Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Combined Counties League Division 1 – Guernsey FC v Westfield FC
Saturday, 11th February 2012, 3pm
Footes LaneStadium
Distance 275 miles, Attendance 1103
There’s some weird shit going down in the English Channel this season. It’s not the pitch-black- journey-into-the-unknown-blair-witch-scary stuff, nor an in-your-face-dogmatic-moralizing lecture, but instead a gentle kind of not-quite-what-you’d-expect-from-football unusual.

Way back in September, word reached me of a football revolution making waves in The Channel Islands, but as I had Watford, and the FA Cup, to contend with I thought nothing of it (and well, at school, I’d met someone from one of “Britain’s islands” and he’d not left a great impression to be honest*). But then, in November, I had a football-free week coming up, and Guernsey FC were away at Staines Lammas… I went, I saw, I was conquered. Penning my thoughts and finding they were appreciated by the island folk was quite rewarding, and that was when the embryo of a plan began; a plan to ground hop to a game at Guernsey’s Footes Lane Stadium. Car, train, plane, taxi, match, taxi, plane, train, home… EASY!
Having checked the numerous fixture lists that affect my life, picked a game, checked details with the very amiable island folk, I bought my air ticket, and whilst waiting for the date to arrive, of course I watched football. I even saw the Green Lions again, at Worcester Park, and again my words were looked kindly upon (my former English teacher, Mr Williams, would probably never understand what they see).
Leaving Clapham Junction in plenty of time, on a chilly winter’s morning, I joined the Southern Train service to the Gatwick South (and other places further south). As the train progressed more and more football matches fell foul of the weather. Games all the way up to Division 2** were affected. If it wasn’t snow, it was frozen pitches. What needs to be stressed in these times is that location really is everything (though passing a frozen Level 2 Selhurst Park, for a Level 10 game at Footes Lane did raise a wry smile).
Landing in Guernsey, with an excited grin on my face, I was greeted by a nip in the air but clear blue skies above. There followed an easy short trip to the stadium, passing numerous green clad supporters, of all ages, working their way to the game. With nearly 2% of the population turning out to watch their team it’s clearly a popular place to be. It is however not everyone’s cup of tea. Whilst bridges are being built, the local league is clearly not yet a fan. Some locals see this new football incarnation as a monster that has poached the best players from local sides (I’d be interested to know what the players think), and might even influence the outcome of the traditional Muratti Vase. Of course if the level of ambition is to just play in a local league or against the other islands then they might have a point, but if you want to be better… As one St Martins fan told me, these people need to embrace “the bigger picture”. Joining the game on the mainland is undoubtedly a big draw, as is seeing just how high a level they could compete at. When you consider towns with smaller populations, with teams with smaller support, survive in both the Isthmian & Southern leagues, one has to assume Guernsey could comfortably command such a lofty position. From their on-field performances clearly they can play higher; averaging four goals a game is something most fans/clubs dream of. As for the valuable revenue being created by the high attendances this team’s support brings… well, at least one club higher up the pyramid is hoping the route Guernsey take is via their league.
As the two teams warmed up on the sun-kissed green, but soft, surface it was clear both were up for the game. Today’s contest pitted the Green Lions against Westfield FC; probably the best of the three oppositions I’ve seen thus far, though few of their fans had made the journey to support their heroes. The home fans, on the other hand, that I’d seen strolling through the nearby lanes were now taking their places seemingly confident of another win. With precious little away support, mascot, Roary the Lion, is charged with stirring the match day volume of this fledgling club. In a few years this fan base will have developed their own chants, and banter, and rivalries, but for now, despite having lots to be proud of, the ground can seem a little quiet. Even when on two minutes Dominic Heaume put the home side one up from close range, outside The Garenne Stand (the only covered area) the cheers seemed a little muted.
The second Guernsey goal on fifteen minutes came from goal machine Ross Allen. Collecting the ball in an advanced position he kept his calm, avoiding defensive tackles and slotted home from near the penalty spot. It was a great finish from a fine player, who, allegedly, has gained interest from higher up the pyramid. Citing the island’s most famous footballer I was told Ross is unlikely to move on as Guernsey boys are a loyal lot. Is Matt le Tissier an example of this? Is Ross a relative of Clive Allen? Who knows? So far like Matt he’s stayed close to home, and his eye for goal is clearly not dissimilar to Clive. Ross is certainly the icing on the cake of a very good team, but Guernsey’s true strength lies in the team ethic. You see it through supporters and players alike, from the start of warm up through to the moment they leave the pitch; they work together, win together, and celebrate together (of course they all know each other so there is a common bond here).

