Back when I was younger, the landscape of local junior football was somewhat different. Aside from the Primary Schools and Youth Clubs having matches, the structure was bare at best, and need to drastically change and evolve.
The governing bodies of the game were, and still are, the Jersey Football Combination and the Jersey Football Association.
To join a local football club, you had to wait until you were in School Year 8. Club football began with the Under 14’s age band that consisted of players in School Years 8&9 mixed together.
My first participation at club level was when I joined St. Paul’s Football Club in Year 9. A huge challenge in itself for me, whose first passion was martial arts, something that I had been doing for almost 7 years prior to joining a football club. However, I showed a bit of promise, and was selected and signed on by the coaches.
My first coaches were Pierre Le Saux, father of England international Graeme, Alan “Micky” Porter, John Cunningham and the late Geoff Carter.
Above my age band were the Under 16’s in School Years 10&11, and of course the Under 18’s who were 17 or 18 years old. At this point, players who were aged 15 years old, could play up in the older division or even Senior football.
Each age band had two divisions, and two cups to play for. 3 points for the win in league matches, and as I remember it, the best players started the games, the so called weaker players started on the bench, and would only get a chance to play if the team established a healthy lead.
The long established structure of these age bands would soon become to change with plans in the pipeline, for me, the most important move by the governing bodies was to introduce a full time Youth Development Officer, namely Brian Oliver.
Brian’s influence on Jersey football cannot be underestimated. His drive and determination to constantly push the game forward is inspiring, and we should all be thankful for his continuous contribution to our game.
The structure was changing, and the introduction of the Under 12’s age band for School Years 6&7, and then the Under 10’s Section that would be known as “The Mini’s” began to increase participation in the sport. Clubs Mini’s sections beginning from School Year 2 up to School Year 5 began to thrive.
So within a few short years, the expansion of the game had begun. Clubs were now running many more junior teams from School Years 2 all the way up to Under 18s.
In recent seasons, major changes to the format of junior footbsll have come in. We have seen the introduction of single age bands for U11, U12, U13, U14 & U15 players, and the introduction of the “Development” Games programme.
The Development Games Programme consists of no league or cup games for U11, U12 and U13, but instead, friendly fixtures that solely focus on player development and understanding.
U14’s also have no league format, but a cup competition at the end of the friendly fixtures programme that will bridge the gap for when they enter the U15 age band.
Once in the U15’s section the re-introduction of the competitive league and cups mentioned previously returns.
Supporting this were the format changes of 7 a-side football for the Mini’s, 9 a-side for the U11, U12 and U13, with 11 aside starting in the U14 division. Players now have to be a year older, the age of 16 years old before they can play up in the U18 division or Senior football.
The Female Game
Senior ladies football has had its up and downs over the last several years. It has stuttered and stumbled, expanded and shrunk in terms of number of teams and players involved, but overall, the quality of the game from its inception up to now has been progressive.
The junior game for girls is also growing rapidly. Female players can now play ‘mixed’ football with the boys in the Development Games Programme up until the U14 age and band.
The dedication of the volunteers within the female game is unquestionable, and I have no doubt that they will reach there short and long term targets.
As you can see, from the day I was introduced to club football in 1993 at St.Paul’s FC, the opportunities for youngsters to play the game have increased phenomenally.
Young people can now be introduced to the game, and receive weekly coaching and games practice from the tender age of six years old in School Year 2, compared to School Year 8 when I began my footballing journey.
It’s pleasing to see the participation in the sports from both boys and girls has increased enormously over the years and long may it continue to do so.
What are your opinions on the changes we have seen in recent years?
Do you agree with them or would you have done something different?