An island punching above its weight

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And tomorrow night at the Hotel de France it will do so again when Clinton Woods and Elvir Muriqi come face to face in an eliminator for the IBF world light heavy-weight title.

Danny Maka is also on the bill, which is a reminder that when Jersey stages any big sporting event there is usually a knock-on bonus for those with Island connections. For Danny, a former Leonis boxer, it really will be a case of coming home – again.

Meanwhile, let me recap on some of the other recent highlights which a 45 sq mile island, 126 miles away from the nearest main UK port with a population no bigger than two large villages from Hampshire or Wiltshire, has brought to these shores.

Last weekend the men’s bar billiards’ team hosted their England counterparts at the Hotel Ambassadeur and beat them, 22-11.

‘So what?’ you might say – but how many other village societies could take on and beat an England team in any sport. (And, might it be said, not only beat them but score exactly twice as many points as they did).

As for football? Well, the Under-18 Jersey lads might have lost to Northern Ireland but at no time were they disgraced and afterwards both the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland managers said they wanted to visit again, even though the latter’s match against Jersey U18s fell victim to the freeze.

They also gave their reasons. So, ignoring the facilities (‘second to none’), the nearness of the hotel to the town and to Springfield and the Island opposition (‘we were never able to treat them lightly’) they talked about the unique opportunity that Jersey provides for their players to bond together.

Now ‘bonding’ isn’t a word that the JEP uses all that often. However, it’s a concept that Tourism would do well to look into.

For most team sports – or rather their managers and coaches – like the idea of taking their players somewhere away from the prying eyes of the national media but somewhere relatively intimate so that they, and their players, can get to know each other just that little bit better.

It isn’t a new concept – Will Carling and the England squad used Jersey as a base, to do just that before a World Cup almost a generation ago – but it is an initiative the Island hasn’t always exploited to the full.

Exchange rate

Yet, with the exchange rate as it is at the moment, what better place to invite teams over for bonding sessions other than to Jersey? which is a prime reason why both Irish squads want to come again.

Also on the subject of football, we had a Southampton Select due to play here last Monday at Springfield. Only the weather prevented Jack Boyle and Co (and I was told that it was going to be a very strong Southampton XI) taking on an Island side.

It never happened, but again Tourism ought to pick up the baton and run with it, advertising the fact that when the snow’s 6 in deep in London, 8 in deep in the Midlands and 10 in deep in Scotland, Jersey might be cold and rainy but, by comparison, it’s less likely to freeze over here than in the UK. Also, that on the whole our proportion of games played v games called off is far better than any other region in the UK.

Why, it was only a month ago that the Rugby Club hosted a visiting London I team when every other major fixture in virtually every other sport in southern England was called off, though getting that particular match played did involve a lot of hard work and determination.

Digging that scene

Then, moving to indoor sports, last Saturday, for the first time ever, Jersey hosted the quarter-finals of the Volleyball England National Shield which, for over two-and-a-half hours enthralled the partisan 60-plus crowd.

After dominating the game early on Jersey nearly threw it away and it was only afterwards that player-coach Lee Ingram put his finger on it, and told me why.

‘We’re not used to having the crowd on our side,’ he said. ‘Because we’re so used to playing away from home it makes us stronger, because we’re always the underdogs.’

Thankfully, his volleyball team won 3-2; having come back, doggedly, from two sets to one, and 7-5 down in the fourth.

Sadly, almost certainly Jersey’s HLB Jackson Fox will never be able to host a UK competition like this again. Why? – Because volleyball’s governing body has to rely on funding from the UK Lottery and as the Island isn’t part of that scheme, there is a marked reluctance by the organisers (and by other sports’ governing bodies) to tempt Fate and to risk having have their money masters taking UK (lottery) funding away by competing offshore.

Anyway . . . before moving away from the amazing variety of sports at national level that Jersey have been part of in a dull and rainy February, and remember we also have a last 16 National Hockey Association Trophy tie in the Island this Sunday, it would be churlish of me not to mention the Jersey Rugby Club Colts’ remarkable 18-17 win against Rochford Hundred to reach the last 16 of the National Plate.

I wonder if, even now, the players realise the enormity of what they have achieved. For this Island side who, like the volleyballers, made life difficult for themselves (would you please try to avoid getting sent to the sin-bin) beat a team which had already beaten Cambridge and Harlow (a team with a combined catchment area of 208,768 inhabitants including over 22,000 students); a Jersey winning team which are currently easily up there with the ‘big boys’ of England rugby.

So, all in all, February is proving to be a month when Jersey is easily punching above its weight and I’m looking forward to being a spectator at the Woods v Muriqi fight tomorrow night. Thank you, Mr Hobson, for going out on a financial limb to bring that contest to our Island.

Meanwhile, long may our sporting over-achievements thrive and prosper. Because the more that we can host national competitions; be passionate about our sport and treat visiting players and teams with TLC, the more they’ll all want to come back here again.

Wherever I lay my bat, that’s my home

However, in a final commentary in a week of extraordinary goings-on in English football (or should that be football management?) I’d like to talk, briefly, about the place of foreigners in our sport.

If I wanted to be picky, I could complain that not one of the players involved in the 0-0 game last weekend between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal was born in London.

That I choose not to be so probably won’t please any of the half a dozen readers who’ve written to me in recent weeks, complaining that English sport is awash with foreigners.

In particular, Kevin Pietersen has been lambasted for being a ‘mercenary’ foreigner who has had (note the past tense) no right to be England captain or, come to that, to be included in the England team.

Personally, I have no axe to grind in any sport if a ‘foreigner’ fulfils the given criteria to play for England or, for that matter, for Jersey (there were six different nationalities playing in last Saturday’s Jersey volleyball team!) as long as they are committed to that team and – an important point – that they put something back into the community and their sport at grass roots level.

However, it strikes me that the main criticism levelled against ‘KP’ isn’t really a race thing at all. For Pietersen’s fault is that when he opens his mouth he is palpably a South African.

So I wonder . . . if he had the nous (a good northern word, that!) to speak in a Geordie, Yorkshire, Cockney or Jersiase accent, whether the British Isles would take him kindly to their hearts? For perhaps all too often we determine race not so much by the colour of our skin, but by the way we communicate with each other.

A composite

Be brown, be yellow, be white or be a composite of any colours on earth, and I think that, eventually, the colour of your skin loses its importance whereas you can’t say the same about the timbre of your voice.

(Why is it, for example, that I always dread the thought of David Beckham talking live to camera?) Anyway, I’ll end this week’s comment piece with one of my favourite expressions from more Islanders I enjoy listening to than ever I could shake a (cabbage) stick at. ‘You all right my love?’

It’s just not cricket …

Last Sunday, on my way up to the work room, I turned on the radio for a time-check. ’27 for seven’ I heard. I glanced up at the kitchen clock.

The time sounded right; but I wasn’t that happy with the BBC’s use of English. Surely ’27 TO seven’ I grumbled to myself.

It was only afterwards that I realised that what I’d heard was England’s score in their second innings total collapse against the West Indies.

But then becoming millionaire cricketers like Pietersen and Flintoff must have its down sides as well as its ups.

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