Welcome to the feature series where we introduce you to some of our varied, loyal, and thoroughly fascinating tribe of fans and volunteers, who form such an important and valued part of our GFC community.
We all like to think the Green Lions are “going places” this season, hopefully by travelling further up the table. As well as those aspirations, it’s no secret that half our games involve actual epic journeys by air as well as road. But the club has other travel responsibilities to fulfil as well, as a necessary part of its continued participation in the English football league pyramid system. While hopping on a plane is a well-established, if onerous, routine for our lads, it’s quite a unique adventure for visiting opponents. For our opposition, playing away to Guernsey represents a once-a-season odyssey unlike any of their other league away fixtures. They are responsible for turning up at Gatwick, then GFC bear the cost of flying them over to Guernsey. Once they arrive at the airport, though, they still have a way to go to get to the match, and that’s where our team of volunteer minibus drivers comes in.
Our drivers are a busy bunch, and not used to being in the spotlight, but we recently managed to catch up with one of them (not literally, obviously – racing the media team is not part of their remit!) While talking to Paul Nash, we couldn’t help but detect the slight trace of an accent, and wondered if he might in fact be a Canadian import...
“Yes, I was born in Newmarket Ontario, about an hour’s drive north of Toronto,” explains Paul. “I was working for Royal Bank of Canada, and was sent to their Guernsey office to help with a reconciliation issue. It was only supposed to be for a month, but that was soon extended, and then circumstances led to me accepting what was initially a three year contract. That was seventeen years ago, and I’m still here!”
We asked Paul how, when and why he first became involved with GFC. “I got to know Sam Cochrane when I dated his wife’s aunt. I went to a few Priaulx League games to watch him play before GFC was formed. Then once the club got going, I started to go to Footes Lane to watch them play there.” Just in case any of you are new to the club, we should explain that Sam was the first player to sign for GFC at their inception back in 2011, served as our captain for many seasons, and only recently retired from playing for the Green Lions.
“At first I was just a spectator,” Paul continues. “I kept seeing a friend at the game so we ended up deciding to get season tickets together. Then I got to know Mark Le Tissier, through our mutual affiliation with the Guernsey masons. When I heard he needed volunteers to drive the visiting team from the airport to and from Footes Lane, I was happy to sign up and help out.”
A few seasons back, rather than using coach hire companies, the club came up with the idea of borrowing buses on matchday from a local charity. This saves the club some money, and benefits the charity at the same time. This set-up has the added advantage of keeping control within the club over the quality, flexibility and reliability of the on-island visiting team transport role, which is crucial to our continued functioning and our reputation as a top class host.
Paul is happy to fill in a few details for us: “We borrow two buses, one from Blanchelande Park Nursing Home, and the other from Summerland House. Both are provided by the Age Concern charity, to whom the team make a donation each year. Both vehicles are fifteen-seater Renault Trafics. The Summerland one is equipped to accommodate a wheelchair passenger, so is a bit longer. I think the visitor contingent is limited to 26, so we usually have enough room with these two vehicles. If they have a few fans, we take them as well if possible.”
We wondered if that leaves the referees and linesmen on the roof rack? “No,” chuckles Paul, “the officials get a separate taxi.”
We asked Paul to talk us through what his role entails on a typical matchday – for example, how far ahead of kick-off is he on duty? “For a 2:00 pm kickoff, we generally pick up the opposition at 11:00 am from the airport and bring them to Footes Lane. Once they’re safely delivered to the ground, we drivers are free to enjoy the proceedings, so although our role starts a fair time before the match, we don’t have to miss a single moment of the game. Then after the match, we generally leave the Lane at around 5:45 pm to go back to the airport.
“Mid-week games are a little more tricky. I need to leave work early on those days, at around 4:30 pm, to pick the visiting team up at 5:30 and take them to the hotel, then on to Footes Lane once they’re all checked in. I have to stick around for a while after the match, then at 10:45 pm we return them to the hotel. We then pick them upat 7:00 am the next morning to take them back to the airport for their return flight to the UK. This season we have had to use InTransit for most of the midweekgame morning runs.”
We asked Paul if it could be a bit grim at times, being up well before dawn the day after a midweek match to go fetch our GFC guests for their trip home. “I get up around 6:00 am to get them to the airport in good time. Then I return the bus, and head home to do my normal morning routine before work. Hopefully if all goes well I can still make it to work on time!
“We currently have a team of four volunteer drivers, including Ken Batiste, Darryl Cluett and Zoe Lihou. Ideally we could really use two more. They just need a category D1E driver’s licence. If anyone is interested, they should contact myself or Mark Le Tissier.”
We wondered if there were any funny or noteworthy moments Paul wanted to share with us. “Just the usual questions when people come to Guernsey for the first time. The narrow roads generate most comments, especially when we have to mount a kerb to get past another car!”
Next we asked Paul about his personal highlights as a GFC fan. “Seeing the helicopter they brought in in an effort to dry the pitch [prior to the 2013 FA Vase semi-final against Spennymoor Town], that has to be one of the most memorable moments. I don’t know if it made any difference, but it certainly was interesting!”
We also quizzed Paul about what GFC-related things make him feel particularly proud or happy. “I enjoy being a part of our community team. I respect the fact that the players are playing without pay. Their commitment is so impressive. It pains me to hear other fans criticise them. Win or lose, they always give their best, and deserve our support.”
When asked about his favourite players, Paul had a diplomatic response: “I can’t name names, there are too many I like!” We pressed him to rate GFC’s progress thus far this season. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised so far. The last two home games we played some of our best football in years. We should have had all six points.” And how does he reckon we’ll fare through the rest of the season? “I suspect mid-table will be about right. Top ten would be nice.”
We wondered what makes Paul tick, outside of GFC. “I like golf, motorcycling, volleyball, and blues rock music. Oh, and did I mention golf? Yes, definitely golf!” But before we let Paul head from his Green Lions duties back to his other beloved green, we asked him for a few closing words: “Aside from reiterating that we’re on the look-out for two more volunteer drivers, I’d just like to say to everyone reading this, please keep on coming out to the games and cheering the guys on! Thank you.”
And thank you Paul, for driving the team on in more ways than one! We’re wheely glad to have you on board.