It Shall Stand: Delving into Manx League Football

Introduction

In the world of football, I am absolutely fascinated with football teams who are based away from the mainlands, either on the outskirts or borderlands of a country, and especially on outlying islands in their respective countries. Whether it be RCD Mallorca, Las Palmas or CD Tenerife in the Spanish leagues; SC Bastia, AC Ajaccio and Reunionese or New Caledonian sides competing in the French competitions; the various sides from the Azores or Madeira in the Portuguese leagues (with Cristiano Ronaldo being the most famous ‘island player’ as he hails from the Atlantic island of Madeira) or even Cagliari, Catania or Palermo in the Italian Series, I am always intrigued by such teams, and the football landscape, based on islands away from the mainland.

Examples of Island Clubs
Some examples of European clubs that are located on islands away from their mainlands.

Naturally, I also want to know the situation of the football on the islands, who normally have their own unique islander leagues. Examples exist within the United Kingdom and its Crown Dependencies or outlying islands. With the Scilly Isles and its two-team league, or the Shetland Islands and their league structure, and even the Channel Islands, with their respective leagues of the Jersey Football Combination and the Guernsey Priaulx League.

Isle of Man FlagHowever one particular island has interested me for a long time, mainly because of its close proximity to 94thMinHQ, but also due to its Celtic history and links (and as someone who loves flags, the island has an awesome triskelion flag also). I have often noticed its various national teams compete in either the Island Games or CONIFA (as Ellan Vannin), and have always wanted them to do well – the Isle of Man.

Laxey Wheel - Isle of Man
The Laxey Wheel, one of the iconic structures on the Isle of Man.

I have visited the Isle of Man on a number of occasions, having spent a week there during my sabbatical from work in 2017, and enjoying the sights of such a pleasant and fascinating isle. In addition, regular 94thMin accomplice Greg and I took a day visit to the Isle of Man. We briefly had a look around the capital of Douglas (which is very nice, and reminded me of a larger version of Llandudno), although our main aim was to catch a game being played on the island. Despite our trip being in January, we managed to find a game being played in Port Erin, on the south-western tip of the isle. On that occasion, we saw the home side, Rushen United absolutely demolish Ayre United 13-1.

[NOTE: The groundhopping blog of that day on the Isle of Man can be found HERE]

Even though it was absolutely freezing on the day, which resulted in us huddling by the clubhouse radiator to warm ourselves up from the biting breezes coming from the Irish Sea, I absolutely loved the day at Croit Lowey, and thoroughly enjoyed my day on the Isle of Man. Since that trip, I have kept an eye on Rushen results via Twitter, and have ‘adopted’ them as my Manx team. However I have also become more fascinated with the island’s football teams and leagues, and wanted to know more about them.

rushen-united-vs-ayre-united-21st-jan-64
The changing room & clubhouse complex at Croit Lowey, home of Rushen United.

Therefore this blog is my initial delve into the Isle of Man Football League. I wanted to know more about the league itself, who are the most successful teams in its history, as well as various leagues and cup competitions. Plus I will look at how the national side did in the Inter Games Football Tournament held in the summer of 2019, as well as the creation of FC Isle of Man, who are set to join the English football pyramid in the summer of 2020!

 

 

The Isle of Man Football League

Brief History

Peel AFCThe first Isle of Man Championship started way back in the 1896-97 season, eight years after the English Football League had started. The first champions of the island were the west coast side, Peel AFC, becoming the very first Manx champions of Division One – the first of the Westerners twenty-nine league titles. As with in England, the league started after the national cup competition, with the Isle of Man FA Cup first being competed for in the 1889-90 season to coincide with the foundation of the Isle of Man FA, who were founded in 1890. The first winners of the Manx Cup were Douglas AFC.

The IoMFL became a two league system when Division Two was first created in the 1964-65 season, with Onchan AFC being the very first Division Two champions.

The name of the top flight league changed to the ‘Isle of Man Premier League’ at the start of the 2007-08 season, whilst Division Two kept it’s previous name. Douglas-based side, St George’s, would become the first Manx Premier League winners, whilst Colby AFC became champions of the Division Two during that season.

 

Isle of Man Football Pyramid

IoM FA LogoAs mentioned above, the Isle of Man Football League (IoMFL) has two leagues, the Premier League and Division Two. For the 2019-20 season, the Premier League has 12 teams, whilst Division Two has 13 teams competing within it. Each club in the respective leagues plays each other twice (home and away), with Premier League teams playing a total of 22 league games, and Division Two playing 24 league fixtures.

