The annual tournament for some of the country’s top footballing prospects – a cornerstone of Island sport since its inception in 1974 – became the latest high-profile victim of the coronavirus outbreak yesterday as organisers heeded government-backed health and travel advice.
Jersey’s under-11s were due to host around 200 players from 11 UK schools from 11-18 April for the festival’s 46th consecutive primary edition – following two U14 competitions in 1972 and 1973.
Former visiting players include the likes of England captains Tony Adams, John Terry, Michael Owen and Harry Kane, plus Welsh captains Gary Speed and Ian Rush.
Tournament founder Pat Cullinane said: ‘This would have been the 46th primary festival but the 48th year in total. I’ll have to wait an extra year for the 50th.
‘It’s the only one in 46 years, so in a sense if you look at the plus side we’ve had all that time where it’s worked so well. All of a sudden we have a blip, but there’s a major blip for everyone.
‘It’s obviously very disappointing for everyone. All of the teams have been working for a year raising money to come over and the parents get involved with it – it’s a family exercise for all the groups. The children will be disappointed as well, but it’s nothing in comparison to maintaining good health.’
Discussing his decision to cancel the event – and the subsequent implications – Cullinane said: ‘I did have a call from a couple of associations about a fortnight ago and there were concerns from parents too. A lot of parents come over but they book separately to the teams and stay elsewhere while they’re here.
‘The difficulty was when to make the call. We had to wait for something official [from the government] – I didn’t want to make a decision until it was absolutely clear.’
He added: ‘There is not really a financial loss for us … it’s more the financial support we get from PwC every year. They have t-shirts made for all the children, which will have the year on them so they might not hold on to them for 2021. I do feel sorry for them, they have been extremely good sponsors of ours and we really appreciate all the help they have given us.
‘There is no way we could do it later in the year, with pitches, hotels and all that to sort. We’ll just have to wait until 2021.’
Jersey Primary Schools Festival’s star ‘graduates’: Neil Webb (Man Utd & England); Graeme Le Saux (Chelsea & England); Gary Speed (Leeds & Wales); Ugo Ehiogu (Aston Villa & England); Tony Adams (Arsenal & England); Michael Owen (Liverpool & England); John Terry (Chelsea & England); Theo Walcott (Arsenal & England); Harry Kane (Spurs & England); Claire Rafferty (Chelsea Ladies, England World Cup Bronze medallist); David Tuttle (Spurs & England U21).