Gotland 2-4 Isle of Man (Cowes Sports FC)
Rhodes 2-1 Greenland (Brading Town FC)
Åland 3-3 Saaremaa (East Cowes FC)
Isle of Wight 4-0 Ynys Môn (Newport (IW) FC)
The Island Games: 3,500 athletes from 25 islands going for gold in 14 different sports.
Tommy Boyd once said that on a clear day you can see the Isle of Wight from atop of Brighton pier. I live a pitch and putt away from that pier, and if there's a festival of football going on that I can virtually see from my house, then I was jolly well signing up for it. They love a festival on this fair isle don't they? Granted, this one didn't have Dave Grohl positioned centre stage frantically shaking his wig, but it did have Ynys Môn FC on the bill. Boom.
Sadly, we couldn't put Tommy's theory into practice as a thick blanket of fog had engulfed the whole of the South Coast early on, and we couldn't see past our hooters, never mind the Isle of Wight. It soon lifted though to reveal a sumptuous summers day as I chugged into Fishbourne Harbour armed with a long list of fixtures and accompanied by usual suspects Cynical Dave and Mr Fuller. Travelling to a football match by ferry is just about as good as life gets. I've got previous in the floating to football matches department having arrived to games at Fenerbahce, Helsingborgs and FC Copenhagen on the old Bryan.
After picking up our press accreditation, sinking a couple of pints of 'Ale of Wight' (see what they did there?), and giggling at middle class chaps with jumpers tied around their necks, we headed to the first match of four during the day: Gotland v Isle of Man at Cowes Sports. It was here we struck up the first song of the day: "We all follow the Gotland over land and sea" - we all laughed, and then headed off to the bar for another pint to celebrate our fine work.
Full marks to the Isle of Man for their Melchester Rovers inspired kit and classic team photo pose.
Bonnie Gotland - Sweden's largest island and the largest island in the Baltic Sea - started well, very well in fact. They were a goal up within 8 (eight) seconds of the start when Peter Öhman struck a rasping 25 yard effort that ricocheted in off the post of Isle of Man keeper Manx Thomas' goal. A quick phone call to the Guinness Book of Records confirmed this to be the fastest goal in Island Games history. The Gotland players ran towards the EFW team, and did a little victory dance. 120 seconds later they were wiping hearty meatballs with gravy off their faces as the IOM equalised. Any early skepticism about the pace and quality of the football had been swept aside within two minutes. This was clearly going to be the best day of our lives.
The Isle of Man won the game 4-2 in a repeat of the scoreline from when the two teams met in the previous games in Åland in 2009. That match was marred by controversy as the Manx team accused Gotland of bringing in ringers from the Swedish mainland. No such complaints today though. The Isle of Man were worthy winners, and laid down a big marker in this group (of death) which also contained The Falkland Islands and big time Charlie's Guernsey. The latter of whom have gone all show business recently by taking the shill and entering the Combined Counties League in England.
Öhman alive. New Island Games record holder Peter Öhman celebrates his goal after just 8 seconds.
Which cheeky scamp put this poster up at the match? *walks away whistling*
All Rhodes (sic) then led to Rhodes v Greenland at Brading Town FC, which, to my surprise, was a complete sell out - many were locked out and two people sustained a graze to the knee in the crush outside - and we had to do battle with Talk Sport and jostle with Sky Sports to get through the turnstiles in time for kick off. Actually, strictly speaking, that wasn't true. Apparently the locals were saving themselves for the big one the following day: The Tree Planting Ceremony to mark the Games at the Sandown Athletics Track. Boom.
This was one beautiful setting for a football match. It must be up there in the top 10 of Britain's most picturesque grounds (see top photo). Old London Underground cast-off tube trains shoot past one of the goals every ten minutes, it has a pitch sloppier than Yeovil Town's old gaff and you can set up a deckchair and watch the match unfold on a big grassy bank surrounded by flowers.
And in this green and pleasant land......
Rhodes held on for a 2-1 victory despite having two men sent off in the final few minutes. There was a brief moment of comedy as the No.8 stormed off to the changing rooms and smashing a polystyrene cup up in the process, causing eight pence worth of damage. The keeper soon followed after handling outside of his area, no such histrionics from him though, sadly. By now news had filtered back to the Greek Island, and they were already out dancing on the streets of Psinthos.
Following a quick two pint pit-stop in the Hare and Hounds, where Cynical Dave negotiated some free stuffing balls with our drinks (dry as since you ask) were on our way to the Baltic Sea derby between Åland and Saaremaa at East Cowes FC. As you do. In truth, we didn't stay long at this game. For sure it had goals, six of them, but the clubhouse and the surroundings were fairly bleak and some nit-wit groundhoppers, complete with sandals and socks, were moaning about having to pay 20p for a programme. It's not as if the football club at East Cowes were milking fans like Friesians was it? Udderly ridiculous. Moo-ve on.
Safe to say the Reed Stand had never seen anything like it as Åland and Saaremaa trotted out onto the pitch.
The second Island Games record of the day: Lowest ever dugout.
"I'm living and breathing this" said Cynical Dave as we pitched up to our fourth and final game of the day in the relatively throbbing metropolis of Newport. Stand by for some non-Wiki (non-Wiki!) research about the St Georges Park football ground at Newport (IW), (loving those brackets by the way - Ed.): At early games at this stadium, and we're talking 1888, the players had to change in a pub across the road and then enter the pitch a few minutes prior to kick off to clear the cows from the field before play could commence.
This was the host islands first game in the group against the mighty-ish Ynys Môn, and happily the locals had come out in force with just under a thousand fans paying £3 each to click through the turnstiles. The fact that this was the biggest ground and club on the island was hammered home immediately when upon entering the big bar underneath the main stand, I noticed they had their own Newport (IW) branded dart board. Wolf whistles ahoy.
"A few in today gaffer"
Bobs Full House in the main stand.
The tree planting ceremony was already starting to pay dividends.
Any tension in the crowd dissipated as the IOW took the lead with an early penalty before eventually running out comfortable 4-0 winners. A bit of shame for the fans that they weren't allowed to drink a sociable beer on the terraces. I don't think there would have been running battles between the two sets of fans if they'd drunk anywhere other than the club bar. And the club could have filled their boots with much needed extra revenue, surely?
Anyway, my first visit back to the Isle of Wight in over 20 years had yielded 19 goals in 4 games in a single day. I'd worked up a lava on that last visit cycling around the island, and - checks nobody is still reading (not to worry they've all moved on to Zonal Marking now - Ed) this nonsense - stayed on a folk camp and learnt how to juggle. The organisers of this particular island games certainly managed to juggle 14 different sports into one week. Everybody involved deserves a gold medal. London 2012 take note: The Isle of Wight games were officially a rip-roaring success, it's over to you....
For lots more photos from the day CLICK ME