Obviously, the Premier League club with the most points (then goal difference, and then goals scored if the points tally are equal at the conclusion of the campaign) at the end of the season is crowned the Manx Premier League champion. Alas the champions do not qualify for any further competitions like the UEFA Champions League or UEFA Europa League, as the Isle of Man FA are not a separate part of UEFA, and are considered part of the English FA, meaning the Manx champions cannot qualify for Europe sadly.

The two teams at the bottom of the Premier League are automatically relegated to Division Two, whilst the Division Two champions and runners-up gain automatic promotion to the top flight. There are no promotion/relegation playoffs in the IoM football calendar.

Most of the IoMFL clubs are based in the Manx capital of Douglas, with seven of the twelve clubs of this season’s Premier Division, based in the island’s most populous settlement. Whilst another four clubs who are competing in Division Two this season, are also situated in Douglas, meaning that 11 of the 25 clubs are based within the capital. Nearly all the big settlements on the island have at least one IoMFL team playing this season.

douglas
Douglas, capital of the Isle of Man

As mentioned previously, the island has its own FA Cup, which is the main cup on the island. However the IoMFL has additional cup competitions which are also organised throughout the football season:

  • Hospital Cup – First created in 1921 by Noble’s General Hospital, it is a cup tournament where money is raised for the hospital during its many matches, with a percentage of the final gate receipts going to a charity based on the island. All the teams in the IoMFL compete in this tournament, with the competition starting in a group stage format before progressing into the traditional cup knockout format.
  • Railway Cup – Created in 1925, this annually held cup is traditionally played on Boxing Day (or St. Stephen’s Day), where the top four sides of the Premier League table, at the halfway stage of the league, compete for the trophy.
  • Gold Cup – Another annual cup competition where the top four sides of Division Two at the end of the league campaign, compete for this trophy at the end of May or early June.
  • Woods Cup – A league cup for all the teams competing in Division Two, and named in memory of Captain George Woods.
  • Charity Shield – This is the island’s ‘super cup’, where the previous season’s league champions and cup winners (or cup runners-up if the same team won both trophies) play to claim the Charity Shield. As per the English equivalent, this is played towards the start of the Manx football season.

 

List of Isle of Man League Champions

Below is the list of the Isle of Man top flight champions, and the number of championships that each team has won so far:

  • 29 titles: Peel
  • 18 titles: St George’s
  • 10 titles: Ramsey & Rushen United
  • 8 titles: Castletown Metropolitan
  • 7 titles: Gymnasium
  • 6 titles: Douglas High School Old Boys
  • 5 titles: Pulrose United & St Mary’s
  • 4 titles: Braddan
  • 2 titles: Douglas Wanderers
  • 1 title: Colby, Laxey, Onchan & RAF Jurby

Peel AFC are clearly the most successful team in the IoM Football League, having won the top flight a record 29 occasions. The Douglas Road outfit won their very first league title in the inaugural Manx season of 1896-97, and won the majority of their titles throughout the 1950’s to 1970’s. Their most recent league championship came in 2001-02 after having won the title for three consecutive seasons in the first three years of the new millennium.

St Georges AFCDouglas-based St George’s are the second most successful team in league history, having won 18 league titles in their history, with their first coming in the 1956-57 season. However most of their eighteen titles have come within the past 20 years. Since the 2003-04 season, they have won 13 titles from a possible 16 seasons, and won eight league titles in a row between the 2010-11 and 2017-18 seasons.

St. Marys AFCThe current defending Premier League champions are St Mary’s, who won their fifth league title in their history last season, and their first title since the 2002-03 season. The Saints won the Premier League by seven clear points from their nearest rivals, and the previous season’s league winners, St George’s. They also scored 109 goals in their 22 game season, and only conceded 19 goals to give them an impressive looking goal difference of +90.

Ramsey AFCRamsey AFC are the third most successful team in Manx football league history, as the north-easterners have won a total of ten league titles. The Blues won their first title way back in 1898-99, but they have not won another top flight title since their tenth title in the 1951-52 season. They gained promotion to the top flight last season after they claimed their second Division 1 title.

rushen-unitedPort Erin-based side, Rushen United, are another team who have also won ten league titles in their history. The Spaniards won their first league title in the 1925-26 season, but won seven league championships between 1978 and 1988. However they claimed their tenth title quite recently, in the 2009-10 season.

