Football is a universal common interest. It can be found in every corner of the world. No matter where you come from or what language you speak it’s one of the few things that can unite all that love the sport.
Away from the millionaire playgrounds of the Premier League, La Liga, and Serie A domestic leagues all over the world big and small are hotly contested.
It’s one of those leagues on the small side that I would like to talk about today.
Record Breaking League
The Isles of Scilly Football League is far removed from the bright lights of other European counterparts.
While the league is affiliated with the Football Association in England. It would make the Isthmian League Premier Division look like the cream of the crop.
While we joke about the league it’s ran and organised with great commitment and passion that can be found in all tiers of football. With league secretary Howard Cole having a lot to do with that.
However, nobody is laughing at the niche bit of fame the league has picked up throughout the years.
The official league of the Isle of Scilly holds the record of being the smallest league in the world.
The league is only contested between two teams. The current champions The Garrison Gunners and The Woolpack Wanderers who go hell for leather at each other every Sunday in the winter months.
The two rivals play each other 17 times in the league from November to March. As these are off peak times for tourist and the islands make most of their revenue through tourist.
Along with battling it out for both cups on the island that are played over two legs. The season also kicks off with a charity shield game against the Gunners and the Wanderers.
They play each other a mental 22 times over the course of a single season. Now that’s a rivalry.
Football is a key form of entertainment on the island just off the coast of Cornwall. There must be some sort of demand for it as the islands have been running a league since the 1920s.
The Isles of Scilly are a group of 145 islands off the coast of the Southwest of England. With only five of them being inhabited. It’s a 25-mile journey out to the Isles of Scilly which also only have a population of 2,300 people. Not the deepest talent pool to chose from.
So, a league was set up all the way back in the 1920s called the Lyonnesse Inter-Island Cup. It was contested against the five islands with people on them Tresco, St. Marys, Bryher, St. Agnes and St. Martins.
However, clubs began to fade away due to small populations and by the 1950s only two clubs remained called the Rangers and the Rovers. Known as The Garrison Gunners and The Woolpack Wanderers today.
The League Today
The two teams play every game at the same venue Garrison Field on the island of St. Marys. Both teams take turns at being the home and away team.
Players don’t even mind who they play for. At the start of the season a captain is picked for each team. The captains will then pick their teams from the players available that season. Just like we would all do back in our school days. It all just adds to the unique nature of the league.
The Isles of Scilly like many other small islands are finding it very difficult to keep young people at home to play in the league.
A League In Trouble?
Once most of the teenagers hit 16, they tend to go to the mainland for education and work prospects. With house prices on the islands being rather expensive they don’t tend to return home that quickly either.
This has caused the numbers of active players in the league to dwindle. With the fear that young players will stop coming through and the league will cease to exist in the not so distanced future.
This has resulted in the league players usually having an average age in the mid-30s. With men at the sprite age of 65 still turning up each week for a game of ball.
However, they are missing out on the key demographic of 18-30-year olds playing football on the island due to better opportunities for education and work elsewhere.
It would be a crying shame to see the league go away due to population but that has always been an issue for the league.
They couldn’t even go and play in any of the Cornwall leagues and try recruit players from there as it would cost too much with travel.
However, the numbers that is available to them don’t always play against each other. Sometimes they do join forces.
They travel to Cornwall once a year with a combined team made up of players from both teams in the league. This is to take part in the Lyonnesse Cup. Which itself holds the record for being the world’s smallest trophy.
Then a team from Truro a small town in Cornwall returns the favour. They visit the Isles of Scilly to play a one-off game against a combined team.
For The Love Of The Game
The whole aspect of the league has just been a pleasure to research.
Football stripped back to its bare bones in its purest form. Everyone does it because they love it. They don’t care who they play for they just want to play the beautiful game.
Every week is the same venue, people, and atmosphere. They don’t get bored and continue to try and keep their league alive.
The fact it has been going for this long is a credit to all involved. Hopefully, it continues as it’s a fascinating look at what can be done in football without much financial help.
It really is a credit to the power that football can have and the passion it provokes. Everyone involved just wants to play football simply for the love of the game. They play because they like to play, and it doesn’t matter if they face the same people every week. Football can still be as simple as that.