The Island Games are a biennial multi sport festival held to encourage sporting development among tiny islands, peninsulas and archipelagos. From the initial event in the Isle of Man where 15 islands entered the event has become increasingly popular with the most recent staging being in Gotland in 2017. There were 2,500 athletes representing 23 islands across 14 sports on Sweden’s largest island.
The 18th Island Games were awarded to Gibraltar and it meant a severe logistical problem given that the peninsula’s only major sporting facility, the Victoria Stadium, would be earmarked for track and field athletics. This meant for the first time since 1989 there would be no football tournament at the Island Games, cycling and volleyball would also miss out for the first time.
The decision to omit football was particularly controversial as its one of the major and most popular of the attractions. Into the breach stepped prospective 2025 Island Games hosts, Ynys Môn (Anglesey) who offered to stage a football tournament run on similar lines to the Island Games. In addition to the hosts a further nine islands agreed to send a mans team and six would send womens squads to what was dubbed the Inter-Islands Games. An oddity of this event is Gibraltar sending a womens team to the event but being unable to field a mens team due to their membership of UEFA.
Eleven football grounds of varying sizes and facilities were selected as host venues including some from very small communities like Aberffraw FC from the tiny village of Tŷ Croes and Bro Goronwy FC from the north east coastal village of Moelfre, home to barely 1,000 inhabitants.
Some interesting tweaks on the normal rules were announced for this event. Drawn group games would be settled on penalties as a means to separate teams in the eventuality of two having identical records. Entrants were allowed to make five substitutions but in an attempt to speed up potentially ten changes per game, teams had to make them in batches up to five (eg a triple substitution then two single substitutions).
Having already enjoy games at six of the eleven host grounds I decided to baulk on the crazy early start needed to make the 11am Jersey v Orkney opener at Llangefni Town’s excellent Cae Bob Parry. Instead my first action of this tournament would be a special one as it marked the international debut of a representative team from the south Atlantic island nation of St.Helena. It’s a British Overseas Territory and incorporates the islands of Ascension and Tristan da Cunha as well. The population of 4,500 people is one of the remotest in the world and only got a commercial airport as recently as 2017!
Cae Cynlas is a fairly basic ground with a railed off pitch and a spare dugout pressed into service as a small area of cover but it’s not needed as pre-match rain drifts off in the opposite direction. With around 50 St Helena fans present there is a good, colourful vibe to the place but the Shetlands, Island Games veterans and winners of the tournament at their own games in 2005, are in no mood to roll over for the far flung debutants. The Shetland side are limited in numbers due to injuries but are no match for St Helena, the Atlantic islanders struggling to deal with the physicality and the strong buffeting wind. The Scots win 6-1 although Ronan Legg has the honour of scoring St. Helena’s first ever international goal from the penalty spot. There are nearly 500 people watching and there is mayhem outside with cars parked everywhere, Tŷ Groes will have never seen the like before!
Sunday June 16th 2019 2pm – Inter-Island Games Group C
Shetland 6 (Leask 12,17, Bradley 25, Arthur 27,85, Smith 45)
St.Helena 1 (Legg pen 36)
Att:462 (at Aberffraw FC)
The next game is at the main stadium in the island capital of Holyhead. Intriguingly the old Holyhead Hotspur is still in decent condition despite being vacated in 2007 for the New Oval next door. Evidently the old ground is still used for local matches. The place is busy with the hosts, Ynys Môn, making their entry into the tournament with a game against another Scottish entrant, the Western Isles (Outer Hebrides). It’s a much tighter game with the hosts enjoying a larger portion of the possession but it’s the Western Islanders that silence the crowd with the opening goal on the stroke of halftime. The forecast rain duly arrives and it’s standing room only in the main stand and the covered stand, repurposed from a Stena Line gangway, it also full as over a 1,000 people try in vain to stay dry. Ynys Môn come good in the second half and while some speed off to make the tight kick off time at Cemaes Bay, the majority of the crowd at Holyhead go home happy.
Sunday June 16th 2019 5pm – Inter-Island Games Group A
Ynys Mon 2 (McGinness 60, Morris 67)
Western Isles 1 (L.Mackay 45)
Att: 1,025 (at Holyhead Hotspur FC)
Most of the arrivals from Holyhead just about make kick off thanks to Cemaes Bay prudently opening a field adjacent to the School Lane ground for parking. The rain has now reached monsoon proportions as Channel Islanders take on Hitra, an island archipelago off the west coast of Norway.
Few Welsh clubs can have fallen as far as Cemaes Bay. Although football started in the north coast town in 1870, the current club started life in 1976 and played at a ground on the Wylfa Nuclear Power Station for much of the time, except for a short period in 1980, at a ground next to the Gadlys Hotel. The move to School Lane in 1988 coincided with a period of heavy investment as the club moved from the Anglesey League to winning the Welsh Alliance in 1993 and the Cymru Alliance in 1995. The latter resulted in an historic promotion to the Welsh Premier League. After two seasons the finance was pulled and by 2005 the club had been relegated to the Gwynedd League. After a short period in abeyance the club went full circle and rejoined the Anglesey League for the 2018/19 season.
Despite the appalling weather Alderney and Hitra put on a highly entertaining match in front of a doubtless weather effected crowd of slightly over 200. It’s a fine, if a little soggy end, to an excellent days entertainment.
Sunday June 16th 2019 7.30pm – Inter-Island Games Group B
Alderney 2 (Benfield 26, J. Concanen 67)
Hitra 4 (Kvakland 24, Jorgensen 27, Hansen 45, Johansen 74)
Att:206 (at Cemaes Bay FC)
With the first game of day two not scheduled to 3.30pm there is plenty of time to see some of the beguiling sights of this stunning little island. From Beaumaris Castle in the east to South Stack lighthouse there really is something for everyone here. Thankfully the rain had relented but it was still very windy.
Cemaes Bay harbour
Cliff side church at Llanbadrig
Headland at Bull Bay
South Stack Lighthouse
The afternoon game is a Bodedern Athletic’s compact Cae Tŷ Cristion ground. This club took over from the old disbanded CPD Bodedern in 2007, initially playing at Cae’r Ysgol until securing a return to Bodedern’s traditional ground at Tŷ Cristion. The new Bodedern club have risen quickly to the Welsh Alliance Division One and finished runners up to Llangefni Town this season.
It’s another tight game as Guernsey take on an injury depleted Shetland team. Guernsey take a 2-0 lead before halftime, bizarrely the fourth game running where a goal was scored in the 45th minute. Shetland pulled one back with a rebound from a saved penalty kick but it wasn’t to be for the North Sea team.
Monday June 17th 2019 3.30 pm – Inter-Island Games Group C
Guernsey 2 (Marsh 21, Hall 45)
Shetland 1 (Leask 52)
Att:208 (at Bodedern Athletic FC)
So with just a two day taste of the tournament it was a massive thumbs up to the organisers. Everything ran like clockwork and there was enough volunteers to cater for the crowds. The tournament programme was excellent and informative at £3. Only wished I could have stayed a little longer. Roll on Guernsey 2021, Orkneys 2023 and, all being well, Anglesey in 2025, they would deserve it on this showing.