A summer’s day, 2019. I am sitting in the then Gef HQ on Douglas Quay, watching the sparkle on the still water. It is early afternoon and the day-drinkers are making their way to The Bridge, ready for beers, wines, ciders and laughter in the sun. I remember this day so clearly, etched in my mind as it was, like a child writing their name in sand.
Why so vivid a recollection? Maybe it’s because of the unrelenting horror of 2020, coming at us with its Stephen King plotlines and barely believable devastation. It’s possible I have conjured up much of the idyllic visual imagery in my own head. Hindsight is an unreliable narrator, after all. It adds bursts of popping colour to even the most monochrome of memories.
The day plays itself to me, on the projector in my mind’s eye, and I think it’s for two reasons. It’s about endings and beginnings. For me, I knew my halcyon days working in the Gef office were coming to an end. But running parallel to that bittersweet numb was a pulsing burst of vital energy running through me like an electrical current. I was pumped. Fizzing with life and ready to charge at the world re-energised and ready.
This was about beginnings…
The man I had just been chatting with, in the bowels of Gef HQ, hidden away from the searing heat in an underground bunker, whilst I was frantically scribbling notes and double-checking my Dictaphone hadn’t run out of battery, well, he was inspiring. You don’t meet people like that too often. But when you do, those souls take permanent residency in your memory. And it’s not so much what they say but more the feeling that emanates from them, that clings to the hull of one’s recall like plucky barnacles, forever entrenched. That comes from authenticity. From meaning what they say. From passion that burns within them, pouring out of them like molten lava. It’s an intoxicating, exhausting feeling when it’s all done.
That man was the then Isle of Man Football Association men’s manager, Paul Jones. He is cordial, friendly and regales me with stories of his professional career to date. There is a frank honesty about him which ingratiates him immediately and he speaks with eloquence and measured restraint about the game he loves. His CV is impressive. His knowledge, unquestionable. There is a moment, fifteen minutes or so into the chat, when I lose myself to fanboy geekdom as he tells me about his time working at my team, Glasgow Rangers. There are many different articles I could write. There are many other stories to be told. Yet today, and tomorrow, only have space for the most pertinent one.
I catch a glimpse at his drink. A lukewarm froth has formed around the ridge of the inner mug, coffee untouched by a mouth yet to come up for air, nor down for refreshment. The story was about FC Isle of Man. The project was, at the time, in its gestational period. Doubtless, most of you are now aware of how far they have come. I was swept up in Paul’s rhetoric. Words rushed at me, ravens flying adroitly through the air, always coming back; a charcoal winged swish.
Paul had a vision. A grand vision. Of driving a project to provide a pathway for Manx footballers. To help offer opportunity to Manx sportspeople, many of whom have had the ability to succeed professionally but without the requisite support network to aid their transition. And, at the same time, galvanising the community. The idea was to create a club: FC Isle of Man. To start at the lowest rung of the semi-professional game in England and to work our way to the top. It was romantic, it was pie in the sky but Paul had me believing…
We shook hands and said our goodbyes. I swigged from my beer, reflecting on ends and beginnings. I was tired and exhilarated and sad. The gulls hung above the yachts and I was lost to thoughts of what had been and what could be.
12 months later…
The headlines are all over the Manx press. The social media campaign is in full swing. COVID19 places grey gloom over the parade and curtails progress. But as the Island comes out of its shell, with turtle-like tentativeness, there is hope. FC Isle of Man exist! Paul Jones’ dreams and vision are happening. The Manx FA formally approve their application; there are confirmed sponsorships with Manx Telecom and Rex Motor Company; a legendary ensemble of the best that the Man Isle can offer in coaching and physiotherapy are appointed, with Jones taking on Director of Football duties and, most crucially of all, FC Isle of Man are granted a place in the North West Counties Football League. This is really happening.
And, at the time of writing, the club’s inaugural match against Guernsey is approaching. On Saturday 15 August 2020, a momentous day in Manx sporting history will occur. There is a lot to reflect on. For so many of us during this unprecedented time, life has felt curtailed, on hiatus, dampened, tore down and lost; as though the fabric of our very normal customs have been ripped open. Many of us have been low, some of us have experienced sorrow, unfathomable sorrow that slices through the hope and the bright light of the new. But, life endures. We exist and we must continue apace.
This is the start of something. You may not even be a football fan but, hopefully, this seems greater than sport. This is about community. Unity. Our Island. Proud and bursting with patriotic pride. Supporting our own and standing whichever way you throw us.
No matter how bad yesterday was; there’s always tomorrow.
I caught up with Paul ahead of the big match. Read about it in the coming days but in the meantime, head to www.fcisleofman.im for all information about becoming a member, snapping up a ticket and all FC Isle of Man news.