2024/25 Season | Summary

Pitching In Northern League Divison 1 North West

PWDLFAPTS
1.Radcliffe Borough362457703977
2.FC ISLE OF MAN3622104884976
3.Atherton Collieries3620610694966

For the second successive year, FC Isle of Man players, staff and fans alike were all left asking the question ‘how did we not get promoted?’

Once again, manager Chris Bass showed faith with his squad with no transfer incomings whatsoever. This was a club for the people of the Isle of Man and he always said he would rather develop youth players from the island than pay for players from the mainland UK.

The Ravens started the season in much the same vein as they played the majority of the last. Picking up a maximum 18 points in the first 6 games showed a real signal of intent.

Striker Brian Esperance, now 31, seemed more like a fine wine and was maturing better than expected. A record breaking 6 goals in 1 game against Pontefract Collieries on 21st August 2024 was the high point for him in those early stages of the season where he hit the net 13 times in the opening 6 games.

FC Isle of Man didn’t taste defeat until Saturday 13th October 2024 when they visited West Auckland Town. A truly awful performance all round with a number of key players having an off day. It really was a turgid day, West Auckland frustrating The Ravens in an ugly match which saw 7 FC Isle of Man players pick up yellow cards.

The margin for error was small with last season’s title rivals Radcliffe Borough breathing closely down the necks of FC Isle of Man. In normal circumstances, FC Isle of Man’s tremendous start to the season would have seen them clear at the top with daylight in between but Radcliffe had also started well.

Radcliffe visited The Bowl on 9th November 2024 and a treat was in store for the 1,062 fans in attendance as the league’s top 2 squared up. Any late arrivals to the ground would have missed out on a lively start to proceedings. Brian Esperance put FC Isle of Man ahead after just 22 seconds, running on to a ball over the top from young homegrown midfielder James Jordan and blasting his shot into the roof of the net. However, just over 1 minute later, Radcliffe earned a corner, FC Isle of Man players missed chances to clear the ball and Smith was unmarked at the far post to stab it in the net. James Sunderland got The Ravens back in the lead in the 39th minute only for Radcliffe to get an equaliser through Ruzvidzo on the counter attack in the 41st. Radcliffe finally had a deserved second half lead just before the hour mark before Esperance, who else, levelled up in the 70th minute leaving all in the ground wondering which way this game was going to go with 20 minutes plus stoppages still to play. Inevitably, right at the death, the 4th minute of 4 added minutes, Radcliffe’s Ruzvidzo, who had been a nuisance all afternoon for the Ravens, played a precision through ball to Thompson that was like a dagger straight through Isle of Man hearts. From 2 yards out, Thompson had a simple side-footed finish. Thompson and his Radcliffe colleagues ran to their 30 or so supporters in the corner and celebrated knowing they had nicked 3 valuable points in the title race. A tough pill to swallow for all at FC Isle of Man.

From this point on, Radcliffe took the initiative in the race to be champions whilst the confidence of FC Isle of Man had taken something of a dip. Leads were surrendered at Tadcaster Albion (2-2) and Dunston (2-2) in the following games that really should have been won. Late draws were rescued away at Pontefract (1-1) and at Avro (1-1) in poor performances from the off. The truth of the matter was that FC Isle of Man were drawing too many games whilst the Radlciffe Borough machine marched on and by January the ‘Boro’ had a 10 point cushion.

The legend that is Brian Esperance added to his folklore with another extraordinary performance against Billingham Synthonia on 11th January 2025 at The Bowl. With The Ravens 3-1 down with 5 minutes to play, Esperance scored his 2nd of the afternoon to reduce the deficit to just 1 goal. The clock ticked on, the 4th official signalled for 5 minutes of additional time and it looked like the game was up. Esperance equalised in the 91st minute, put FC Isle of Man ahead in the 92nd and then smashed the ball into the roof of the net in the 95th! Headline making stuff from Brian Esperance, is there anything he couldn’t do?

If Esperance had sold his soul to the devil for his high level of performance the past few years then Beelzebub claimed it back on 22nd February 2025. Cruising at 3-0 away at Bamber Bridge, Esperance had scored his 40th goal of the campaign to open the scoring. Attacking down the left flank on a dangerous attack, Esperance looked to have beaten Bamber Bridge’s Joyce only for a collision to bring both players tumbling to the floor. Ravens manager Chris Bass looked on concerned as a stretcher was required to take the Dutch striker from the field of play. X-rays from Nobles Hospital in Douglas later that evening confirmed the worst, a fractured hip to Esperance and his season was over. How big of a blow was this was going to be for FC Isle of Man? Their talisman, the man who never gives up and has rescued FC Isle of Man more times than one can remember was facing up to 8 months on the sidelines.

