Date of Visit: Saturday 21st January 2017
Competition: Isle of Man Premier League
Ground Number: 80
- Distance Travelled: 5,5 miles [From Isle of Man Ronaldsway Airport]
- Travel Time: 15 minutes
- Club Name: Rushen United Football Club
- Ground: Croit Lowey
- Club Nicknames: The Spaniards, Moryn Vannin (The Pride of Mann)
- Club Colours: Yellow and black striped shirts, black shorts & black socks
- League Position: Isle of Man Premier League – 4th [20/01/2017]
DIRECTIONS & CAR PARKING
From Port Erin Promenade:
Follow the one-way loop through the town by heading down Church Road, then turning right onto Orchard Road at the end of the road. At the end of Orchard Road, turn left onto Station Road and drive past the petrol station on the right. Turn right just after the church (situated on the right) into Droghadfayle Road, and the ground should be on the first turning on the left, opposite the fire station.
From the Isle of Man Airport:
From the airport, take the A5 road towards Castletown and stay on the road for approximately four to five miles. Turn onto Castletown Road before heading into Gansey, and go straight over the roundabout onto Station Road and the road into Port Erin. Just before the church on the left-hand side, turn left onto Droghadfayle Road. The ground entrance will be on the first left turning.
Car Parking Information:
Car parking is available at the ground, with parking allowed behind the goal at the Droghadfayle Road end (the nearest end to the entrance).
Club Established/Founded: 1910
- 10 x Isle of Man Premier League / Division 1 Champions
- 9 x Manx FA Cup Winners
- 15 x Hospital Cup Winners
- 16 x Railway Cup Winners
- 13 x Cowell Cup Winners
Highest League Finish: Isle of Man Premier League – 1st [2009-10]
- Isle of Man Premier League – 3rd
- Manx FA Cup – 1st Round
- Hospital Cup – Semi-Finalist
- Railway Cup – Semi-Finalist
- Cowell Cup – N/A
Rushden United are one of the more successful teams on the Isle of Man having won the Manx top division on ten occasions and the Manx Cup on nine separate occasions. They currently play at Croit Lowey, situated in the village of Port Erin. The club’s motto is Moryn Vannin, which in Manx roughly translates as “The Pride of Mann“.
The club was founded on the 21st September 1910 following a civic meeting in the local church hall, and joined the island league that year. Their first ever league game came that year against Douglas Athletic, where they suffered a 1-2 defeat. Unfortunately initial attempts to establish a football team in the village floundered as they were expelled from the Railway and Manx Cups that season, and would not re-enter the league until after the First World War.
When they returned to competition in the 1919-20 season, it would be the start of a hugely successful period for “The Spaniards”. Two years after their return, they would win their first piece of silverware by overcoming a 0-2 deficit at half time to beat St Georges 3-2 and claiming the 1921-22 Railway Cup trophy. Rushen would successfully retain their Railway Cup the following season by defeating Castletown 4-1 in the 1923 final, before they claimed their maiden Manx Cup in the 1923-24 campaign through a 1-0 victory over Wanderers at Ramsey. This would be the first of three consecutive Manx Cup triumphs over the next three seasons.
The highlight of this interwar period would be the 1925-26 season when Rushen would achieve a historic treble-winning season. They would claim their third Manx Cup in a row, beating St Mary’s 2-1 with Rob Crellin grabbing a brace, whilst they achieved their first Hospital Cup victory. A 6-0 defeat of Ramsey in the final was the glorious crescendo of an impressive cup campaign that saw the Spaniards not concede a goal throughout the entire tournament. However the highlight of the season was their inaugural league championship, which resulted in the team being defensively solid throughout the season and conceding only nine goals, whilst keeping fifteen clean sheets, to ensure they would win the Division One title by two points.
Rushen would win their second Hospital Cup in 1928 when goals from the Corris brothers, Wilf and Fred, ensured a 2-0 conquest over Wanderers. However shenanigans in 1929 Manx Cup final resulted in the Corris brothers, along with nine other players, being given substantial suspensions, and the club being thrown out of the league. It came about during the cup replay against St Georges when Wilf Corris swore at the referee and was sent off (no messing from the officials in those days!). In response to the dismissal, Rushen captain John Cooil ordered the team off the pitch in protest of the decision, which brought the wrath of the Manx FA upon them.
Their exile would be short spell as they would re-enter the league the following season, and it would not be long before the trophies appeared once again. Their first trophy of the 1930’s came when they beat Ramsey, after a replay, in the 1931 Hospital Cup. This would be followed up by winning their fourth Manx FA Cup in the 1933-34 campaign, beating Ramsey by the single Jack Curphey goal on the 70th minute. They would also claim an additional Hospital Cup the following season by beating fierce rivals Peel 3-1 (their fourth Hospital Cup in their history up to that point).
The triumph of 1930’s for Rushen United came in the 1935-36 campaign when they managed to claim their second league championship, having stayed undefeated all season and conceding just eight goals (one better than their first league championship). They would also complete an impressive double-winning season when they claimed the Manx Cup once again, beating rivals Peel in front of 3000 people to make the victory sweeter. The sole decider in the game coming from Wilf Corris – this time holding his tongue long enough to bring the cup back to Port Erin.