In fairness to Westfield they are not a bad side either; at no point during the match did they deserve to be two goals down. The shouts of encouragement for the Woking team, from behind me, were evidence I wasn’t the only one who thought this. Luke Beale and Daryn Hennessy both had great chances in the exchanges. Up the other end The Field keeper, Mike Brawley, saved superbly from Glyn Dyer when scoring seemed easier. The game was so even it could’ve gone either way. On 35minutes from a Luke Beale drive, the ball rapped the inside of the Guernsey post and rebounded across the goalmouth but the defence cleared the danger. Whilst previously teams have tried to harry Guernsey off the park, Westfield seemed intent on playing them off it. Going in 2-0 down at halftime must have been a huge disappointment.
During the break I was invited to share tea and Guernsey Gâche (pronounced “Gosh”, I think) whilst hobnobbing with sponsors and dignitaries of both clubs. Having never been one to crave such opportunities I do still recognise the honour that my writing seems to have afforded me. To their credit Steve Dewsnip and his team clearly see the importance of creating a good impression in their opening season, and are doing a fine job of it.
Back in my seat for the second half, I (and I mean, we 1103 in attendance) was treated to more Roary tomfoolery, an even better on pitch display from both teams, and twice as many goals to boot. The first fifteen minutes were again end to end, with Ross Allen having the most notable attempt though only to see it blocked on the line by a stout Westfield defence. The game turned on the hour, with a great substitution as Scott Bradford made way for Dave Rihoy, and a huge slice of luck. Five minutes after his a arrival Rihoy had the tamest of shots, the ball bobbled straight towards Brawley who, in a freakish Tim Flowerseque moment, managed to let the ball straight through both his arms and his legs.
At 3-0 it should have been all over, but Westfield still didn’t give up, and within minutes Beale’s long range effort went just over. Back up the other end Ryan Zico Black struck the woodwork with a fine volley. Again Westfield went on the attack. This time Luke Beale found the target, putting the away team back in the game, after some tidy play and low cross by Andrew Wright. Almost immediately came what I thought would be the goal of the game as Tom Heggarty hit a bullet from 25 yards which flew past a helpless Chris Tardif and into the net. It was little more than Westfield deserved, but at 3-2 I truly feared Guernsey might lose the game altogether, however two minutes later they retook command. Rihoy, who’d drifted out of the action temporarily, showed why Guernsey are capable of matching any team in the division both in work rate and skill. Later Brawley would tip a Rihoy shot over but for this one he was a mere bystander. From some distance out Rihoy hit the ball with such precision that it flew past him into the far top corner; a true game winner in every sense. Other chances would fall to both teams but the game was well and truly over at 4-2.
It had been a wonderful day out, a great six-goal thriller, competed by two impressive teams, and with goals good enough to grace any game at any level. Above all though, it had been a celebration of what a community can do whilst commemorating local issues, and display of superb warmth and generous hospitality towards me from total strangers. I’d been ferried to and from the airport by one club sponsor, introduced to her family, and lectured by her father on how a 1958 Watford side should never have beaten his beloved Southampton. My ticket had also been arranged by the Head of the Supporters Club, and I received kind welcomes from both the club Secretary, and the club Chairman. Bidding my final thanks farewells, as we made our way to the exits, there was just time for one more introduction; to Guernsey’s First Lady of football, Mrs Le Tissier. Really, it was a privilege from start to finish.

As I said before; it’s not what one would expect from an afternoon watching football… in a good way. There may be plenty of room for improvement going forward. Maybe Guernsey should try to cover the ends of the ground to give better acoustics for fans, maybe they should use their travel agent connections to promote the attendance of more away fans at Footes Lane (after all it’s no harder than travelling to Manchester for a game), but Guernsey is a fine club making a great beginning, and with a wonderful story to write. I, for one, am looking forward to the next chapter.
(*at a tender 14 strange folk from strange Isles can seem strange, **old money)
This entry was posted in 2011-2012, Combined Counties Football League and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Planes, Trains and Automobiles

  1. fran Torode says:

    Were you aware that the gentleman on the left in the last picture is our club patron, The Bailiff of Guernsey ( Head of our Government) Sir Geoffrey Rowland? A keen supporter.

    • putajumperon says:

      Thanks for putting me in the picture. there was so much going on on the day I missed the names of both the gentlemen in the picture and then couldn’t find them in the programme later. I put the picture in in the hope someone could tell me, so thanks.

  2. Emma says:

    Glad you had a good time. x

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