Inner City World Cup will see teams from 40 countries compete on Hackney Marshes

PUBLISHED: 14:07 22 March 2017 | UPDATED: 17:04 22 March 2017

Columbian players and fans celebrate as their team score the winning penalty

Columbian players and fans celebrate as their team score the winning penalty

football Beau Abery

Semi-professional soccer player Mark Abery realised in his 20s that “every footballer’s dream” of competing in the World Cup was never going to come true for him – unless he set one up of his own.

Columbia celebrates their winColumbia celebrates their win

Now two decades on, the Inner City World Cup is still going strong, and sees ex-pats living in London representing their country of origin.

The first tournament in 1994 saw 24 teams competing on Wanstead Flats. This year will see 40 countries competing on Hackney Marshes on the first weekend in June.

Each team will wear shirts emblazoned with their country’s flag colours. The Gazette is proud to be the tournament’s media partner.

While some communities have entered a team right from the start, new countries are always coming on board. Lithuania and Vietnam, who have not played for 15 years, plan to make a comeback this year. And Syria and Nepal will be back, after signing up last year for the first time.

Mark AberyMark Abery

Mark said: “We had a girl working with us who knew a few lads, and we pulled together a Syrian squad. It brought the Syrian community in London together. They played alongside the Iraqis and the Afghans. It’s apolitical – the common denominator is everybody loves football.

“The atmosphere is really good. There is a lot of camaraderie, unity and different religions. There are people from all walks of life. It’s a real melting pot. We don’t care if you eat pizza, poppadoms or paella – if you have a smile on your face and a pair of boots you’re welcome.”

Reigning champions Cameroon, who beat Nigeria one-nil last year, will also be back playing on home turf – as their usual team is the Hackney Lions.

It all takes place over two days, with eight 11-a-side teams playing one-hour matches at any time. Some may play as many as seven matches over the weekend. Mark said: “We’ve staged it all over London, but we feel it’s in its rightful spiritual home in Hackney, and we want to keep it here.”

Bangladesh celebrate winning in 2001 by driving an open-top bus down Brick LaneBangladesh celebrate winning in 2001 by driving an open-top bus down Brick Lane

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