Sadly towards to end of the decade, success would start to fade for Rushen. Even though they reached two additional Manx Cup finals following their league championship, they would lose on both occasions to Peel. In addition, a lot of Rushen’s better players had moved to Castletown, with the club in serious financial debt. It would not be until after the Second World War when Rushen would be financially stable enough to win their next piece of silverware.
Post-WW2, the Spaniards initially struggled in the league campaigns, but they did managed to win the 1947-48 Railway Cup final, beating St Georges 3-0 with goals from Jack Oates, Billy Corris and Tommy Carine. An impressive achievement and a cup shock considering Rushen had not won a league game before the final was played on New Year’s Day! Rushen would have to wait until the start of the 1950’s to win another Manx Cup, by beating Bradden by two goals to one, in front of an attendance of 4000 people at the 1951 cup final. They would add another Hospital Cup that season also, by overcoming Castletown 2-1.
The majority of the 1950’s and 1960’s were a fairly barren time for Rushen as they would suffer only heartbreak and near misses. They would reach a vast number of cup finals, but would lose a considerable majority of them, often getting beaten by rivals Peel in the cup finals. Despite previous poor final results, Rushen would eventually claim two consecutive Railway Cups in 1963 and 1964. However they would also suffer relegation to Division 2 in the 1954-55 season – the only time in their history they have experienced a demotion to the second tier of Manx football. Nevertheless they returned back to Division 1 the following season, having finished runners-up to the Division 2 champions Laxey.
It would not be until the mid-1970’s when Rushen would re-emerge as one of the strongest sides on the Isle of Man, and started a second halcyon age for the club. It would commence in the 1974-75 season when they completed a cup double by winning the Railway and Hospital Cups, beating Peel 5-1 and Pulrose United 2-0 respectively, to claim their first Railway and Hospital Cups in eleven years. Rushen United would repeat the trick in the following season by successfully defending both trophies to achieve the cup ‘double-double’.
It would be the 1977-78 season which would be the breakthrough season for Rushen as they firstly won their seventh Manx Cup in their history, hammering Pulrose 7-1 and ending a wait of twenty-seven years since their previous Manx Cup victory. They would also win the Railway Cup once again, beating Peel 1-0 to win two cups in one season again. However this important season would be a treble-winning season as the wait for their third league title was finally over! After 42 years of waiting, the Isle of Man Division 1 title would be returning back to Port Erin, although it had been a very close run thing. With three teams all finishing the season with 30 points, Rushen would just take the title by having the superior goal average of the three teams. Certainly a dramatic finish considering the title winning goal came in the 84th minute of the final game of the season!
Despite Rushen clinching the title by the skin of their teeth, it started a period of domination for the Spaniards as they would claim four league title in a row between 1978 and 1981 (you wait fourty-two years for a league title and four arrive at once). The 1980’s would be Rushen’s decade as they would claim a further three Division 1 league titles, winning the 1984-85 and 1985-86 campaigns consecutively, as well as becoming the 1987-88 league champions. Whenever they failed to win the league between 1981 and 1988, Rushen would inevitably finish as runners-up, emphasising their dominance in Manx football. They would also win four Hospital Cups and four Railway Cups during the 80’s and would complete the decade with their eighth Manx Cup victory, beating St Georges 3-2 after a replay (drawing the first game 2-2).
Despite an encouraging start to the 1990’s due to winning the 1990 Manx Cup final, the success of the previous decade failed to materialise for Rushen. Ultimately they would only claim two trophies during the decade, with only the 1991-92 Cowell Cup (beating Douglas Royal 3-2 after a replay) and the 1992-93 Hospital Cup trophies arriving back at Croit Lowey. However the dearth of trophies would not be through a lack of determination as they would reach a number of cup finals during the decade, but would unfortunately lose the lot. The 1998-99 season being a particularly tough season, with Rushen losing to rivals Peel in both the Manx and Railway Cup finals by the comprehensive scoreline of 0-3 on both occasions.
The new millennium resulted in new dawn for Rushen as they formed the Rushen United Ladies football team. In the 2000-01 season, a successful season saw Eleanor Gawne named as the Ladies’ Island Footballer of the Year, whilst the men’s side finally saw some success on the pitch. They would narrowly edge out Laxey to win the Hospital Cup 4-3 after extra time, with a Mark Haywood brace, combined with goals from Neil Curphey and Nicky Glover, ensured much needed success returned to the Spaniards.
They would regain the trophy the following season, this time beating Marown 3-1, whilst the Rushen Ladies team would go from strength to strength by winning the Manx women’s league title and the HSBC Cup. Once again Eleanor Gawne was critical to her team’s ascendancy to the top, and would be selected as the Ladies’ Island Footballer of the Year for the second year running. It would be the ladies team who would be bringing in the majority of the trophies for Rushen in the first part of the 2000’s as they would win the Manx Ladies Cup on two occasions, the league title once again and the HSBC Cup between 2003 and 2007.
