It was 1913 when a group of men from the western parishes of Guernsey decided to form a football club. Playing in Yellow and Black and nicknamed 'The Pirates' they called themselves Rocquaine United Football Club.
Their home ground was a piece of land at the rear of Torteval Church. Henry Le Ray was the first club secretary with the future Sylvans' President Tom Corbin amongst those who started the Sylvans story. In October 1913 the club played their first fixtures, friendly matches against clubs with Jackson (second team) or weaker teams. They made their Guernsey Football League Association debut in the Railway League (tier 3 of the Guernsey Leagues) in the 1913/14 season. It wasn't long until World War I broke out and this predictably resulted in the cancellation of the Guernsey Football Association Leagues shortly after. The war ended in 1918 and the Guernsey Football Association Leagues restarted the following year but like many clubs Rocquaine United were unable to muster enough players to field a side. The Pirates had to fold after just one season.
SYLVANS WERE BORN
It was 1922 and the boys from the west were ready to try again.
By this time they had been joined by the local Rector of St Pierre du Bois, the Reverend J.A.F. Ozanne. He was a hugely popular character within the group and nicknamed 'Jaffo'. It was Jaffo who named the new club Sylvans, derived from the latin Silivia and meaning 'from the woods'. They had agreed to use one of Tom Corbins' fields as their home ground and so with Henry Le Ray as the first ever Sylvans President, playing in green, Sylvans Football Club came into being.
The new ground was sited at La Grande Couture, at the top of Le Coudre and still remains today. Facilities were very basic, the pitch was surrounded by a rope barrier, an ex Army hut, divided in to three sections stood on one side providing home and away changing rooms and a store room for the then speciality of hot cordials to combat the cold. Other luxuries included open air toilets and after some time when funds became available the addition of a press box.
It was the 5th October 1922 when Sylvans made their competitive debut, away to St Martins in the Mauger Charity Cup. Unfortunately St Martins won 8-1 but the new boys from out west attracted a fair amount of interest with just over 100 spectators turning out to watch the game. From here, Sylvans spent their first three seasons in the Railway League (3rd tier).
The 1925/26 season saw Sylvans also make its debut in the Jackson League (2nd tier) not quite being ready to venture in to the top flight of local football yet, the Priaulx League. After 4 years in the Railway & Jackson leagues, the 1929/30 season saw Sylvans convincingly capture the Railway League and finish second in the Jackson league thus entitling them to take their place amongst the elite in the Priaulx league the following season, it was not an opportunity they would miss.
It was a tough introduction to the top flight, the club still needed strength in depth and extra players were essential. A number of players joined following the disbanding of another club 'Northern Belles'. Amongst the new signings of the 1930/31 season was one of Guernsey's greatest ever goalkeepers, Dougie Mechem. Famed for his agility, Dougie went on to win fifteen Muratti caps between 1931 and 1939 making him Sylvans most capped player for many years to come and the second highest capped goalkeeper behind Colin Gervaise-Brazier with eighteen from 1962 - 1975.
Their arrival in the Priaulx was met with a mixed reaction. Whilst some welcomed the introduction of Sylvans & St Martins some were not so happy to incurr the additional 'travelling expenses' of the away matches 'out West'. There was also a feeling that attendences would be smaller due to the westerners not being a challenge to opposition sides, but the years following and since have seen a turnaround when Sylvans became arguably the best supported club in the Island.
It was not long before other clubs and the local press started to take the new western club seriously, the press were warning that over confidence and points dropped to the newcomers could make a great deal of difference to who represented the island in the Upton come the season’s end.
It wasn’t just the team that were getting a reputation for themselves either, by now the supporters had somewhat of a stigma too, hostile from the sidelines towards the opposition. Rumour had it that victorious opponents had to jump on their bikes and pedal home as quickly as possible to avoid a good turfing!
The first match couldn’t have been tougher, away to Rangers at the Track in the September of 1930. Sylvans first ever Priaulx team lost 9-0. The club retained its Priaulx status throughout the thirties and early forties but Football was once again interrupted by the outbreak of World War two and the occupation of the island.
Sylvans did not compete in the first post war season, instead returning in 1947/48. By this time the club had moved to its current headquarters in Rue de la Corderie to be known as St Peter’s.
The club had to regain its Priaulx status by playing in the Jackson league once more, winning this at the first attempt whist wearing the new club colours of Red & White. It proved to be a purple patch; the club also annexed the Railway League and Junior League titles the following season.
The club enjoyed periodic success during the sixties and seventies, winning championships at Jackson, Railway and Youth levels along with occasional cup victories. But Sylvans' failed to make an impact at first team level with only a Stranger Charity Cup (1960/61), Le Vallee Cup (1973/74) and a share of the Frederick Martinez Cup (1959/60) to show for our efforts.
