Interview: Jersey women’s manager Simon Petulla

Jersey FA have an expansive and informative website covering opportunities and updates for men and women’s football across the island. Tucked away under the website tab of “Who are We” is the Jersey FA business plan.

It covers 23 pages, defining its philosophies, culture and values culminating with an overall statement, Jersey FA have a vision: “Football For All” Supported by graphs, pie charts, financial cost analysis and a splattering of corporate terminology, you can be in no doubt the association is serious in its endeavour to promote football allowing future generations to participate and enjoy the game.

Image by Adi Topley
Image by Adi Topley

This time last year husband and wife Simon / Kerry Petulla had a long association with men’s and women’s football at club level on Jersey, but no involvement within the infrastructure of Jersey FA.

Twelve months on Simon Petulla is manager of the Jersey women’s team, taking up the role in November 2014. By summer of 2015 his team had made history becoming the first women’s team to win gold at an Island Games.

Kerry Petulla wasn’t far behind, making personal history of her own when she became the first woman appointed onto the Jersey FA board of Directors, as Vice President, in its 110 year history.

Over two separate interviews I spoke with them both at length intrigued to understand what they hope to bring to theses challenging and diverse roles.

First up I met with Jersey Women’s manager Simon Petulla at their impressive Springfield Stadium. I began by asking him to summarise what it meant to win the Island Games gold medal. A constant smile accompanies his narrative as he begins the journey:

I was absolutely delighted. Everyone worked so hard just to reach the final. I think collectively we said having come this far let’s get the job done, and we did. Yes immensely proud for everyone involved with the team.

Petulla is no stranger to winning titles and trophies. He spent most of his playing career as a striker in the Jersey Combination League switching between First Tower and Jersey Wanderers, whilst overcoming a serious knee injury which kept him on the sidelines for two years.

He won the Muratti twice. The Murattis Vase (men only) goes back to 1905 which is contested each year between Alderney, Guernsey and Jersey. The women’s Muratti was introduced in 1997. Most finals see Jersey pitched against arch rivals Guernsey. Even in my short time on the island, I’ve worked out this is a competition neither side wants to lose.

He has scored five goals in a final, won man of the match awards, and was part of the Jersey team in 1997 which won the Island Games.

I’ve also scored against professional teams in friendlies such as Blackburn and Everton. Although we lost heavily I scored our token goals.

No doubt there’s still a striker in there trying to get out, even with his dodgy knees.

Simon Petulla 1
Simon Petulla in action back in 1984

Once his playing career ended, Petulla began coaching junior teams ranging from under 10’s to under 18’s using his experience to grow and develop the teams.

I left coaching for a while and it was only when Grouville Ladies approached me, some three years ago I was tempted to get involved again. My wife was an-ex player who was connected with the club and she was asked if I would take a couple of training sessions.

 

To be honest I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get involved in women’s football. My attitude soon changed having taken training a couple of times, I thought this is a group I can work with. The first season was good we won a trophy, but during the second season it all went a bit flat.

In November 2014, a new opportunity arose when Geoff van der Vliet resigned as manager of Jersey women’s team. Petulla was shortlisted, interviewed and given the job. The focus quickly became the Island Games which were scheduled to be held in Jersey during the summer of 2015.

I knew this was a great opportunity to perform well in front of our home supporters. I decided to put a professional structure together. I wanted the players to be fitter, committed and believe we could do well in the competition.

 

My son (Charlie) had been a very good footballer during his teenage years, he had trials with Southampton, Blackburn Rovers, Portuguese club Nationale, also spending a couple of seasons with Leeds United. However the hope of being signed as a professional never materialised.

 

He still plays at a local level and is developing his coaching skills, so I brought him in as head coach along with Jason Carpenter as goalkeeping coach. Jason brings focus, a work ethic to the squad which I really like. We made it clear what was expected in terms of commitment. Winning was important to me when I was playing and winning would be important as a coach with this squad of players. I wanted the team and staff to really believe what we could achieve.

He says somewhat mockingly of himself :

I’m old school I have experience and a certain way of going about my football principles, but Charlie is a modern coach. He’s good at communication, instruction and tactics. He could go on to be a very good coach at a higher level. Between us the mix is about right.

 

Jimmy Kelly joined the team as performance coach. I wasn’t sure we needed this role, that is until I saw what he brought to the playing squad. No doubt he is a very motivational character who I’m delighted to have as part of the management team

The Jersey women’s league consists of five teams, offering Petulla a pool of around 150 players to pick from for representative games.

When I took the role I went to watch all the players. I selected a squad which didn’t have some of the usual names involved.

 

More than anything else I selected a squad which would work hard to improve. We had around two hours a week with the squad, training, drills, teamwork exercises.

