Praise be for our enduring senior football clubs

SIT down all you hard-working stalwarts around our senior football clubs, I’m going to sing your praises.

SIT down all you hard-working stalwarts around our senior football clubs, I’m going to sing your praises.

I don’t think it is sudden madness on my part, simply a realisation, that like many observers of the wider island sports scene, we tend to overlook the social role played by our local football clubs.

Not only that, while across the Channel Islands sports scene sports clubs crash out of existence on a regular basis, our Priaulx clubs show remarkable resilience and determination to preserve their proud history and keep going regardless in ever-tougher times financially, socially, reducing voluntary numbers and advances by rivals.

It was a thumb through an old Guernsey Cricket Association yearly handbook which sparked the thought that when it comes to self-preservation and hardiness, the likes of North, Bels, Rangers, St Martin’s, Rovers, Sylvans and Vale Rec are winners all, offering their sport across the age-groups at sporting facilities the envy of many clubs up and down the UK.

North, the grand-daddy of them all, is 120 years old this month, Rangers hit the same mark next year, St Martin’s in 2014 and Belgraves, who were formed over a few pints in the Red Lion, are now 115 years young.

Vale Rec and Rovers are both 80 years old this year and Sylvans, who briefly fell by the wayside either side of the Occupation, will mark their centenary next year.

Their collective influence over scores of young men across many generations should be applauded by all, and amid rumours that a couple of them are experiencing hard times financially, you would hardly have guessed it when you see the clubhouses and well-manicured pitches.

In ever-changing times, though, and to varying degrees, it remains a struggle for them all when crowd numbers have dwindled to numbers which often barely cover the combined fee for match officials, bar takings are being hit by tougher drink-drive laws and the stigma of being caught out, young footballers (in particular) who want less commitment and sport on the cheap, the rise of the IAG Saturday League and self-harming GFA legislation, which has severely cut the playing numbers.

Around them, notable clubs with a lot of history about them, have gone to the wall.

Consider that in Jersey, in the past 50 years we have seen the demise of two-time Upton Park winners Georgetown, fellow Jersey champions Oaklands and Division One sides Springfield, Sporting Club Francais and the likes of Grand Vaux, Jersey Sylvans, Le Masuriers and Jersey Northerners.

In local cricket, dear old Pessimists, who also once had football and badminton sections, were closed, as were Taverners, St Martin’s,  Tortevites, Harlequins and Tektronix.

And in netball, we have said goodbye to the Nerine of their day, North, also CU champions Delancey and Capelles.

We too often take for granted that clubs will continue to exist when they cannot without balancing the books, volunteers and, as Tics found out last time around, players.

On top of that, many a club has sold their naming rights to a sponsor happy to cover the costs of shirts and fees.

But, thankfully, in top level local club football the club identity has

remained sacrosanct and in this tough old world you have to applaud them all for that stance.

All that said, the senior clubs will surely need to adapt to the changing times to survive long term and my main criticism of them is that together they have not been brave enough to change their ways.

To survive another 50 years, let alone a second century, all of them are going to have to box clever and adapt.

The football model of the late 1890s has not overly changed in a century and that is part of football’s problem.

Embracing the needs, desires and integration of social league football is perhaps one way to boost both the clubs and the GFA league structure in a pyramid with GFC sitting at the top for the elite and, in no time at all, offering island football fans the capability of watching the island’s best players taking on new challenges from the comfort of their own home, via home computers and iPads. Now, who would ever have imagined that happening?

But, whatever the future, we should all doff our hats to these loyal GFA clubs who, long before the likes of the Sports Commission came along, were doing their part to serve the recreational and social needs of the local community. Good on them.

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SHAME on those Combined Counties League Premier Division clubs that are threatening to pull the plug on GFC filming matches at their home grounds.

Egham Town and Hanworth Villa are two clubs who have indicated the GFC cameras – all one of them – won’t be welcome and I find it a pathetic reaction probably borne out of jealousy or, I strongly suspect, a route to making some money out of the Guernsey club.

That Guernsey FC film all their own matches that can surely only be an advantage to any rival coach wishing to learn about a side they have never previously played.

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ONE of the joys of this job is to see hard work behind the scenes pay off in the sporting arena.

One of the great frustrations has been to see a sport and its participants held back or discriminated against because of ludicrous, jealous rivalries.

A quarter-century ago when the Sarnia Amateur Boxing Club existed and thrived, the Amalgamated Boys’ Club pretty much detested their presence and vice versa.

If you boxed for one it was unlikely you would ever fight on the opposing club’s bill.

And who suffered?

The two factions that count: first and most important – the boxers; secondly, the local audiences who loved their boxing.

They still do now, of course, and it was great to see a different brand of spectator at last Saturday’s well-organised and entertaining white collar boxing night.

There was some very decent raw talent among the novices who have learned a lot from that wily veteran trainer Gerry Walsh, who has been helping out at Paul Wickham’s ONE2ONE gym in the Market Halls for some months.

Walsh now heads off to Australia for six months where he will be coaching boxing at a Police and Community Youth Club in New South Wales, but when he returns he hopes to

re-open the Sarnia Club and provide more opportunities for those who, he believes, want to take up the sport.

It seems a pretty decent idea to me, not least because Graham Guilbert’s fine team at the Amalgamated Boys’ Club cannot take unlimited numbers and give them regular ring time.

I have never, and don’t envisage starting now, taken sides on this issue, but it was intriguing to see several of the Amalgamated Club boxing stars at St Pierre Park last Saturday and, among them, two of their biggest names in the sport – Matt Jennings and James Woolnough – help out with some judging.

I understand another high-profile boxer present declined to sit in a judge’s seat because he thought it would be more trouble than its worth and upset his current ‘employer’.

The island is too small for needless factions that harm the sport, so if Gerry Walsh does find premises to revive the Sarnia ABC then that can only be good for boxing.

I don’t much care how many boxing clubs the island has – one, two or 20 – as long as there are unhindered opportunities between them.

You never know, we might yet get to see GFC star Jacques Isabelle in the ring.

My expert eyes tell me that he is one very tidy boxer and has a beaut of a left hand. Better than his left foot, I bet.

Comments for: "Praise be for our enduring senior football clubs"

GM

Exactly what I've been saying this week on the GFC threads. A pyramid system for all Guernsey clubs is a win-win for all.