There’s nowhere quite like Guernsey. One of “our dear Channel Islands”, the Bailiwick lies to the north-west of Jersey and due west of the striking siblings that comprise Sark. Guernsey is a curious spot, defined as much by its island nature as by Britishness, with more than a little French flecked throughout.
The Saint Peter Port coastline is dominated by Castle Cornet, a monument to the island’s remarkable military history – during the English Civil War the castle remained under the control of Guernsey’s royalist governor despite the island’s Parliamentarian support – and to its most infamous period: Nazi occupation during the Second World War.
Within the narrow, winding roads beyond the Bailiwick’s picturesque capital, there is a burgeoning football revolution. Guernsey FC was a project born of the Guernsey Football Association but has in its first two seasons been just as controversial and turbulent as its protagonists expected. The outspoken opponents of the project, whose playing staff were initially taken from the island’s Priaulx League sides and remained eligible for both, have concerns and grievances about the team’s potential negative impact on the domestic football scene and on the representative Guernsey side.
Indeed, there have been high-profile and well respected dissenters both before and since Guernsey FC was instituted in time for the 2011/12 season. Accepted into the English non-league pyramid thanks to agreements with the Football Association, the Combined Counties League and the native betting firm Sportingbet, the team entered English football at level ten and were promoted with alarming ease at the first time of asking. With an average home crowd of comfortably over 1,000 and the commitment of the best local players, the Green Lions are undoubtedly a looming entity within Guernsey football.
For all the success on the field against English opposition, all the marketing victories, all the lingering questions about the club’s effect on the health of island football, Guernsey FC’s stated goal of providing an opportunity and a platform for the best local footballers has always been consistent and is beginning to bear fruit after just a season and a half.
The departure of 18-year-old Rhys Jordan is a landmark for Project Guernsey. The young midfielder has joined Bristol City on a professional contract until the end of the season, with Robins manager Derek McInnes reportedly looking to include him in the club’s developmental squad. Jordan has played for New Zealand’s Under-17s but returned to Guernsey in 2011 and has impressed in the green shirt of his island’s new team.
He’s long been part of Guernsey FC coach Tony Vance’s plans, and was first considered as a 16-year-old in September 2011, as the Green Lions prepared a young squad for their first ever knock-out tie against Spelthorne Sports. But Jordan required international clearance to turn out for the club and Simon Geall travelled in his place to face Westfield.
By the end of the month, the paperwork had been stamped and Jordan was available for the home game against Sheerwater in the Combined Counties League Division One. Guernsey won the match 9-0 at Footes Lane thanks in part to Ross Allen’s fifth league hat-trick (plus a fourth goal for good measure) and three for the imposing Dom Heaume, but Jordan didn’t feature. Injury limited his availability in the following months and he finally made his bow in a cup win against Staines Lammas, showing his worth in a 15-minute appearance off the bench in February.
The accomplished youngster, who has also been making his early steps into coaching with the club’s soccer school, has demonstrated his worth in seven first team appearances for the Green Lions this season. 90 minutes against Sandhurst Town and 80 against Horley Town were the key opportunities for Jordan in a season otherwise characterised by occasional appearances as a second half substitute – a crucial role for a Guernsey FC side with an unusual and uniquely gruelling schedule, not to mention ambitious expectations.
Jordan’s intermittent appearances have been enough to lure McInnes and City into what amounts to an elongated trial in addition to a shorter one already undertaken, and although the teenager is not the first player from the new club to catch the eye of a league club, he has become Guernsey FC’s first export.
Vance, who faces selection problems in midfield after Jordan’s departure and a serious and tragically timed broken leg suffered by Ryan-Zico Black, has seen the potential in his young star for some time. “Rhys deserves his chance,” he said in the press after the transfer had been confirmed. “It was clear when he first got involved with the club last season that he had the potential to go into the professional game.”
“It was remarkable to see a 17-year-old have the confidence and ability to dominate games and demand the ball. By having the platform that Guernsey FC provided Rhys, it was only a matter of time before a professional club would declare an interest in him.”
This is the essence, the very nub, of what the Bailiwick’s new flagship club was intended to be. By taking Guernsey’s best players – there is a significant overlap with the more traditional representative team, which famously competes for the Muratti Vase and in the Island Games – and giving them a real opportunity to capture the attention of English scouts.
The project has required Guernsey’s football leaders to go out on a limb and commit enormous sums of sponsorship money to make it possible for the team to compete in south-east England on a weekly basis. It’s generated a seemingly never-ending stream of positive results on the pitch and it now has a result in its central player development aim too.
Vance told BBC Guernsey that the opportunity afforded by the Green Lions project was instrumental in Jordan’s move from the English Channel to its Bristol namesake. A lack of competition on the island, said Vance, sometimes takes players into a comfort zone. “The environment that Guernsey FC creates is a competitive environment week in, week out, and it makes you be your best.”
The player himself is understandably thrilled to have a chance to prove his mettle in the West Country. “It’s a dream come true. I’ve worked really hard to get my chance and I’m delighted to have been given this opportunity to play football at such a high level.”
Jordan now has his future at his own feet, and only at the end of the season will his next step be known. But his impact as a ground-breaker on the export market could lead to better recognition for Guernsey’s best footballers. More importantly, he might even prove the best possible justification for a fundamental and hardly universally welcomed shift in football’s operation on the island.
By Chris Nee
This article originally appeared in In Bed with Maradona