Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The 2011 Island Games: Western Isles v Åland

A proud supporter waves the Åland flag at the Newport FC Island Games bus stop.
I returned to the Isle of Wight on Monday to watch the match between Åland and the Western Isles, which took place at the island's largest football venue, St George's Park, in Newport. The weather was hot and dreary, with the occasional dollop of rain. The game itself wasn't particularly exciting - Åland were just a little sharper up front, otherwise the teams were evenly matched.

The Åland team pose for a group photo. It must be uncomfortable squatting like that for too long.
It was more interesting watching the other people in the crowd for a lot of the time. The Western Isles fans were on one side of the main stand; the Åland flag-wavers were in a small block to their right. There were between ten and twenty supporting each side, with the rest of the crowd of 152 being neutral. Nowhere near as noisy as the previous match I went to between Greenland and Rhodes, both off and on the pitch - both teams playing with a certain North European reserve.
This dog was being fed chips outside the snack bar.
The highlights on the pitch were the two second-half Åland goals, the second of which was an absolute cracker - a 40 yard lob over the goalie's head into the top corner. Very Matthew Taylor-esque in its execution (or for the Saints fans amongst you, Matthew Le Tissier-esque - that good!). The Scotsmen huffed and puffed, but were unable to break through at all. I would say that they weren't going to score in a month of Sundays, but as they don't play on Sundays due to their religious beliefs, that will always be the case! 0-2 meant that they were the first team to be knocked out of the tournament.
The second-largest football stand on the Isle of Wight.
I spent some time wondering where Åland is (I hadn't checked before I set off). I knew that it's in the Baltic, but I didn't know to which nation they belong, or what language they speak (Finland and Swedish being the answers!). The other thing that bothered me as I ate my half-time banana was the name of the little 'o' that resides on the top of the capital A in Åland (I still don't know!). I know a circumflex is a little pointy hat for French vowels; an umlaut is the double-dot of choice for heavy metallers the world over; and I know which way the acute and grave accents point in French. But the little 'o'? It's so Scandinavian and mysterious. I like it.
Keeper's ball! Another Western Isles attack comes to nothing.
I also wondered about the beautiful sandy beaches on Barra and Benbecula on the Western Isles. I wondered if anybody ever goes there to sunbathe; I wondered if the beaches were covered in smelly seaweed; I wondered if the sand was full of sandhoppers. I'd like to visit the beaches of Barra and Benbecula one day and find out for myself.
A fair challenge sees the Western Isles gallop forward.
I might see Åland again later in the week, as I hope to go back and watch some more matches on Thursday and Friday. After today's results, it appears that they have finished dead level with Saaremaa at the top of their group, after the Estonian island also beat the Scotsmen 2-0. Whether they will draw lots, or have a penalty shootout, or have a fishing competition on the Medina to decide the group winner remains to be seen.
Your number is falling off, sir!
I don't know who I shall see yet, but there will be further match reports and photos later in the week.
The official Team Åland water bottle.

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