Laxey AFCLaxey AFC are the most recent new winner of the Premier League title from the fifteen clubs who have won the top flight championship. The Miners won their sole championship in 2005-06, a year after they won their first (and only) Manx FA Cup also.

 

 

The 2018-19 Isle of Man Football League Season

Premier League

2018-19 IoM Premier League Table
The 2018-19 Isle of Man Premier League table. [IMAGE: Wikipedia]

St. Marys AFCThe league was supposed to start with thirteen teams but four-time league champions, Braddan, sadly resigned from the league, resulting in the Premier League finishing as a twelve-team league. The defending champions were St George’s, who were looking to claim their ninth league title in a row, and maintain their dominance in the Manx League. However they could only settle for the runners-up spot, as the surprise package, St Mary’s, ended the dominance of the Geordies, and claimed their fifth league title in their history.

The Saints, who finished in seventh position and 28 points behind the league winners in the previous season, managed to sensationally claim the top spot in the Premier League, finishing seven points clear of St George’s. The Douglas-based side won nineteen of their twenty-two league games, only losing once on their way to the title. They also managed to score a league high of 109 goals (an average of 4.95 goals per league game), and had the best defence of just conceding 19 goals from their entire league campaign.

St Johns UnitedAt the opposite end of the table, only one team would be relegated due to Bradden’s resignation from the Premier League. In the end, it would be St John’s United, who despite finishing in fifth position the previous season, suffered demotion to the second tier. Sadly for the Glenfaba club, a point deduction proved to be fatal for them as they were relegated by that single point, which had been taken away by the IoM FA because they had played an ineligible player in their 2-2 draw with Douglas Royal in April 2019. Otherwise, it would have been ironically Douglas Royal who would have gone through the proverbial trapdoor, having a worse goal difference of -70 compared to St John’s’ -40.

St John’s United were the lowest scorers in the league, scoring just thirty goals, which ultimately compounded to their relegation, whilst tenth placed side, Castletown Metropolitan, had the worst defence of the league, conceding 114 goals from their league campaign.

Division Two

2018-19 IoM Division Two Table
The 2018-19 Isle of Man Division Two table. [IMAGE: Wikipedia]

Ramsey AFCIt would prove to be a very tight race for the two promotion spots, with three teams battling towards the end of the season for them. The two Ramsey-based sides, Ramsey AFC and Ramsey YCOB (Youth Centre and Old Boys) were in the hunt for the spots, alongside Pulrose United. After the 24 game season, it was Ramsey who won the title, and returned to the top flight after getting relegated the previous season. They scored 100 goals on their way to the championship, winning the title by one point from Pulrose United, who also scored 100 goals. Pulrose, who also had the league’s best defence, just grabbed the final promotion spot from Ramsey YCOB by just one point.

Governors AthleticMichael United and Governors Athletic were cut adrift at the bottom of the table, with both sides just claiming one victory each all season. In the end, Michael United gained one more point than Governors to earn themselves the 12th position. In the end, both teams conceded over 100 goals (alongside Gymnasium in 11th position), with Michael United being the worst scorers in the league with just 27 goals. Governors Athletic had the worst defence in the whole Football League, by conceding 149 goals from their 24 league fixtures (that’s 6.21 goals conceded per league game!!!).

 

Cup Competitions

The 2019 Manx Cup was won by Peel AFC, who beat the league champions, St Mary’s 3-1 (after extra time) to deny the Saints a league and cup double. As well as being the most successful league side, Peel are also the most successful Manx Cup side, having won the historical cup competition on 32 different occasions. Peel would also lift the Railway Cup by beating St George’s 3-2 in the final, to give them a cup double-winning season.

The 2019 Hospital Cup was won by St George’s once again, who won their fourth Hospital Cup in a row, and their ninth Hospital Cup in the past eleven years. The Geordies successfully defended their trophy by defeating title rivals, St Mary’s, on penalties after the scoreline had finished 2-2. However the game had been an exciting affair as St Mary’s scored two late goals, including an injury-time equaliser to send the game into extra time. However despite the Saints’ momentum, St George’s held their nerve in the shootout to lift the trophy once again.

Pulrose UnitedRamsey would claim the Paul Henry Gold Cup, beating town rivals Ramsey YCOB in the final, 3-1 to gain a silverware double alongside their Division Two title. RYCOB took the lead through Lewis Moran, but goals from Tom Bentham and a Dylan Pickles brace, ensured Ramsey would claim a double-winning season. They could have attained a treble-winning season, but they lost in the final of the Woods Cup. Losing in the final 1-2 to fellow promoted side, Pulrose United.

