A decade that changed football forever – and it was so needed

THAT was the decade that was.

But what was it?

Good, bad or indifferent for island sport?

Well, if you are a fan of Guernsey Football Club you will certainly say the ‘10s’ were almost life-changing.

If you like your rugby, you will have been grateful for the decade that Guernsey Rugby Club moved away from its old amateur habits into a Raiders world of rising habits.

But did sport really progress?

The answer is, not really. I’d give it a six out of 10.

After the big advancements of the ‘Noughties’, much of Guernsey sport got complacent, sat on laurels.

Of course, there were pluses, most of them down to individual brilliance from a group of individuals whom the island will do very well to ever match.

This was the decade of Heather Watson, whose breakthrough year was 2009 in winning the US Junior Open.

This was the time of Alice Loveridge, Guernsey’s finest ever table tennis player.

It was Chris Simpson’s time, Lee and Ali Merrien’s too, while Lucy Beere has emerged as a latent bowls star.

Sadly, but good for her, Aimee Ponte – 13 on 1 January 2010 – did not hang around too much longer, nor did that outstanding swimmer, Kristina Neves.

But nothing and nobody had a more transforming effect on island sport than Guernsey FC and Tony Vance.

When Big Ben bonged farewell to 2009, Guernsey football was still what it had been for a century. Plodding along, stuck in its ways.

Mark Le Tissier was chairman of the Guernsey FA, Bels sat top of the Priaulx League table at Christmas 2009 and near the bottom ‘Tics’ were playing the warm-up act to what eventually would become GFC that was still a couple of years away.

Ah.. GFC.

There will still be those who argue GFC ruined Island football, but they are wrong. The Green Lions have done the sport one huge favour, because football was dying on its splayed legs a decade ago.

GFC have breathed life into local sport, let alone football, and they have done it in a manner of professionalism, community caring and with the best of intentions. They have enlivened it and drawn an audience that would, very largely, never or seldom have gone to watch a match.

The only drawback – in my eyes – is that the changeling GFA allowed the flagship club to become too powerful, too close to them and to the extent that they seem one and the same thing. Not good for football as a whole.

As we entered the ‘Tens’ Raiders did not exist either, well in name anyway.

Guernsey Rugby Club were still in London 2 South West 10 years ago, yet to truly take off and adopt the semi-professional outlook which Jordan Reynolds had to fight for and introduce.

Like GFC, Raiders have been a boon for their sport and is it not wonderful that the general sports fan can pop down to the comfort of the Garenne Stand at Footes Lane any given Saturday each winter season and witness some great team sport which has the young and old enthused.

As for the rest?

Hockey has enjoyed some highly memorable triumphs at UK level, but the domestic league scene has not moved on at all.

It is a sport still struggling for numbers as, of course, is cricket, which has disappointingly regressed even further this past 10 years.

In terms of its flagship island side, it started well enough for the main summer sport and when Nic Pothas arrived it reached new levels of professionalism.

It wouldn’t last.

Too few of the island’s best players wanted that approach and backed away.

Thankfully, cricket seems to have learned the lessons of its ICC over-excitement and the next 10 years needs to be utilised for rebuilding a sport that has taken a big hit in terms of participants since the millennium.

But, things can change quickly.

Look at golf. It, too, has contracted and may still further, but this past year has seen an unexpected buzz return to the sport – and a win over Jersey always helps.

Golf is, after a dry spell, producing good young talent again and I don’t think it is at all coincidental that it comes soon after the arrival of The Golf Club at St Pierre Park and an end to inter-club infighting which held back development ideas.

Indeed, that entire St Pierre Park sports business scheme, headed by Matt Groves, must rank as the most influential moves of the period.

They took a risk, but it has paid off substantially – it appears.

Staying off the ‘park’, sport continues to suffer from a lack of quality leadership and those few who have got it – triathlon (Mark Naftel), cycling (Gary Wallbridge and now Mark Smith) and table tennis (Derek Webb MBE) three that instantly come to mind – have thrived.

But given all the obstacles and demands put in the modern sports administrators’ paths, it is hardly surprising that relatively few real leaders comer to the fore and, of course, not all sports have the funding to attract quality such as Steve Melbourne, my pathfinder of the decade.

Going forward, though, the Sports Commission are likely to insist on better working practices, be stricter on child safety and demand higher levels of coaching, as opposed to the ad-hoc approach some sports continue to be happy with.

From this seat, I’m pleased to see the Sports Commission’s new five-year action plan includes a firmer approach to steering island sport forward. It is needed, but at the same time needs to be conducted with an element of pastoral care and understanding.

In an often madly-busy and self-serving world, it is not so easy to find good and willing volunteers. That, perhaps, is our biggest challenge as we head towards the ‘Thirties’.

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