Passion plays a part – right across the board

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But, for the first time in years, there was so much news to read about – most of it of a sporting nature and, with regard to sport, most of it good. I, personally, read the paper twice.

From the ‘Rescue drama ends Arctic bid’ on page 1 to the antics at the Geoff Reed Table Tennis Centre on the back page the newspaper was stuffed full of news that, I would argue, no other provincial paper could match.

No wonder that the JEP is up for national awards. Why, on Tuesday its news content, its stories and the lay-out of its pages were every bit as good, if not better, than the nationals.

Arguably interest would not have been so high if Jersey had lost more sports than it had won.

James Walker took the first win of his season in front of 80,000 people in the World Series by Renault Championships at Spa-Francochamps in Belgium. Jersey’s Gaelic footballers won the Island’s first-ever Gaelic football European tournament at Grainville. We won the bar billiards inter-insular.

But, in terms of the general public most interest focussed around the Island winning both the men’s and women’s Murattis and the Siam Cup.

I suppose that if Guernsey had won all of the inter-insulars other than the table tennis then their paper’s sales would have been up, because human nature is such that we prefer to read about winning rather than losing.

However, even the fact that the men’s and women’s table tennis teams both lost the singles and the team events made for a tremendous story on the back page of the JEP. Why? – Because it was, rightly, a back page lead as it showed that while there will always be passion in team sports like football and cricket, hockey and rugby, too few people recognize the passion of table tennis when the chips are down.

I’m not interested here in personalities. Instead I’m speaking about the emotions that players put into their sport and, from what I have gleaned since, on Saturday night at the Geoff Reed Table Tennis Centre we had some players from both islands throwing their towels and bats around (one table tennis bat hit a spectator) while Jersey team manager Clive Hansford said that, of one of his player’s behaviour as he played his heart out and then ‘gestured’ towards the crowd: ‘These things happen in the heat of battle . . . he reacted to a little bit of goading from some of the spectators.’

Yet he never swore. Which is not something you can generally not say about a football match although a States member, watching a football match with me recently when virtually everyone on the pitch used either the B or the C word. ‘Well, what can you expect? After all, football has always been traditionally associated with the working classes!’

Tuesday’s JEP was a cracking read just as some of the comments made by the players and managers were always worth the loose change.

‘We had a point to prove because we felt Guernsey were disrespectful in the build up, saying how well they were going to do because they were returning to The Track. They were a bit dismissive of our players and they don’t deserve that because we have a very good squad'(Jersey manager Dave Kennedy: Guernsey 0, Jersey 1)

‘We were denied by a super, duper goal, so Guernsey have nothing to be ashamed of’ (Guernsey women’s manager, magnanimous in defeat, Paul Mooney). They weren’t thumping each other. It was more like cuddling, really!’ (21-year-old referee, the excellent Luke Pearce, regarding a front row brawl in the Siam Cup).

‘To lose so badly. It’s pretty ugly isn’t it?’ (Guernsey 2nds coach Doug Hayter. Jersey at the time were winning by over 70 points to nil. Guernsey lost 84-0).

Meanwhile after the May Bank Holiday was over it was interesting to reflect on how the Muratti no longer holds the attention of such huge crowds, in either island, as it did even a generation ago.

Apparently the number of Jersey supporters who travelled over to the Track was no more than 300, if that. Yet in contrast, at St Peter, the Siam Cup attracted arguably the most number of spectators seen at the Rugby Club this century.

Professionalism has played its part in making Jersey rugby so enjoyable but on Saturday the only professional to finish the game was captain V Talite Vaioleti. Nathan Kemp and Hendrick Rheeders were injured and Sam Tuia joined them on the sidelines after the first half, but their influence is such that they have helped take Jersey to new heights in the way they train the rest of the Island players who, in turn, learn to play some of the best rugby seen in Jersey once they run out onto the pitch.

And, in retrospect, one of the reasons why the crowd was so large wasn’t simply that this was going to be a close run thing – remember, Jersey lost the last two games and as veteran Tommy Titshall said beforehand: ‘Three defeats in a row is unthinkable’ – no; it was also that the Jersey side contained so many home produced players.

Looking through the programme it was interesting to see how many Islanders there were in the team. On a personal basis what was also enjoyable was to see a truly Island wide day – or rather two days – of rugby.

A decade again there wouldn’t have been a Trower or McAviney in either the Jersey 1sts or 2nds team. Yet, at the weekend, there they were – the next generation on – as the club embraced the Banks’ players as their own.

Meanwhile, for the Wanderers (who sadly lost) seven of their team were former Les Quennevais players which tells me that there is a real camaraderie within Island rugby which, in my playing days, simply wasn’t there.

Meanwhile, what of getting to and from the rugby pitch? I mention this because after the game, as I queued up with approaching 70 or more spectators to catch the bus back into town, it dawned on me that we wouldn’t all get on – and 40 or 50 of us didn’t.

But, as I talked to others in the queue as we were waiting, I was reminded of going to other big day matches; for in the UK bus companies recognize that they can make a huge amount of money very quickly by laying on buses for you . . . from Richmond to Twickenham, for example, there are 50p rugby specials which queue up to take you there.

There are special match day buses at virtually every football ground, come Saturday . . . So the point I am making is a very simple one. Come Siam Cup Day, why don’t Connex lay on match day specials, solely to go from town to St Peter?

If they had done so on Saturday – and announced the fact they were doing so in the JEP – they would have been doing the Jersey public a huge favour; they would have been doing the parish a favour (many more supporters would have left their cars at home) and they would have made a fair bit of money in the process.

Up to 6,000 spectators were at St Peter . . . surely at least ten per cent of who would have quite enjoyed a trip there and back to and from St Helier by bus . . .

Finally, on the subject of the Siam Cup, I knew Jersey would almost certainly win even before hand because of Guernsey’s fear of their forwards.

Talking to the coaches and the reserves, they made an observation about how huge the Jersey pack are. They might have joked about them being ‘big lumps’ but in truth Jersey has probably never had such a huge pack – including the subs – nor, come to that, such a fit bunch of ‘big lumps’ either. I would take those two (little!) words as a compliment.

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