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Centenary game threat

Sport | Published:

GUERNSEY RAIDERS and Jersey Reds rugby clubs are so at odds on the date for next year’s Centenary Siam that it might, incredibly, not even happen.

Montage by Peter Frankland.

After many weeks of wrangling, the clubs have yet to agree a date for the traditional annual inter-club clash and the Guernsey Press can exclusively reveal the Guernsey club admits it might not go ahead, although it is still very keen that it does.

Raiders plan to stage the 2020 game on Saturday 2 May at Footes Lane.

Jersey Reds do not want that date as it clashes with their final Championship match of the season.

Charles McHugh, the Raiders’ chairman, said: ‘In this centenary year it would be most disappointing if this traditional festival of Siam Cup rugby, enjoyed by so many players and spectators, were to be interrupted because of the possible absence of the two or three at best Jersey Reds professional players.

‘Not even World War Two cancelled the spirit of the Siam Cup. Let’s hope that sportsmanship and good sense will prevail and a mutually acceptable date can be found and agreed.’

But, as things stand, the threat of cancellation looms over the fixture.

In World Cup season, Championship League fixtures have pushed into May 2020.

This has meant that the Jersey Reds’ last League match against Bedford Blues potentially clashes with the date that Guernsey Raiders, as hosts, for their own playing calendar reasons want to play the Siam Cup.

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Jordan Reynolds, Raiders’ director of rugby, said dialogue has been ongoing for a while.

‘Both clubs have been working together to try to resolve some of the complex issues and to find the “least-worst” date for the 2020 Siam matches to be played.

‘We have looked at all the possible dates between March and May 2020 but so far we have failed to agree on a date.’

What is often overlooked is that Siam day is not just about one game.

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It is also about the ladies’ Siam game, the veterans’ Nash Cup match and the Fallaize 2nd XV clash.

In total, there are some 184 different players due to take part across the four festival matches and the atmosphere and build-up are one of the players’ highlights of the season.

The last Guernsey home Siam Cup, held in 2018, attracted a crowd of 4,000 spectators who enjoyed a great rugby sporting spectacle and brought in a lot of money, vital to the success of the club as a whole.

Paul Wright, Raiders’ financial director, said: ‘The Siam Cup is a special event but it is required to be a commercial success. There are 400 pre-match corporate diners to cater for and last year when the event was held in Jersey on the day the hospitality, food and beverage sales were estimated to be circa £25,000.’

CHRIS GNAPP, the Raiders’ sponsorship director said, with the event being held on a Saturday in April or early May each year the commercial success of hosting this event has become a key factor for both clubs’ bi-annual financial budgets.

‘Santander International, has been the valued commercial sponsor for the Siam Cup festival of rugby for the last two years, have last week indicated to us that unless all four rugby matches can take place on the same day, that it would have to reconsider its support for the 2020 event,’ said Gnapp.

Santander International are the main sponsor Jersey Reds and the Jersey home ground is named ‘Stage Santander’.

Reynolds, who also coaches the Raiders, added: ‘Jersey Reds are already well aware of our feelings on Jersey Reds insistence on selecting its strongest professional available players to play for the Siam and perhaps this year is an opportunity to see how the Siam would look with a de-geared Jersey side playing against us.’

It is understood Jersey Reds’ alternative suggestions for a Siam date are considered either too early or too late, or would have dire financial consequences for the hosts.

Jersey Reds are thought to have offered 27 March (too early) 16 May (too late), and Sunday 3 May and Liberation Day – both unfeasible for Guernsey for either logistical or financial reasons.

McHugh is not giving up on finding a solution but feels very frustrated with Jersey Reds’ stance at a time when the clubs are also at odds on who should be eligible to play in the big game.

Reynolds highlighted that the Jersey Reds full-time professional side have a playing squad of 36 full-time professional players under contract, but under the Championship Regulations the maximum number of players that would be able to be named in the match day squad against Bedford Blues would be 23 players.

‘The 2 May 2020 date clash with the Jersey Reds’ last league game of the season would mean that Jersey could still relatively easily arrange its selection for both matches and (subject to injuries) that there would potentially still be 15 full-time professionals available from which to choose five players to supplement the Jersey Athletic amateur squad, who provide the other 23 players for the Siam Cup squad.

‘Perhaps this year that might result in Jersey not being able to select the strongest available five full-time professional players for the Siam Cup match, as the same players could obviously not play in both islands at the same time.

‘Jersey Reds are already well aware of our feelings on Jersey Reds insistence on selecting its strongest professional available players to play for the Siam and perhaps this year is an opportunity to see how the Siam would look with a de-geared Jersey side playing against us.’

McHugh added: ‘It would be a sad state of affairs, if because of a desire to field a few full-time professional players, that Jersey Reds were not wanting to play and 100 years of history and sporting traditions that surround the Siam Cup were to be broken.

‘There was even a Siam Cup match played for in Laufen Camp Oflag VII-C a prisoner of war camp in Bavaria during 1944 in WW2, where Guernsey beat Jersey 6-5.

‘We are still looking forward to hosting the annual challenge between Guernsey and Jersey rugby clubs in this historic centenary year. This trophy has a rich and resilient history that has been preserved through the generations. The trophy even survived the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands without being looted and melted down,’ he said.

‘In this Centenary year it would be disappointing if this traditional festival of rugby, enjoyed by so many players and spectators, were to be interrupted.

‘Not even WW2 cancelled the spirit of the Siam Cup.

‘Let’s hope that the score values of rugby, teamwork, sportsmanship, respect for your opponents and the enjoyment by players and spectators will prevail and a mutually acceptable date can be agreed.’

Rob Batiste

By Rob Batiste
Sports Editor

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