FOCUSING on trying to help ‘devastated’ Jersey Reds players facing the sudden loss of their livelihoods after the demise of their club, Harvey Biljon admitted he had little idea about the impact of the situation on him personally.
The Reds director of rugby contacted members of his squad before 6am yesterday to advise that, instead of reporting to Jersey Airport for their 9.20am flight to Exeter, they should attend an emergency briefing at the club.
Instead of travelling and getting ready for the Premiership Rugby Cup tie against Cornish Pirates scheduled for tonight – but now cancelled – Biljon had been caught up in what he said had been a difficult and emotional day for all those involved.
‘I’ve had grown men who’ve just been given unexpected news, don’t have any solution and are in tears,’ he said. ‘I feel a sense of responsibility around the players, with the timing of this meaning they won’t get paid for their work this month.
‘Many of them can’t pay their rent and there are some who face being stranded because they can’t afford air fares to leave the Island – the immediate focus has been on trying to find the best way to support them, whether with funds or help with finding new clubs.’
Asked about the personal impact of the news, Biljon admitted he had yet to properly consider the implications.
‘I’ll probably get a moment over the next couple of days to reflect on what it means for me, but at the moment my thoughts have been with the players.
‘I’m still in a state of shock, it’s been a big part of my life after moving here ten years ago when the club were about to be relegated and then going through the seasons to winning the league this year.
‘I’m confused at how we were on the edge of achieving something that we had a long-term strategy for, namely promotion, and then something like this happens.
‘We exceeded expectations by winning the Championship ahead of our target, and people who say we’ve done that by paying extortionate wages don’t know what they are talking about – the average wage for our players is around £25,000.’
Biljon also spoke of the impact of the news for the Island generally.
‘I’m absolutely shocked that this has been allowed to happen,’ he said. ‘The value that the club brings the Island is something you can’t describe.
‘We had 10,000 people supporting us across the last four games and it’s not just the rugby, but the way people socialise and network – it’s the heartbeat of the Island.’
The implications of what had happened for rugby generally were also something Biljon said he was mindful of.
‘The state of the game is something that needs to be looked at, although that’s a bigger debate and something to consider after we’ve sorted out the current situation here,’ he said.
Following the early morning meeting with players and other staff members, with the group addressed by Reds chairman Mark Morgan, Biljon held one-to-one meetings with many of the players in the hope of providing support and advice.
Remaining Premiership Cup ties with the Pirates (tonight) and Ealing Trailfinders (on Friday 6 October) will be cancelled, with the 2023/24 Championship campaign, due to begin on Saturday 21 October, facing the same fate.
Officials from the amateur Jersey Rugby Football Club, which separated from the professional Reds arm last year, were yesterday working to assess the impact of the news in order to ensure that scheduled home games for both the men’s and women’s sides tomorrow could go ahead as planned.