Mr Foote: Your lane is A-OK

MR FOOTE. You might be a long time dead and gone, but, my oh my, your lane is serving you and us proud.

MR FOOTE. You might be a long time dead and gone, but, my oh my, your lane is serving you and us proud.

I refer, if you have not guessed, to the epicentre of modern-day Guernsey sport, the home of hockey, rugby and, of course, Guernsey FC.

And while I could not help noticing various leading Jersey sports officials last week griping about the standard of sporting facilities in the sister isle, it got me thinking that we in Guernsey really are a lucky lot in 2012.

If you wanted proof of it, you should have been down ‘The Lane’ last Saturday afternoon when no sooner had up to 700 rugby fans dispersed from watching a London One South thriller with the unexpected extras of a major brawl to bring it to the boil, than another 400 or so swamped around the Guernsey Hockey Club a few yards away to watch our hockey lads take down visiting Truro.

Footes Lane not only looks good, it feels so good on most Saturday winter afternoons these days, and it is fast burying the old notion that the Track is the best place to watch team sport.

It is also a mighty fine venue in the midst of a major improvement which is soon to give the rugby players and island athletes an onsite weights room and gymnasium which will double as the High Performance Programme’s Strength and Conditioning Centre, plus a spanking new rugby clubhouse integrated within the Garenne Stand and several dozen additional seats looking down over the 100m finish line on the running track.

Finally, after all these years, we are seeing the venue being maximised, which must be of some relief and pleasure to the Culture and Leisure Department, who never intended it simply to be a place to base the 2003 Island Games around, but saw it being roundly criticised as a football venue and the spectre of it becoming a white elephant.

Nowadays, I don’t hear the regular 1,000+ regular GFC fans quibble about a lack of atmosphere.

They turn up, see their team win with flowing football and go home more than happy. There is ample parking and, although it might be a yawn waiting for the end-of-game car jam to evaporate, it really is no problem.

Footes Lane is a sporting gem and if King George V Field, earmarked for a major revamp over the next couple of years, can follow suit, then Guernsey sport can crow even louder.

But back to last Saturday.

Even before a ball had been kicked or struck, bowl rolled or starting gun fired, I fancied it might be one of those very special sporting weekends that Guernsey has got accustomed to experiencing every now and then.

I won’t single any sport or individual out for achieving more than anyone else, other than to say all of our island sports stars across hockey, rugby, football, bowls and athletics, brought their ‘A game’ to the table.

Let’s have more in 2012.

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IT APPEARS one ruffled the feathers of the chairman of the Guernsey Island Games Association, David Inglis, for suggesting that with hindsight the choice of Bermuda as the 2013 Island Games venue is far from ideal and damn right over-expensive.

My point was that the IIGA’s biennial experience should be treated less as a holiday club, and the cost to the athletes should be as important as any other issue.

I want to be in Bermuda, I want it to be successful all-round and not least for the Guernsey teams, but the more information I hear from across the Channel Islands, the more I worry that 2013 will be a damp squib and the teams will be makeshift selections chosen more on the basis of who can afford to travel. Nobody could surely argue against such a scenario being both unfortunate and unwanted.

Yes, we have a duty to support Bermuda and I am sure it will be a wonderful backdrop, but if a large slice of the cream of IIGA sportsmen and women are missing due to the high costs, then in my eyes it will not have been such a good idea to take the event across the Atlantic for the first time.

*

HAVING battered the Guernsey Football Association on any number of issues this season, it is time to give them a pat on the back for its new Academy initiative.

The James Blower steered creation – he is fast becoming a super agent for the GFA and might consider changing his surname to Bond – is a very positive move in an area where Guernsey football has sadly lagged behind Jersey for a decade.

It won’t make everything right, but it is more than simply a sign of intent that I hope can be built upon.

For too long now the marvellous island-wide efforts of our clubs at minis level has been wasted by what is happening [or not] at youth level, which in turn hurts the senior scene.

Both GFA and clubs have been to blame for this inertia, of course.

The association came forward with some superb ideas, not least the now defunct under-21s league, as part of its four-year plan, but the short-sighted clubs scuppered that.

We are back to having no adequate step between island/Priaulx level and under-18s, with the Jackson being a washout with just 27 games having been played in nearly five months and North, arguably the island’s strongest club, having played just twice.

No wonder footballers head to the social leagues with a fixture schedule as appealing as that.

*

I SENSE a greater air of diplomacy around football since James Bond, sorry Blower, entered the GFA.

But with every victory gained by Bedfont Sports, followers of island ‘footy’ should be nervous. Not very nervous, but at least acquaint themselves with where the sedatives are.

The closer Bedfont get to the Green Lions at the top of the Combined Counties League Division One table – and the difference remains just four points – the greater the chance of a seismic split in selection come Muratti semi-final weekend.

Personally, I still fancy Tony Vance’s GFC boys, who just so happen to be our first-choice Muratti men too, will be out of sight of Bedfont and have their hands on the league trophy come 17 March, but with every Bedfont win the title picture gets cloudier and the potential for greater trouble beckons.

It is, of course, so, so needless – and we do not only have the Guernsey Football Association to blame on this one.

It may have installed this ridiculous new ruling which threatens to debar any player who does not put ‘country’ first, but for me the attitude of the Alderney FA also whiffs.

Such was confirmed by Keith Webster as recently as last weekend when the AFA president was quoted in these pages as being intent never to move for Guernsey FC and that tradition was everything to him and the Ridunians. ‘Why should they change, it has nothing to do with us,’ was the attitude.

Might I remind him that the real tradition in Alderney football is a very sad case of losing. Alderney’s record in a three-team competition can be described as hapless at best, with its last win in 1920, when a chappie called Lihou scored the only goal of the game at Westmount in Jersey to send our guys home more than a touch embarrassed.

Between then and now the Blues have taken some fearful beatings: 18-0 to Jersey in 1994, 12-0 to Guernsey in 1978, plus a few more double-figure thrashings in post-war times.

They are horrible scores and some would argue they have been lucky not to be shown the door, but there have been signs in recent years that those days of Alderney capitulation are behind us.

That, surely, has something to do with the fact that Guernsey allows its team to play in our domestic leagues. The bigger island keeps the smaller island’s football afloat. They should be indebted to us, not hostile and unhelpful.

This biennial Muratti semi-final fixture problem for Guernsey and Alderney is not going to go away while GFC exists.

So I urge every arm of the Inter-Insular Committee to think this through. Their conclusion should be that each island acknowledges that if one of their number is seeking to better itself, as Guernsey is through GFC, then they should be happy to assist.

Of course, we ‘Guerns’ have fun at Jersey’s expense in all sports, but at the same time it is good for us that they are strong as we feed off each other’s aspirations and achievements.

I want to beat Jersey, but I want to beat a successful and talented Jersey team because it feels more satisfying.

I would hate to see the GFA refuse to budge on a date if Jersey needed it to play an important fixture or tournament. I even hope they find the cash to join us on the UK league pyramid.

As for Alderney.

I would dearly love to see its football chalk up another Muratti win after all these decades, but if we do our bit to help them improve – and allowing them to play in our league can only be seen as offering a helping hand surely – then it is fair to expect that the Ridunians should hope that the Guernsey game also flourishes.

Not being obstructive when the GFA and GFC are faced with the awkward issue of working around each other for everyone’s benefit, should be a prerequisite for an association sitting inside the shores of our Bailiwick.

Come on Alderney, play the game.