The 2000’s also saw a couple of milestones for the men’s side. Firstly in 2002, club stalwart Eric Nelson played his 1000th game in a home Division 1 fixture against Pulrose United, at the spritely age of 50, and was given a memento to mark the incredible landmark. Then in 2005, the club played their highest profile game when they played in front of 3,300 people (and the Sky Sports cameras) at the National Sports Centre at Douglas against then English Premier League side Bolton Wanderers. The Bolton side included eight first-team players such as Kevin Davies (who scored four times in 28 mintes), Kevin Nolan and the late, great Gary Speed (who also scored). In the end, the Trotters won the game 10-0, but the result was unimportant for Rushen as it was organised to be a massive fund raiser for the club’s proposed new indoor facility. Overall the club managed to raise a total of £35,000 from the high profile match and a gala dinner.
Rushen United would have another purple patch of success between 2009 and 2011 when they managed to win three competitions in three years. Firstly in the 2008-09 season, the Spaniards claimed their sixteenth Railway Cup by beating Peel 1-0 through a Steve Riding goal. Then in the 2009-10 season, they would return to the apex of Manx football by winning their tenth top flight league title when they lifted the Premier League trophy – their first league title in 22 years! Finally in the 2010-11 season, they were able earn their ninth Manx Cup of their illustrious history, ending a 21 year wait since their previous Manx Cup triumph in 1990.
After a few uneventful years in the Isle of Man Premier League, where St Georges have been the dominant team on the island, last season was Rushen’s best league finish since they last won the league in 2010 when they finished in third position on the table. Even though they would make an early exit in the Manx Cup, they would provide better performances in the other senior cup competitions by reaching the semi-finals of both the Hospital Cup and Railway Cup.
- Sat 26th November: St Johns United (h) 2 – 0
- Sat 10th December: Corinthians (a) 1 – 6
- Sat 17th December: St Marys (h) 3 – 3
- Sat 7th January: Union Mills (a) 5 – 1
- Sat 14th January: Castletown (h) [Manx Cup] 6 – 0
Rushen United were having another decent season in the Isle of Man Premier Division as they were sitting in fourth position in the league prior to the game, with a points tally of 36 points and a positive goal difference of 24. With five league fixtures remaining in the season schedule, they had achieved eleven wins and three draws from their season so far. The Spaniards biggest win of the season coming against their opponents for the upcoming game, beating Ayre United 9-0 away at the Andreas Playing Fields.
Their form going into the match with Ayre has been fairly decent as they were on a run of three games unbeaten. A solid 2-0 victory at Croit Lowey against St Johns United at the end of November was followed up by a disappointing heavy defeat against Corinthians. The five goals scored by Sean Doyle causing the damage at the Ballafletcher Sports Ground. However since that setback in early December, they have impressed in the past three games. Despite going 0-2 down at half time, a brace of goals from substitute Ryan Crawley and a goal from Jamie Johnston, Rushen achieved a hard-earned point against second placed team St Marys.
They would start 2017 with a big away victory at Union Mills, beating the Millers 5-1 at Garey Mooar. A hat-trick from Jack Saxon and goals from Jamie Johnston and Steven Riding ensured it would be a decent start to the New Year for the Spaniards. In their last match, they achieved another high scoring victory over their opponents, this time defeating local rivals Castletown 6-0 in the Manx FA Cup. This time a hat-trick from Mike Williams, a brace from Steven Riding and another goal from Jamie Johnston ensured the Spaniards would advance to the next round of the knockout tournament.
THE OPPOSITION – AYRE UNITED
- Sat 3rd December: Laxey (h) 0 – 8
- Sat 10th December: Peel (h) 1 – 10
- Sat 17th December: Ramsey (a) 2 – 2
- Sat 7th January: St Johns United (h) 1 – 8
- Sat 14th January: St Georges (h) [Manx Cup] 0 – 7
Having finished in ninth position last season, Ayre United were having an absolutely shocking season by being situated rock bottom of the league with negative two points and having just achieved one point from their twenty league games this season. Their league position is a result of them conceding goals at an alarming rate, having conceded 170 goals from their twenty league games played prior to this game – an average of 8,5 goals per game!! Their heaviest defeat so far coming against Peel AFC, were they given a 0-17 hiding at Douglas Road, with Peel forward Ashley Webster scoring ELEVEN goals.
The Tangerine Army’s season was made even worse when they lost three points due to fielding an illegible player during the season, resulting in their current negative point situation.
It would take until their nineteenth league game before they managed to gain their first point of the season, by claiming an important 2-2 draw against Ramsey at the Ballacloan Stadium. However that hard-earned individual point has been the only highlight of a miserable season for the Tangerines, as the New Year started as 2016 ended. In their previous league fixture played at the start of January, they lost 1-8 to St Johns United with Dean Tate getting the sole consolation goal for Ayre. Whilst in their previous fixture, they suffered a seven-nil defeat to current league champions St Georges to crash out of the Manx Cup. A sad situation for a club who won the Manx Cup in the 2002-03 season!
