Guernsey FC: The Story So Far

Project Guernsey critic’s resignation lights the green touchpaper

Graham Skuse isn’t a name that’s known well in English football but he could well be remembered as the man who made mainstream the bubbling criticism of Guernsey Football Club and its impact on football on the island. Skuse, a former Guernsey Football Association official and a stalwart of the Guernsey game, verbalised a growing discontent in an explosive open letter to the media announcing his resignation as the secretary of Priaulx League side St Martin’s. In effectively retiring from all positions in the game Skuse pulled no punches, coolly and meticulously detailing the burdens placed upon football in Guernsey by a project of which he clearly does not approve.

Guernsey FC is no ordinary football club. Established as a playing entity only in 2011, the club was founded by officials of the Guernsey FA and admitted to the English Non-League system after perhaps surprisingly smooth negotiations with the Combined Counties League and a rubber-stamping by the Football Association. They are, quite simply, an anomaly. Managed by Tony Vance, also in charge of the island’s representative side, the GFA overcame the most obvious problem facing their new club – covering the costs of visiting sides from the south-east of England – with a reported £750,000 sponsorship deal with Sportingbet, among other significant deals.

If that’s a remarkable figure, so too are the record-breaking home crowd of 1,752 (for the visit of Feltham on 12th November) and an average home gate that’s a long way north of 1,000. For any other team in the second tier of the Combined Counties League or elsewhere in Step 6, that would be freakish. For Guernsey it merely portends a string of imminent promotions and represents the burgeoning ambitions of the men who are risking it all to take island football in an exciting new direction.

The epicentre of Skuse’s dressing-down of GFC is that in his view its successes are achieved at the expense of, rather than for the benefit of, Guernsey football. So far, those successes are not exactly rare.

Vance’s side have cruised to the top of their division, brushing aside an early challenge from Bedfont Sports and eventually consolidating at the top with an 11-point gap. To date they’ve lost just once in the league, a 2-1 defeat on their second visit to Spelthorne Sports after defeating them on their cup debut with a weakened team on a sopping Saturday afternoon. They are yet to concede a league goal at home, and their only goal against at Footes Lane came in a 4-1 victory over Combined Counties Premier Division outfit Ash United – Guernsey’s first competitive match against opposition from a higher division. In short, the Green Lions have taken to English football like a duck to water; that’s a trait that certainly came in useful at Spelthorne Sports Club back in September.

But while the Combined Counties League welcomed Guernsey with open arms, the GFC project has all along been the result of a longstanding debate on the island about the best methods of progressing and improving the Guernsey game and polishing the prospects of its most talented players. Like any such initiative, Guernsey FC was divisive even before it existed; it’s even more divisive in practice in spite of a sparkling first few months in English football.

Controversy was inevitable, and it will be unsurprising to club chairman Steve Dewsnip and secretary Mark Le Tissier. GFC did not sign its squad in the traditional sense; instead, Vance has all of the island’s finest footballing talent at his disposal and the players – in theory, at least – can play for both the Green Lions and their local league clubs, as well as the Guernsey representative side if selected. Clearly this has an effect on those league sides, all of whom face the loss of key players when their schedule overlaps with that of the island’s new behemoth.

The reality is that the players don’t generally want to play for both, and given the demands upon them it’s understandable. Player priorities in Guernsey include GFC and the Priaulx League, but that’s just the beginning. The FA Inter-League Cup, a source of some success for Guernsey in the recent past under its previous name, has dropped down the list of priorities and been relegated to “fielding a weakened team” status. The traditional Muratti Vase matches have been the root of a debate about GFC’s position in the pecking order, while the discussion about the Island Games has been eased by the economically-driven decision not to take a team to Bermuda in 2013 regardless.

And so we come on to loyalty, the lack of which acts as the cornerstone of Skuse’s dramatic resignation letter. “Recently,” he wrote, “I have seen players show a total lack of loyalty or respect. People masquerading as a football club and taking advantage of that lack of loyalty by shamelessly stripping the assets of member clubs.”

The problem is at once extremely simple and bewilderingly complex: the players want to play for the Green Lions, and the system is set up in such a way that they’re entitled to do so. It’s a tricky situation and Skuse’s assertion that Guernsey FC amounts to an asset-stripping exercise is a harsh exaggeration that has probably rattled a few cages in St Peter Port. The people involved have the betterment of Guernsey football in the front of their minds, regardless of what their critics might think about their methods or motivations. Ultimately it all comes down to striking a very difficult balance. To that end, the Guernsey Football Association itself recently set up a body to manage GFC’s effect on the wider Guernsey football ecosystem.

Many thanks to Chris Nee for this excellent look at the controversy on Guernsey. Chris is the founder of the now discontinued TwoFootedTackle website. He has, however, started an excellent new site, The Stiles Council, which focuses on the England National Team. You can also find Chris on twitter.

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About James Bartaby

Hey, I'm James and I'm relatively new to non-league football, having only taken in my first match in September 2011. Despite it being a 0-4 defeat for Hampton & Richmond Borough, I became a huge fan of the club and NL in general. So much so that they are now the first club that I mention when talking about which team I support! I just got massively disillusioned with top flight football in this country and the attitudes of the lawmakers and top clubs in general, and I wanted to start taking my son to see decent football. I am now the club's Deputy Press Officer, and loving every minute!

Posted on November 25, 2011, in UTL Archive and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Fascinating article. As I only follow the Welsh teams in the English non-league system, I was unaware of Guernsey and what they are trying to do. I understand the challenges and difficulties faces the local clubs on the island, but the reality is that something along lines of the Green Lions had to happen if Guernsey were to get themselves into any significant position on the footballing map. The opportunities that such a club has, with those kind of sponsorship deals and an attendance that in on a par with current Newport County attendances is huge. The best of luck to the club – I hope that they can make it all the way to league football and play our Welsh boys there.

  2. Congratulations to Guernsey FC, Champions of Combined Counties Division One 2011/12. I would put your money on them repeating the feat in the Premier Division next season!

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