Anthony Gibbons had no idea he would become David Beckham’s body double when he joined a Sunday morning kickabout.
However, it turns out playing on the planet’s littlest association is a less unsurprising encounter than it initially shows up.
The Woolpack Wanderers and the Garrison Gunners are the only two teams in the Isles of Scilly Football League. The teams compete not only in 18 league games each season but also in two annual cup competitions, both of which are two-legged affairs with no away goals rule, and in an exhibition match similar to the Charity Shield.
It is the world’s smallest league of its kind thanks to the duopoly. Because both teams are registered to St Mary’s, a club on the eponymous island in the archipelago off the Cornish coast, it is technically an intra-club league.
That footnote hasn’t stopped international attention and a slew of famous visitors, like the day Beckham left Los Angeles Galaxy for the islands’ remoteness and Gibbons took over as England captain.
“That is my specialty,” says Gibbons.
But being a part of a rivalry that everyone knows well is close.
The short presentational grey line used to be different. Before the 1950s, there were four groups competing for brilliance and flatware.
Assuming the rainclouds hold back, the different sides really do fight each Sunday morning among October and Easter on similar contribute with similar players a similar unit.
“It’s regarded as somewhat absurd and analogous to the old cliche of “can we play you every week?”,” Will Lethbridge, who grew up on the islands and has been a member of the league for a number of years, provides an explanation.
“People inquire if it becomes monotonous or repetitive, but it is enjoyable and beneficial to run around. Since many of us are friends who have known each other since elementary school, the social aspect is more important than any sporting competition.
“You do know some players well, which foot they prefer, if they like to cut in and turn, their strengths and weaknesses, but there have also been a few slightly challenging tackles.
“There have been a few more yellow cards this year, and there has been the occasional confrontation, so there is some competition and a little bit of needle, but there are no long-standing rivalries, punch-ups, or anything like that – it’s all pretty much forgiven by the time the final whistle goes.”
To keep things new, no player has a pre-appointed group toward the beginning of each and every season. Instead, the two captains for that year pick new teams one at a time until there are no more players, just like kids do on the playground. Because there are only 2,100 people living on the islands, the league can hardly risk putting any players out of sync, so the order of the selections is kept secret to protect the last picks.
Lethbridge claims that there are some “superstitious” stalwarts who claim to perform better for one team rather than the other, despite the fact that the sides change every year.
Even though this does not always hold true over the course of a season, the selection process is also intended to maintain an even level of sporting competition.
“Vagabonds have would in general fair somewhat better, however that is at last down to who the skippers pick,” Lethbridge says. ” One of the Gunners’ first-round picks this year was supposed to stay all winter, but he got a job in the Swiss Alps, so they lost their “marquee signing.”
“It can happen, people get hurt and have other commitments, but it usually works out: a team wins two or three games, then loses two or three games because players aren’t there. However, four or five games before the season’s end, Wanderers had pretty much won the league.”
On March 5, the Wanderers won the 14th league match of the season, 2-0, to complete the formalities.
Due to the small size of the island community, some players are called out in the middle of a game to deal with other issues, especially firefighters and police officers who are playing while on call. Those unplanned absences can sometimes have a significant impact on a game’s outcome.
“There’s a person called Dave Mumford – or Chuffer – who’s a rancher and a couple of years prior his telephone began going at half time and they said ‘oi, your cows have gotten away’, so he needed to run off to track down them,” makes sense of Gibbons.
“At that point, we were up 2-0 and had to go down to 10 men, so we lost 3-2. It turned out that they weren’t even his cows in the end.
Indeed, even with the association running in two groups, it’s to be expected for player inaccessibility to mean one-game advances are made to even up the sides. Due to a lack of participants, some games have had to be postponed in recent years.
The Isles of Scilly Football League has been concerned about keeping the required number of players for a long time. This is because the islands don’t offer any other options for education after the age of 16, so many young hopefuls move to Cornwall to continue their education just as they are ready to play.
Those who are of playing age who move to Scilly are immediately approached about participating, while others, like Lethbridge, return to the islands as they get older to join the ranks.
It can result in a wide age range among the players, with a few people over 50 still playing up until a few years ago and one former resident still playing occasionally into his 70s.
Gibbons asserts, “There’s always a risk of the league running out of players.” We lose approximately six children each year because they move to the mainland when they reach the age of 16, but we have been fortunate to have five or six more in recent years, despite the possibility that we will never have anyone. Around five or quite a while back, we were battling in light of the fact that we didn’t have the players and just had an eight-a-side group.”
However, football will not cease to exist on the Isles of Scilly when that time comes. The veterans play an under-30s team on Boxing Day every year, and touring teams frequently come to test themselves against the island’s best players.
The Mal de Mer Sporting Club, whose name comes from the French word for seasickness, travels from the mainland to compete against the locals in a variety of sports, including football, beach volleyball, darts, and gig rowing.