They stayed after the final whistle, every man woman and child applauding their boys in green. This was their team, this was Guernsey FC beating Hythe 3-1 in the Isthmian League South on a cool September evening.
As each player accepted the crowd’s plaudits their response was to intensify the applause as a sign of appreciation for the win.
There was a special upward notch on the crowd’s volume scale for Guernsey FC manager Tony Vance who was last to leave the field. Along with Steve Dewsnip and Mark Le Tissier, Vance was part of a threesome that gave Guernsey a team to compete with mainland equivalents in the pyramid system of non-league football.
Five years since its inception we are still here getting stronger when everyone thought we would fail. The crowd and atmosphere at Guernsey is just extraordinary.
Vance discusses the club’s history as we grab a drink in one of island’s cosmopolitan bistros on the harbourfront of the capital St Peter Port.
Setting up Guernsey FC has been a long and arduous process. Back in 2011 when everything had been signed off to join the Combined Counties Football League Division 1 we had very little commercial support, and more concerning, very few players. How many players would want to travel away (off the island) potentially 30 games a year, was an unknown.
He was soon to find out. Players were excited at the prospect at the opportunity to play and compete at a higher level than island football. In their first year Guernsey FC won promotion from Division 1 to the Combined Counties Premier League at their first attempt.
I knew the quality of players we had on the island as I managed most of them during my time as Guernsey representative team manager.
It was in fact Vance’s success as representative managed which launched Guernsey FC. In 2010 his representative team won the FA National League System Cup beating a Liverpool League team 5-2. This resulted in Guernsey qualifying to represent England in the UEFA Regions Cup.
They narrowly missed out progressing from the group stages by a single point. The progress made by Guernsey at representative level became the catalyst in developing strong financial support by Guernsey Football Association plus businesses in setting up Guernsey FC.
Vance resigned his position as representative team manager to take on the daunting task of managing Guernsey FC. “It’s one of those situation where you can and only look back to understand the enormity of the task we took on” he remembers with a rueful smile.
During season 2012/13, the Green Lions were once again in full flow winning promotion to Isthmian League One South .Vance by his own admission accepts.
This is where the hard work began. We don’t pay our players. Some of the teams we play against are well funded, certain players are paid good money for this standard of football. When we play away some of our players actually lose money as they need to take time off work to join up with the team.
Vance notes the irony, without any bitterness in his comments.
It’s just the way it is. We all knew the ground rules we setting up the club.
He doesn’t mention the fact Guernsey FC pay all travel expenses (flights, ferries, accommodation, food) for teams coming to their home ground of Footes Lane. He is also aware come mid-season when a goal scorer or goalkeeper is required he can’t simply dip into the transfer market, or solicit English players. Rules are rules, his squad of players have to be resident or working on the island.
Occasionally we gain a player or two when they come to work for a company, or local employer which allows them to play for the club. Our future is developing the kids who will grow into playing the Guernsey way.
Vance elaborates on the “Guernsey Way”.
Ideally it’s a basic concept, doing simple things the right way. Passing, movement keeping the ball on the ground. For example I’m not a great advocate of just putting the ball in the penalty box from corners, and hoping for the best. We try to implement a more structured system, almost using it as a free kick.
When Gianfranco Zola first came to the English Premier League he was asked what was the biggest difference from Italian football? “Crowds get excited when there is a corner, which even now I don’t quite understand” he replied somewhat mischievously.
We want our teams to come through the pathway development system learning how to enjoy the game of football.
I watched the squad and coaches of Guernsey FC during the pre-game warm up, play the game, then warm down. Everything is completed with a purpose from stretching sessions, small sided two touch circles, goalkeepers speed and distribution work.
The standards on view are professional which he attributes to his loyal coaching staff Colin Fallaize and Steve Sharman.
As a teenager Vance had trials with Manchester United and Southampton, deeming himself “not really good enough” He also fell foul of the curse many young football experience when going away on trial for weeks and months on end. He became homesick.
He also spent 18 months at Wycombe Wanderers under the tutelage of Republic of Ireland current manager Martin O’Neil, returning to Guernsey at 22-years-old, continuing to play at local and representative level until he closed off his career in his early thirties.
Vance explaining his management style:
Even as a player I always felt better suited to coaching than playing. How a team’s infrastructure works has always been a fascination to me. I’m not a shouter or screamer from the sidelines or in the dressing room. I want players to understand what is required and listen if I believe they are going wrong or can improve.
When we discuss last night’s game Vance shows some techiness, although they won. Maybe that should be frustration, ‘cause frustrated he is.
I know when we put it together, we can compete with any team in this league. What’s missing is the consistency
He pre-empts my next question.
Yes you can put it down to changes of personnel, certainly for away games.
I think we’ve used five different centre half combinations during our first ten games. But as a squad we know the set up, how we play, basic requirements. Collectively as a group players and coaches have to find a way of maintaining consistency.
They recently went out of the FA Cup to Phoenix Sports in the first round of qualification. A win could have resulted in the first FA Cup tie being played at Footes Lane.
“A missed opportunity” is Vance’s description, he doesn’t need to elaborate. In 2013 Guernsey FC reached the semi-final of the FA Vase, losing 4-1 on aggregate to Spennymoor United.
Those are the standards we have set at the club. We came so close to playing at Wembley in only our second year of existence.
Vance makes no secrets of his footballing ambitions.
I want to take this club to the next level. I have no doubts we have the infrastructure to get us there. We have talent coming through at pathway level along with senior players who will improve with experience and maturity.
Would he be tempted to move if a bigger club came if for his services?
It isn’t something I considered as it isn’t likely to happen. My focus is Guernsey FC, my aim is to move us on to the next level.
In season 2013/14 they almost won a third year of promotions. On this occasion it wasn’t to be, losing out to Leatherhead 3-2 in the playoffs for promotion.
Vance is passionate about making a Guernsey FC a success. He takes defeats personally, getting with his staff to analyse games, trying to find out how to capture improvement and consistency from his squad.
He occasionally delves into books on management citing Pep Guardiola first season at Bayern Munich (Pep Confidential) as a particular source of inspiration.
This is the club’s third season in the Isthmian League Division One South. Vance and his backroom staff are working hard to eradicate the team’s game to game inconsistencies. His role of manager/coach is all encapsulating.
Away from his Guernsey FC duties, he can be found coaching youngsters on the Guernsey Football Association pathway program, or supporting local businesses with media/commercial photos shoots. It’s not unusual when out with his family for fans want to chat about all things Guernsey FC. They share his passion.
Vance lives, eats and sleeps football. If he can take the club onto their next promotion, Football League status would be tantalisingly close. If any man can get them there, I’d suggest that it’s Tony Vance.
After all, he has a green and white army dreaming the same dream.