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Powering the world’s smallest football league

01 Nov 2021Digital Society

One hundred years ago, football fans on the Isles of Scilly hatched a plan.

Without the internet or television, islanders were unable to enjoy the football tournaments that were growing rapidly in popularity across the UK - so they set up a league of their own.

For around 30 years, the islands of St. Mary's, Tresco, St. Martins, Bryher and St. Agnes competed for the glory of winning the Lyonnesse Inter-Island Cup. But as is the case for many rural areas, young people gradually moved away to seek employment in towns and cities. By the 1950s, only two clubs remained.

Today, the Garrison Gunners and the Woolpack Wanderers make up the world’s smallest football league, playing each other around 20 times over a season.

Isles of Scilly 5G football league

The teams must be evenly matched to keep the game exciting – and this means switching them up every year. At the beginning of the season, the captains use a fail-proof system to determine who plays for which team.

“Me and the two captains go down the pub and flip a coin - and that determines if you’re a Garrison Gunners or a Woolpack Wanderers,” explains Anthony Gibbons, the Chairman of the Isles of Scilly Football League.

But the game is competitive, even though the players know who they’re up against each week.  For the 90 minutes out on the pitch, winning is all that matters.

“We don’t have that many fans – we get a few birdwatchers waking past, and they sometimes watch,” says Gibbons thoughtfully. “We do have one avid fan called Keith.”

But we’re hoping to change that. In 2019, Vodafone extended its high speed 5G network to the Isles of Scilly and signed a 5G sponsorship agreement with St Mary’s Association Football Club, which manages the Isles of Scilly football league and is a prominent focus for the local community. Together, we’re inviting more fans to watch the league, wherever they are in the world – because games are now live streamed over 5G.

Vodafone's 5G network also supported the launch of the first ever crowdsourced fan-assisted referee (FAR) system. Anyone with a compatible smartphone can become a remote assistant referee, reviewing disputed penalties, goals or red cards and delivering their verdict instantly back to the match official.

Isles of Scilly 5G football league

And it isn’t all about football. Next-generation networks in rural areas are critical for creating new jobs, enabling flexible working, improving the productivity of agriculture, and enhancing local public services. For the Isles of Scilly, 5G will boost tourism and allow people to gain instant access to online education and healthcare services usually only available to people on the UK mainland.

 “This is a big deal not just for the league, but for everyone,” says Gibbons. “This long-term partnership respects the heritage of the league yet brings it into the 21st century. The improved communications will hopefully help stem the flow of young people leaving the island permanently and attract more visitors.”

It’s a unique opportunity to bring people together and create exciting opportunities for the residents of these beautiful islands.

5G | World's smallest and most connected football league #5Gamechanger | Vodafone UK - YouTube
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