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Take us home | How FC Isle of Man are delivering English football to the Manx people

On the eve of their biggest home match of all time, Amos Murphy explores the story behind how FC Isle of Man are delivering English football to the Manx people.  

Ravens flying the Manx nest

As creatures, the raven has learned to adapt in whichever environment they found themselves in. Coexisting with humans for thousands of years, their opportunism has seen them thrive in the wild, whilst a streak of versatility has allowed the all-black passerine bird to evolve into one of the most cunning of predators.

In mythology, the creature has been a symbol of hope for centuries. The first animal to flea Noah’s Ark, whilst legend has it, England as a nation will forever be protected from invasion if there are ravens in the Tower of London.

This weekend, after having already spread their wings onto the mainland, the Ravens will return to the nest with sights set on English invaders.

Isle of Man stepping out of isolation

Nestled 80 miles off the North-West coast of England, the Isle of Man has sat alone as a self-serving British Crown Dependency since the 15th century. Home to over 83,000 hard-working and humble folk, the island boasts the ninth-best GDP per capita in the world.

Whilst under British law, the Isle of Man is not part of the United Kingdom and possesses one of the planet's oldest functioning parliament buildings, reportedly in use since the year 979. A proud island, with a prestigious past.

Internationally it is probably best known for its sporting accolades, with the 114-year-old Isle of Man TT race a pre-Covid fixture in the island’s calendar. In terms of exports, one of the greatest road cyclists of all-time Mark Cavendish is Manx born and bred.

Yet, one thing missing from the world-renowned Isle of Man sporting hall of fame was a notoriously recognised football team, until now.

Ravens make history as first Isle of Man team in English pyramid

When FC Isle of Man were granted permission to join the English football pyramid in July 2020, it represented almost a year of back-and-forth between the club, the leagues and their respective FAs. It wouldn’t be for another 13 months until the Ravens – as their nickname goes – would play their first match.

In their opening game of the North West Counties Football League First Division South season, the side drew 1-1 away to Maine Road FC, with Frank Jones going down as the first-ever goal scorer for a club from the Isle of Man playing in the English pyramid.

Speaking back in August, Jones explained his emotions after marking the historic day with an equally monumental achievement:

“It felt like a bit of a defeat on the way back because we really wanted to win and make it such a big occasion”.

An injury picked up in that first game has seen the FC Isle of Man captain’s minutes hampered this season, yet he was optimistic the club would be able to start hosting home matches in the near future. Now three months on, that day looks finally set to arrive, with Brocton FC the first visitors to the Bowl Stadium.

Ravens ready to bring football home

A 3,000 capacity multi-purpose stadium in the heart of the Manx capital Douglas, the Bowl has played host to a number of events over the years, including concerts, athletics meets and rugby tournaments.

On Saturday 30th November, it will once again provide the setting for a historic moment in Manx history, with a bumper crowd expected to turn out for the FC Isle of Man’s opening game on home soil.

Chris Bass was the man tasked with the job as the club’s first manager and he believes those living on the island will turn up in their thousands to support the side:

“We’re expecting a very decent crowd. We could have anywhere between 2,000 and 3,000 people turn up for the match. A number way beyond anything else in this league.”

In the final weekend leading up to the Ravens’ maiden home match, the average attendance for matches in the division was less than 100, suggesting the appetite for football on the island is way beyond the current level they are playing at and Bass is convinced that will work in their favour:

“A lot of players and fans will see our games online and want to come over (from the UK) to watch games in the Isle of Man, because of the crowds, the atmosphere and everything else that comes with it.”

Sky the limit for high-flying Ravens

It is clear that FC Isle of Man are a club operating with ambitions above their current step-six status in non-league, yet the barriers they’ve had to jump over just to get to the position where they can host matches on the island have been grave.

“What we’re doing is pretty historic” continues Bass. “If we can continue to climb the leagues and maybe one play reach the National League, or the divisions just below that won’t be a bad achievement for an island full of farmers”.

Alongside Bass and his assistant manager Lee Dixon, an army of volunteers have worked around the clock to reach a point where the club is sustainable.

Having to play all their matches away from home has proved problematic for the squad and when quizzed on whether or not the travelling had been frustrating at times, Bass had a trademark witty response:

“I’ve got a pacemaker and I’m losing hair, so if you don’t want to put up with it then do one” (or words to that effect).

Securing football for now and the future the key for Bass

Whilst three points are at stake against Brocton, there is also something much bigger at play and ensuring the longevity of football on the Isle of Man is something Bass and the rest of his team are wholeheartedly committed to:

“Regardless of the standard of football, or what level this club is playing at, the one thing I want to see is a hard-core fanbase of 2,000 to 3,000 people in the future.

“I want to see kids running around Douglas, or Peel or wherever, all in FC Isle of Man scarves and kits thinking this club is the best team on the entire island”.

Having been one of the brains behind the project, Bass’ influence can’t be understated, yet he also recognises some time in the near future, the day will come where he'll need to step aside:

“One day I will be down watching the team as a supporter. I’ll only be able to take them so far and the crowd will be singing ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ to me.”

Taking a guess at exactly who would be calling for his head, Bass was, once again, unreservedly frank in his answer:

“They’ll be chanting that and I bet half of it will be my own family.

“But seriously, I have all that to look forward to so I’m just going to enjoy these moments right now whilst I can”.

Creating an environment for football to breed

Before ravens begin to breed, first they must find a territory they can call their own for life. They construct a deep bowl made out of foraged sticks and twigs, where their offspring are cared and nurtured for.

Ravens will aggressively defend their nest, protecting their fledglings, whilst looking for the opportune moment to strike back.

On Saturday evening over 2,000 Manx football fanatics will take their place inside the Bowl, as the Ravens swoop in and create a little bit of history once more.

 

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