At the start of the season, Andy Ollerenshaw was kind enough to tell us the story of Guernsey FC, the first club from the Channel Islands to take a place in the English football pyramid. They have had a very successful first season in Division One of the Combined Counties League, and Andy has kindly returned to fill us on their progress over the last nine months or so.
On Friday 4th May 2012 Guernsey FC lifted the Combined Counties League (CCL) Premier Challenge Cup in front of over 500 travelling Guerns. Their 2-0 extra-time win against Colliers Wood United was the icing on the cake for what has been a quite remarkable first season of football for the new club. I wrote about their inaugural CCL Division One fixture for Twohundredpercent back in August 2011, and their achievements in the subsequent months have already left an imprint in the record books.
The statistics are impressive. Guernsey FC won 31 of their 34 league games scoring a staggering 138 goals; they lost only twice, to Eversley and Spelthorne Sports. Their closest challengers were Bedfont Sports, who finished some 11 points behind; it was therefore fitting that Guernsey FC’s victory in March against the runners-up (a 7-1 thumping in front of a record attendance of 2,143) was the win that secured the title. They completed the double when they lifted the Challenge Cup, becoming the first team outside the CCL Premier Division to win the cup in its 34-year history. On the way to the final they beat three Premier Division sides: champions Guildford City, Egham Town and Ash United. Guernsey FC’s leading scorer was Ross Allen, who netted an incredible 57 goals in all competitions and in doing so attracted admiring glances from AFC Bournemouth and Swindon Town.
Describing themselves as “pioneers”, the CCL had accepted Guernsey FC with open arms into their competition, having set a precedent with AFC Wimbledon when they began life in this league back in 2002. As was the case with AFC Wimbledon, Guernsey FC’s arrival saw dramatic increases in league attendances as large numbers of fans watched their new club, home and away. Guernsey FC’s average home league gate for the season was over 1300; to put that figure into context, the next best average was under 100. The average attendance for Division One was higher than the Premier Division’s, with most Division One clubs registering their record gates when the Green Lions came to town. Mark Le Tissier is the Football Secretary at Guernsey FC and speaking before the Cup Final he paid tribute to the fans: “[This season] has been fantastic. The biggest thrill for me though has been the fantastic support that we’ve built up in such a short space of time. Tonight sums it all up, we have 500 fans who have travelled over [to Farnborough] for this Cup Final. Unbelievable support”.
Guernsey FC’s baptism hasn’t been all plain sailing though. Whilst the team has received plaudits for performances on the pitch there have been some off-field challenges. In November 2011 the club received negative press when a significant footballing figure from the island criticised the actual existence of the club. Guernsey’s former referee’s development officer and the secretary of club side St Martin’s, Graham Skuse, resigned from all his footballing roles; he had served island football for more than 40 years, and felt the impact of Guernsey FC had left him with no choice. “I think Guernsey FC is destroying Guernsey football,” Skuse told BBC South West at the time. Skuse argued that players and fans had deserted the local clubs, going to Guernsey FC instead. Guernsey FC countered by saying that they were raising the island’s sporting profile and significantly promoting the Channel Island. In an attempt to mediate, Guernsey’s football authorities launched a new committee to ensure that “Guernsey FC does not adversely affect the sport in the island”, but it is unclear how this is going to be achieved. The debate will continue for quite some time.
Tony Vance, Guernsey FC’s Head Coach, had also been in charge of the Guernsey national side since 2008; in December 2011 he left the national position citing lack of support from the Guernsey FA. Guernsey FC’s admirable policy to field only Guernsey players resulted in the familiar ‘club vs country’ conflict. Things came to a head when the Guernsey FA introduced a ruling which said that any player who turned down the opportunity to play for the national team (because of Guernsey FC commitments) would not be offered the chance for the rest of the season, effectively forcing players to choose between the two. Speaking just after his resignation, Vance explained: “I’m giving up the other job because I didn’t get the support I expected from the Guernsey FA. Why do people put obstacles in place? The GFA created a rule. I was disappointed by the rule. I can’t see the point in doing a job when I can’t get support. I will now solely focus on Guernsey FC.”
Then there was an administrative mix up that resulted in a three point deduction for the club when ineligible player Kieran Mahon played in a 2-0 win over CB Hounslow in March. Unbeknownst to Guernsey FC, Mahon was banned for two games after being sent off for Guernsey club side North in a Priaulx League match. Although the penalty had no bearing on the outcome of the league, Guernsey FC was quick to lay the blame at the door of the Guernsey FA, further testing the relationship.
But it was Guernsey FC’s strength on the field that garnered attention for all the right reasons. Back in the summer of 2011, many at Guernsey FC knew that forming a new club and playing league football on mainland Britain was a huge risk, a decision that has been somewhat vindicated with the level of backing received, the amount of support in the community and the team’s success. Le Tissier recalled “We had high hopes and we all wanted to do well. We knew we would be competitive at this level. Our aim was to get promotion to the next level, so to win the league and cup was a bonus. We are very proud of our achievements.”
Le Tissier points to a week in March as the highlight of the campaign when they won the league in front of their own fans (that game against Bedfont Sports) and then six days later beat Guildford City in the Challenge Cup Semi-Final. Guernsey FC are already planning for 2012-13 in the CCL Premier Division, and Le Tissier warned “next season is going to be another challenge for us, a lot more games, a higher standard of football and we want to see how the players will cope with that.”
Vance shares Le Tissier’s view that it’s not going to be easy: “I really believe our biggest problem is to get promoted out of the Combined Counties Premier Division because only one team goes up and three or four teams have playing budgets and experience of that football that we of course haven’t”. A single promotion spot from the CCL Premier Division has always been a bone of contention, and Guernsey FC will face some stiff opposition from the likes of Windsor, Hanworth Villa, Egham Town and Camberley Town next term, but Vance feels his side are ultimately capable of playing Isthmian League football. Guernsey FC’s success this season has attracted much recognition. It will be equally interesting to see what season number two has in store for them.
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