The Isles of Scilly are home to the smallest league in the world
Even legends such as David Beckham and Patrick Vieira have paid a visit
Andrew Hicks scores goals like Cristiano Ronaldo
It was one of those moments that played out as if in slow motion. The ball rolled over the bumpy turf and across the penalty area. Time seemed to stand still for a moment at Garrison Field as it reached the tall, formidable figure of the Garrison Gunners’ target man.
With only seconds left in the match, this was a huge opportunity for "Big G" to score the winner. Although the striker had not found the target all season, all he needed to do was roll the ball into the empty net from a few metres out. As it left his foot, team-mate and captain Andrew Hicks’s heart was in his mouth – only to see the shot strike the post! As Hicks looked down in despair, he saw the ball roll over the line out of the corner of his eye. Goal! The final whistle blew to seal the game – and the championship – for the Gunners.
"That might be the worst goal I’ve ever witnessed, but I’ve also never seen anyone as proud and relieved as Garraf 'Big G' Torrens was at that moment. It was the best thing I’ve ever experienced in football," explained an enthusiastic Hicks, describing the special moment in such detail that it felt as if we were watching it live.
Listening to the way this 42-year-old family man and shipbuilder talks about the beautiful game reminds you what the sport is all about: passion and a love of the game.
The scene he described played out at the football field on St. Mary’s which, despite measuring just six square kilometres, is the largest of more than 140 islands that make up the Isles of Scilly, situated approximately 50 kilometres off England’s southwest coast. The island’s only two teams – the Garrison Gunners and the Woolpack Wanderers – meet in the Scillies’ only division every Sunday at 10:30. Welcome to the world’s smallest league. As members of the English Football Association, it even has an entry in the Guinness Book of Records.
In addition to a championship in which both teams play each other 18 times a season, there are also two cup competitions: the Wholesalers and the Foredeck Cup. As if that were not enough, the ‘Old Men versus the Youngsters’ game is played on Boxing Day each year – and it was in one of these matches that Hicks had his own greatest footballing moment.
Although he and the Old Men lost 7-1 to the Youngsters, he scored his team’s only goal, which he describes proudly as "a bicycle kick like the one Cristiano Ronaldo scored against Juventus" before clearing his throat and laughing. Whatever the case, Hicks’ goalscoring record certainly resembles that of the Portuguese superstar, with a sensational 160 goals to his name in around 150 games over 15 years.
Off the pitch, Hicks’ greatest moment is also closely associated with a footballing legend. He got the chance to meet David Beckham when he and a few other stars including Steven Gerrard and Patrick Vieira visited the Scilly Isles for an adidas advertising campaign. "That was surreal and a dream come true," Hicks recalled.
Appropriately enough for the smallest league in the world, a ‘Best of Scilly’ XI takes on a team from Cornwall each year to claim the world’s smallest trophy. At just six millimetres high, the trophy presented to the winners of the Lyonesse Cup has also earned itself an entry in the Guinness Book of Records, while a replica is even on display at the FIFA World Football Museum in Zurich.
Despite growing media interest and visits from former footballing legends, finding enough players remains the biggest challenge. The difficulty of travelling around the Scillies makes it impossible to include teams from other islands in the league. As violent storms and frequent fog mean arrival and departure times cannot be relied upon, the pool of players is limited to the almost 2,000 inhabitants of St. Mary’s. Budding footballers traditionally meet in the Scillonian Club pub before the start of each season to appoint two captains, who then select their two teams. This results in blended sides and an annual draft similar to those seen in American sports such as the NBA (National Basketball Association).
Same place, same time, same teams – doesn’t it all get a little dull? "It’s only boring without football," said perennial goalscorer and league secretary Hicks, admitting that he tried to live without the beautiful game for the past four years, only to make his comeback this season. "I hope my wife doesn’t hear this, but I realised that football just means everything to me," the Arsenal fan and three-time league top scorer confessed. "It felt like something was missing."
Since coming out of retirement, Hicks has resolved to keep lacing up his boots for as long as he can – and he has another dream to fulfil. "I’ll keep playing as long as my bones can carry me, and it would be great to be able to step out onto Garrison Field with my son one day." As his son is currently only three-years-old, it looks like Hicks will be playing on for a while yet.
This article is part of ‘The Global Game’ series which focuses on football away from the spotlight. Next week our journey takes us to Malta.