INTRODUCING FC ISLE OF MAN - NWCFL Division One South Season 2020-21
Nickname: The Ravens
Home Ground: The Bowl
Manager: Chris Bass
Founded in 2019, FC Isle Of Man are looking forward to their debut season in the English Non-League system after they were accepted into the North West Counties League Division One South. The club joins an exclusive list of clubs from outside mainland England who participate in the English system.
It took the club two years to reach their goal of joining the English football pyramid with several rules having to be amended along the way for it all to be successful, with the team having to become affiliated to the Isle Of Man FA before an application could be made.
The concept of the club has been on the boil for a lot longer and designed to give the Manx people a chance to show their playing skills and access to competitive pyramid football. It is also aimed to give the people on the Island a chance to become coaches, get involved in football administration and with an ambitious ultimate aim to take FC Isle of Man into League 2 of the EFL within ten to fifteen years. They are aiming to follow in the footsteps of two other Islands - Jersey have been a great example over the last season in the Combined Counties League, only missing out on promotion through the Null and Void of the season, and of course Guernsey are about to commence their tenth campaign but these are the models the club are basing themselves on and they have proven sustainable.
They finally got the nod that they were to enter the NWCFL Division One South on July 21st after the FA League Committee had concluded a number of issues such as lateral moves and resignations. With FC Oswestry Town having resigned from Step 6 and AFC Emley being laterally moved back to the NCEL, this created a natural vacancy and the FA opted to fill that vacancy with FC Isle of Man and Bury AFC. The rationale for placing FC Isle of Man in the NWCFL Division One South is that they will be playing their midweek games at a ground on the mainland in close proximity to Manchester or Liverpool Airports, so with this as a base it has been used as a calculated basis for placing them within the South Division.
The club will be playing their home games on the Island on Saturday evenings with the games scheduled to start at 1730hrs so that there is no clash with any other football in the vicinity. The club will cover the costs of visiting clubs and match officials travel and hotel expenses for the games which is a considerable commitment, but also shows the seriousness of their plans to compete in the English League pyramid.
They have appointed an experienced Manager in Chris Bass to the hot seat. Chris has been involved in successful IOM club, St Georges (whom are based in Douglas) and in nearly two decades with them, guided them to more than 40 trophy’s in that time. That haul included 13 of the last 16 League titles and four of the Islands Grand Slams. Chris is joined by a strong local coaching team in Lee Dixon (Assistant Manager), Andy Gosnell (Coach), Dan Wade (Goalkeeping Coach) and club talisman Paul Jones who has been a spearhead of the project and he is Director of Football.
The club will play their first ever match against Guernsey FC on Saturday 15th August at The Bowl with a 6.30PM kick off. The game between the two islands on the 15th August has been described as the final step from taking an idea to reality.
The club have signed a three year deal with Manx Telecom to become the clubs main sponsor and when interviewed by Manx Radio Gary Lamb, the CEO of Manx Telecom, said “it wasn’t a difficult decision to make when the opportunity became available and we are delighted to be involved.” The replica kits were made available from the tenth of August for fans to purchase in preparation for the new season.
To get insight of the club, we spoke with Steve Burns who is Media Co-Ordinator at FC Isle of Man but also a senior coach on the Island himself with Managerial experience of the National side. We started by asking Steve about the general feeling about Football on the Island and in particular the forthcoming season, whenever that arrives! By the sounds of it, the club and the island are really up for it…..
“The Over-riding emotion is one of unbelievable excitement that we have a Football Club accepted into the National League System which is something that has been talked about over here for a number of years. The arrival of a club in the league system has had a number of false dawns over the years despite the obvious potential and desire for it to happen, however, the likes of Paul Jones, our Director of Football have really spearheaded this and got it over the line. His enthusiasm for the project has been felt by all nine of us who have been on the clubs steering group and when the decision came through on the 21st July, we were absolutely delighted.”
