FA Cup: Guernsey FC's very own Zico eyeing successful run
Two years ago Ryan-Zico Black was getting ready to play in Brazil's historic Maracana stadium, sharing the pitch with his legendary Brazilian namesake in front of 70,000 fans.
On Saturday, the 34-year-old forward will board a flight to Gatwick Airport with the rest of his Guernsey FC team-mates for an FA Cup preliminary round tie against Phoenix Sports in Barnehurst, south-east London.
When Black's parents compromised on his unusual first name in 1981, little could they have known that he would go on to play alongside Romario, Leonardo and Adriano in the annual Amigos do Zico (Friends of Zico) charity match at the famous Rio venue.
Black, a non-league journeyman and author of a book detailing the reality of life as a semi-professional footballer, was invited by former midfielder Zico after his story was documented on Brazilian television.
The Guernsey-born player, whose list of former clubs include Morecambe, Bamber Bridge, Lancaster City and Rossendale United, flew to Rio and appeared on the same pitch as the scorer of 48 goals in 71 Brazil appearances, despite a last-minute scare.
"The night before the game my fiancee and I went to a restaurant and I had steak," Black told BBC Sport. "I woke up in the middle of the night feeling ill. My fiancee had to rush to the pharmacy the next morning for some tablets.
"There was no way I was going to miss out on playing at the Maracana in a match featuring Zico. It's the stuff of dreams. It was an unforgettable experience."
The Maracana is a world away from where Black plies his trade - for no pay - for Guernsey FC, nicknamed the Green Lions, in the eighth-tier Isthmian League Division One South.
"Guernsey FC are a new club, this is only our fifth season. A good FA Cup run would be great exposure for the team, fans and the island," he added.
Who are Guernsey FC?
Black has played for Guernsey FC from the very beginning, scoring the Channel Island club's first ever goal against AFC Wimbledon in a pre-season friendly four years ago at the 5,000-capacity ground they share with the local rugby union club.
They were accepted into the 10th-tier Combined Counties Football League Division One on the condition they pay the travel costs and overnight accommodation of all visiting teams and match officials.
It's a condition that still exists after two promotions in their first four full seasons.
"We have to raise £400,000 every season just to cover the running costs," Steve Dewsnip, chairman and co-founder of the club told BBC Sport. "We don't pay our players any money, we're a registered charity and the club is owned and run for the benefit of the local Guernsey community.
"We're fortunate to have support of so many different sponsors, over 100 different businesses or people provide sponsorship to the club."
One condition the club does impose on new signings is that they must live on the island, which has a population of around 66,000.
They were able to sign former Atletico Madrid youth player Guille Fernandez in July after he moved to the island to work in a hotel.
Dewsnip runs an investment fund business on the island and helped fund Black's trip to Brazil.
Black has Zico's signed shirt from when he captained Flamengo to a 3-0 win over Liverpool in the Intercontinental Cup in Tokyo in 1981 as a souvenir of his unforgettable experience in 2013, when he received a hug from the great man himself.
"He spent a moment with me before the game," he recalled. "During the game he gave me a hug and asked me if I was glad I was there.
"He was on the opposing team and 60 at the time. I started in central midfield and then ended up at centre-back."
5am alarm calls, planes, and a buffet
With Guernsey closer to France than England, Black and his team-mates will have to be out of bed at 05:00 BST to ensure they make their cup tie at the Phoenix Sports Ground on time.
After a one-hour flight to Gatwick Airport, the team face another one-hour coach trip to the ground after a team meeting and meal at an airport hotel.
Kick-off has been brought forward to 14:00 BST to ensure the Green Lions get back to Guernsey on the same day.
Win or lose there is a buffet in the clubhouse after the tie before departure back to Gatwick no later than 17:00 BST.
"A huge amount of planning goes into every away game," added Dewsnip. "The players are up at five o'clock in the morning to get an early plane off the island. Midweek games away from home involves the players staying in hotels.
"Our team is made up of amateur players so as soon they get back to Guernsey the morning after a game they are straight back into work."
Guernsey-born former Southampton and England midfielder Matt Le Tissier made an appearance for the club in April 2013. The 44-year-old came on for the last 10 minutes in a 4-2 defeat by Colliers Wood United.
Le Tissier, who made 541 appearances for the Saints, winning eight caps for England, was an honorary president of the Green Lions at the time but stepped down from the role in August 2014 because of work commitments.
His brother, Mark, is secretary and a founding director of the club.
Former Northern Ireland Under-21 international Black said: "I was once a mascot at Southampton and was on schoolboy forms there. Matt was a huge influence when I was growing up."
'My dream is to stage an FA Cup tie on Guernsey'
Saturday is the fifth FA Cup tie in Guernsey FC's short history.
After entering at the preliminary round stage in 2013-14, they reached the second qualifying round before losing to Dover Athletic. They were drawn at home but had to play the tie at the headquarters of the Sussex County Football Association at Lancing because a fixture clash with Guernsey RFU.
"We haven't played an FA Cup tie on Guernsey yet," said Dewsnip. "I will be a very proud man when we do.
"To host a tie in the world's most prestigious cup competition on Guernsey would be another milestone for the club."
|Guernsey FC facts|
|If Saturday's tie ends in a draw the replay will be played at Lewes FC in Sussex on 2 September as it is felt it is not right for teams to be expected to travel to Guernsey in midweek at short notice.||The Green Lions reached the FA Vase semi-final in their second season, attracting a club-record attendance to Footes Lane of 4,290 against Spennymoor Town.|
|Former Portsmouth and Oxford United keeper Chris Tardif, 35, is part of the squad.||Manager Tony Vance, 45, had a trial at Manchester United as a player and turned out for Wycombe Wanderers.|