Ali v Frazier, McEnroe v Connors, Barcelona v Real Madrid and England v Australia (for the Ashes) are just some of the greatest rivalries in sports. Now, (yes, even at non-league football level), are we witnessing the birth of another great rivalry?
Just four weeks’ on from their inaugural game, FC Isle of Man travel to the Channel Islands this weekend for a surprising, but very welcome return against the Green Lions of Guernsey FC.
It is probably fair to say that following FC Isle of Man’s inaugural game on 15th August no one from either club expected to have the opportunity to face up against each other again so quickly. Yet within days of that earlier fixture both clubs were able to announce that the ‘return leg’ was on and a new inter-island rivalry, friendly of course, would be born.
The Ravens were honoured to have invited the Green Lions to be our maiden opponents, and without question, FC Isle of Man are equally as thrilled to have this opportunity to visit Footes Lane for what will be the club’s first away fixture. In the immediate aftermath of last month’s game, it was an opportunity that FC Isle of Man’s Director of Football, Paul Jones, didn’t expect to present itself.
“I was asked by our local media straight after the last game whether there would be a return and I replied that it was unlikely,” he explains. “At the time the air bridge wasn’t expected to be extended, but thankfully a decision was made between the respective authorities for it to be continued and we are thankful that we are able to visit Guernsey for ‘round two’ so to speak.”
From a logistical standpoint, Jones admits that hosting the previous encounter was an emotional and educational experience. He and his colleagues are grateful to have the chance to travel to Guernsey this weekend for what will be another historic first for the club.
“Watching Guernsey FC arrive at the Bowl the other week it really struck me that we’ve done something incredible in establishing the club,” he says. “That day could not have gone any better for us in terms of the organisation of the game, the size of the attendance and of course the quality of the game itself. In addition, we hope we created an experience for our local fans that they normally would not have had the opportunity to have.”
“We learnt so much from hosting our own game and we are now very thankful to all at Guernsey FC for inviting us for what will be our first ‘road trip’”
The Ravens’ Manager, Chris Bass, was also happy with the outcomes of that previous game at the Bowl. He had stated pre-game that he wouldn’t necessarily be looking at the result on the day, but he’d be focused more on how the players performed against a quality side such as the Green Lions.
“It’s always nice, and important, to win,” he explains. “But I was mostly proud of how our lads performed and conducted themselves on the day. It would be wrong to pick out individual names, and we had a slight advantage in being able to use ten fresh players in the second half, but considering it was the first time our players had played together as a group I was impressed with the team’s shape and discipline. Not one player let us down on that day.”
“Upon saying that, we now travel to Guernsey with a certain level of expectation as the players have set themselves a relatively high-performance bar which I expect them to maintain.”
As he states, Bass had the luxury of using the whole of his 23-man squad during last month’s encounter. However, FC Isle of Man will take just 16 players for this weekend’s game and after everyone performed so well previously Chris admits it has been tough to whittle the squad down for this fixture.
“It’s been extremely hard.“ he says. “The quality of players we have across all positions is high and there’s a hair’s breadth between them in terms of competition for places. So, picking this particular group has been a challenge. Upon saying that however, I am happy that we have the right squad for the weekend ahead.”
Unfortunately, since last month’s game a few Ravens players have picked up injuries. Chris Bass Jr, Joe Quayle and Sam Caine will not travel to St Peter Port for this game. However, this has opened up opportunities for others to join the squad and potentially make their mark. None more so than one of Isle of Man football’s legendary players, Calum Morrissey, who himself missed out on the inaugural game through injury.
“We’re glad that Calum’s fitness levels are now good,” explains Bass. “I think during the second half of last season he proved that he’s still the best striker on the island. He will make a big difference to the front line this weekend. Upon saying that all our strikers are playing well at the moment and it will be my job to make sure we get the right combinations together on the pitch.”
As a bonus, the two clubs have even more to play for tomorrow as the winners will be presented with the inaugural Skipton Cup. Bass, a serial medal collector, is looking forward to seeing if he can get his hands on his first trophy as FC Isle of Man manager.
“It will be another tough game as I am sure that Guernsey FC will be looking to turn the tables on us after last month’s result. In addition, both clubs have the added incentive of playing for the Skipton Cup so, it will be another huge challenge for us, but one I can assure you we are all looking forward to.”