Midfield Generalities spoke with Haji Munye and Adam Savvedes Law, founders of Barawa FA, about running a national team, inventing an anthem and their aim to inspire a region

The pressures of running an international football team are intense: just ask past England managers. But imagine that along with responsibility for putting out an XI, you also have to finance the running of the association, recruit the players and even help to organise the World Cup for you to compete in, all while maintaining a full-time job as a teacher.

This describes the lives of Haji Munye and Adam Savvedes Law, who founded Barawa FA, a team that takes its name from a port town in the Lower Shebelle region of Somalia. Based in London, they represent the Barawan diaspora around the world.

The first time Haji put on the Barawa shirt was against Middlesex County Premier League side Cricklewood Wanderers. It was Barawa’s inaugural international fixture. ‘When you first put on the jersey…You forget about strategies, you forgot about football, you forget about tactics.’ Adam chimes in: ‘You forgot about it so much you done your hamstring.’

Cricklewood may not be conventional opposition for an international fixture, but then again, Barawa are not a conventional international team: they compete in ConIFA, the federation for associations outside of FIFA. Such was the novelty of Barawa competing on the international stage, that they even had to invent an anthem: ‘It’s very newish’, says Haji. ‘We wanted to make it modern, we wanted to make it catchy.’  Other ConIFA members include an Australian First Nations Team, Kurdistan and Kernow, a team representing Cornwall.

Barawa are based in London and not in Barawa because of the political difficulties there. Civil war has been ongoing in Somalia since the late eighties. Al-Shabab militants seized control of Barawa in 2009, and though the region was recaptured by the new federal government in 2014, the situation remains unstable. 

Haji is a refugee and founded Barawa FA to raise awareness of the situation in his homeland, and to provide hope to the next generation of Barawans, both in Barawa and abroad. He sees football as the ideal vehicle with which to achieve this. ‘We want to be part of the rehabilitation process and the development of peace. And what do we love the most? Football.’

Their work has already had an impact in Barawa, where they’ve helped establish a league and even supplied kits for teams to play in. Indeed, they’ve been so effective in promoting football in the region that they were even offered a position heading up the sports ministry in Barawa, an offer that they politely declined: ‘we don’t do political stuff.’

On the pitch, Barawa’s progress has been rapid. They played their first ConIFA match in the World Unity Cup. Though they lost 5-0 to Tamil Eelam, they followed this up with a much closer 3-2 loss to the Chagos Islands and then a 3-2 win over a UK Tamils XI.

“We want to be part of the rehabilitation process and the development of peace. And what do we love the most? Football.”

Bigger things were to follow. In the summer of 2018, they hosted the ConIFA World Cup in London. ‘We worked so hard, one of the hardest things we ever accomplished. Because we had no resources, no sponsors, we had nothing.’ When the tournament began, both Adam and Haji had recently started new jobs as teachers in Lewisham and were having to balance their work with their hosting duties, driving out to Sutton after school finished to watch the matches.

Drawn in a tough group containing Cascadia, Tamileelam and Ellan Vannin, Barawa came top, playing a style of football inspired, according to Adam, by Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City team. ‘We’ve got an identity of football that we play. Playing football from the back, high intensity. A lot of possession, but with meaning.’

Barawa were knocked out in the next round by eventual finalists Northern Cyprus,  but it’s impressive that they managed to get that far given some of the disadvantages they faced: ‘during the World Cup we were fasting, every single game’, says Haji, ‘it was mad.’

Since the ConIFA World Cup, Barawa have continued their work spreading ConIFA’s message of inclusion and representation. Last July, Adam accompanied the Barawa team to Cornwall to play Kernow in what was the Cornish side’s first ever international fixture.  By the end of the game, and though Barawa were losing 5-1 – again partly due to the team fasting – the Kernow fans were chanting for Barawa: ‘We turned around and were like “Are you taking the mick?”‘ remembers Adam.  ‘And they were genuine. People asked for pictures.  Saying “You guys were the better team.”‘

Both Haji and Adam are evangelists for the ways that football brings people together. Adam’s commitment to the team is evidence of this in itself: his family originally hails from Tunisia, not Barawa. Yet he shares in their sense of mission as much as Haji. Looking forward, both agree that the aim is to build on success both on and off the pitch: ‘we want to be the central hub of football development in Barawa’, says Haji,  ‘that’s our main goal over there. And here, it’s to create a backing for Barawa.’