When we speak about football, the size of the teams, stadiums and salaries are the first ideas that come to mind. Rarely do we associate the sport with anything other than that. Yet, there are people who play football for the sheer enjoyment and fun of it, to the extent that the supporters and players help to set up the pitch. This happens every week before the two teams that make up what the Guiness Book of Records terms as the smallest league in the world, kick off.
Where is this Liliputian league, recognised by the FA, a reality? The answer is on the remote Scilly Isles off the Cornish coast, south-west England. Up until now, in order to watch the matches that are played religiously every Sunday from mid November to March, fans had to travel to St Mary’s Isle. But there is good news for the teams and their supporters. Since the beginning of this season, the giant Vodafone are showcasing this Liliputian league by streaming the matches over 5G.
The season begins with a Charity Shield which sardonically pits the winner of the previous year’s leagaue against the second placed team. There are no front-runners, no mid-table teams, no relegation contenders. There are simply two teams, that not only play against each other approximately twenty times a year, but also against the North East winds on a bleak hill that takes the shape of a pitch where there are no stands, let alone loos.
The structure of the league dates back to the 1920´s when teams from each of the five islands played in the Lyonnesse Inter-Island Cup. Alas, by the 1980`s only two teams survived, the Rovers, currently called the Woolpack Wolves and the Rangers, the now named Garrison Gunners. But who are these players and more intriguingly, how are they selected from a total population of three thousand five hundred? Are they bought on the football market? No, the procedure is much simpler than that. Basically, anyone who is capable of kicking a ball can volunteer to form part of one of the two teams. Those who do so, are usually in their thirties or forties or even older, as the young are forced to leave the islands in search of higher education. After drawing up a list, the captains sit down over a drink and decide who they want to sport the yellow and blue colours of the Gunners or the claret-red of the Wanderers. There are no agents involved, no contracts signed, and no money passing hands.
The future was looking dim for the smallest league in the world until the giant of telecom stepped in. Only time will tell if 5G can liven up this Liliputian league by stemming the flow of young people from the island and pumping even more enthusiasm into their football.