March 2025 without Esperance was a difficult month for FC Isle of Man. Defeats to Skelmersdale (3-2), Trafford (2-3) and another draw with Tadcaster Albion (2-2) looked like their title race was going astray. However, the month of March hadn’t been plain sailing for Radcliffe Boro either and the upcoming game between the top 2 in Radcliffe on 29th March was looking more vital with just 4 points being the gap.

Goals from young backup striker Orville Reid and the ever dependable James Sunderland meant The Ravens got revenge over Radcliffe in a 2-1 win and the title promotion race was wide open. FC Isle of Man were now 1 point behind the leaders with just 4 games to play.

On 12th April 2025, FC Isle of Man claimed a 2-1 victory at The Bowl over City of Liverpool FC. Radcliffe were held 0-0 with Clitheroe and for the first time since October, FC Isle of Man had hit top spot, what a crucial time to do it.

The final day of the season away at Pickering Town just needed FC Isle of Man to win to seal promotion to the Northern Premier League. It did not go to plan. Labouring to a 1-1 draw whilst Radcliffe partied following a win over Tadcaster Albion.

The Ravens needed to pick themselves up from the disappointment of bottling the league title in such a wet fashion. Eastwood Town’s Coronation Park was the neutral venue for the playoff semi-final with Maldon & Tiptree. James Sunderland bagged a 65th minute winner to put the Ravens into the final.

Ashford United, runners-up in the Isthmian League Division 1 South West, were the opponents at Bedowrth United’s The Oval. A tense tight game requiring extra-time. Unfortunately, the 1 moment of real qaulity came from Ashford’s Brady Hickey who scored a long range effort in the 102nd minute to which FC Isle of Man could not reply. James Sunderland thought he had equalised for The Ravens in the 120th minute only to be cruelly and heartbringly flagged for offside. One wonders what difference Brian Esperance could have made if he was fit and available for selection? A 3rd season in the Northern Premier League Division 1 North West beckoned.

BRAD HICKEY WITH THE ASHFORD GOAL THAT KILLED THE RAVENS’ DREAM

Emirates FA Cup

14.09.2024Preliminary RoundWingate & Finchley (H)2-0
21.09.20241st Qualifying RoundGreat Wakering Rovers (A)2-1
05.10.20242nd Qualifying RoundPeacehaven & Telscombe (A)3-1
19.10.20243rd Qualifying RoundDulwich Hamlet (A)1-3

After a couple of disappointing campaigns in the FA Cup, the 20245/26 venture into the world’s oldest cup competition saw FC Isle of Man go further than ever before.

The biggest gate of the season at The Bowl all season long witnessed The Ravens make light work of Wingate & Finchley coming up 2-0 victors. The promising young midfielder Stewart McConville setting the ball rolling with a goal just before the break.

A long trip to Great Wakering Rovers in Southend-on-Sea followed a fortnight later. Going a goal down in the 1st half, it took goals from James Sunderland and a great curling effort from outside the box courtesy of left midfielder Akim Samms to seal the comeback and reward the 10 hardcore travelling fans from the Isle of Man.

An even longer journey followed to the south coast of England in the 2nd Qualifying Round this time to Peacehaven near Brighton. A rare start for right midfielder Alex Davies resulted in an early goal that was complemented with 2 goals from James Sunderland either side of half-time.

The 3rd Qualifying Round draw paired The Ravens against established Vanarama South side Dulwich Hamlet. It was always going to be a tough ask with Hamlet sitting high in the 6th tier at the time of the fixture. 92 Ravens fans made the journey via Heathrow to get a glimpse of their side playing for a chance of progressing in the FA Cup. Dulwich had an experienced squad and had the game won by half-time. Striker Jake Hutchinson, on loan from League 2’s Colchester, was too hot to handle and had bagged a hattrick by the 40 minute mark. Brian Esperance managed to snatch a consolation goal late on to at least give the FC Isle of Man fans something to cheer. Final score 3-1.

ESPERANCE HEADING HOME FC ISLE OF MAN’S CONSOLATION GOAL

Buildbase FA Trophy

02.11.20242nd Qualifying RoundAFC Rushden & Diamonds (H)3-2
05.11.20243rd Qualifying RoundFrome (A)3-2
14.12.20241st RoundHyde United (H)2-1
21.12.20242nd RoundSt.Albans City (H)4-2
18.01.20253rd RoundAFC Telford United (A)0-2

To accompany our best ever performance in the FA Cup, the FA Trophy provided it’s own healthy share of thrills, spills and bellyaches. It turned out to be FC Isle of Man’s longest ever cup run in any competition in the club’s short 4 year history and an enjoyable one too.

It was nearly over before it started however, 2-0 down in the 2nd Qualifying Round at home to AFC Rushden & Diamonds after just 29 minutes. James Sunderland pulled a goal back 2 minutes later to at least get the Ravens in at half-time 1 goal behind and with something to play for in the 2nd. Wesley Magee got FC Isle of Man back on level terms just after the hour. Substitute Andy Smythe bundled home a late winner, running on to a precision through ball from Wes Magee for a goal made and finished by homegrown Douglas born players, always nice to see. It wasn’t pretty, his shot rebounding back off the keeper and onto Smythe’s shin before trickling in, but it got the job done.