- Name: Port Erin (English); Purt Çhiarn (Manx)
- Population: 3,500
- Sheading: Rushen
- Parish: Rushen
- Nearest Major Settlements: Port St Mary [1,5 miles south-east]; Peel [14,2 miles north]; Castletown [5,1 miles east]
- Nearest Train Station: Port Erin
The seaside village of Port Erin is located in the south-west corner of the Isle of Man and is the largest settlement (in terms of population) in the south of the island. Situated in the sheading of Rushen, the town is a magnet for tourists who come for its scenic beach and the panoramic views of Port Erin Bay. Enclosed by two headlands, Bradda Head to the north and Mull Head to the south, the bay can act as a suntrap in the summer months, but can also funnel the westerly winds towards the village in the winter months. Despite this, the town is famed for its views which include picturesque sunsets over the bay and Bradda Head, as well as occasional glimpses of the Mourne Mountains (situated in Northern Ireland) in the far distance on clear days.
The town is situated next to where the A7/A29 road converges with the A5 road. It is also the western terminus of the Isle of Man steam railway, which runs to Douglas via Port St Mary and Castletown. The train station has been described as “the most beautiful building in town” and is constructed of distinct red Ruabon brick in an unusual design specifically to fit into its diagonal location between the platforms and the nearby road. Next to the station lies the Railway Museum which displays the history of the Isle of Man Railway through exhibits and visual displays charting the history of the railway from its opening in 1873 until the present day.
Port Erin’s name in Manx is Purt Çhiarn which means ‘lord’s port’ or ‘iron port’ and this name comes from the origins of its modern expansion as a settlement. It started with the construction of a breakwater in the bay by Sir Henry Loch, the Lieutenant-Governor of the Isle of Man. When Loch arrived in 1863, plans were in place to construct a breakwater which would provide a much-required haven for fishing vessels on the west coast of the island, as well as become a profitable harbour for steamers. The breakwater was finally completed in 1876 but it was problematic from the beginning of the project. Violent storms damaged the unfinished breakwater in 1868, and when it was completed, it aroused jealousy from other towns who objected to Port Erin being favoured in this manner.
However the big problem with the breakwater was the immense cost of the project, with the British Government demanding £2,600 annual interest to their £58,200 ‘loan’ they gave towards the project. After negotiations between the two parties, Loch managed to persuade the British Treasury in taking a total payment of £20,000 for their input. In the end, all the vast expenditure was for naught when another storm damaged the breakwater in 1882 before another storm two years later finally destroyed it beyond repair. Today the outer breakwater is visible at low tide only, whilst a marker buoy shows the extent of the breakwater.
Port Erin’s failure as a steamer port was compensated by the arrival of the railway, with turned the scenic location into a popular holiday resort. As a result, a range of hotels was constructed around the bay in the 1880’s, with many of which still existing in the town today as it continues to be a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. It was has also been a popular location for filming, with the 2006 film Stormbreaker (starring Ewan McGregor) being filmed on Port Erin beach, as well as a number of television programs. Finally the location was so scenic that it was the residence of 1992 Formula 1 World Champion Nigel Mansell, who lived on the headland to the south of the bay.
CROIT LOWEY GROUNDHOP
Attendance: 100 approx.
Weather Conditions: Cloudy and dry but very cold and breezy
- Entrance: £1.00
- Programme: N/A
- Cup of Coffee: £0.70
For the third full weekend of the New Year, and for the first blog from 2017, I would be going on an adventure. I would be leaving the relatively well-trodden but beloved environment of Welsh football and experience the excitement of delving into another country’s football pyramid for the first time. The aim for this journey would be to travel to an island I have wanted to visit for a long, long time, not only for some groundhop action but to be able to have the opportunity of exploring of the location also. For this January’s groundhop adventure, I would be leaving North Wales behind and heading to the mystical jewel of the Irish Sea…..the Isle of Man!
For those of you unaware of the island, the Isle of Man is a self-governing Crown Dependency of the United Kingdom, situated roughly equidistance from the four home nations in the middle of the Irish Sea. As it is a Crown Dependency, it is independent from the UK (like the Channel Islands) and runs its own affairs, with only the UK responsible for the foreign policy and defence of the island. It is considered one of the six Celtic countries, with the Manx language (similar to Irish and Scots Gaelic) now being taught in schools after the last native speaker died in 1977. Finally the island is most famous for its historic and thrilling motorcycle race, the Isle of Man TT, which attracts tens of thousands of biking fanatics across the water every year to watch the world’s best motorbike racers compete on the streets on the island.
In terms of its football, the Isle of Man has its own Football Association that co-ordinates and organises football on the island. The IoMFA is affiliated with the English FA and acts as a County Football Association rather than a separate body, but it does have its own international team that picks players from the IoM Football League. The Isle of Man international football team are obviously not part of UEFA, but they compete do compete in other non-UEFA/FIFA sanctioned football tournaments. The Yellows (nickname of the side) regularly play in the bi-annual Island Games football tournament, facing such sides as Ynys Môn, the Falkland Islands, Shetland Islands etc. and have managed to achieve four silver medals from the tournaments. The most recent silver medal was achieved in latest Island Games tournament, held in Jersey in 2015, when they lost 0-3 in the final to Guernsey.
