JUST months after the ecstasy of lifting the Championship trophy, Jersey Reds players, who had been due to meet at the Airport to travel to Cornwall, were called to an emergency meeting to be told they were now free agents.
Unlike Wasps, Worcester and London Irish, where the warning signs were there before the clubs went under, the Reds players, who had brought such joy and excitement to the Island’s sporting scene, were seemingly completely in the dark as to the perilous financial situation.
Scrum-half James Elliott, who joined the club in 2020, spent several hours wandering around the grounds of the club, unable to bring himself to leave. He had been due to be part of the 23-man squad travelling to Penzance for the Premiership Cup clash against Cornish Pirates.
‘We didn’t see it coming. There’s not a lot we can do about it is there and I haven’t really got my head around it,’ he said. ‘I already had my suitcases in the car, where they still are, I was expecting to leave the meeting, go to the Airport and fly over.
‘I’m still lingering around at the club now, as I can’t bring myself to drive away.
‘We knew nothing, the first thing we knew was from a message in a group chat at five to 6 this morning from Harvey [Biljon] saying [club chairman] Mark [Morgan] wants a meeting with everyone, staff included.
‘He said the match-day 23 who were meant to be off today even had to come in, so we knew from that, that something must be up. And then the meeting started, and it led with “We’re going to tell it to you straight, Jersey Reds is going to cease trading, you’re all free agents”.
‘Harvey is handling it really well – he’s trying to sort whatever he can out with everyone, but there’s only so much he can do at this point as well.’
Elliott said the players were told one of the Reds’ key backers had pulled out, prompting the club to cease trading.
‘We were told that someone has just pulled out. We don’t know who, we are in the dark with all of that side of things.
‘It begs the question of why we were in a position where one person, whoever they are, is who we were relying for the whole club to run. And how could they just leave, and it means we all won’t get paid?
‘There have been no signs around the place that this was on the cards. Like staying over for two nights in Bath the other week, it has all been normal. It begs the question, have they pulled the plug too early? Was there still a chance this could get resolved?
‘As far as we’re concerned, we’re free to find new clubs, and some of the boys are flying out. It’s not a place you can just stay and linger around for two weeks, as it’s so expensive. So once you’re out of an income, you’ve got to get out of the Island.’
Scott van Breda is in his second spell at the club and the South African relocated to the Island with his young family.
‘Obviously it blindsided all of us this morning. We expected to travel to Cornwall, and the next minute we were told it is all done, based on one guy pulling out yesterday afternoon and the board of directors said that’s that, and ceased trading,’ he said.
‘I’ve been through this back home, I can relate to it more. But then, it was more like you saw it coming over a long period of time, whereas this is tougher to take, because it is out of nowhere, it’s caught us all off guard.
‘Also, my personal situation is different. If I was back in South Africa, with family around me and stuff, it would be easier to deal with, where this isn’t just me – there’s my little one, and my wife to think about – we didn’t plan on moving anywhere else any time soon.’
He added that the work the club had done over the past decade to establish itself as an elite team in professional rugby had ‘been undone in a couple of hours’.
Van Breda said: ‘Whenever there had been any sort of issues, or when London Irish went under, Mark [Morgan] would come in and say: “Listen we’ve got five or six investors, so if one pulls out, we’ll always be fine”.
‘Last month, we had a banking error, where we had to wait, and got paid later in the day than normal. We were promised that it was nothing out of the blue, nothing to worry about, and the finances were fine, so we didn’t even think about it. We brushed that aside when maybe we should have been asking more questions.
‘And unfortunately now, what’s happened has happened, and there are more questions, as it doesn’t seem to add up. We got told that yesterday, there was only one guy left, who had no contract or obligation, and he’s decided at 2pm to pull the plug and, within a few hours, the board of directors have come together to say they are ceasing trading as a club?
‘So, it’s obvious that it doesn’t sound like one plus one is making two.’
Elliott echoed van Breda’s confusion as to how the club had gone from preparing for a fixture to the brink of liquidation with no warning.
‘It’s bizarre, it hasn’t followed the usual playbook like Wasps, Worcester and Irish, of getting 50/50 pay or anything for a month, it’s just a straight cut and being told “Thanks lads, it’s over”.
‘To all the questions in the meeting, all we got were this one investor gave them all inclinations that they would keep investing, and there were other ones who they were trying to secure. They thought it was fine, and then, at 2pm yesterday, they just said, after that I’m not going to give any money any more.
‘I’m sure the government and everyone on the Island don’t want Jersey Reds to disappear, so they need to do everything they can.’