Months of preparation, organisation and determination culminated in twenty-two men taking the pitch at Ganders Green Lane to make history. Ellan Vannin, previous World Football Cup finalists four years ago at the inaugural competition in Östersund, Sweden were the opponents for Cascadia, a bioregion of North America comprised of the states of Washington, Oregon and British Columbia.
For the second time in the last six months, the Isle of Man-based side were the first-ever opponents for a new CONIFA side, having drawn 1-1 with Yorkshire in January when they made their international bow.
The Cascadia squad had only met each other for the first time forty-eight hours before kick-off, but had the likes of former MLS star James Riley and Nykøbing FC midfielder Jordan Wilson in their starting line-up. Wilson made over thirty appearances for the Danish second tier side and his experience and match fitness was one of the bright spots for the North American side.
Before kick off it was expected that Ellan Vannin would control the early encounters as the Cascadia players adapted to each other’s traits and abilities, but it was the men wearing all white who look brighter to begin with, as they attacked quickly and in large numbers, continually exposing Ellan Vannin in the wide areas.
It was the Manx side who took the lead and scored the first goal of the tournament though, with Stephen Whitley scoring a fantastic half volley from outside the box that gave the Cascadia keeper very little chance.
Only three minutes later though Josh Doughty made Cascadia history by scoring their first ever international goal, a low ball was drilled into the box from the left and the midfielder made no mistake from 10 yards out, much to the delight of the dozens of travelling fans.
Ellan Vannin made sure they went into the half time break in front after some good work down the left flank from Daniel Simpson. He squared the ball across the six yard box and gave Frank Jones to score his seventeenth international goal with a simple tap in at the back post.
The second half will be one that lives long in the memory of the Ellan Vannin side as two clinical finishes put Cascadia to the sword and gave their coach James Nichols plenty to think about going into their final two group games this weekend.
The Isle of Man team had the ball in the net before it was disallowed for offside, but they were awarded a free kick for a previous infringement. Defender James McVey made no mistake and powered the ball into the top corner from more than 30 yards out to give his side a two goal cushion.
They quickly added a fourth goal when right back Sam Caine picked up the ball inside his own box, slalomed through several tired Cascadia tackles before bursting into the box and placing a neat finish past William Marment.
Cascadia fatigued in the last fifteen minutes and gave the ball away in some dangerous areas on several occasions, but overall it was an encouraging start to life on the international scene, however they will now need positive results against Tamil Eelam and a formidable looking Barawa side if they are to upset the odds and progress to the quarter finals.
Ellan Vannin however know that one more win in their last two games will almost certainly guarantee them a place in the next round. They may need to adapt to playing slightly wider and provide their full backs with more cover, but the link up play from Sean Doyle and Ciaran McNulty when he came off the bench was impressive, especially as many of the sides in the competition aren’t the most physically imperious.
Both sides will meet their next opponents at Carshalton Athletic on Saturday with Cascadia taking on Barawa, followed by a tie between Ellan Vannin and Tamil Eelam.