Now you may be wondering why I have chosen to go to the Isle of Man for a groundhop in the middle of January? Well it was a fantastic birthday present from my groundhopping accomplice Greg who paid for the flight tickets to go over. Initially the plan was to travel up to Scotland to watch Ayr United (ironic considering who we would actually end up watching) because I have not managed to watch live ‘fitba’ in Scotland yet. However the plans were changed when Greg managed to find cheap flights over to the island, which would result in us spending the day on the Isle of Man and being able to catch a game from the Manx football competitions. Now that is a random groundhopping journey!!
It would mean a very early wake-up time of about 4ish on the Saturday morning to enable me to get to Liverpool Airport in time to get the half 8 flight over to the Isle of Man. No doubt an incredibly difficult time of the morning to get out of the warmth and comfort of the bed considering it was a very cold and frosty morning. Although it was the best time to head to the airport as it was distinctly quiet with few travellers about, and thus made going through the security phase much quicker. Plus I was able to buy and consume some Eggs Benedict and a black coffee from the airport’s Weatherspoons, which helped awake me from my weekend drowsiness.
The flight over took about half an hour on a small turboprop plane, and predictably for this time of the year, there weren’t too many other holiday makers making the journey over to the island. Nevertheless I didn’t mind that situation as it meant we were quickly onto the plane and there was less hassle with luggage etc.
We landed in the island’s airport, Ronaldsway Airport, just after nine o’clock and subsequently picked up our hire car for the day. The first location we drove to was the island’s capital, Douglas, which is located on the middle right hand coast of the Isle of Man. I was really impressed with Douglas, and it is a very classical, attractive seaside town with the big Victorian-style hotels facing out to see, and a big promenade walkway. It reminded me a lot of Llandudno but a longer version of it. As you can imagine for January, it was really breezy in Douglas with cold winds, but the winter weather didn’t distemper my affection for the pretty town.
We were advised to go to the Welcome Centre in Douglas as our first point of call as it has an IoM governmental ran information desk, which (unsurprisingly) would provide us with information about the island and where the main tourist attractions were located. Speaking with the helpful travel advisor, we disappointingly discovered that all the major tourist hotspots were regrettably shut until Easter and there were only a couple of places open throughout the year. Fortunately one of those places was the Manx Museum located in the middle of Douglas, and it was free entry!
So we trudged off along the charming promenade, battered by the cutting winds on our way to the museum. In the middle of Douglas Bay is a prominent feature – a small fort structure built upon a craggy outcrop. Apparently this small fort is known as the “Tower of Refuge” and was built in the mid-Victorian period as a place of refuge for any sailor who had survived a shipwreck occurred in the treacherous and rocky Douglas Bay. This tower would have enough bread and fresh water for the survivors to live on before they could be rescued and brought ashore in calmer waters.
The Manx Museum is perched on a hill a short walk from the promenade and it is well worth visiting on any day, especially with free entry. The museum has a number of sections about the nature and history of the island, detailing traditional Manx life, as well as the development of the TT over the years. I especially found the section about the resurgence of the Manx language and culture interesting, as well as the reconstructions of how traditional Manx cottages looked in simpler times.
After being culturally and intellectually nourished for over an hour, it was time to be gastronomically fulfilled and so we grabbed a bite to eat at a quaint little café on the high street. Perhaps the café could have been considered a little twee for some people’s tastes as it had a very traditional feel to it, but the bacon & mushroom sandwich I ordered was immense! Massive slices of bread, with the bacon just cooked perfectly and lashings of button mushrooms = perfection!! Plus the service was really friendly which enhanced the welcoming ambiance about the place.
Time was ticking by and it was time to decide upon a fixture which we could visit, after our initial plan of visiting Corinthians against St Marys had been postponed late in the week. It was Manx FA Cup weekend on the island, so there was a selection of cup games to pick from, however in the end we decided to plumb for the only Premier League game being played that Saturday. It would mean a half-hour drive down to Port Erin on the south-west coast to see Rushen United take on Ayre United at Croit Lowey.
The league game had been brought to my attention on Twitter by Rushen fan Barry Critchley, who had replied to my general enquiries for information on Manx football. He directed me to his team’s fixture on the weekend, and claimed we would get a good welcome from the locals, as well as guaranteeing goals considering Ayre United were shipping them at an alarming rate per game! Well considering we had travelled over for the day, the last thing I wanted to see was a 0-0 draw, plus the bonus of a good welcome were the clinchers for me! Thanks for the help Barry!
We drove from Douglas to Peel, taking part of the TT circuit on route, before heading down the coast towards Port Erin. We made a brief stop-off at Peel AFC’s Douglas Road ground as we were passing it on route to Port Erin. Peel’s ground looked to be positioned in a very scenic position, with a great view of the tower high on the hill in the background. It also looks to be of a decent standard as it had two covered stands for supporters. However when we popped into the car park, it looks as if improvements were being made to the main stand as scaffolding had been erected beside it. It certainly looks like a revisit to Douglas Road is required in the future once the improvements have been made!
