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Student tasked with bringing football to the last country on earth without it: In conversation with Max Houchin.

Bristol Men's Footballer tries to bring football to the one country on earth without it.

Max Houchin / University of Bristol

By: Faniki Deche, Second Year, Politics and International Relations

Third year Politics and International Relations student and current goalkeeper for the University of Bristol Association Football Club (UBAFC), Max Houchin, shares how his love for football inspired him to bring the game to the last country on earth without it.

8,367 miles separate Bristol from the small Pacific nation of the Marshall Islands. Football’s ability to create international connections further justifies the sport’s uniqueness. Indeed, this showcases the result of combining a fanatic with the only UN recognized nation without a National Football Team.

Marshall Islands Soccer Federation logo / Marshall Islands Soccer Federation

From the start, Max Houchin fell in love with football because of the community and escapism it brought. He said when contacted by Epigram:

'[Football] allowed me to meet people from all different walks of life and connect over a common interest… It just gives you a sense of community, a sense of place, a sense of purpose which I find really powerful. It’s great fun to play with all your mates, being able to go to socials with them and have a laugh especially when times are difficult. You always have football to fall back on as a place to relax and forget about any other stresses in life.'

The combination of a unique interest towards lesser footballing nations; a desired Masters in Sports Management; a well-established English connection within the Marshall Islands; and weirdly, André Villas-Boas is what sparked Max’s relationship with the Pacific nation.

'I’ve always loved watching San Marino vs Gibraltar as opposed to watching England vs Albania in the European Qualifiers. I was on Twitter (recently rebranded X) and I saw that the Marshall Islands Federation had been started. I’d seen that they had hired their technical director, their press secretary and head of marketing, who were all English guys. This sounds really weird but I remember seeing in the Match magazine when I was 5 or 6 that André Villas-Boas had been appointed Chelsea manager. It said when he was about 21, he had become technical director of the British Virgin Islands and I thought: you have to start from somewhere! So, I sent them an email saying "Look I have this interest in football especially in smaller countries. I’m hoping to do a Sports Management Masters and I have some spare time to volunteer." Ultimately, they were really supportive and they wanted me to get involved!'

Along with being former Sponsorship Secretary and current Intramural Secretary for UBAFC, Max has risen to become a spearheading member of the federation as their Soccer Development Executive.

'I have been tasked with trying to build connections and awareness of our federation among the Marshallese diaspora across the world, whilst also trying to find eligible men and women players for our national team in the future. My focus has particularly been on America. I have reached out to coaches from high schools and colleges to find eligible players and to add them to our database. This is so we can potentially reach out and connect with them when we are trying to gather a national team. I have also been looking at the logistics of how we can make an international ID camp work in America, so that the players in our database can get a camp over there and our technical director Lloyd (Owers) can go and evaluate our players.'

Marshallese children playing the Beautiful Game / Marshal Islands Soccer Federation

Substantial strides have been made as key members of the English staff have set foot on the islands and created the footballing groundwork.

'As a Federation, we have managed to crowd fund thousands of pounds in order to send our technical director Lloyd out to the Marshal Islands, as he was the one able to introduce football as part of their education curriculum. We’ve set up a Futsal League over there… and we are getting people actively involved in organised football for the first time ever. We have just released our first kit and we’ve had orders from over 30 countries across the globe for our shirts.'

Their biggest challenge is more existential, as rising sea levels puts the whole nation at risk. Increasing awareness about this dire situation is their primary goal for the future.

'Another key part of the project is raising awareness for the climate emergency. By 2030, a significant amount of the islands is expected to be underwater. Despite this, we are hoping to play our first national team game in 2024, whether that be Futsal or eleven aside. We are also looking to join a confederation because we have no external funding: in order to get that, we need to join a confederation whether that be the AFC or OFC and from there we would be able to join FIFA.'

Max’s story is further proof of football’s ability to address world issues. Let’s hope that his work helps the Marshall Islands stay afloat and then rise up the FIFA rankings.

The first Marshallese football kit / Marshall Islands Soccer Federation

Featured image: University of Bristol
Featured image: Marshall Islands Soccer Federation
Featured image: Marshall Islands Soccer Federation
Featured image: Marshall Islands Soccer Federation