It's a Scilly old game

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World's smallest football league

How many teams around the world are guaranteed at least runners-up spot every season and an appearance in two cup finals?

As has been evident in the English Premier League this term and, indeed, in the most recent Africa Cup of Nations, unpredictability is what often creates the greatest stories and the most gripping drama.

One of football's well-worn cliches suggests "nothing is guaranteed".

Well, it is if you live on the Isles of Scilly. Because it is here, 30 miles off the south-west coast of England, where a top two finish is assured. There is also a 100% certainty that your team will feature in two cup finals.

The evidence to back-up this bold statement is found at the top of a steep coastal road on the main island of St Mary's. Your senses are heightened as you emerge from the tree-lined path, stare into the sunlight and stand for a moment as the sounds of the Atlantic Ocean are carried on the cool sea breeze.

Once your eyes have re-adjusted, the black letters on the side of the wooden hut confirm you are in the right place: 'Garrison Field, home to the smallest football league in the world.'

That league consists of the bare minimum. It is made up of two teams, Garrison Gunners and Woolpack Wanderers. And these two teams meet 18 times in the league, once in the 'final' of the Wholesalers Cup and over two legs to decide the winners of the Foredeck Cup. There is also a Charity Shield played at the start of each new season.

In all, the same teams meet on the same pitch at the same time every Sunday morning a total of 22 times a season.

The lack of competition, which stretches back to the early 1980s when an inter-island league ceased to exist, does not seem to bother any of those involved, including regular referee Paul Charnock.

Former Conference official Charnock, who retired to St Mary's a few years back and is now the regular man in the middle, said: "These lads have the Corinthian spirit. They just want to play football, pure and simple."

One thing worth pointing out is that there is a small element of unpredictability. At the start of each season, the available players are assigned to one of the two teams.

Woolpack Wanderers' skipper, Anthony Gibbons, explained: "It's pretty much like school-yard rules. The players' names are put down on a piece of paper, broken down by positions.

"We flip a coin and the two captains then take it in turns to pick their squad for the year."

Unfortunately, Anthony's selections have not brought him the success he yearned. Unlike last season, when the league title was only determined in the last five minutes of the final match, the Lioness Shield was claimed by Garrison Gunners many weeks ago.

Andrew Hicks, who plays for the Gunners, said: "I think it takes it back to the grass-roots of football. We want to organise a league, and we have enough players to make two teams. You have two teams, you have a league."

The Scilly Isles come alive during the summer months, with tourists flocking to enjoy the beautiful beaches and stunning scenery. It's a hectic time for the locals, most of whom earn their living through the tourist trade. During the winter, pace of life is slower, which gives added importance to the regular football.

Mike Green has lived on St Mary's for 26 years. He used to play. Now he is one of a small number of loyal supporters who turn up every week to watch.

"We live together, work together and play football together. That's how it should be," he said.

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