THE appointment of Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris as the manager of Jersey’s national football team in October 2001 was a strange one, to say the least.
One of the game’s characters in the 60s and 70s, he was renowned for his no-nonsense, exuberant tackling as a centre-half who played 795 appearances over a 20-year period for Chelsea.
But his only previous managerial experience was a brief stint in charge of Fourth Division side Aldershot during the 1984–85 season.
Conversely, his high profile did not really befit a team made up of lowly amateurs whose calendar consisted of the annual grudge match against Guernsey, the odd game against a military team and a handful of matches against county-select teams from the south-west. What, exactly, is there to manage? And to what purpose?
Furthermore, Harris was not living on the Island and had no intention to. After all, this was an unpaid gig.
If the JFA did not have the foresight to know these details would become a problem, once it starting trying to gaslight Harris into making it a problem, the ‘hardman’, as he has often been referred as, was having none of it and 20 years ago he resigned.
In the 16 months of his tenure, Jersey played just three matches, losing to Cornwall and Sussex in the pointless South-West Counties Championship and winning in the more important Muratti Vase 2-1.
Matters came to a head over an email sent by JFA president Charlie Tostevin in which he criticised Harris for the proposed training schedule for Jersey’s next South-West Counties match against the Army.
‘I’m not prepared to take criticism on a email that in his opinion it’s poor preparation,’ said an indignant Harris.
‘I don’t get paid a penny for doing the job and I don’t expect to, but I’m not prepared to take the flak. It’s been thrown in my face.
‘Charlie Tostevin is on about me not being able to come over all the time but they knew that when I took the job. I’m coming over giving my free time to help the Island.’
Harris went on to accuse the JFA of being ‘very amateurish … they have got a lot to learn’, adding with intrigue: ‘there is a lot of back-stabbing in Jersey football.’
In a statement, Tostevin admitted he used the words ‘poor preparation’ because ‘Ron had left the Island … and was not returning until the day of the match’.
When Harris approached the JFA to inquire about the role, Tostevin thought it was a joke. It turned out the inquiry was real but the subsequent appointment became a bad one, though, even in hindsight, Tostevin believed it ‘was the correct one at the time’.
Harris, however, had some sympathy. His number two, Bob Kearsey, said he was ‘100% behind this decision’. Meanwhile, Chris Lake, writing for the JEP, said: ‘I don’t blame him for resigning. What more did the JFA expect from him? It isn’t as if they paid for him to fly over here every weekend.
‘Instead, he sorted out the flights and the accommodation himself.’
He had the players’ support too. Bradley Vowden, who captained Jersey under Harris, and is now the current incumbent as JFA president, said at the time: ‘It’s a real shame that he won’t be [involved] anymore. In my view, he did a fantastic job and we were aware he wouldn’t be around all the time.’
The JFA, on their part, wasted no time in appointing Dave Matthews – who Harris openly accused as having a hand in his downfall – as the caretaker manager and, after retaining the Muratti and finishing third in the Island Games in Guernsey that summer, he was given the role on a permanent basis.
Harris, meanwhile, continued with the lucrative business of after-dinner speaking. It was at one such engagement in Jersey that it was suggested to him that he should become the Island manager. He hasn’t been back.