Corinthians A.F.C.In the first trophy available, at the very start of the season, it would be 2018 Manx Cup winners, Corinthians, who would lift the Eric Fletcher Charity Shield, defeating league champions, St George’s, by a scoreline of 4-1. Stephen Whitley, Dan Simpson, Sean Doyle and Luke Murray getting the goals for the Whites, whilst Jay Skelcher-Maxwell scored the consolation goal early in the second half.

 

Player Awards

At the end of the season, the annual Football Writers’ awards were given out to the following players:

  • Player of the Year: Jack McVey (St Mary’s)
  • Young Player of the Year: Joe Walters (Laxey)
  • Goalkeeper of the Year: Harry Horbury (Marown)
  • Manager of the Year: Alex Harrison (St Mary’s)

 

 

The 2019-20 Isle of Man Football League

To see the current league situation for both leagues, follow the link to the English FA’s website: http://fulltime-league.thefa.com/Index.do?league=9057188

IoMFL Premier Division Map
The locations of the twelve Premier Division clubs on the Isle of Man.

The following twelve teams are competing in this season’s Premier Division:

  1. Corinthians
  2. Douglas Athletic
  3. Douglas High School Old Boys
  4. Douglas Royal
  5. Laxey
  6. Marown
  7. Peel
  8. Pulrose United
  9. Ramsey
  10. Rushen United
  11. St George’s
  12. St Mary’s

[NOTE: Castletown Metropolitan withdrew from the Premier Division in September 2019, reducing the number of teams in the league to 12.]

 

IoMFL Division Two Map
The locations of the clubs on the Isle of Man competing in the IoM Division Two.

The following thirteen teams are competing in the 2019-20 Division Two:

  1. Ayre United
  2. Bradden
  3. Colby
  4. Douglas and District
  5. Foxdale
  6. Governors Athletic
  7. Gymnasium
  8. Malew
  9. Michael United
  10. Onchan
  11. Ramsey Youth Centre and Old Boys
  12. St John’s United
  13. Union Mills

[NOTE: Bradden returned to Division Two after withdrawing from last season’s Premier Division, thus maintaining the 13 team league format.]

In this season’s Charity Shield, an 80th minute penalty from skipper Lee Gale gave the 2019 Manx Cup winners, Peel the crucial advantage in the fixture against the league champions, St Mary’s. The capital-based side were unable to break down the Westerners defence, and eventually found themselves with a player disadvantage after Alex Harrison was dismissed for a second bookable offence.

 

2019 Inter Games Football Tournament

2019 Inter Games LogoThe Isle of Man normally competes in the bi-annual Island Games multi-sport event, which is competed for by teams from the various islands around the world. Normally the football tournament is an integral part of the Island Games schedule, however due to the 2019 Island Games’ host, Gibraltar, not having enough football pitches to host the football tournament, it was not added to the official Games. Despite this problem, because the football tournaments are one the most popular sports at the games, it was decided to hold the matches elsewhere but with the results not being part of the official Island Games medal tally.

It was decided that the Welsh island of Ynys Môn / Anglesey would host the ‘Inter Games Football Tournament’ in June 2019, and so the Isle of Man sent across male and female representative teams to compete in the tournament.

 

Women’s Team

Being placed in tougher Group B, alongside Jersey and Gibraltar, the ladies (who were managed by Brian Cowin) managed to get through the ‘group of death’ by beating Jersey 3-2, and then Gibraltar 2-1 to qualify for the semi-finals.

2019 Inter Games - Group B Women
Women’s Group B of the 2019 Inter Games Football Tournament. [IMAGE: Wikipedia]

 In the semi-finals, they came up against the runners-up of Group A, Hitra. The Isle of Man team put their opponents to the sword and defeated them 5-1, with goals from Becky Corkish, Ellie Gawne, Jade Burden, Casey Halsall and Sarah Wignall. This set up the final with the hosts, and winners of Group A, Ynys Môn, who had beaten Jersey 1-0 in the other semi-final.

In the final, held at Holyhead, Sarah Wignall scored her fourth goal of the tournament after three minutes to give the Manxwomen the lead, before Ellie Gawne doubled their lead on the 38th minute. Catrin Evans decreased the advantage on the 69th minute to give the hosts a chance of snatching an equaliser, but the Isle of Man team just about held on to claim the gold medal.

