So, it is finally here! After all the preparation, after all the build-up and … yes, all the hype. FC Isle of Man’s inaugural game is just over 24 hours away.
In many ways it will be a relief to all involved with the club, whether that be the project group, the team management, the players, and not least our supporters that the actual business of football is finally upon us. Above all else it is going to be a genuinely exciting experience as FC Isle of Man takes to the field of play for the first time.
Perhaps the man who will be most happy tomorrow will be FC Isle of Man team manager Chris Bass. After all the introductions and multiple media appearances, Chris can now concentrate on what he does best, managing a football team.
“Yes, it’s a relief the game is finally here”, he says. “I’ve been looking forward to this (the club’s first game) ever since I was appointed back in February and I am just so happy and grateful that we have the opportunity to play this match.”
Bass will bring a 23-man squad to the Bowl tomorrow and admits that in all his years in the game it has probably been one of the hardest selections he has ever had to make.
“It was exceedingly difficult as a number of places were fiercely contested”, he explains. “During training it was important to understand what the players were capable of and what attributes they will bring to the squad. Having such an initial large squad to pick from which has made it harder too because the ability within the training squad was so high.”
As this is his first game in charge of this group of players, Chris admits that his usual win at all costs objective may not be his top priority tomorrow.
“I honestly won’t be paying too much attention to the score line tomorrow,” he explains. “My main purpose is to find out about the players. Guernsey FC play two levels above us and have nine years’ experience in the NLS, which we don’t. So, I will be mainly looking at how well our players keep their nerve; how well they control and pass the ball; can they not give up the ball easily and how well they can communicate as a team. I need to understand these aspects better as we hopefully head towards a league season, so we can understand where we need to improve.”
You may have read previously that Bass had promised to pick a real mixture of experience and youth and he has been true to his word. The team will be captained by never say die midfielder Frank Jones who has been a stalwart at island International level for ten years and he will be joined by other long term international figures such as centre back Sean Quaye, rampaging winger, Chris Bass jr, mercurial midfielder Jack McVey and hardworking striker Ciaran McNulty, all previous FA NLS Cup winners.
Complementing them will be more recent breakthrough island internationals such as centre backs Ryan Burns and Tom Wood, midfielder Joe Quayle and lightening forwards Dan Simpson and Ste Whitley. All have been regulars at island international level during the last two years.
Perhaps most interesting though is that Bass is giving an opportunity to several younger players. Left winger Jacob Crook (18) was a key member of the Island team in last year’s Island Games tournament in Ynys Mon and he will be joined in the ‘youth ranks’ by former Preston North End U18 midfielder Jack Camarda (also 18), and full back Adam Cooil (17) who has been outstanding in training as well as for his local Manx League side.
“It will be a tough game”, continues Bass. “But we are so grateful that Guernsey FC have accepted our invitation to play.”
It is particularly pleasing that Guernsey FC will be our opening opponents. They were the pioneers for offshore crown dependencies venturing into the FA National League System (NLS) and were also one of the key inspirations for FC Isle of Man in following the same path.
As Chris Bass states, Guernsey FC are two steps above the level that FC Isle of Man will enter the NLS this season and will bring a strong 16-man squad to the island. Long time manager Tony Vance is grateful to have the opportunity to bring his side to play the Ravens in this historic game.
“It’s an absolute honour to be asked to be FC Isle of Man’s opening opponents. It’s fantastic for us and it shows what we mean to some people. We’re really proud to be given this opportunity and we really hope we can do the match, and for their club, the justice it deserves.”
The Isthmian League South East Division club have several outstanding players in their squad. Not least their outstanding striker Ross Allen and centre back Tom Strawbridge who is a veteran of all nine of Guernsey FC seasons in the FA NLS.
Allen has an amazing record for the club for whom he has made 258 appearances and scored an amazing 252 goals. The 33-year-old has also played in the FIFA Club World Cup for Team Wellington and has recently returned to the Channel Island to continue his Guernsey FC career. He comes to the Bowl tomorrow determined to win.
“We’re not going there to be a part of their great day,“ he says. “We want to come back with a win and maybe spoil it a little bit.”
“It will be competitive, and we’ve had a bit of rivalry in the past (as national teams) from the Island Games and I’m sure we’ll recognise a few faces. Overall, though, and it’s the same for all the boys we haven’t played for six months so its just going to be great to play again.”
And so, at last we can get down to what all the sweat and toil has been about for the last two years… a football match.
All at FC Isle of Man and Guernsey FC are appreciative that we have the opportunity to play this game during these difficult global times.
We look forward to seeing as many of your as possible at the Bowl tomorrow … thank you for your support.
Tickets for the match can be bought online at TicketCo or at the gates from 4pm on Saturday.