Guernsey FC versus Corinthian-Casuals FC
Ryman League Divsion One South
Saturday 28th December 2013
Final score: 2-1
04:30 – It’s not really a time I want to be seeing on my mobile phone as the alarm wakes me. It’s also not a time to be getting ready for a football match, but here I was, dressing myself and preparing my camera equipment ready for Corinthian-Casuals away trip to Guernsey.
With an early morning flight ahead of a 1pm kickoff, the bleary-eyed players and officials of the club stumbled onto the coach to take us to Gatwick Airport. Whilst sunrise had yet to come, many were in high spirits. In a way, this would become the closest they’d come to playing in an International away fixture.
We arrived and checked-in with our flight operator and duly greeted by two familiar faces in the Terminal. Roger and Barry are hardcore Casuals fans and travel home and away, wherever the team goes. There was no room on our flight so they’d booked with another airline at some considerable expense. £260 return each didn’t seem to faze them. “It’s Barry’s birthday and when the fixture list came out, there was no way we were gonna miss this.” Unfortunately, with the match played between the lucrative period around Christmas, prices were heavily inflated compared to the rest of the year. Roger and Barry would be joined by one other fan, Neil – Casuals’ first season ticket holder, who sought out a better deal by flying from Southampton for a mere £120 return.
I joined Roger and Barry in the bar for a very early morning pint before heading off to the gate with the rest of the team. At the gate, there were three chaps dressed in suits. They had to be the officials. Indeed, I recognised all of them from my travels. The referee, also on his first league excursion to the Channel Islands, jokingly assured me that the game would go ahead “even if there was six inches of water on the pitch”. All three seemed decent lads and we shared a few jokes and tales before boarding.
The flight to Guernsey, aboard a pokey little ATR-72 prop plane took just 45 minutes. If anything, we sat on the tarmac at Gatwick longer than the duration of the flight. We were served the morning’s paper ‘the Guernsey Press’ where a decent back page article was a preview to the forthcoming game versus Corinth.
Once through the world’s smallest baggage reclaim and onto the coach, we headed for breakfast in a posh hotel. The prices were steep and whilst I tucked into a full English, some of the players were a little aggrieved that their bowls of cereal cost £7.50, of which left little out of their allowance for food on the day.
A short walk to burn off the calories and we arrived at Footes Lane – home of our hosts, Guernsey Football Club.
Guernsey FC was established in 2011 to offer the Island’s elite footballers the chance to play competitively outside the boundaries of the Channel Islands. They are a fully amateur side (in fact, the match was played between the only two amateur sides in the league) and are owned and run for the benefit of the local community. With two promotions in two seasons, coming from the Combined Counties league, the Green Lions now found themselves in the Ryman League Division One South – at Step 4 of the non-league pyramid. In the previous meeting of the two sides, back in Surrey, Guernsey ran out 2-1 winners. They now lay seventh in the league whilst the visitors were rock-bottom 24th – though with a win and a draw in the last two games.
In their generously-sized boardroom and bar, I met with Mark Le Tissier (Chairman and Brother of Southampton legend Matt) who greeted us with a warm welcome. We chatted over tea about the logistics of operating a club out of the Islands and how they’d improved the playing surface drainage. Last season, their title ambitions were fatally dented when postponements and an FA Vase run saw them end up playing 19 games in April. It was a testament to them to still be promoted after having to play up to four games in four days, with Matt Le Tissier even coming out of retirement to help alleviate squad tiredness.
I also met with Fran, a programme seller and avid fan. Fran had offered to pick me up from the airport and give me a brief tour of the island. Had I not been travelling with the team, it’s an offer I would not have refused. I also met with Andy, the club photographer who I enjoyed a beer with after the match.
The 970 fans in attendance took their seats. There’s a complete innocence about Guernsey’s supporters; they pride themselves on being a real family club; everyone dresses in Green Lions apparel (hats, scarves, sweaters, flags) whilst hooting horns, blowing kazoos and blaring on trumpets. Last season, they used to print the words to songs in the programme. Guernsey are a club not yet hampered by rivalries or controversy, bereft of the baggage of having local bitter enemies or years of resentment toward close neighbour’s successes. It’s the kind of club you can imagine your Mum going to, week-in, week-out. I found it extremely refreshing, if not a little surreal.
At 1pm and shortly after a deluge of rain and hail, the match commenced. Casuals were jaded and it appeared the 4.30am alarm call was taking its toll. Guernsey were all over the visitors and their pressure finally told on fifteen minutes when Dave Rihoy’s low shot in the box got the better of keeper Danny Bracken and gave the host’s the lead.
The goal appeared to wake up Casuals and steadily, they came more and more into the match, though without any real significant threat. However, on 35 minutes, Ellis Wilson-Joseph scuffed a golden opportunity wide and with it, the chance to equalise.
Spending time with the officials, sharing laughs and jokes at the airport, on the plane and at breakfast counted for little. As soon as the whistle blew to commence the game, all newly found friendships were washed away. A contentious penalty decision (delete as applicable: I’ve seen them given… not given) led to Casuals bench humorously blasting that the ref’s luggage wasn’t finding its way back on the plane. Whilst the anger towards the officials wasn’t any worse than any other game up and down the country, it’s not often the officials have to share flights home on the same plane as the team.
Penalty aside (scored by Ross Allen to give the Lions a 2-0 lead), Casuals were using the strong wind to their advantage and dominated possession. A string of wasted chances (including Ellis again) led to their own downfall. An inability to score was ironically topped with Guernsey scoring an own goal. Was this the only way Casuals were going to score? Alas, a last few minutes of trying to equalise ended fruitless. The trumpeter’s trumped and Corinth’s players embraced the three supporters who’d made the trip.
After the game, we had some time to kill before heading back to the airport for the 18:00 flight. We shared drinks with the locals, regaled stories of the league all whilst Roger showed off his Corinthian-Casuals tattoo and sang songs.
Back at the airport terminal, the officials seemed to be keeping their distance a little more than before the game. Probably not an experience they’ve had, having to board the plane with 20+ players ready to interrogate?
Safely back on the mainland, we touched down bang on 19:00. The players and match officials huddled around the baggage carousel which finally gave them the chance to explain their decisions and share a few last jokes. All hands were shook, well wishes made and home bound we were. A sixteen hour day behind us, all in the name of an eighth-tier football match. But we wouldn’t have it any other way.
You can see the full set of photos from the day here.
Author – Stuart Tree