Saturday, 4 July 2015

Hitra 1 v 4 Shetland Islands

Monday 28th June 2015
Island Games Group C
Le Squendez, St Brelade
Admission: Free
Programme: N/A
Attendance: 500 (estimate)
Match Rating: 4

For (sadly) my last game of the 2015 Island Games, my hand was forced somewhat with my flight home scheduled at 20.40, and this ground being the only one of the early evening games that would allow me sufficient time to catch the flight. Not that taking in this game was any great hardship for me, featuring the Shetland Islands, who I have a soft spot for having had a fabulous holiday there as well as taking in plenty of football three years ago.

St Brelade's ground is located beside the bus route from St Helier to the airport, and only about a twenty minute walk southwards from the airport. This is another ground with very limited spectator facilities, with both lengths just lined off with rope, no hard standing, but it does have a nice setting, lined closely by tall hedges on three sides, giving an enclosed feel to the ground, whilst behind one of the goals is the large wooden clubhouse, which is large and spacious inside, and although it is has a rather dated and tired look, has plenty of character and interesting memorabilia inside. The clubhouse also provides a decking area to watch the football from, with picnic tables scattered along, and a tea bar hatch as well. Similar to my earlier venue at St Clements, it's a great place to watch football in warm, sunny conditions.

This would be the Shetland Islands' first tournament since 2009, having missed the 2001 games on the Isle of Wight. They won gold when they hosted the games in 2005, but otherwise have had an unremarkable record whenever they have entered a team. Hitra have only entered the mens football twice previously, finishing second bottom in both 1997 and 1999.

With the very warm sunshine continuing for the duration of this match, the Shetland Islands thought they had opened the scoring with just four minutes on the clock when a free kick was headed in to the net by Erik Thompson, but the goal was ruled out for offside. However, it was Hitra, somewhat against the run of play, who opened the scoring on 18 minutes, when an upfield ball was deflecting into the path of the striker, who got to the ball just before the keeper to touch it into the net. Hitra had their best spell of the match, looking the more likely to score now, until the Shetland Islands were awarded a penalty on the half hour mark for a foul tackle close to the left edge of the area. Leighton Flaws slotted the penalty into the bottom left corner of the net. Hitra still looked the more likely to score though, the closest they came to was three minutes before the break, when a vicious shot on the turn struck the top of the crossbar and went over.

For the first half hour of the second half, the game looked like it could swing either way, but shortly after Hitra saw a powerful shot destined for the top corner palmed away, the Shetland Islands took the lead on 75 minutes. They were awarded a free kick after a quick direct run from deep was unceremoniously brought to an end by two defenders, and Flaws curled the ball into the net beyond the dive of the keeper. Seven minutes later and the Shetland Islands were awarded their second penalty of the match, again for a rash challenge towards the edge of the area. Flaws fired the ball to the left of the goal with the keeper diving the other way, to claim his hat-trick from set-pieces. The game was put beyond all doubt just a minute later, when Thompson blocked the keeper's attempted clearance and the ball rolled into the empty net. Hitra were a beaten side by now, and Shetland could have made the scoreline even more convincing. They'll have been happy enough though to have got the win and given themselves a reasonable chance of qualifying for the semi-finals, needing to win by more than one goal than the Isle of Wight.

In the end, they did just that, beating the Falkland Islands 5-0 whilst the Isle of Wight could only win 3-1 against Hitra. The Shetlands went on to lose their semi final 1-3 to the Isle of Man, and finished fourth place overall after losing 0-1 to Menorca in the the third/fourth place play-off. Hitra finished 15th after a resounding 6-1 win in their play-off game against Alderney.

And so, at the final whistle I rather sadly walked to the airport and left the island, leaving behind a thoroughly enjoyable couple of days there taking in some enjoyable football in friendly, welcoming and generally rural surroundings, and was blessed with beautiful weather conditions. Realistically, it is unlikely I will make the 2017 Island Games in Gotland, but hopefully the 2019 Games on Menorca will be my next taste of the so-called "Friendly Games"

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