Passion plays a part – right across the board

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Jersey have so many brilliant facilities, which were demonstrable enough in 1997, and will undoubtedly host a great Games.

But I do feel for those not invited to the proposed party and can sympathise with Mark Ford when he writes in the letters pages of the JEP that he is ‘dismayed’ that Jersey have omitted three sports – and especially gymnastics – in their bid for inclusion in the Island Games’ bid.

However, I also applaud Tom Verdon for his appreciation that the Island bid did not include bowls because Jersey Bowls doesn’t need the Games. ‘We have enough international competition already’, we were told.

And Jersey do play bowls at a high level, as a right. Indeed, the standard currently being set is such that Island Games competition might be seen to be, if not a backward step, then certainly not a vital advance.

The same isn’t true of other sports, particularly those where individual participants have to train and survive without payment.

Indeed, there is one sportsman I respect for his contribution to Jersey and NatWest Island Games sport, virtually from the day both were created, who has done a lot more than survive.

For my friend David Ward has won 60 Island Games’ medals. And I repeat that – 60 medals since he first started competing. Many good athletes, in other Island Games sports, have struggled to win even one. But I digress.

So I wish the Island’s 2015 bid well, though I would have liked to see Jersey host gymnastics over here. I realise, of course, that some sports simply had to miss out.

But I can’t help thinking of Matthew Malletroit, at the tender age of 22, having had to give up high level gymnastics because of the lack of facilities. He won seven medals at the last Island Games and quite reasonably, could have assumed tha that would give him a launch pad to advance still further. But at least he had a launchpad.

So, I end the first part of today’s comment with Mark Ford’s words on gymnastics, which he regards as ‘the one true sport where each member of the team’s contribution is as valuable as each others’ with his final despairing words, to the letters page:’I understand that the bid will not be changed but I wish to express my disappointment . . . for a phenomenal sport.’

So, as we head to 2010, which sport in Jersey has the most clout? Well, it must be rugby. And I make no excuse about talking about what is my No 1 favourite sport because Jersey Rugby is currently extremely popular.

In it’s own way it is a phenomenon. And yet the rugby clubs that Jersey play against (well, some of them at least) seem to think that somehow the Island is cheating.

‘You pay all of your players. We are all amateurs,’ is how it was described to me at the weekend when Jersey beat North Walsham 57-5.

But how much does every player get paid? If Jersey win, it is still not much more than the price of a good meal out. And rest assured, there are paid players turning out against Jersey at this level, publicised or not.

But what has impressed me most in recent weeks is the style of the rugby that Jersey have been playing. To go to Twickenham these days costs at least £65.

And yet Jersey RFC are playing such sublime rugby that their £5 admission charge (and remember their large and growing membership go in free) is one of the true bargains around. I would pay several times the amount they are charging, because at times this season they have been absolutely scintillating.

And it isn’t me simply talking.

Three different friends, on three different occasions this week, have all said the same thing to me.

‘I’ve been to Twickenham twice and never seen this standard of rugby,’ said one. ‘I’ve been watching rugby over yer (sic) and never seen a team playing like it,’ said another. And, as we head toward the annual Christmas break, I can’t think of a better sport to watch in the Island at the moment.

I have seen the best of netball, rugby, cricket and football over the years, but at the moment I have never seen a rugby team like it.

Regular readers will know that I enjoy my netball; my football; my hockey and my rugby. All team sports, you understand. Because the one thing about team sports is that you can play appallingly badly and still win, while in athletics or swimming, if you perform badly there’s very rarely a good result and certainly no-one to blame but yourself.

And what Ben Harvey has, which no other National Division III team has, is a back-up ‘squad’ of three or four players who are, in their own way, quite exceptional. I know that because I’ve seen the faces of coaches who’ve watched as Kern Yates, Nathan Kemp and Ross Allan, for example, have all stripped off, ready to come onto the pitch from the reserve bench.

All three of them have made a full-time living from the game and attained representative rugby honours of an extremely high standard. And as a former player myself, the last thing you ever want to see is a trim set of internationals about to come on for the last 30 minutes to destroy you. Jersey have, simply, never had such a golden period.

And if you don’t want to believe me? Well, the last time I looked at the RFU scorecard, Jersey’s points for were 670; against 170. That’s a 500-point difference – and the season’s only half way through.

So don’t shout it too loudly but I would, happily, pay far more than the £5 that the JRFC charge for non members to watch. It’s certainly better value for money than the £30-plus I paid for the last Derby County game I went to. And my one regret? That I rarely, if ever, go to Jersey RFC’s away games.

Finally, congratulations to Jacy Brown for becoming a Scotland netball player.

She has always had that ability within her, to become part of a national team, and like Serena Guthrie, Matt Banahan, Ben Skinner and the other players Jersey have exported, to the world of national sport, has one asset that any true sportsman or woman needs, if they are to survive at the top.

She is amazingly determined, but also level-headed for her age. And I know why that is. Her family’s support over the years has been exceptional. And most successful sportsmen and women over the years will agree that family support is an extremely vital factor.

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