The Gaelic-speaking football team that looks set to take on the world

Gaelic speaking footballers in the Western Isles could soon have the opportunity to represent their country in international competition.

By John Morrison
Thursday, 31st March 2022, 6:30 pm
The idea is the brainchild of Gaelic-speaking professional footballer, Calum Ferguson. Pic: Craig Watson.
The idea is the brainchild of Gaelic-speaking professional footballer, Calum Ferguson. Pic: Craig Watson.

The idea is the brainchild of 27-year-old Calum Ferguson, a native Gaelic speaker from Inverness who also holds a Canadian passport.

After being selected to join the Inverness Caledonian Thistle youth set-up, where he played alongside Scotland star Ryan Christie, Calum has played football professionally abroad in Canada and New Zealand.

It was while playing for Winnipeg-based Valour FC in the Canadian Premier League that he noticed a Gaelic slogan – Ar Cala Ar Dachaigh Ar n-Anam: Our Harbour, Our Home, Our Soul – on the shirts of one of their opponents, Halifax Wanderers, from Nova Scotia.

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Calum explained: “I have keen interest in Highland and Scottish history and was intrigued to see the Gaelic words on a football shirt in Canada.

"I have also seen the importance and place given to the Maori language and culture when I played in New Zealand, most notably the world-famous Haka ritual which the All Blacks use to terrify rivals before a game.

“In Canada, people had much more interest in Gaelic and the culture. They’d say – ‘you speak Gaelic, that is so cool’. In Scotland, there is no football club with a Gaelic slogan, no signs at grounds and no mention of any Gaelic connection. This got me thinking.”

Calum, who has played for Canada at several age levels, also took part in the Conifa World Cup in 2018 playing for Cascadia, a team that represents the American states of Oregon and Washington and British Columbia in Canada.

Conifa is the umbrella organisation for federations that sit outside FIFA and its World Cup includes teams as diverse as the Isle of Man, the Padania region of northern Italy, Darfur, South Ossetia and Kárpátalja, who are drawn from the Hungarian minority in Western Ukraine.

This competition provided an important thread in the development of Calum’s plans.

When he was back in Scotland during the first Covid lockdown, Calum set up FC Sonas with one of his friends, Donnie Forbes, who is now a coach with Hibs. FC Sonas combines learning with football drills to encourage youngsters to stay active while speaking Gaelic.

He was able to pull in other Gaelic-speaking footballers to help including his cousin Roddy MacGregor, who stars in midfield for Inverness Caley Thistle.

Donald Morrison, who played for Point before moving across to join Caley Thistle, was involved along with Harry and Lewis Nicolson, who have strong Uist connections.

Calum is extremely ambitious for FC Sonas and sees it as the vehicle that will eventually evolve to take a Gaelic-speaking team to play in Conifa competitions. He hopes this can happen within five years.

Since he first floated the idea of Ball-Coise nan Gaidheal (Football of the Gaels) in an article for The Times at the tail end of ‘Seachdain na Gaidhlig’, Calum has already received an encouraging email from the president of Conifa North America and Caribbean, Aaron Johsen.

Calum said: “I have played against the Isle of Man and saw that Yorkshire and Cornwall also have teams. There is no reason why a Gaelic-speaking team could not be taking part in the Conifa World Cup.

"It would be an excellent pathway for young Gaelic speakers from the Western Isles. I can see them making up the core of the team.”

We have seen in the pages of the Gazette over recent weeks the importance of the Island Games in developing athletes and sportsmen and women from the Western Isles across a range of sports.

If Calum Ferguson’s ambitious plan is realised, young Gaelic speaking islanders may soon have another platform to show the world their undoubted skills.