The 3rd Qualifying Round fixture with Frome Town, a picturesque postcard type of place, was scheduled just 4 days later and the lads showed no signs of fatigue in the first half, racing in to a 3-0 lead by the break. Tiredness did catch up with them with Frome scoring twice late on to threaten a comeback which luckily did not materialise.

Northern Premier League colleagues Hyde United awaited in the 1st Round where a last minute header from centre back Alex Morris from a Wes Magee corner saved the day and prevented the tie from heading into extra time.

Some argue that the 2nd Round performance against St.Alban’s City was one of the best ever performances by an FC Isle of Man side given the high level of the opposition. At the time, St.Alban’s were top of the Southern Premier League South, were looking unbeatable and were obvious favourites to progress. The Ravens showed good character to get back into the game after going a goal down after 14 minutes. Brian Esperance won and scored a penalty 3 minutes later opening the floodgates for goals from Stewart McConville, Akim Samms and James Sunderland to follow. A shock 4-2 win was how the Non-League Paper described it.

The 3rd Round provided a great day out for the fans at AFC Telford United’s impressive New Bucks Head. Easily a Football League standard venue with great facilities, the 1,752 attendance helped to provide a big match feel. Unfortunately for FC Isle of Man, Telford had a side to match their impressive surroundings. The Vanarama North side were dominant from the off and were comfortable in their 2-0 win. The Ravens were subdued and Telford could have and really should have won by a larger margin. Still, it had been an enjoyable cup run, comebacks, last minute winners, beating higher level of opposition and a great day out in a great stadium, it’s what football is all about.

AGHATISE SCORING AFC TELFORD’S OPENING GOAL OF THE GAME

Integro League Challenge Cup

17.09.20241st RoundAshton United (H)0-3

Scheduled in midweek between 2 lucrative FA Cup ties, manager Chris Bass was always going to field a weakened side in this competition.

Ashton United made light work of FC Isle of Man’s second string who had been encouraged to play for their shirts. Nobody really came out of this with any credit in honesty. The tone was set early on when left back Kane Bartholomew played a suicide ball across the box to his exposed goalkeeper. The wayward pass was easily cut-out and Ashton were a goal up. The 3-0 home defeat was the biggest defeat suffered at The Bowl in almost 2 years since 22nd October 2022.

ASHTON’S LEONARD CAPITALISING ON BARTHOLOMEW’S POOR BACKPASS TO HIS GK

The F.A. Youth Cup

25.09.20241st Qualifying RoundWarrington Town U18’s (A)3-1
09.10.20242nd Qualifying RoundHednesford Town U18’s (A)2-1
23.10.20243rd Qualifying RoundChesterfield U18’s (H)1-6

With the club securing ‘Category 4’ status for the Ravens Academy this meant entry for the 1st time into the prestigous F.A. Youth Cup.

It was a step into the unknown for U18’s caretaker manager Tony Semple and his U18 side as they looked to progress and learn as much as possible.

Young first teamers Stewart McConville and James Jordan were brought on from the bench to rescue FC Isle of Man when the game against Warrington Town looked like it was beginning to slip away. Promising Spanish centre back Ivan Benito headed the young Ravens ahead in the 27th minute from a corner. Warrington equalised with a lovely direct free kick just 6 minutes later. Ellison received his marching orders for a second bookable offence and McConville, with over 60 1st team appearances under his belt was brought on to steady the ship. Midfielder James Jordan, having this season made 10 1st team appearances entered the fray at half-time and this proved pivotal. McConville set up Jordan to put the 10 men FC Isle of Man in front and Jordan completed the scoring with his 2nd on 75 minutes.

Hednesford Town’s Keys Park proved to be an excellent venue for the 2nd Qualifying Round, a nice tidy ground with a good vantage point for 1st team manager Chris Bass in the impressive main stand to keep eye on his young Ravens. A competitive fixture with 17 year old pacey right winger Stephen McNeil being the stand out Raven, scoring the team’s second in a 2-1 win.

Chesterfield of the Vanarama National sent their U18’s to The Bowl for the 3rd Qualifying Round. It was nothing short of a reality bite for FC Isle of Man showing how much progress they still need to make. Even with the introduction of 1st teamers Stewart McConville and James Jordan after 70 minutes (at 5-0 down) couldn’t help FC Isle of Man improve. Final score, totally outclassed at 6-1. Caretaker U18’s manager Tony Semple hopes it was a good learning experience for all involved.

CHESTERFIELD’S ENNIS MAKES IT 4-0 FROM THE SPOT

FM21

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