In 1979, after 30 plus years without permanent facilities, work began on the construction of the present clubhouse, which was finished by Christmas 1981 and officially opened by Jurat Herbie Martel on 26th April 1982. The original building which has been extended and improved since it was originally built by a number of members, most notably Gordon Ferbrache who was to become the clubs first honorary member. It provided the club with first class changing facilities for players and officials plus a bar and kitchen to provide valuable revenue towards the running of what was now a ever growing sports club.
Now known as Sylvans Sports Club, it was now amongst the largest sports clubs in Guernsey. Apart from its involvement in all five Guernsey Football Association leagues, the club had a thriving mini’s section for children from age five to thirteen; it was this mini’s section that was to shape the clubs future to this day.
It was here that stars of the future were nurtured and the first signs of success were seen in the 1973/74 and 1974/75 seasons. The club won the Junior League Division A in both seasons entitling them to a shot at their Jersey counterparts in the Junior Upton, also known as the Portsmouth Trophy. 1973/74 saw the trophy shared, in a 2-2 draw with Beeches Old Boys and the same squad of players went one better the following season defeating First Tower in Guernsey to become the Junior Channel Island Champions for the first time.
Many of that side went on to play in the first team and represent Guernsey in Muratti finals. Some raucous nights were enjoyed down at the Corbet Field in the eighties which saw the 'Red Army' support their team by the bus load. However it was to be the next group of youngsters who were to re-write the record books.
|Portsmouth Trophy, U18 League, Old Vic Cup, Loveridge Cup Champions, back row L-R; Paul Ozanne, Shaun Kelling, Boley Smillie, John Nobes, Martin Le Page, Steve Brehaut, Clive Bateman, Jules Le Gallez. Front L-R; Wayne Duport, Dave Gilman, Paul de Garis, Paul Saunders, Jan Renouf, Stuart Roberts, Paul Nobes|
A new group of juniors (pictured above) who were really starting to make a name for themselves and in 1990/91 this side first tasted success. The Youth Two title and Normandie Cup was captured in some style. Undefeated all season, a side made up of future first team regulars including the likes of Steve Brehaut, David Gilman, the Nobes brothers, Jan Renouf and Stuart Roberts romped to the title scoring 172 goals in just eighteen league matches conceding just one. The squad developed together under the guidance of Ivan de la Mare and Andy Kelling managing to achieve the unprecedented feat of winning all competitions open to them for two seasons running including the Youth One Championship, Old Vic Cup, Loveridge Cup and the Portsmouth Trophy. Sylvans also proudly provided the bulk of the successful Junior Muratti teams during this time.
By now, the club had made possibly its greatest ever appointment, that of Colin Renouf as Priaulx coach. The ‘Fox’ was to be the catalyst for a period of success that is unlikely to be repeated, he along with a group of players spanning three decades would go on to write the greatest ever chapter in to the clubs history.
It wasn’t all straight forward, at the same time that Fergie’s Fledglings (Sir Alex Ferguson, Beckham, Butt, the Neville’s and Scholes) were beginning their story, “Colin’s Kids” were thrust in to the Priaulx. At home to a North side including many island players for their first match of the 1992/93 season, the kids plus a few older heads were thrashed 7-1 prompting many to question whether the time was right to go with youth at the expense of some more experienced seniors. It was a valuable lesson though, and the following season going in to their last game of the 1993/94 season against the same opposition, only a point was required to secure the clubs first ever Priaulx Championship.
It was not just youth though, Tony Vance had returned from professional Football to add his experience and mercurial talents, Joel Avery had returned to the club from North, flying fullback Mark Coutanche and Lee Renouf (son to Colin and brother of Jan) joined to help create a squad that was to become the envy of the Island. So at St Peter’s in front of a crowd in excess of 800 spectators, they were not to be denied and completed a comprehensive 4-1 win over their closest rivals to spark celebrations which lasted long in to the night and the days following. A fortnight later the same side made their Upton debut narrowly losing out to an experienced First Tower side 0-1.
It was just reward for the then president Dave Jehan and the many committee members both past and present who had worked so hard for so many years to build the club up. With Priaulx side now built around that successful Youth side the team developed at pace. Playing on the best playing surface in the Island and further strengthened by signings including Grant Chalmers and Martin Gauvain, Sylvans dominated the nineties and early in the next century.
10 League titles in 11 seasons (9 successive from 1993/94) and numerous cup wins including 4 Upton successes the rest of the island had no answer to the supremacy of Sylvans during this period. It was not just the Priaulx making the headlines either, numerous Jackson, Railway titles and cup doubles were captured in this period of dominance and the club became the first and only club to achieve the feat of winning all 1st team trophies open to them, 7 in total plus the Jackson and Railway League titles - 11 trophies in just one season.
By this time the club also had a dominant Ladies team, winning leagues year after year dominating the Ladies football scene just like their male counterparts.
However, all good things must come to an end, and with the breakup of this side the club entered a period of transition. Coaches came and went and success was far less frequent. Cup final appearances were still a regular occurrence but failure often came at the final hurdle.