Guernsey FA - The History - Part 10
The Association’s headquarters would finally open in 2002 with the Minutes recording that:
“the keys for the GFA headquarters had been handed over on Monday 19th August.”
The facility at Corbet Field would prove to be home to the GFA until 2018, when the GFA relocated to Victoria Avenue as part of ambitious plans to create the first ‘true’ home of the Association, within a community based football hub.
After retaining the Priaulx league in the 2001/02 season, Sylvans entered the 02/03 season looking to break St Martins’ record of 9 consecutive titles but were denied by a resurgent Vale Recreation team, with the Corbet Field club being one of six to claim the title in the 21st century. Belgrave Wanderers, winning the club’s first Priaulx trophy since 1960, and Northerners, have dominated with five titles each, but St Martins and, most memorably, Rovers, have also lifted the famous trophy. The 2016/17 season will be long remembered at Port Soif with Rovers claiming the title by a single point from Northerners, only after a thrilling 4-3 victory at Northfield in the last match of the season.
The number of different winners of the Priaulx league since the turn of the century has arguably been a result of a change in the landscape of Guernsey football following the introduction of a new club – Guernsey FC. In the 2009/10 season, the Association entered a Senior County League team into the FA National League System Cup and after a memorable run in the competition, hosted the 2010 final at The Track on 1st May 2010, defeating the Liverpool County Premier League 5–2.
This qualified Guernsey to represent England in the UEFA Regions Cup, playing in the preliminary round in Croatia and this was the catalyst which inspired the Association, and in seeking to challenge the island’s best players, developed a plan to enter a team into the English non-league pyramid. This plan came to fruition and the 2011/12 season saw Guernsey Football Club (GFC) join the Combined Counties Football League, and in doing so became the first team from the Channel Islands to compete in mainland British league football. All twenty members of Guernsey's 2011 silver winning Island Games squad were signed by GFC, which unfortunately created a sense of bitterness amongst some of the Association’s member clubs who lost players to this new club.
GFC’s first season proved to be remarkable success, winning the Combined Counties Division One, which gave the club promotion, and also winning the Combined Counties Premier Challenge Cup for a memorable double. The second season in the Combined Counties Premier Division was blighted by weather and with 27 games postponed in the season, the players and staff had a monumental task of playing 17 games in April 2013, 23 games in 43 days and the last four matches of the season in four consecutive days. However, despite this challenge, the club secured a second successive promotion, whilst many of the tired players then helped Guernsey win the 2013 Muratti Final, when a memorable Ross Allen strike proved to be the difference in a 2-1 victory.
The club has had many memorable moments in its short existence, notably reaching the 2012/13 semi-finals of the FA Vase, with over 4000 spectators watching the first leg against Spennymoor Town, whilst the 2013/14 saw GFC become the first off-shore club to enter the FA Cup.
Along with GFC, and other memorable moments from local football, the 21st century has been synonymous with success at the Island Games. After a disappointing ninth place finish at the 1999 Island Games in Aaland, Guernsey travelled to the Isle of Man in 2001 determined to make amends and duly came away with the gold medal. That first medal would prove to be a catalyst for future success, with Guernsey having the best record in the tournament since that year and collecting a medal at every subsequent Island Games in which it entered a team.
Arguably the most memorable of these wins, is that on home turf in the 2003 Guernsey Island Games. Having won the first two group matches comfortably, Guernsey came up against Rhodes in the final group match at Corbet Field, but a match that was memorable for all of the wrong reasons eventually saw it abandoned by referee Wendy Toms, with Rhodes having disgraced the sport with the behaviour of the players, which eventually ended up with five players sent-off. Guernsey would finish top of the group and then defeat the Isle of Wight in the semi-finals, before beating the Isle of Man 3-1 in front of a massive crowd at Footes Lane to claim the gold medal.
Guernsey would continue to win medals at following Island Games, but it was not until 2015 when that medal would be gold again, when Steve Sharman and Colin Fallize led them to a memorable win in Jersey. In 2017, Guernsey took a young squad to Gotland, but surpassed expectations when winning the bronze medal and maintaining the sequence of claiming a medal at every Games since 2001.
The early part of the 21st century has seen other memorable and history changing moments in Guernsey football’s storied history.
During the 2000/01 season, the concept of promotion and relegation was again raised, and again rejected, with the majority of clubs in favour of retaining the status quo. This same season saw the GFA begin the move away from relying on a volunteer workforce to run the local game, with the introduction of a salaried Development Officer. This came about as relationships with the English Football Association were enhanced and greater funding from the governing body allowed the Association to employ an appropriately skilled workforce to meet the changing needs of local football. Indeed, the first grant was received from the FA in January 2001. The relationship also provided funding for facilities to local clubs, with St Martins and Vale Recreation both benefiting, whilst the introduction of the Charter Standard programme as assisted in raising coaching and safeguarding standards across local football.
The demands of the relationship with the FA necessitated the GFA producing its first Development Plan, which highlighted the problems in relying on a volunteer workforce. In 2003 the Association became a company limited by guarantee and appointed a Board of Directors, which over the coming seasons would see the GFA Council dissolve as the move to a more professional running of the local game left the decision making in the hands of the salaried workforce and executive team.
The 2004/05 season witnessed the introduction of the Guernsey FA Cup competition, which was the first competition to be made open to all affiliated clubs and has provided many memorable matches and results in its short existence.
The 2006/07 season is also recognised for being the final one in which Rangers would play home games at the Track after deciding to sell the club’s share in the ground and move to St Andrews. This left Belgrave Wanderers as the sole club playing home matches Guernsey’s most historic ground after Northerners moved to Northfield in the 1970’s.
After sixteen years based at the Corbet Field, the GFA Board took the decision to relocate to Victoria Avenue. This move was part of a commitment made at the June 2014 Board meeting, when the GFA Directors stated a determination to;
“find a permanent home for the Association and develop a purpose built facility for the benefit of the football community.”
That search for a permanent home would take almost five years, before the Association was finally given permission to build a new headquarters, training pitch and stadium at Victoria Avenue, which offers a new vision with a bright and sustainable future for not only the GFA, but all of the football community in Guernsey.
That future has been temporarily placed on hold, along with all football in Guernsey, following the decision to suspend the affiliated game in consideration of the COVID-19 pandemic. The seriousness of the current situation cannot be underestimated in that outside of the suspension of football for both the First and Second World Wars, this is the only other occasion that football has been suspended in Guernsey. As with the other occasion when football was suspended, football in Guernsey will resume, and the GFA looks forward to continuing to build that exciting future for the sport in the island.