Sports groundsman Steve Landick believes if Jersey wants to get serious about sport tourism long term, it needs to invest in providing the right facilities, including, first and foremost, a hybrid sports pitch for both football and rugby.
Steve Landick at Grainville..Picture: David Ferguson
Since opening earlier this year, the Strive health club facility, run by ex-Jersey Red coach Ben Harvey, has attracted the British & Irish Lions squad for a pre-tour training camp with the England rugby squad due to follow suit in October. Premiership rugby outfits Leicester Tigers and Sale Sharks have also set up camp in St Peter, with England Roses netball team hoping to do the same next summer.
Championship football side Hull City were also looking at coming over in the summer, and were in direct contact with Landick on the matter as more and more sports teams looked at Jersey as an alternative training base with Covid-19 placing severe restrictions on travel elsewhere.
However, Landick, who has 44 years' experience as a groundsman in Jersey and helps his son Myles tend to the lawns at the home of Jersey Reds, says that teams will start looking elsewhere again unless the Island invests in a first-class hybrid pitch.
Landick's comments come at the same time that it is believed that Strive are in talks with a neighbouring landowner to expand, with both a new hybrid pitch and 3G pitches mooted.
Meanwhile, Jersey Bulls are also hoping their future lies on playing on a hybrid surface after sampling the one at Sutton United's Gander Green Lane twice last week. However, they would prefer that one is installed at their Springfield Stadium home, which Landick argues is too small.
'If we're going to have sports tourism, we need to get better outdoor grass areas for football and rugby,' says Landick, who has also represented Jersey at hockey and cricket and was a senior county-level football referee.
'We were very, very fortunate to get some top rugby sides over, mainly because Strive is much more geared up for conditioning and strength, which rugby can make more of than football can. But when it comes outside, we haven't got the facilities to support it. There's been no real investment into grass playing fields since 1997, when Springfield was done as a grass pitch, which has now been upgraded to 3G.
'We're just about getting by with the fantastic work that Myles does up at the rugby club but it's basically the same pitch that they have played on since they were in the National League 10 years ago. Nothing's changed, we've just increased the maintenance on the pitch but the structure is exactly the same. Whereas all these visiting rugby sides are playing on far superior surfaces.
'What is needed now is investment in a hybrid pitch, which is used by all Premiership clubs, Football League clubs and it's the standard facility for professional football now.'
Landick believes it would make sense for such a facility to be installed near to Strive, with a hotel built on site to ensure visiting teams and clubs can concentrate themselves in one location.
As well as the adjacent land mooted for possible development as an extension of Strive, there are large areas of playing fields close by such as the Reds' training pitches, pitch two used by Jersey Reds Athletic, and JTC Park, the home of Jersey Wanderers.
He would like any new facility to also include 'low-level' stadia and terracing for spectators.
'This would encourage the likes of Hull City, who were going to come over and get involved with. One of their representatives came over, looked at Strive and he thought it was great. I showed them Les Quennevais and he said it could do but it's not going to attract teams in the future. Our fields are good but not good enough for that,' he adds.
'Any new hybrid pitch needs to be big enough to take both football and rugby. Springfield at the moment is too small. In terms of size Springfield would be one of the smallest Football League or Premiership pitches around.
'I would leave Springfield as it is as an artificial pitch for the local community. The JFA use it a lot for training and games.'
Landick envisages a future whereby a hybrid pitch will be shared by both rugby and football, something that Jersey Reds and Jersey Bulls may be resistant to, but, he argues, 'there's no point investing into a hybrid pitch if it can't be used to its maximum.
'It can't be used as much as a 3G pitch but you can get enough sport out of it. It will be a great service for both rugby and football.
'The government are talking about investing in sport. If they're serious about that, it is something that needs to be brought forward.'
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