By Lindsay Ash
Sadly, the Jersey Reds appear to have been lost in what resembles a soap whodunnit.
One thing we do know is that no blame whatsoever lies at the feet of Harvey Biljon, his coaching staff and the players, who have been a credit throughout not only in this situation, but in their time representing the Reds on and off the pitch. The action of players continuing to coach junior teams on the weekend they were told they were finished was well above the call of duty and speaks volumes for the individuals concerned and the sort of characters Harvey and his team chose to represent the Island. Well done, Hawk Group for stepping in to ensure the wages were met.
So, who was it then? Who killed the Reds?
Plenty of finger-pointing, accusations and ill-informed rumours, but the truth is out there. Somewhere. So, let’s look at the main suspects.
We’ll start with the government – as they were the ones last seen hovering over the body with a smoking gun in their hand. Obviously, they are not responsible for the plight of the club as such, but over the years they have been very slow to grasp the enormous benefit that the Reds bring to the Island – both from a sporting angle (who’d have thought we’d have Jersey Rugby live on Sky Sports or a Championship League Table with Jersey on it, let alone at the top), on an economic level with flights, hotel accommodation, restaurants, bars, cabs etc, and on a social level.
Many Reds players gave up their time to coach at various levels, including the women’s team. They have also conducted school visits. This should have been addressed with a grant at an earlier stage in much the way we do with arts, Jersey Heritage or Visit Jersey. It wasn’t, however, so there’s no point dwelling on that.
It could, though, have been rescued this time and placed on an even keel. It wasn’t, mainly because there was not the political will within the Assembly, nor the economic nouse to see the benefits outweighed the cost.
As for the “we didn’t know how much it would be” argument, the Assembly didn’t know how much the Binet Hospital was going to cost when they approved it, but they did. It may well cost the Island an extra £500m by scrapping the previous one…
Who would have thought that Reform would one day provide the economic common sense in the States? “Plus ça change,” as they say in Madrid.
The next suspect is the archetypal panto villain… the RFU… booo! hisss!
Yes, there would appear to be every reason to put them in the frame. If you cut funding by around £500k to clubs on already tight budgets, then they are, of course, going to struggle – especially with those with high travel costs.
Ridiculously, Kirsten Morel stated that you can’t blame the RFU. This is while the whole of the rugby world, including the chair of Championship Rugby, feel as though they are overseeing a shambles and destroying the English game at club level. It also makes it very difficult to attract backers when no one knows the plans for the game.
Sadly, the demise of the Reds may secure better funding and a clearer pathway for Championship Rugby. It would, of course, be too late for Jersey Reds.
There are those who would also like to see the board of Reds in the dock, but without knowing the full facts, I feel they were a very dedicated bunch doing their best to keep Jersey Reds from going under, but were trapped by circumstances such as the RFU funding, Covid, investor withdrawals… They may have been able to do things differently, I don’t know. But, I do know there is another suspect, and that’s the sports followers of the Island
Harsh as it may be to say this, but when push came to shove the core support never grew as it could have or as it needed to.
Yes, for the big games such as against Ealing, St Peter’s was rocking with over 3,000 supporters, but generally, it was always around the 1,200 mark.
Someone said to me today: “I never went as often as I should have done.” It’s a rugby ref’s expression to “use it or lose it”. Sadly we appear to have lost it. Why was this? Especially as many took an active interest in their results on a Saturday? It’s difficult to say, as I feel there were a number of factors.
Firstly, there was a hard-core group of people who did not like the professional way the club went. They resented paying admission money and not having access to the bar and stayed away, with some returning now to watch the amateur side.
There were others who didn’t like the fact that the team was not made of locals, failing to grasp that’s the nature of professional sport. There aren’t too many playing for Manchester City who resided in Moss Side in their youth.
Others objected to the coverage that the Reds got compared to other sports. There is no doubt that the majority of Islanders are sad to see them go, but there are others who are having their moment of ‘schadenfreude’, amongst whose number I believe are certain States Members.
So, as the credits roll and the ‘‘doof doof’’ music plays, the viewers are left with the puzzle of who did it? Or was it all of them?
Or at the beginning of the next episode, will we see Bobby Ewing, a rotund overweight prop emerging from a steamy Jersey dressing room shower in 2003 and discover in ‘‘Dallas style’’ that a small provincial rugby club rising from the depths of London Division Three league to beat some of English rugby’s biggest names – Blackheath, Rosslyn Park, London Irish, Bedford, Coventry, Moseley, London Welsh, Richmond, London Scottish and Bristol – while winning the Championship was sadly just a dream?
Lindsay Ash was Deputy for St Clement between 2018 and 2022, serving as Assistant Treasury and Home Affairs Minister under Chief Minister John Le Fondré. He worked in the City of London for 15 years as a futures broker before moving to Jersey and working in the Island’s finance industry from 2000. Feedback welcome on Twitter @Getonthelash2