SOCCER IN THE SCILLIES WITH SCILLONIANS
By Mike May
England is well known as a hotbed of soccer. In fact, the English actually created the game that has now captivated the attention of every nation on the planet. It’s worth noting that there’s one part of England where the game of soccer is alive and thriving, despite its somewhat remote location — the Isles of Scilly (pronounced ‘silly’) — which is a group of islands located roughly 30 miles off the southwest coast of England, where the most westerly edges of the Bristol Channel and the English Channel intersect with the North Atlantic Ocean. The Scillies are an island archipelago where there are more than a hundred islands, atolls, and rocky outcrops, but only five of the islands are inhabited – St. Mary’s, St. Martin’s, St. Agnes, Tresco, and Bryher.
The Isles of Scilly are the home of the world’s smallest soccer (er, football) league, the Isles of Scilly Football League. In the Scillies, there are two teams in the league – the Garrison Gunners and the Woolpack Wanderers. From mid-November through the end of March, the same two teams meet every Sunday morning on the athletic field at The Garrison on the island of St. Mary’s.
In addition to the 17 regular season matches, there are two annual cups contested between the two teams, the Wholesalers Cup and the Foredeck Cup. As an aside, the Foredeck Cup is played over two legs – ‘home’ and ‘away’ – on the same pitch, of course. Also, there are two ‘international’ fixtures every season when the best of the two teams on St. Mary’s teams play against a combined Off Island XI at Easter and a Birdwatchers XI in October.
According to former player and current league sponsor Terry Ward, the Birdwatchers XI all come from the mainland. They all come to the Scillies to look for rare birds during the October migratory season and they usually have “two good wingers,” according to Ward, no pun intended!
Interested players are always welcome to join the fray each Sunday during the season and are encouraged to bring their own cleats and shin guards. After the final whistle, many of the players and the referee head to one of St. Mary’s four main pubs — The Mermaid, The Atlantic Inn, The Bishop, and the Dungeon Bar (located inside the Star Castle Hotel) — for lunch and a ‘medicinal’ beverage or two.
It’s worth noting that the ‘pitch’ used for the local matches is located close to the Star Castle Hotel, which was built not far from the original Star Castle, first built in the 1500s during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I as a form of defense against any possible invading Spanish fleet. The Spanish never threatened the islands, but the castle (and the now the Star Castle Hotel) remains.
So, on your next trip to England, you would be silly to not visit (The Isles of) Scilly, especially if you like soccer. And, don’t forget your soccer cleats and shinguards!