The views across the island were simply stunning and reminded me a lot of going through mid-Wales or the Lake District in terms of its small hamlets and undulating, brown-tinged hills. Alas the journey wasn’t without some fraught jeopardy as the car was ridiculously low of fuel (hire cars always are), and the Isle of Man has very few petrol stations. This meant it was becoming pretty tight if we would reach Port Erin before the fuel was all burnt up. Just as with many Hollywood film endings, we just about avoided disaster by arriving at the petrol station at Port Erin with only a few miles of fuel remaining! A few shredded nerves there!
Port Erin is an absolutely glorious looking seaside village, even on this cold winter’s day. It had the kind of West Wales or Cornwall style coastal settlement feel to it – a rugged yet charming seaside location, with the buildings hugging the surrounding hills and the promenade high above the sandy beach. I can imagine in the summer time, Port Erin must be jammed with tourists, all taking advantage of the beach which would be in a golden hue at that time of the year.
Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to enjoy and explore what the village had to offer as we needed to get to the football ground in sharpish time. The 2pm kick off was rapidly approaching and we were having trouble finding the ground, especially as the ground was not clearly identified on the phone maps or the local road signs. A couple of aborted jaunts up some side streets and a few loops of the one-way system later, and we acquiesced into having to ask a local for directions. Fortunately we probably asked the most ideal person on the promenade as he gave us exact directions to the ground, and following his route, it wouldn’t be long before we were parking up next to Croit Lowey. We had finally arrived at Rushen United!!
Croit Lowey itself would not look out of place in the Welsh leagues as it has a similar layout to many Welsh league grounds. The ground has the changing room/clubhouse complex running alongside one side of the pitch, on an elevated level to that of the pitch. There is also some covered terracing outside the clubhouse allowing some protection from the often temperamental Manx weather conditions. The other three sides were open to the elements with just a permanent barrier separating the field from the standing area. There are no permanent floodlights at Croit Lowey, or a concrete path surrounding the open three sides, but there are permanent dugouts positioned on the opposite side to the clubhouse. All in all, the ground is of a very similar standard to a ground from the third tier of Welsh football, which is good in my eyes!
The entry for the upcoming game at Croit Lowey was only ONE POUND!! Now that it a complete bargain if you want to watch some proper grassroots football! The great value extended to the snack hatch inside the clubhouse complex, as the cups of hot beverages cost only 70p, so I bought myself a black coffee to warm up before the match. They don’t sell any hot food at the hatch (i.e. hotdogs, hamburgers, etc.) but a selection of snacks, such as crisps and chocolate bars, are available to buy for cheap prices.
As we were buying our cups of coffee, we got chatting to the guy behind the snack counter and found out he was the acting chairman of the club. So we conversed about our groundhop visit and talked about the club in general. From the discussion, it seems that Rushen is in a healthy position considering it owns its own ground, has an impressive clubhouse and recently obtained a decent sponsor on the front of their shirts which brought in some further investment into the club. I’m sure a lot of lower league clubs on the mainland would dream to be in a similar position!
I did ask about hopefully buying a Rushen United pin badge but alas they didn’t have any available (luckily I bought a Isle of Man flag pin badge in Douglas). However he did show us the small trophy room next to the snack hatch, which had a selection of trophies on display, including an old embroidered cap that was received for winning the 1928-29 league, which I found fascinating. There were also a vast selection of pennants received from past opponents hanging up on the wall, as well as an England football shirt with a vast array of autographs from English football legends, such as Sir Tom Finney, Nat Lofthouse, Sir Bobby Robson and Paul Gascoigne, to name just a few. Again I was impressed and surprised to see such an amazing collection of legendary names hanging up on a Manx wall!
After exploring the Aladdin’s cave of Manx football history, we decided to head into the clubhouse section of the complex as there were plenty of old photos and pictures of past winning teams from Rushen’s history proudly displayed on the walls. There was a great selection of classic pictures all showing past Rushen players in a glorious selection of vintage kits and displaying fine facial hair. The pictures that I found fascinating were the ones that displayed the trophy winning teams who played during the pre and post-World War 2 period. The clubhouse itself very decent and is one of the biggest I have visited in my travels. There is a bar selling alcoholic drinks, a pool table, a television and plenty of tables of chairs to make it a decent function room when it is hired out.
Soon enough we left the clubhouse and back out into the cold air as both teams descended from the changing rooms and onto the pitch for the afternoon’s game. Confusingly (for us initially) Rushen were playing in their away strip of an all sky blue strip with white trim, whilst Ayre were in their home strip of tangerine shirt with black trim, black shorts and tangerine socks. For the first half we decided to stand in the corner of the covered terracing just outside of the clubhouse, making sure to cower and shield from the cutting winds being funnelled in from the Port Erin bay. Despite the wind, I was really looking forward to my first experience of Manx football!
MATCH DETAILS – FIRST HALF
It would not take long in the match before Rushen would take the lead, as the first goal of the afternoon would appear within the first ten minutes of the game. A quick break by Rushen allowed the forward enough time to fire a fierce shot towards the Ayre goal from the right side of the box. Fortunately for the visiting team, the defender managed to get a stretching foot to the shot and divert the ball from its original trajectory. Unfortunately for Ayre, the deflection of the ball from the defender’s foot caused the ball to spin into the air, loop over the onrushing goalkeeper and eventually landing into the corner of the net.