“The Players are buzzing, it will give them a real sense of opportunity to play football representing the Island. That culminates this coming Saturday at 630pm when we play our first game, a pre-season friendly against Guernsey FC, the Island that trailblazed this as a viable and sustainable option for Islands to participate in the NLS. There is an air-bridge between the two locations and there has been a lot of interest in the game. It sums up the general mood of things at the moment.”
“The population of the Island are getting towards the “Its getting quite exciting” phase of things and it’s not just the football fraternity, it’s the wider population. We have always enjoyed our sport on the Island but everyone is very much aware of what’s going on. We have had contact from the Mayor of Douglas, our capital city, and the Mayor is keen to wish us well going forwards and to speak with those involved in the Club.”
“The friendly game against Guernsey has been great for raising the profile and people generally are looking forward to seeing teams coming over here on a regular basis, to meet with fans and club officials and this will have additional benefits as well, such as boosting the Island economy. We have had interest from around the world with a number of ex-pats who may live away from us but still see us as their home team. We are looking to do it right with sustainability and aware of our responsibilities as a community benefit.”
We asked Steve about the logistical problems facing the Island at the moment, given the world-wide pandemic and the Quarantine on the Island making it difficult to get players in and out. With October 3rd mooted as a potential start date, is the potential start of the season adding a few headaches to that excitement?
“That’s the big unknown at the moment and we are the same as every other club, yes we want to get going but we all face stringent restrictions with regards to getting our logistics in place. We have a slightly different situation here as our Quarantine is to prevent any cases arriving on the Island full stop. As I speak, Paul Jones is currently working on a Covid procedure and Risk Assessment based on potential Covid bubbles to be able to get teams on and off the Island safely to play games. We are trying like every club to be pro-active, however there is a bigger picture across society and we need to work with that.”
What about the standard of football on the Island? Steve discussed with us about how the structure works over there and some names to look out for when we get going?
“I’m slightly biased but I am also qualified to be able to give a balanced opinion on this, I would say the standard of football here is excellent. We have had a strong International side for years and we won the National League Systems cup as recently as 2014 and the Island Games Tournament in 2017 and have always been competitive.”
“We have given a number of clubs good games here in friendlies having played the likes of Oldham Athletic, Wolves U23 and other good sides. We beat Brentford’s B team 5-3 recently, held Connahs Quay to a draw and were only narrowly beaten 0-2 here by Bury FC. We are probably equivalent to Guernsey by way of quality.”
“The structure of football here is strong and geared up to competitive football, we have two divisions and both have a combination, including reserve sides, so in effect we have four leagues of football. We have a regular top six of sides but the players are generally very loyal to their teams but overall each Division is very close. These clubs will be feeding players into the FC IOM club and they will have their chance to impress on the wider stage.”
“We have a number of strong players on the Island and whilst it’s not easy to single players out we have the likes of Chris Bass Jr who is a busy and enthusiastic player who catches the eye. Callum Morrisey is a strong and experienced centre forward and the likes of Jacob Crocke (17) played in the Island games recently whilst Joe Quayle will also impress. Frank Jones is a possible captain for us, works hard and commands respect on the park but I could name many, many more players who will impress and that’s another prime reason why we have arrived into the NLS, to give these players the opportunity to compete on a wider level.”
The club early doors has stated an aim to be an EFL Club within 15 years? In all fairness Fleetwood, Accrington and Salford City will vouch that the NWCFL is a great place for a club to launch such an ambition but is that the route you are aiming for?
“We all stand by Paul Jones’ statement. That’s the aim and ambition and every club should have aims for success, no club aims for failure but we want to be competitive, sustainable and do things the right way. It’s all about setting your standards high but remaining realistic but there is nothing wrong with instilling those high standards into the players. There maybe bumps along the way but we will give it a good go and with the public and business community behind the club the Isle of Man will do things the right way and look forward to taking our place in the NWCFL Division One South as part of the wider NWCFL members. We can’t wait to get going….. but we will have to for now but let us hope that’s not too long! We look forward to seeing everyone soon.”
Many thanks to Steve for your time and good luck for the season ahead.