Yesterday 7th November the Pope, Benedict XVI, visited our beloved city Barcelona for the inauguration of the still incompleted Sagrada Familia temple. Several streets in the city were cleared off trafic, subways in the area of the Sagrada Familia were only running certain parts of the days, and even the King and Queen of Spain came to Catalunya to attend the inauguration mass. The city attracted a lot of people for this event, some were strong believers who were hoping to get a glimpse of the Pope, others were in one of the several demonstrations against the Catholic Church (I will not quote their slogans for the sake of young visitors coming to this site ;)).
Yes, the Church has not had it easy lately, and on top of that the Vatican City football team lost games for the first time in history. More worries for the Pope…
I can see some questions coming like "does the Vatican have a football team?", "is it a team full of priests?", and similar. This article will try to espond to your questions.
First of all: YES, the Vatican City, the world’s smallest sovereign state and with less than 1000 inhabitants and only approx 500 passport holders (this is an estimation), has its own national football team. It does however not compete in FIFA sanctioned tournaments so they don’t play in the World Cup qualifiers or so. The team is mostly made up of Swiss Guards who have the duty to assure security for the Pope and the Vatican, so these people cannot frequently travel to play football games. Hence, the Vatican national team only plays friendly games now and then. They are not even a member of one of the two federations for national teams outside of FIFA (the federations that organise tournaments for colonies, unrecognised nations, ethnic minorities, breakaway republics, etc). So far Vatican City only played friendlies. I read in one book that Vatican City was seeking membership of FIFA but never saw that rumour confirmed in a reliable paper. I highly doubt it was more than just a rumour.
Vatican City is 1 of only 8 fully recognised sovereign states that are not (yet) members of FIFA. The others are Monaco (not to be confused with the club team AS Monaco), Tuvalu, Kiribati, Micronesia, Nauru, Marshall Islands and Palau. Especially Tuvalu is seeking membership of FIFA, along with some non-sovereign "countries" such as Greenland and Gibraltar and some partially recognised nations such as Kosovo. All of those have either tried or will try soon to gain full membership of FIFA. I cannot see Vatican City make an official request to do so due to the limited players pool.
The Vatican does have a national team playing friendlies every now and then. The team plays in yellow-white outfits similar to the Vatican flag. Since the state is way too small to host a stadium, the home stadium of the Vatican lies across the "border" in Italy: the Stadio Pio XII, which holds 1500 people and is home to club team Associazione Sportiva Dilettante Albalonga. The players of Vatican City are mostly Swiss Guards, whose daytime job is to protect the Pope and the public safety in the Vatican. Some museum workers and administration staff play as well. A very few clergymen may play as well although I am unsure of this. Some players hold Italian citizenship instead of Vatican City citizenship. One problem the team encounters that of the just below 1000 people in the country, only about half of them hold Vatican Citizenship: the Pope, a series of clergymen, Swiss Guards, and a tiny number of laymen. Needless to say that organising a game for the Vatican team is not an easy thing to do and in FIFA tournaments where all players would need a Vatican passport, it would be close to impossible.
The Vatican’s first opponent was San Marino, a FIFA member (although a very weak one), and drew 0-0. This was in 1994 after Pope John Paul II apparently encouraged the formation of a Vatican team. It has to be added though that San Marino mainly played with its reserves rather than its full national team. It nonetheless is a game of relevance as it was the first time Vatican City was represented in football.
The next (and according to some, first) full international was played in 2002 against Monaco. Monaco could become a FIFA member easily but refrains to do so, in order to not jeopardize AS Monaco’s position in the French league. The Monaco national team is very weak. They played in the first non-FIFA world cup and lost the final against Sapmi with 1-21. That says enough. It may cause little surprise that Monaco-Vatican City ended on a 0-0 draw.