This spark of good fortune for Rushen would be the first of six goals chalked up by the Spaniards in the first half, with the home side using the speed advantage of their forward players to full effect. This advantage enabled them to successfully run at and surge past the Ayre defenders on numerous occasions, making it difficult for Ayre to effectively defend every attacking phase that was thrown towards them. In addition, that alertness ensured they would always be at hand to tap in any rebounds that had deflected from the Ayre keeper, having kept out the initial effort on goal.
Rushen’s #7 certainly impressed me during the first half with his pinpoint passing to teammates and dynamic attacking runs at the Ayre defence. So much so, I decided to dub him with the moniker of ‘Manx-i Rodriguez’ – the Isle of Man’s answer to the Liverpool’s former skilful Argentine winger. Cue a point in the game when I tried to think of Manx-professional football based puns. The best I could come up with was ‘Mann-i Alves’ and ‘Freddy Port Erin-con’ in the time although if you can think of any better, let me know (although I won’t accept Douglas Costa or Aaron Ramsey ha!).
Despite Rushen having the lion’s share of the opportunities, Ayre continued to work hard and make things difficult for their opponents through some tough tackling and some neat build-up play on occasions. As a result, Ayre managed to threaten the Rushen goal on a number of instances, some of which forced the home goalkeeper to make a decent saves to maintain his clean sheet. You certainly couldn’t question the Tangerine’s exertion in the first half!
Towards the end of the half, we attempted to move from our sheltered position in the stand section to stand on the opposite side of the pitch. Alas the January winds were that cutting and biting that it wouldn’t be long before we ventured back to our original positions in the stand, before darting into the clubhouse to warm up when the official ended the first half. Needless to say we weren’t the only supporters who ventured into the clubhouse at half time to grab a bit of respite from the cold.
HALF TIME: RUSHEN UNITED 6 – 0 AYRE UNITED
Greg would buy another hot chocolate from the snatch hatch for 70p (great value considering Welsh clubs’ usual price is £1 for a cup of hot beverage) before venturing back into the clubhouse section. Thankfully someone had turned up the heating in the room resulting in the sorry sight of two Welsh groundhoppers huddling around a radiator trying to absorb some of its warmth, whilst watching Soccer Saturday on the clubhouse’s television.
Eventually we would wrench ourselves from the delightful heat of the clubhouse, as well as Jeff Stelling’s vast array of footballing facts and anecdotes, to re-experience the blustery Manx conditions for the second half. Once again we cowered in the corner of the stand section, hoping to shield ourselves from the bracing winds coming from the Irish Sea, whilst hoping for a continuation on the flood of goals for the second half. Would Rushen continue to add to their goal tally or could Ayre produce one of the greatest football comebacks in history?
MATCH DETAILS – SECOND HALF
The second half would start on a surprising note as the league’s bottom club managed a rare second half attack on the Rushen goal. Catching the Rushen defence completely unawares on the counter-attack, it ultimately resulted in the Tangerines putting the ball in the back of the hosts’ net through a tidy finish from their striker. Alas there would be no resurgence from the visitors as it would be a rare highlight for Ayre in the second half, and only seemed to resolve and encourage the much changed Rushen team into raising their game for the remainder of the half.
The Spaniards continually harassed the Ayre team through fierce pressing in the midfield every time the visitors had the ball. Naturally being exposed to such pressure from the “Gegenpressing”, Ayre would eventually concede ball possession in the midfield without causing too much problems to the Rushen defence. With Ayre repeatedly yielding possession to their opponents, Rushen were able to continuously threaten the Ayre goal through regular waves of effective attacking phases.
Unsurprisingly Rushen were able to capitalise on the opportunities provided to them by scoring an additional seven goals in the second half. A vast majority of the goals originating from the tactic of dinking the ball over the Ayre defence, and for the wingers and strikers to latch onto the pass whilst evading the unsuccessful offside trap employed by Ayre United, who were playing a high defensive line to enact the tactic. Alas Rushen continued to overcome the tactic time and time again to leave their pacey forwards in one-on-one contests against the overworked Ayre goalkeeper. The pace of Rushen’s #11 on the left wing certainly caused specifically relentless problems for the Ayre defence as they struggled to cope with his trickery and crosses coming from the left hand side of the pitch.
Things were made even tougher for Ayre midway through the second half when their #7 was sent off for two bookable offenses. The second yellow card coming after he said too many choice words towards the official, who had no other option but to dismiss the right midfielder for his dissent.
Rushen would threaten Ayre’s goal on a frightening rate, having decent chances by the minute. It was only the combination of some poor finishing from the home side, deflections off the woodwork and some superb reflex saves from Ayre’s goalkeeper that kept Rushen’s goal tally to just thirteen goals scored. The highlights of the second half goals were a cheeky, Lee Trundle style penalty from #11 which bamboozled the Ayre keeper into lurching in the wrong direction as the winger calmly prodded the ball into the bottom left corner of the goal. Whilst substitute #15, baring a passing resemblance to Kasabian guitarist Serge Pizzorno, unleashed a low-struck thunderbolt from 20-25 yards out which zipped into the bottom right hand corner of the goal. No ‘club foot’ from that one!
