Saturday is set to be a historic day for Jersey football as Jersey Bulls FC host Stevenage in what will be the clubs curtain opener.
There has been plenty of excitement around this new chapter, and I caught up with founders Ian Horswell and Russel Le Feuvre to talk about what is coming up for the Bulls and why they decided to start the charge.
Q: What gave you the idea of creating Jersey Bulls FC?
Russ: For many years players have been asking for a competitive games programme. The current captain of the Island Representative side and the ex-captain have both considered leaving the Island to play for Guernsey FC which made me wonder why we didn’t offer the same opportunity here. After seeing the success of Guernsey FC who entered the English Leagues about 9 years ago and also how other islands around Europe have clubs who compete in nearby national leagues we felt our top players were missing out on an opportunity. The fact that we have a Netball team and two Rugby teams on the Island who already compete in the English National Leagues lead to the question we were asked by many people as to why this had not been done sooner!
I approached some people who I knew were passionate about football and the four of us sat down in December 2017 and decided to discuss the logistics of the project…….and here we are.
Q: Was it an easy decision to go ahead with the plans?
Ian: In theory, yes. However the planning and logistics have had us working really hard. There’s so many stakeholders involved in football. The board, committee members and the community have been super supportive which has enabled us to keep pushing on with the plans.
Q: How did you both meet? Are you enjoying working with each other?
Ian: Russ and I have know each other for around 25 years! We played five-a-side together when we were teenagers and I managed Russ when I was manager at Grouville. It is great to work with him, as well as Pete and Laura, as directors of Jersey Bulls FC.
Q: Gary Freeman is manager. How did you decide he was the right man?
Russ: We had some incredible wide ranging applications for the managers job from as far afield as Iceland, Portugal, England, USA and Scotland as well of course from coaches locally in Jersey. We are delighted with our appointment of Gary. Gary is a talented and passionate local manager who is very well respected in footballing circles on the Island, so after an interview process we were delighted to make the appointment and he has gone on to create a really strong management team who seem to gel really well.
Q: How about the background staff? Who do you have there? What is the atmosphere like?
Russ: Behind the scenes the club has grown and grown over the last 18 months and we are delighted with the amount of expertise we can draw upon and the amount of dedication and passion all the club members have shown. We obviously have Gary as our football team manager, with Kevan Nelson assistant manager and Jason Carpenter GK coach. Joe Parkinson is the Strength and Conditioning coach, with Kit Chamier and Lewis Smith being experts in the field of Nutrition. Pat Brennan has agreed to act as our Head Scout with Jim Robertson heading up the medical side and will be our leading Physio. We have a media team of Dan, Colm, Jonny and Paul. We have 4 directors, a team stewards, a team of mini bus drivers as well as our general committee members. Everyone is just really excited about the football kicking off as it has been a long journey to get to this point.
Q: How about the players? Are they keen to get started?
Russ: I am sure like us the players are keen to get started. Gary has been speaking to about 30-35 players and he has stressed that the door is always open for players on the Island who have the desire to play for the club. With Gary and his team, and also Pat, getting around to cast their eyes over local fixtures we hope to provide a pathway for players. We are of no illusions that our club will create an opportunity for players who get spotted whilst playing in England.
Q: How did the Stevenage and Leicester links come about? Are you ready for the challenges ahead?
Ian: These are great fixtures for our players, management and supporters. We are playing against professional athletes and it will be tough. The players know that but this is a start of a long and exciting journey. The link with Stevenage came about via a friend who to University with the Stevenage CEO. He connected us and we had Alex Tunbridge over to inspect the facilities in the island. He was impressed and wanted to get Stevenage over to help launch our club. The Leicester opportunity came via the introduction from Iain McKenzie. Iain has been running tournaments for as long as I can remember and we are grateful he arranged a second high profile fixture.
Q: Are you happy with the league the Bulls have been placed into?
Ian: Yes, we had always thought we would be in the Combined Counties League as it’s where Guernsey FC started. This is the highest entry point we could have hoped for and it is the same league as where AFC Wimbledon started – look at them now!
Q: What are the challenges and expectations for the upcoming first season?
Russ: We haven’t set any expectations as of yet but I think the obvious and immediate one we are all aware of is promotion out of the league. Guernsey got promoted comfortably but having spoken with them we have found out that the leagues have got stronger after restructuring so we know Gary isn’t underestimating any of the opposition. We have the challenge of travelling away for half our league fixtures which will put an added demand on the players but we know the backroom staff will be preparing them well.
Q: What are your long term goals for he Bulls? Premier League one day?
Ian: We would love to climb the leagues. We would love to play in the FA Vase which was won by Chertsey Town last season. In season three, we want to host an FA Cup tie and become the first ever channel island side to host an FA Cup tie. This is all very exciting and doable.
Q: Do you have a message for our fans and Jersey’s football community?
Russ: A message to the local community is the players and the club would love your support at games, we know the island is passionate about football. We hope to make our match days an enjoyable experience and the feedback from people who come to games will be a great indicator of how and where we can make improvements and move the club forward as we grow and develop. We already have our own ideas of what we would like to do moving forward. The main aim right now is to literally get the ball rolling and see Jersey Bulls FC play some Football. This is the start of an exciting journey and we want the community to be involved and feel a part of the club. If people are passionate about getting involved in the running of the club then we would love to hear from you. We are a team of like minded individuals who are passionate about the game of Football.
We cant wait for the season to begin!
It is clear to see Russ and Ian are both excited for the first kick of the ball on Saturday, with the players and backroom staff ready to get started properly too.
Get behind the Bulls throughout this season, this is just the start.