 

Men’s Team

Paul Jones’ team were also placed in Group B, but with the Norwegian island team of Hitra and the team of the Channel Island of Alderney. The group stage would be easy for the Manxmen, as a 7-1 hammering of Hitra, was followed by a 6-1 win over Alderney, to easily qualify for the quarter-finals as Group B winners.

2019 Inter Games - Group B Men
Men’s Group B of the 2019 Inter Games Football Tournament. [IMAGE: Wikipedia]

In the semi-finals, they faced another Channel Island side in the form of Guernsey at Gwalchmai. It would be a tougher test for the Manxmen as they managed to get the scoreline to 2-2, with Rhys Oates and Chris Bass Jr scoring the goals. However they conceded a late goal in the 84th minute to ensure Guernsey would progress to the final against Ynys Môn.

As a result, the Isle of Man team would play in the bronze medal play-off match against the Shetland team, who had lost 2-1 to the hosts in the other semi-final. This time, they made no mistake and ensured they would return to Ellan Vannin with a medal, as they stuffed Shetland 5-0 at Gwalchmai. Four goals coming from the deadly Rhys Oates, whilst Dan Simpson added a fifth to ensure the Isle of Man men’s team finished in third position.

 

 

The Creation of FC Isle of Man

It was announced in the summer of 2019 that an Isle of Man-based team had applied to compete within the English football pyramid. With the successes of Channel Island based Guernsey Lions and Jersey Bulls competing within the English lower leagues, it made absolute sense for the Isle of Man to potentially create a team also.

NWCFL LogoAfter having their proposal agreed and supported by the Isle of Man FA, the new team, FC Isle of Man, have had discussions and subsequently applied to join the North West Counties Football League (step six in the English lower-league pyramid) for the start of the 2020-21 season. The NWCFL have accepted the proposal, and will now recommend to the English FA that they will also accept and confirm the application also.

FC Isle of Man
The old logo of FC Isle of Man

The aim of the club is to help progress Manx football by allowing players and coaches to compete at a ‘high-level environment’, thus improving standards, as well as being a beacon for local support within the English football pyramid, encouraging local supporters to invest in the club through membership (as seen in Spanish clubs). In addition, it will help widen the exposure of Manx companies and players to the mainland, as well as encouraging away supporters to visit the island during the off-peak season of the autumn and winter months.

The new club has already appointed its first ever manager, appointing St George’s legendary manager, Chris Bass Snr in mid-February. Bass’ record as manager of The Geordies is second-to-none in Manx football, having won 13 league titles, 10 Hospital Cups, 9 Manx Cups, 8 Railway Cups and 8 Charity Shields during his 30 year tenure as St George’s manager. In addition, he was also the manager of the Ellan Vannin side that reached the final of the 2014 CONIFA World Football Cup.

[NOTE: To read about the 2020 CONIFA World Football Cup, read my blog about it HERE]

FC Isle of Man LogoFinally, the club have just recently unveiled their new club crest, which will be shown on the kits of FC Isle of Man next season. It shows a black raven, which is one of the national birds of the island, and is synonymous to the island’s Celtic and Viking culture and heritage. The red and white colours represent the sunset’s and the infamous ‘Manannan’s Cloak’ which often covers the island with a heavy layer of fog. The four water lines represent the four parts of the island, while the motto “Bee ny Share” is Manx for “Be Better”, and promotes the unique culture of the island also.

 

 

Other Sources of Information

There are other sources of information that you may wish to look at, should you wish to get to know more information about the Isle of Man Football League. The following sources are some of the excellent media that I have managed to find during my research, and provide great coverage on the IoMFL and Manx football in general.

Isle of Man FA

Manx Footy Podcast

IoM Today

 

Conclusion

A massive thank you for reading my blog on the Isle of Man Football League. Hopefully it will encourage you to venture across either on the aeroplane or ferry to the Manx island and check out its superb football league (as well as experience its sheer beauty as a location). Certainly, writing this blog has made me want to return to the island, sooner rather than later, and catch some more Manx league games! Hopefully tick off more Manx grounds, and perhaps see more Rushen United victories also!

If you have any comments on football on the Isle of Man, experiences playing or watching games there, or even if you follow a specific team from the island, I would love to read about them. Either mention them below in the comments box, send a tweet on Twitter to @The94thMin or put it on my Facebook Page, it would be great to hear your comments.

Gura mie ayd!

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