Worcester Park FC vs Guernsey FC
Skinners Field, Combined Counties Division One
Saturday 14th January 2012
Sitting nine leagues below the English top flight of football, in the Combined Counties League Division One, there’s some small piece of footballing history being made this season.
For the first time ever, the tiny Channel Island of Guernsey is playing football in a competitive senior English league… and the locals are loving it. I’m not going to write too much about how things came about as it’s been documented far better than I could ever word. But to summarise, Guernsey FC was born out of the desire to allow the Island’s top footballers to pit their skills against regular competition. Playing the other Channel Islands wasn’t enough.
With some decent financial backing, the approval of the Combined Counties League (made up of football clubs in the Surrey, Hampshire and Middlesex region) and some concessions – Guernsey FC would have to pay for all travel and accommodation for opposing teams visiting – The ‘Lions’ were ready to roar.
And roar they have… it was quickly established that they were playing at a level below their standard. Within no time at all, Guernsey were top of the league and not looking back.
Wanting to photograph this small part of football history, I travelled down to Worcester Park who, on this cold but sunny January afternoon, were playing host to Guernsey. This was set to be a reasonable test for the Islanders, as Worcester Park are the division’s current champions. Only ground grading issues prevented them from being promoted.
I contacted the club a few days beforehand to ask to sit pitchside – it’s always polite, and sometimes necessary, if you wish to get the best access for photos. Having not seen football at Skinner’s Field – home of Worcester Park FC – I realised upon arrival, I probably didn’t need to ask. With only a small covered stand on one side and the clubhouse and patio behind the goal, the rest of the pitch, which doubles up as a cricket field, was just roped off.
One club official told me that they would have liked to have been promoted as champions, but to get their ground to the standard required by the Combined Counties Premier Division would be practically impossible. There are no floodlights at Skinners Field… not just because they would need to be placed in the middle of the cricket pitch, but complaints from local residents have prevented any planning permission approval to erect lights.
For this reason, and to ensure the game was played in acceptable light, the game kicked off at 2pm – one hour earlier than the traditional time. I placed myself along the touchline in the half that Worcester Park were attacking. Wrong choice… Guernsey showed their class and although Park had a decent amount of possession, they soon found themselves behind. All the good action – goals, celebrations – were down the other end of the field. My lens of choice – a Canon 70-200 f/2.8 has a decent focal length, but ideally, I wanted Worcester Park to bang in a goal or two. Alas no, as the visitors went in at the break three goals to the good.
The second half was more of the same. I sat myself behind the goal Guernsey were attacking, hoping for a display similar to the first half. It never really came. The Lions had taken their foot off the gas. Whilst they did get another goal, Worcester Park scored a consolation effort that was controversial in the fact that it never crossed the line. Supposedly it didn’t come close! I however, was over 100 yards away, and so have to take the word of others on that. Damn – missed another good opportunity. Football blogger Putajumperon was also in attendance and was great to finally meet him. His words on the match are well worth a read.
I was also surprised and impressed by the travelling away support. Guernsey regularly top 1,000 at home games (with 1,752 being the record), but with the expense and logistics of following your club every weekend via Gatwick, I thought the green army would be more of a rabble. How wrong I was. 265 were in attendance. In a league that gets anything from one man and his dog to sixty, tops, that is impressive. It seemed to have taken Worcester Park’s tea bar by surprise too… the poor girls behind the counter didn’t know what had hit them. I later found out that a large number of Guernsey fans are ex-pats living on the mainland.
The hospitality and friendliness of Worcester Park FC and their officials has meant that I will definitely be making a return visit to Skinner’s Field soon. It’s a shame that it will most likely not involve Guernsey. As of this past weekend, Guernsey has all but been crowned champions. Nine points clear and a goal difference of +103 with just three games to go… These green Lions certainly have some bite!
Author – Stuart Tree