With every goal being conceded by Ayre, you couldn’t help but feel sorry for the lads as it was yet another tough afternoon in what has evolved into a very tough season for them. If there is one positive they could take from the game, it was that they continued to work hard, never backed out of challenges and fought to the final whistle. Plus their keeper had had a decent game all things considered – a weird thing to say if you have conceded 13 goals, however he pulled off a number of superb saves which kept the scoreline lower than it could have potentially been.
Despite feeling a touch of pity on the Ayre team, I did sadistically want more even goals from the Rushen team despite being a neutral spectator (sorry Ayre!). Considering I have never seen such a game that has produced such a one-sided scoreline before (the best previously being Ruthin Town 9-4 Penyffordd), and having missed the opportunity to see a game which ended up as 12-0 a few weeks prior to this game, I wanted to see a goalfest! Having never seen a team score ten or more goals in a groundhop before, I was perhaps a bit too gleeful when the tenth goal hit the back of the Ayre net (so sorry again Ayre United!!).
With everyone in a state of semi-frozenness from the biting cold winds whipping in from the Port Erin Bay, and the linesmen on either side looking especially cold, the official finally called a halt to proceedings and thankfully ended Ayre’s misery. Rushen would declare on thirteen goals and manage to earn themselves the three points and a great boost to their goal difference in the league.
FULL TIME: RUSHEN UNITED 13 – 1 AYRE UNITED
Once the game has concluded, we left Port Erin and continued on our tour of the south of the Isle by visiting the Calf of Man, a small island located at the south-westerly tip of the island. Alas ‘The Sound’ café (named after the stretch of water which separates the Calf of Man from the main island) located opposite the small island was closed for refurbishment. However the stunning, breathtakingly scenic views from the car park more than made up for the café closure! It is also the location of the Thousla Cross (which appears in Rushton United’s badge), which is a commemorative monument to the men of the parish of Rushen who tried rescue the crew of the French schooner ‘Jean St Charles’ in 1858. If you enjoy a good sea view, this place is certainly worth a visit!
Onwards we travelled to Port St Mary looking for somewhere to grab some tea, but it would seem there are not many viable options during the winter period as many are only open during the main tourist period. Eventually we found a pleasant looking gastropub in Gansey called ‘The Shore’ which (as its name suggests) was almost literally by the seashore. I must declare the food there was absolutely immense, with the battered fish cooked to perfection. Also the locally brewed ale ‘Okells’ is bloody brilliant – I have become a fan of it most certainly! If you like your beers, I would recommend you give the Manx beer a try (www.okells.co.uk), you won’t be disappointed!!
Having been sufficiently fuelled with superb local food, we decided to drive back to Douglas to see what the Manx capital looks like at night time, and take a drive down the now illuminated promenade road. Douglas is quite pretty at night with all the seaside hotels highlighted brightly, and the many pubs looking alluring and welcoming to visitors. Alas we could not stay too long in the town as we needed to return back to the Ronaldsway Airport for our return flight back to Liverpool by taking the final flight from the island that evening. Whilst at the airport, I treated myself to an Okells pack complete with two ales and an Okells glass – had to get some of the stuff!!
We departed the Isle of Man on the 8:20pm flight, and I left the Isle with great sadness having fallen completely in love with the place. One thing is for certain, I shall be returning back to the Manx island in the very near future – my journey and absorption into Manx football has only just begun!!
The huge win for Rushen had moved them up one position to third place in the Premier League table, equal on 39 points with St Marys, but having played two games more than the Saints. However both teams were still 15 points behind runaway leaders St Georges, who look odds on to claim their 17th Manx league title, and their seventh in a row. Alas at the other end of the Premier League table, Ayre were firmly rooted to the bottom of the table and consigned to relegation. They stay on minus two points with still only one draw all season, but now with an eye-watering goal difference of -161. Ouch!
As stated on many occasions during this blog, I absolutely enjoyed my first experience of Manx football and the island in general. Everyone at Rushen was very friendly and welcoming to us, displaying the best of Manx hospitality, which I am very grateful for. The ground was an absolute corker also with a clubhouse and facilities that many clubs in the Welsh leagues would be envious of. Even though the game perhaps didn’t show the best the island has to offer in terms of competition, I am certainly interested to watch more games on the island as I feel I have only scratched the surface with the world of Manx football. Finally with the cost of just £1 entry fee to watch football, it’s fantastic value to see a good level of lower league football!
So if you have a spare Saturday (or weekend), why not consider a flight or ferry over to the Isle of Man for your next groundhopping adventure, or just an adventure in general. A glorious island with great history, great views, and great people (the three legs of greatness ha!) – what’s not to love?? I guarantee you shall not be disappointed!
I would like to wish Rushen United and Ayre United all the very best for the rest of their respective seasons, and hope to see them again in the very near future!