The Premier League is 10% Welsh, and now the FA Cup is 0.14% Norman, as it welcomes its first ever team from the Channel Islands. Guernsey FC begin their first ever season in the FA Cup tomorrow.
The club was formed in 2011 to provide opportunity for the best of the island’s footballers to test themselves in the English non-league pyramid.
However, for a club with 75 miles of sea between them and the nearest opposition, it was never going to be easy. First the league and now the FA have sought to entangle the fledgling team in an ever more complex and expensive net of rules.
Their entry to the Combined Counties League stipulated that the club would be required to fund all travel costs for every club visiting the island. Visiting clubs would be allowed to bring a party of 22 players and staff from the mainland; flights, one night’s hotel accommodation, transfers on the island and car parking at the Hilton Hotel at Gatwick Airport, all at the expense of Guernsey FC.
All this was on top of the considerable expenses incurred in their own travelling to away games, every single one of them on the UK mainland. Suddenly, attempting to join English football’s tenth tier seemed to make no financial sense whatsoever.
However, then came some lucrative sponsorship deals, a celebrity chairman in the form of ex-Guern Matt Le Tissier, and a fan base that sees the club attract crowds in excess of 1,000 week in week out – most singing their signature tune of “We’re the famous Guernsey FC and we’re going ormering”, a reference to collecting edible molluscs from the seashore. Disaster, what disaster?
Now after successive promotions through the Combined Counties Football League to the level-eight Ryman (Isthmian) League Division One South, they are eligible to join English football’s most prestigious competition, the FA Cup.
Club chairman Mark Le Tissier, older brother of the aforementioned Matt, feels that the club’s entry is a great milestone for Guernsey: “It is a privilege to take part in such a prodigious competition and our achievement to qualify for the right to play is something the whole Island can be proud of.”
Although they are the first Channel Island side to compete in the FA Cup, Guernsey aren’t technically its first offshore competitors, as the FA Cup’s press officer Matt Phillips explains.
“We have another offshore team this season in Newport IOW, who are based on the Isle of Wight. They’ve played in the Cup previously and are only three miles off the mainland coast, so aren’t subject to the same terms that govern Guernsey’s entry into the competition.”
Indeed, the Green Lions have agreed to extra regulations in order to play in the FA Cup, including a stipulation that replays could not be played on the island.
“It all boils down to the logistics of playing replays,” explains Phillips. “When the club played in the FA Vase it wasn’t too much of a problem, as replays could take place the following weekend back at their Footes Lane ground.
Footes Lane: The Green Lions' den
“However, that’s not possible in the FA Cup due to the rules of the competition and the quick turnaround of replays. There’s also the travel implications involved for the opposition, with Guernsey being 75 miles off the English coast which rules out a midweek replay on the island.”
The Green Lions have already had a whiff of Wembley last season, with a successful run to the FA Vase semi-finals. Their campaign ended after a 450-mile journey over land and sea to the County Durham home of eventual Vase winners Spennymoor Town.
Guernsey have caught the eye before, notably earlier this year when a poor winter and long cup run conspired to give the club a fixture pile-up of comic proportions: 23 games in 43 days, 17 in April alone and four in the last four days of the season.
They got some Saintly help from Matt Le Tissier, who re-signed as a player to help them through the backlog. True, he may have only played for around 20 minutes, but something certainly worked out and the Green Lions won their second successive promotion.
Meet The Channel Island Messi
Guernsey’s FA Cup opponents Crawley Down Gatwick are the current leaders of the Ryman South League, making them arguably the round’s top-ranked team. The Green Lions, lower midtable in the same division, travelled to west Sussex last weekend for a league game, gaining a creditable 1-1 draw with the table-toppers.
What’s worse, Guernsey may be without the club’s record goalscorer Ross Allen, whose strike-rate outdoes Robin van Persie, Cristiano Ronaldo and even Leo Messi. In just over two seasons Allen has netted 100 times.
Ross Allen: Guernsey's leading light
It’s a mean feat at any level, but in a squad where other players are also chipping in with the odd goal or 20 per season, it’s testament to Ross’s nose for goal. He was even linked to Swindon when Paolo Di Canio was at his barmy best… No, we’re not shocked either.
So having overcome financial obstacles and a rule-book apparently designed to disincentivise their participation, the Green Lions may face their day of destiny without their most potent weapon against arguably the hardest opponents possible. Their cup run may not last much longer, but you won’t have heard the last of Guernsey FC.