brought into the consciousness of perhaps millions for the first time.
It’s going to be extremely hard to pull this off, more than anything because the Marshall Islands really are in the middle of nowhere. Or is that the middle of everywhere?! But, already, we have exceeded our own high expectations and initial targets.
Matt and Lloyd have been unbelievable in all honesty. It’s a real privilege to work together with two such focused, open minded, talented and hard working young football people. At times you really do feel the sky is the limit with this project, rather than fearing it’s an impossible job doomed to failure.
Many are upset with the way the modern game has evolved with its obscene money, overhyped image and the disconnect from the game’s simple origins. With the Marshall Islands, you could argue you have a football project which is the antithesis of all that is wrong with the game: we want an entire nation to discover and fall in love with football/soccer for the first time; to play it, watch it, coach it, be magically consumed by it. And the wonderful thing is that anybody anywhere in the world can join us on this journey and help make our dreams a reality!”