Guernsey has a long history of producing outstanding footballers who have made it to professional ranks. Ask anyone to name a famous player from the island and most will know of Southampton legend Matthew Le Tissier, but there are so many more who have made an impact on the game.
For an island of just over 60,000 people, it’s quite remarkable that Guernsey has produced so many first-class players. There are currently six players from Guernsey with contracts at professional clubs, and it looks like there are more to follow in their footsteps. Tony Vance, Manager of Guernsey FC and himself a former pro in the 90s with Wycombe Wanderers, takes a look at what makes the island a rich breeding ground for so many talented players.
Tony refers to the water around the island as a moat: ‘It’s our ultimate protection for many things.’ He explains why Guernsey is an ideal place for children to take part in sport: ‘Between the ages of six to 18, the island provides a fantastic sporting environment, and with all sports we are punching well above our weight to deliver quite a number of world champions. It’s impressive. As a parent, you can drive your child to athletics at four o’clock after school. When they finish athletics, you can take them to basketball until seven. In the UK it’s going to take you a whole night to go to training or the whole weekend to go to football.’
As well as good facilities, Guernsey is blessed with skilled coaches. ‘Good coaches can positively influence children and do it consistently over many years. In England, however, a good coach is likely to move on to somewhere else and end up in a different jurisdiction. So suddenly the children have got to start again with a new coach.’ This is where Tony’s ‘moat’ acts as a real positive for Guernsey. It provides protection and helps create an environment where dedicated sports people can be nurtured and developed.
Of the island’s football scene, Tony says, ‘There’s some real talent over here. I’ve always maintained that even at age group levels, if you were representing Guernsey at last half of those players would have been good enough to have been involved with professional clubs at some point.’
Although the island provides an ideal environment for nurturing sporting prowess, Guernsey’s top footballers benefit from competing against players from further afield. Guernsey FC was formed in 2011 and plays in the English leagues, currently at Step 4. This has provided a pathway for players and greater competition to help them develop by competing in the adult leagues, far tougher than just playing in Guernsey.
For those who want to be a pro, this also gives them a higher chance of being spotted. Competition to be noticed by a pro club is intense, so just being on a club’s radar is quite an achievement. Playing on a rock in the middle of the English Channel makes that job even harder. Guernsey FC players have an added card up their sleeve, however: Bristol City owner Stephen Lansdown lives on the island, and Manager Tony has a close working relationship with the club.
One player to benefit from this relationship is Alex Scott. He signed for Bristol City in 2020 and has quickly established himself as a first team regular and crowd favourite. Many top premier league sides are lining up to sign him, and Tony is impressed by his mental toughness: ‘It’s absolutely about the mental ruthlessness to be away. Alex is a great example because I think the month he signed Covid hit and he was stuck in England with a host family. He didn’t drive and was probably stuck in a room – for a social youngster whose friends at home weren’t in lockdown that must have been tough. That takes tremendous drive and it’s these bits that won’t be talked about when he signs his £20 million transfer or whatever it is.’
Guernsey FC player Ben Acey is following in his footsteps, having signed a contract to play for Bristol City from the summer.
But Guernsey FC isn’t the only route into the professional game. Sixteen-year-old Joe Adams has recently signed for Wigan Athletic. He looked for opportunities to play in the UK against tougher competition. ‘What Joe did was he took his opportunity by going through a college academy which put him in the English league system. At 16 he has taken himself outside of his comfort zone and ended up being signed by a pro club.’
In the women’s game one of the brightest prospects for the English game is Guernsey’s Maya Le Tissier, who plays for Brighton and Hove Albion in the WSL. Guernsey’s women’s game wasn’t well developed when she was younger and she grew up playing with the boys, often up an age group which helped her develop physically. ‘She’s been out of her comfort zone since day one and that’s going to be a big benefit. It’s only a matter of time, she is going to be a world star, the next Lucy Bronze. She is an amazing ambassador and an amazing person,’ enthuses Tony.
Maya is joined at Brighton by another Guernsey girl, Sydney Schreimaier, who is following in her footsteps. Tony says she is also a big talent, with the drive and determination to match that should lead to success at a high level. There are more girls who have the potential to join them in the coming years.
These players all have something in common. They are all talented but they have been totally focused on being the best they can be and enjoying the game. ‘The players who make it don’t just do the training with their clubs growing up, they practise, practise, practise. They have a certain obsession but also a big love for the game as well. They have to have the right mentality for this tough game. That’s what creates different levels,’ says Tony.
The future is bright for these Guernsey footballers, and it looks like more will be following them to make a career in the sport.