Jersey Bulls pick up the Invincible standard from Liverpool
Background image: Cls14, CC BY-SA 4.0.
Who’s that club flying high at the top of their table, unbeaten and destined for a league title? No, it’s not Liverpool (I did say unbeaten, after all) it’s Jersey Bulls! The newly formed club is distinguished in two ways; they are the best performing club in England while also being the most southerly in the English football pyramid. Based in the Channel Islands, on a level with France and over 120 miles from England’s south coast, the Bulls have followed in the footsteps of island neighbours Guernsey who joined the pyramid in 2011.
On the pitch, Jersey’s entry to the 10th tier of English football couldn't have gone better. Twenty-six games into the league season, the club holds a perfect record. With 97 goals scored and seven conceded, their record made Liverpool’s look underwhelming even before their collapse at Watford.
Next season will bring further opportunities. The 9th tier Combined Counties Premier is still a largely amateur competition, but it will allow Jersey the chance to compete in the FA Cup, bringing with it possibilities for prize money, publicity and memorable ties against bigger teams.
But how far can a club like Jersey go? To understand the limitations they face, it is necessary to understand how the teams work. Jersey function almost like an all-star team, drawing players from the island’s local league teams. These teams play in the Jersey Combination which made up of two leagues, the Premiership and Championship. Evidently, these players are fairly good, good enough to annihilate 10th tier opposition at any rate.
And the system works well too. Players are all dual-registered and can turn out for their domestic teams when not in the Jersey Bulls Squad. For a team to have access to a pool of hundreds of domestic players to draw on is naturally a great tool for player development and scouting.
But Jersey is an island of just over 100,000 people, about the same number of people as Eastbourne. And while there’s nothing to stop Jersey recruiting players from the mainland, the sheer distance between themselves and the mainland makes that logistically difficult, while Brexit makes recruiting players from the north of France unlikely. Eventually, as they climb up the leagues, Jersey is going to find their player pool isn’t quite deep enough to continue this advancement.
Financially, the club is doing well for a team at their level. They’ve got ample sponsorship and attendances are impressive, verging on four figures. But there are downsides. Jersey are hamstrung by the agreement which allowed them to enter the pyramid, which insists on their paying for transport and accommodation for visiting teams. That means Jersey are shelling out a small fortune not just for away games, but home games too. The problem will only get worse as the club win promotions and leagues become less regionalised, though it will be offset somewhat by larger away supports arriving on the island.
Whatever their limitations, Jersey have the clout to go far in non-league. They can enjoy riding the wave of success while building good relationships with potential sponsors and backers as they bring more revenue to their island.
Their helping to expand the pyramid as a hole too. The Isle of Man is joining the party, forming a team and applying to join the 10th tier North West Counties League. While the Isle of Man is far closer to the mainland than Jersey, the ultimate achievement of the Bulls could be showing teams from the far reaches of the UK that they too can join the football mainstream.