25 June ~ The Isle of Wight is about to stage a sort of alternative World Cup featuring rarely seen teams like Greenland and the Falklands. The Island Games are a bi-annual mini-Olympics for islands and the 15-team football tournament runs from June 26 to July 1. The Games were first staged in the Isle of Man in 1985 and football was introduced in 1989. The Faroes won the first two titles, using the tournament as a springboard to playing in World Cup and European Championship qualifiers. The Faroes no longer play in the Island Games but the tournament still involves a real mix of experience and parks football: Victor Alonen had 68 caps for Estonia when he turned out for Saarema in 2005.
Expensive insurance for professionals is now essential, ruling out Bristol City’s Jerseyman Brett Pittman. Shaun Cooper and James Hayter will also be missing for the Isle of Wight, whose coach, Cowes-born Lee Bradbury, had to stand down after landing the manager’s job at AFC Bournemouth earlier this year. The hosts will miss that experience in Group B, where Gibraltar pose a strong challenge. Gibraltar joined the Island Games Association when the colony’s border with Spain was closed and the Rock was deemed an island. Gibraltar won the 2007 title and only three months ago they won 3-0 against a Faroes side, albeit an understrength one.
Lack of insurance will deprive Jersey of talented teenager Michael Weir, who spent last season in the Portuguese third division with Associao Desportive da Camacha, but the holders should still win Group A ahead of Rhodes, Menorca and Greenland. The battle for Group D between Saarema, the Western Isles of Scotland and the Finnish isle of Aland, 2009 hosts and runners-up, should be closer. Froya were also due to play in Group D but pulled out as the tournament is being staged during the Norwegian island’s league season.
The 2005 winners the Shetlands are also absent, while the participation of the Falklands was in doubt up until the eve of the tournament due to an ash cloud from the Puyehue-Cordón Caulle volcano in Chile disrupting southern hemisphere air travel. Some of Richard Franks’s squad are UK-based but nine players took days to reach the Chilean capital of Santiago for their UK connection and have only just arrived. The tournament’s qualification rules are more relaxed than FIFA’s, only requiring a 12-month residency, and the star Falklands player two years ago was a Chilean, Andreas Balladeros. The Falklands will struggle to avoid bottom spot in Group C, where 2001 and 2003 winners Guernsey – who will be entering an all-island team in the English league pyramid – likely to prevail ahead of the Swedish island of Gotland and the Isle of Man.
All four group winners go straight to the semi-finals on Thursday with the final staged at Newport FC’s ground on July 1. The first three days of group matches will see seven games played daily, many at different times and a season ticket for the whole tournament is just £20, offering a cheap, entertaining week of obscure football. Steve Menary
Steve Menary is the author of Outcasts! The Lands That FIFA Forgot (Know The Score 2007), which was shortlisted for the 2008 Football Book of the Year award