The Isles of Scilly Football League is the world’s smallest official football league, consisting of only two teams that play each other seventeen times a season. Yes, seventeen.
As the home of football, England has always been crazy about the team sport, and the Isles of Scilly, an archipelago of more than 140 islands off the southwestern tip of Cornwall, is no exception.
Like many other regions of England, the isles have their own football league, but what sets them apart is the size of the league, just two teams, the Garrison Gunners and the Woolpack Wanderers, that play each other every weekend during a season, as well as in two yearly cups and the traditional “Old Men versus the Youngsters” game played on Boxing Day.
Local football enthusiasts say that there was a time in the early 1900s when the league consisted of teams from all five inhabited islands in the archipelago.
But that all ended sometime in the 1950s, and there have only been two teams since.
“The games are always competitive and everyone always gives their all. It is a unique league, but that’s the nature of the Isles of Scilly,” said local player Will Leathbridge.
“At the start of every season we mix up the teams to make it a bit more interesting so you are playing against different people. The players are divided up into positions and then alternative picks are selected by captains.”
But isn’t playing against the same team every weekend get boring after a while?
Well, players in the Isles of Scilly Football League will tell you that life is only boring without football.
So as long as they have someone to play against, no one complains.
Both the Garrison Gunners and the Woolpack Wanderers only rely on the inhabitants of St. Mary’s island as a recruitment pool for players.
However the annual draft is getting harder every year, as the island’s young continue to leave in search of better prospects on the mainland, and bringing in players from the other islands is a tough alternative due the difficulty of crossing during storms and in the frequent fog.
“Players do come from other islands but that in itself can lead to problems. If it is too dangerous to cross then they can’t play,” Will Leathbridge added.
The world’s smallest football league shot to fame in 2008, when Adidas came to St. Mary’s to shoot its “Dream Big” commercial.
Football stars like Patrick Vieira, Daniele De Rossi, David Beckham, Michael Ballack and Steven Gerrard were flown in for the shoot.
Ever since, Football enthusiasts, news outlets and major corporations have been coming here.
“Since then, we’ve had everything from Sky Sports, talkSPORT, The New York Times, BBC. We’ve also had a lot of international coverage,” Will Leathbridge said.
“We’ve been on national television during the Rome derby in Italy, during a Bayern Munich Champions League game, an online piece from a company in Brazil. We had Vodafone do a campaign here where they introduced fan-assisted refereeing to one of our games. And we’re featured in the FIFA museum because every four years we play a team from Penzance for the chance to win the world’s smallest trophy. It’s 2mm.”
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