I enjoy sitting down every weekend to write my column for leagueofireland.ie, as I have done every week during the domestic season for the last five seasons. What do you write about though when the league is suspended? The truth is that I didn’t have an answer when I sat down to write my column this week, but I was determined to write one anyway. The situation we are in as a result of COVID-19 is unprecedented, but it won’t stop me thinking or writing about football.
One idea that came to mind was to look back through previous LOI.ie columns and see if there was anything that had ‘moved on’ significantly since first published. I found a column from May 2016 entitled ‘Would Ellan Vannin be welcome in the League of Ireland?’ which fitted the bill. I suppose the idea resonates still in that we have recently had some debate about an all-Ireland league. The Ellan Vannin story, when I first wrote it, received 50/50 positive/negative response, which surprised me [I thought it would be more-heavily negative].
At the time [May 2016] there were strong rumours that Ellan Vannin, a recently-established rival Isle of Man national side to the official Isle of Man football side [the Isle of Man Representative County football team, officiated by the Isle of Man FA, affiliated to the English FA] had applied to join [as a club] an off-island domestic league, with the League of Ireland the rumoured preferred destination of the Manx International Football Association [the rival governing body that had been set up to represent Ellan Vannin].
Obviously it never happened, and I never saw anything published officially confirming or detailing any application or discussion on the subject. But I have often wondered since which league they did join. The answer was revealed last month, when it was announced that ‘FC Isle of Man’ will join the English league system for the 2020-21 season, with the club entering the North West Counties Football League at level 10 of the English pyramid.
The whole situation is rather confusing. The Isle of Man now has three national sides, essentially. There is the original Isle of Man representative side, whose main ‘internationals’ are at the soccer tournament of the biennial Island Games, the aforementioned Ellan Vannin side whose main gig is competing in the CONIFA [non-FIFA] World Cup and now FC Isle of Man, who will compete in the NWCFL, basing themselves at the Douglas Bowl and paying the travel expenses of visiting teams.
The official Isle of Man representative side picks players who play in the domestic Isle of Man league [the Canada Life Premier is the top division], regardless of nationality. Ellan Vannin’s modus operandi is to only pick players either born on the island or with a Manx connection. FC Isle of Man will essentially operate on the former principle, and have become affiliated to the Isle of Man FA. Essentially this means that Ellan Vannin’s ‘rebel’ idea has been adopted by the official Manx FA.
When FC Isle of Man kick off in next season’s NWCFL they will be joined by Bury AFC, a phoenix club of Bury FC who were expelled from this season’s English League One [where Sunderland, Portsmouth, Ipswich Town and Coventry City play]. Bury AFC won’t be using Bury FC’s Gigg Lane, but will be ground sharing at Radcliffe FC’s Stainton Park.
So that’s what happened to Ellan Vannin. Their idea is being put into practice, four years later and in a different format. Football is a funny old game. I hope it resumes soon.