Tomorrow sees the start of preseason training for Guernsey FC. Given that it’s still only May, we asked manager Tony Vance about the reasoning behind this unusually early start to preparations for the 2021/22 campaign. Here is what he had to say. “A May start to preseason training is certainly a strange one, but then these have been unprecedented times. The players have been scattered around playing local football for the last 18 months, so we haven’t seen them as such, and we just feel it’s really important that we aim to hit the ground running. It is imperative we get them together and start building a unit back up again, and also perhaps open it out for some new guys coming through. The enforced downtime due to COVID has pretty much been and gone now, and there are a few players who probably could have done without that fallow period because they might have missed out now on playing, but when all is said and done it has opened up the door for some new guys coming through. What we want to do is to integrate them as quickly as possible. Not only that, there’s also some new stuff we need to work on, because obviously you’ve got to keep yourself evolving all the time as a team, and this has given me some great thinking time to assess where we are and what we need to do. In many ways I’m classing this almost as a new beginning for us, because you can also throw into the mix the fact that we’ve now moved leagues. It’s really exciting, and there’s no time like the present.

“It’s our ten-year anniversary as a club now, and this time ten years ago we didn’t have a team at this point going into the new league. There were some young lads who were suddenly faced with this new exciting prospect, and I think there’s almost a kind of parallel with where we are now with this group. We’re looking at some young lads who 18 months ago probably weren’t quite old enough and ready to be involved, and now this period of COVID has opened that window of opportunity up for them, so that’s exciting. What it does mean though, and we have to be realistic about it, is the fact that these youngsters might still not be ready - but what we’re going to do now by training so early in the season, and getting the group together now, is to give them the best chance they can have to stake their claim and show that they’re physically strong enough as well as technically good enough to win a place in the squad.

“So far, we’ve confirmed the Skipton Cup – two games on the 17th and the 31st of July – and that gives us a real focus to work towards: we know the Isle of Man are going to be strong, and we know they’re a physical side. Potentially those games could provide a first opportunity for some of our new younger players. Obviously first and foremost if they’re not ready, then they’re not ready, and we’re not going to throw them into the lion’s den, so to speak. But I suspect that some of them will put more than a foot in the door to try and compete and be involved, and to get a shirt off some of the regulars who were around last time.

“Of course, when we played the Isle of Man last year, we didn’t really have much of a focus apart from that. It was difficult to prepare for that game because obviously we knew that was going to be the only competitive action for the club for some time. Now we have the prospect of those Isle of Man games which we know are going to be a great challenge for us, and the perfect test, because what we’ve got around the corner this time soon after is a brand-new campaign, in a new league, where there’s teams that we don’t know anything about. Probably just as importantly, and more positively for us, is the fact that they mostly don’t know anything about us either!

“Basically what it means, then, is we’ve got a lot of work to do. Whilst the players have been enjoying themselves playing locally, from what I’ve seen I’d say we’ve got a real tough exercise to regroup, re-bond the team, and get them back on the levels that they need to be at in order to compete against the Isle of Man and play at Step 4 in non-league football.

“It’s not just about the levels either: the players have been at different clubs, playing for different managers, with different objectives, different styles, different tests, different challenges - some of them have been playing against each other, some of them have been having some fun. Now we need to get them all back on the same page. We have to put them all together, and slot them back into an environment where the challenge has to be hugely competitive, to prove that they’re good enough and the best for that position and that shirt, and that’s what we need to do sooner rather than later. I think if we left it to the standard sort of July period, where guys have had the usual break, and then we come along in July for around six weeks of training before starting again, we would be absolutely miles off the mark, and so we’ve got to give ourselves our best chance.
“As a result, training starts this Tuesday. As we always say, if you think you want to be involved, come on down, get involved and see where it takes you. I mean, we’ve got the group that’s always been maintained, where there’s the old guard if you like; there’s some players that are maturing into a reasonable decent standard who have proven themselves at this level, then you’ve got the new kids on the block, so to speak - and, you know, we’re hopeful that we’re going to combine our training with our Guernsey U18s set-up again like we did last year. That worked very well, and it was very aspirational for the U18s. The seniors were looking over their shoulders, so having that combination together makes it competitive. It shows that there’s potential out there too, and the possibility of people who will keep challenging the established players for their shirts; it shows what it’s all about.

“Saying that, hopefully there’s some people out there that have been enjoying playing local football against some of the Guernsey FC players and actually realise that maybe they’re better than them and they can take their shirts off them, so you know if they want to come along and give it a shot, then that’s fantastic. What we want to try and do is improve players, and if it means that they’ve got the capability and the desire and mental strength to fight for a shirt, and travel away week in, week out, out of their comfort zone, then that’s fantastic, and we’re going to provide the forum for them to be able to do that.”

Training starts at 6pm tomorrow, Tuesday 25th May, at Victoria Avenue. We will be popping along to see how the team rises to the new challenge of reuniting as a revamped and refreshed squad ahead of our long-awaited and hotly anticipated 2021/22 league campaign. Watch this space for further news!