The island of Jersey in the English Channel is only 8 miles long by 5 miles wide, and home to a population of just 95,000 people. A UK Crown Dependency, it has its own currency (although is tied to the English Pound) and its own parliament and ability to make laws and taxes. The Queen is the head of state in Jersey but is referred to as the Duke of Normandy, and the island even has its own language called Jèrriais – a Normandy dialect of French.
So what does this have to do with football? Well, I am currently on a surprise visit to Jersey, courtesy of my wonderful girlfriend, Julie. And so what does a football fanatic do when he’s abroad? He finds the local football results and takes in a game! And in my case, given my links to Portugal, I was keen to look up the local Championship club, Jersey Portuguese FC.
It may surprise many to know that there is actually a thriving football pyramid on Jersey. The Jersey Football Combination is administered by the Jersey FA and comprises 5 divisions: Premiership, Championship, Division 1, Division 2 and Division 3. All are effectively amateur but provide the basis of the player pool for the Jersey national side, which is non-FIFA affiliated. Other Jersey national side players currently include Peter Vincenti (Aldershot Town), Brett Pitman (Bristol City) and Wait Craddock (West Bromwich Albion). Jersey’s most famous footballing son is Graeme Le Saux who of course went on to play for England but also Chelsea, Blackburn Rovers and Southampton.
And so onto Jersey Portuguese FC… Many will probably be unaware but Jersey is home to a thriving Portuguese population, most of which originates from the island of Madeira. This is evident in the numerous Portuguese restaurants and cafes on Jersey. There is also a Benfica Sports Bar located in St Helier so one need never miss the next Liga NOS game from the Portuguese capital. Jersey Portuguese FC has been in existence since 1971 and proudly represents the community on the island, and has flitted between the Premiership and Championship in recent years.
In eager anticipation of seeing the club play, I did my research on their website (here) and found a game on Saturday 4th April for 2pm at FB Fields in the island’s capital, St. Helier. Absolutely perfect I thought. And so it was that I dragged the long-suffering Julie on the island’s efficient bus network over to eastern St. Helier where we found the neatly manicured fields. Just one problem however, all the pitches bar one were junior and there was absolutely no sign of life! With 25 minutes until kickoff, surely someone should be warming up, I asked Julie. Following a quick tête-à-tête with the groundsman, we were informed no senior games ever take place at FB Fields and no alternative was offered. It was time to splurge and start using some of the data roaming I am always so reluctant to break into whenever outside of the UK. However, a quick check of the web lead me to the Jersey FA’s website and the completely contradictory information that the game was in fact kicking off at 2:30pm and on the other side of the island at Les Quennevais Sports Centre, close the island’s airport.
After a bus back to St. Helier, and a subsequent bus out to Le Quennevais Sports Centre, we managed to find the pitch. It has to be said that the pitches were pretty immaculate. Unlike many pitches in the UK which are lacking grass and tend to be glorified mud balls at this time of year, kudos to the Jersey authorities for keeping theirs near pristine.
Unfortunately, due to the earlier delays, we had missed about the first 25 minutes and a quick check with the linesman revealed that Portuguese actually trailed their hosts, Beeches Old Boys, by a solitary goal. This was surprising as Portuguese had secured promotion to the Premiership only one week previously, and Beeches Old Boys were struggling at the wrong end of the Championship. That said, Portuguese were playing some decent stuff at times but without actively threatening the Old Boys ‘keeper.
In the absence of any programmes, team sheets or PA system, it was nigh impossible to pick out player names. But it has to be said that the Portuguese #11 was very useful up front. Plenty of vision and technical ability but perhaps lacking physical presence, it looked very much like he would have a hand in any successful attacks Portuguese were able to initiate. Unfortunately, not all his colleagues were on the same wavelength but the #6 in central midfield had bags of stamina and a superb workrate as well.
But Beeches Old Boys, who looked dangerous whenever they did manage to get forward, raced into a 3-0 lead, through goals from Jamie Lucas (2) and Matt Hibbs, and it looked like an upset was on the cards. Despite the slightly ageing lone striker the home side employed, Portuguese stuck with a back four and continued to try to play football, winning a second half penalty which was duly despatched by Clife Silva. Moments later, Portuguese were to hit the crossbar from all of 5-6 yards out which would’ve made for a grandstand last half an hour. However, the score remained 3-1 and allowed the home side to earn a much-needed 3 points in the battle against relegation.
Given the Championship’s slightly different format of only 7 sides, this game turned out to be Beeches Old Boys’ final one of the season. It leaves them 3 points clear of bottom side, Sporting Academics, who travel to Champions, St. John, next weekend for the final round of league games. Portuguese on the other hand round off a successful league campaign at home to 4th placed First Tower United. The following week (18th April), Portuguese will then take on St John in a top two clash for the Touzel Cup at the national stadium, Springfield.
Overall, this was a fantastic experience to see senior football on Jersey. My Portuguese links meant I was rooting for the men in green and red but just the experience was worth the travel and efforts to get to the game. So if you ever find yourself in Jersey and need your fix of live footy, take in a game. They take place all over the island and the up-to-date fixtures and details can be found here as updated by the English FA. There is also the Jersey FA website located here.