This week Uefa makes its inaugural draw of the Nations League, which it sees as the home of fresh opportunity. Not everyone is so sure. Some remain unwillingly on the outside looking in and the Jersey Football Association’s quest to become part of the 55-strong Uefa membership has led to its taking a case to the court of arbitration for sport.
Next month – at the behest of Cas – Uefa’s congress will consider Jersey’s bid. It will be heard, though, against a backdrop of anger directly linked to the Nations League in which the JFA believes it can play a salient part.
“If you look at Uefa’s principles on their website, the top one says ‘Football First’,” Phil Austin, the JFA’s president, told the Guardian. “There would clearly be a lot of benefits to us [to become members]; the benefit to Uefa would be extending the football family. ‘Football First’ to me says that’s what they should be doing.
“For us it is essential to have a regular competitive games programme. We have never expected to be playing Germany and England. We have been advocating for a while there should be a tiered basis and now they have brought in the Nations League, we would see ourselves fitting quite naturally into Category D with teams like Gibraltar and Liechtenstein. We have played against those teams; we see that as our peer group. There is even a space because 55 teams is an uneven number.”
Whereas matches against such as the Faroe Islands, Cayman Islands or Bermuda were once common, Jersey has been left behind as those teams have been granted Uefa or Fifa standing. Jersey believes it is worthy of such elevation.
The Jersey FA oversees 2,500 registered players, 16 clubs and 23 full-size pitches. Perhaps matters involving Gibraltar – who were admitted to Uefa despite having to play international fixtures in Portugal – both help and hinder this case. For all Gibraltar apparently has no more right to a Uefa place than Jersey, on-field performance has barely added to the international scene. Austin understands the notion of added cannon fodder holding little appeal. “I totally understand that. The Nations League set-up I think is perfect; we could play against our peer group but have an incentive if we win that group.”
Austin and his colleagues believe finance and specifically an unwillingness to spread wealth more thinly may be Uefa’s motivation. “That’s the impression we have got,” he said.
“We have to keep saying this is about football. We want to play football. We have a fantastic development programme and centre of excellence. We have five players in the English leagues. For a relatively small island we do really well but our players hit a glass ceiling and we are in danger of our football stagnating.
“If I was Uefa looking down, I’d be trying to help someone like us. In terms of population and football we are bigger than a few of their members. We find it frustrating not to have entered into dialogue even regarding what could happen in three, four, five years or even affiliate membership.
“We have had no real conversations with Uefa about football. The whole dialogue has been around legal arguments regarding independence and whether we are constitutionally independent.”
There has been concern, too, in Jersey at the rapidity with which this case has passed through Uefa. The president said: “I spoke to a Uefa official last June and said to him ‘When we find out we can go to congress, will we be given time to lobby our case?’ I was told ‘Yes. We gave Gibraltar plenty of time to put their case together and we would do the same for you.’
“That isn’t the case. We have been told it has to go to this next meeting, so we have had no time to lobby at all. We would like a deferral until 2019 to give us a fair opportunity to put our case to members.”