The day of days for Jersey football
IN the 113 years since the Jersey Football Association formed there have been countless days to remember.
No fewer than 54 men’s Muratti finals have been won, home fixtures against Premier League professionals have been enjoyed, four Island Games gold medals have been celebrated. And there was also the small matter of a Regions Cup campaign that took the Island’s best players to San Marino to represent England.
However, it would be hard to argue that any of those dates and occasions are as important as today’s.
Two years after submitting their application for Uefa membership the Jersey FA will finally have their case presented to the powers of European football this morning. In Bratislava, Slovakia, those powers will cast their vote on whether to leave the door open (or wave as it slams shut), and in 24 hours’ time the face of Island football could have changed beyond recognition.
Players and clubs in Jersey could benefit from a huge cash injection from Uefa HQ, while our top players from under-17s to seniors could have international fixtures and global attention to look forward to.
In reality, approval at the first attempt would be a huge shock, and while there is, of course, muted hope of success, JFA president Phil Austin and chief executive Neville Davidson have made it clear they are not expecting to return with the 28 votes required for international footballing status.
The two JFA officials travelled via Vienna yesterday morning after being invited to attend the annual congress at the Incheba Expo in the Slovakian capital, and while their reception will not be as frosty as the weather (the mercury dropped to –11 degrees Celsius overnight) they can still expect a rough ride when their application evolves from an agenda-point into formal discussion.
Uefa’s executive committee will again highlight Jersey’s lack of recognition by the United Nations as a stumbling point, and therefore tell their members to shuffle the Island’s bid aside.
However, in a five-minute speech to all 55 Uefa countries Austin intends to make the continent’s leading figures hesitate (at the very least) before they vote ‘Against’. He is expected to highlight Jersey’s political and legal independence in the face of disagreement, while challenging each nation to vote against the advice of the Uefa executive.
Austin has also promised to question why Article 5 of Uefa’s Statutes (relating to independency, and the main stumbling block for Jersey’s bid) does not apply to England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, Gibraltar and the Faroe Islands.
‘We are going into the unknown … into the lion’s den,’ said Austin yesterday.
‘I expect that we’ll be given a fair hearing, but we do recognise that winning votes is not going to be easy because a lot of the countries will come with predetermined views on how they’re going to vote.
‘I’ve spoken to three or four countries already, and we’re going to use the time available before congress to meet with and talk to as many other countries as we possibly can.’
Austin again suggested discussions should be about football – not politics – and in doing so he quoted one of Uefa’s own core values: ‘In everything we do, the first and most important element of any consideration, must be football’.
He added: ‘Membership would give a clear pathway for players from a young age right through to international football.
‘They will be starting international competitions at the age of 17, and the younger players will have a real incentive – knowing they can represent their country, Jersey, against international opposition.
‘It will be tremendous motivation for club players as well – it will completely re-energise football in Jersey.’
Austin continued: ‘If we don’t get in then the successful outcome will be a continuation of dialogue with Uefa, and for them to help us in some shape or form – perhaps with interim or associate membership.
‘Defeat would be not getting in and no ongoing dialogue.’
The vote on Jersey's membership is expected to take place at 10.30 am BST.