 

Overall most of the squad were playing a league game, training twice a week with their clubs and training as part of the representative squad. Fitness would be important, I knew what was required to win an Island Games.

I don’t doubt it.

Image by Adi Topley
Image by Adi Topley

Professionalism in all matters was developed as his mantra.

The squad gained sponsorship, kitted out in smart training gear, they started to look the part.

A 25 minute video was shot and edited by photographer and sponsor Adi Topley highlighting how far they had developed as a collective squad. Mood enhancing music with motivational overtones by Jimmy Kelly. At one stage they had homework to complete which as Petulla says ”was completed without any quibbles from the players”.

He tells me it was important to keep his management team focused as well.

We would get together before training to run through our plans and how to implement them properly. I said it was important everyone should understand each part of the plan, individually and collectively.

Petulla’s first test was the 2015 Muratti. Jersey Women had won the competition for the past seven years. He didn’t didn’t want to fall at his first competitive hurdle. No trips or stumbles by his team as they thumped Guernsey 7-0, controlling the game from start to finish.

Once the Muratti was out of the way, Petulla had the squad training four times a week. Strengthening, conditioning, ball work, one on one performance indicators. As he recalls, “once the competition was about to begin, we were ready”.

Cometh the hour, cometh Greenland who they played in the opening game cheered on by 1500 spectators. The teams well orchestrated game plan was paying dividends as they ended the first half winning 2-0.

Greenland had a change of plan themselves. They simply threw everything long into our box, testing our keeper time and time again.

By the end of 90 minutes the score stood at 2-2. A late, late injury time goal meant Jersey had an opening game 3-2 win.

I think our fitness saw us through, but it was close” he says with a calmness I’m sure wasn’t their on the day.

Next was Hitra, although Petulla was concerned with a 0-0 halftime score line, he told his team to “just keep playing the way you are and the goals will come”. Sure enough they did, resulting in a hard-fought 2-1 victory which saw them safely into the semi-final.

At this stage his Jersey women’s team were record breakers. A bronze medal placing was the best a women’s team had achieved in previous Island Games. Petulla had greater ambitions as they took on Gotland in the semi final, he wanted to win the competition.

Those previous games had been at Springfield Stadium which has a 3G surface. The semi final was on grass at Rozel. It took the team some time to find their feet as they soon found themselves a goal down. Order was restored. Jersey ending the first half 3-1. The scoreline didn’t change in the second half, it was enough to see them through to the final.

That second half was the most nervous I’d been throughout the tournament. We were so close, yet it could all be taken away.

Image by Adi Topley
Image by Adi Topley

Their final opponents Aland had a formidable record, unbeaten since 2005 winning gold in each of the last three Island Games. They were the tournaments clear favourites.

Petulla reflects on his emotions before the final:

On the day of the final we could sense the team were here with a real desire, belief and purpose to win. Although we were the home team, we were given the away dressing room. Jimmy Kelly wrote up a sign and put it on the door which read “Jersey Team”. Simple things like that made a difference.

 

Aland management played mind games, setting out their warm up area where we would usually go. We didn’t stand for that, Charlie replacing our cones with theirs. We went through our warm up routines on our side of the pitch. You could call it a statement of intent.

 

It was a solid professional 1-0 winning performance. We stayed with the game plan, I can’t recall them having a single shot on goal. We were by far the underdogs. To have won the final demonstrated how far we had progressed as a player and management unit

The next Island Games will be hosted by Gotland in 2017. Petulla knows every team will be looking to take their title. In order to keep pace with improvements within the women’s game he says they must play more competitive games. Since winning the Island Games they trounced Godalming Town 10-1 but more importantly were beaten 9-0 by USS St Malo. The team’s first loss under his stewardship.

Petulla says somewhat frustratedly:

Although we didn’t play well we have to find competitive games which are against teams of our own standard. Moving forward there’s little reward in winning or losing by such large margins.

 

The objective is not only to improve the current squad who have an average of around 25-years-old, but to get more girls involved at an early age, making sure they stay with the game. I’d like to see an under 21’s team set up, that would be the right kind of platform for future development in the women’s game.

Petulla, his players and coaching staff have not only brought success to the women’s game in a short period of time, they have also provided a platform for youngsters to become involved in football.

The winning women’s squad have attended Jersey FA pathway sessions around the island, bringing along their medals, being involved with selfies, taking on Q+As from youngsters hoping to emulate their local idols.

If the Jersey FA website is any kind of benchmark, women’s football in Jersey will get all the support it needs in the years ahead to achieve future success. Coupled with various development programs to gain a larger pool of players, “Football For All” is sounding about right.

The Author

Owen Peters

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*