Due to limited national teams being interested in playing against the Pope’s guards, the national team often had to play against non-national teams such as club teams or once-off selections. Swiss amateur club SV Vollmond was beaten 5-1 by the Vatican in 2006. In 2007 the opponent was Nazionale Italiana Religiosi, a team of religious Italians and thus a sort of "holy derby". The Vatican won 3-0. According to Wikipedia there was a game also in 2008 against Nazionale Italiana Papaboys (whatever that may mean) won 3-2 by the Vatican. However, I did not hear on any other source about this game so I don’t dare to claim this one is 100 percent accurate.
The biggest shock in Vatican football history came on 25/10/2008 apparently (!!) when Vatican City played the Olympic Team of China. Even when it was the Olympic Team, we talk about the future prospects of the national team of the most populous nation on earth. And this team had to play against the amateur team of the smallest country on earth. It sounded like David versus Goliath, but the Vatican managed a true shock by winning the game 4-3. Probably one of the most massive victories ever in football if you compare the size and population numbers of the Vatican City and the PR China. That is, if this game was played. Searching on numerous webpages and usually reliable resources when it comes to statistics didn’t lead to any confirmation that this game really took place, only the Dutch language Wikipedia mentioning it.
In 2010 the Vatican played 2 games so far. One was against Palestine which is a full FIFA member since the Palestinian Authority’s creation made Palestine meet the membership criteria. Palestina has ever since played in World Cup qualifiers and has improved an amazing lot. No surprise that the Vatican team lost this game 9-1. The result was not mentioned in most resources or statistics websites, and I had to dig into Palestinian football blogs to find confirmation that this game indeed took place on 25-10-2010. After a long search, Yahoo and a few online papers confirmed the result but claimed the team was actually a Catholic priests selection rather than an official Vatican City national team. The game was played in Bethlehem and was attended by a large crowd, including monks.
Another game was played against Guardia di Finanza from Italy. For this game, the Vatican made headlines by appointing Giovanni Trapattoni as national coach. For the coach, whose regular job is managing the Republic of Ireland national team, this was a true honour as "Trap" is known to be a very loyal Catholic. His presence did however not help very much as the Vatican lost 0-1.
Note: all above results are FACTS, although it cost me quite a while to verify the games. The only games which are an exception is the huge victory against China’s olympic side, which I don’t dare to say if it took place as not a single resource seems to confirm this game, and the victory against the "Papaboys" of which I can also not find any confirmation on usually reliable statistics sites.
Aside from this national team there is more activity when it comes to Vatican football. The Vatican also has its own league called the Clericus Cup. The league was created in 2007 by the Centro Sportivo Italiano and has since then run every season. Tarcisio Bertone, who holds a high role in the Vatican government, was the person who came up with this idea of a Vatican league. The teams playing in this league all represent a seminary within Rome. The tournament got quite a lot of press attention just because of the novelty aspect. The league also has a quite odd yet interesting addition to the regular football rules: the blue card, which means a player who behaved unfair is sent off the field for 5 minutes and can then re-enter the game.
The same Tarcisio Bertone once suggested the Vatican could create a club team playing in the Italian league. When people mocked with the idea of AC Milan, Juventus etc playing a Vatican team, Mr Bertone admitted it was mainly intended as a joke.
This doesn’t mean that football has no following in the Vatican. Pope John Paul II was a goalkeeper in his youth in Poland, current Pope Benedict XVI is a fan of Bayern München, and AC Ancona rewarded the pope with a shirt of the club after they promised to promote morality, decent behaviour and sportmanship in their club culture. So for sure football lives in the Vatican City. I am quite sceptic though when it comes to a Vatican City national team ever appearing in official FIFA sanctioned games.
The Vatican team has some mystery surrounding it. Browse to different sources and you will see that not all of them list the same games. To find an overview of all games played you rely on visiting several papers or sites. Of some games you have to wonder if they were played at all or if they were nothing more than a rumour. And those games that are for sure played and confirmed by reliable sources (the games against San Marino, Monaco, Vollmond, the catholic Italian team and the Guardia di Finanza) were contested with some people working for the Vatican without holding its citizenship.
All of this leads to my conclusion that the Vatican team is a nice novelty but that the chances of gaining FIFA membership are close to zero.