Islander who’s proud to host community awards

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‘It was an easy decision for me to be involved,’ says Graeme (48), who was on Saturday due to present the awards – which honour selfless and heroic deeds by members of the community – for the third successive year, alongside singer-songwriter Nerina Pallot.

‘From the day this was first suggested to me as an idea, with the JEP supporting it and the reach the JEP has across the Island, I’ve always thought it was a fantastic way of celebrating the commitment and dedication of individuals within the community.

‘And the one thing for me that really makes Jersey a special place is that sense of community.’

Twelve awards were due to be given out at the event this morning, held in the grounds of the prestigious manor house belonging to the Seigneur of St John, John W Dick. The recipients range from young achievers to grandparents and neighbours.

‘The support for the event seems to have grown and grown,’ says Graeme, who admits he is always taken aback by the altruistic instincts that all the finalists have in common.

‘With every single award there’s an emotional side to it because people are going above and beyond what is expected of them in their daily life.

‘Every single person we’ve presented an award to and all those finalists have so much in common. None of them do what they do to be in the spotlight: they do it because they want to help others and they have a really caring side to them.

‘It’s an amazing day and you come away with a huge amount of positive energy afterwards.’

Although the focus of the awards is rightly on Jersey’s community heroes, the ceremony itself would not be the same without the hugely entertaining and affable presentation style of Graeme and Nerina.

‘Nerina and I have built up a fantastic relationship over the past few years. We have similar values, we both care about the Pride of Jersey Awards very much and we’re very privileged to be part of it – and to be part of it from day one makes it even more special.’

It says much for Graeme’s own generous nature that he goes out of his way to fit his Pride of Jersey commitments into his busy working calendar.

Not only does he commentate on Premier League football for American channel NBC Sports, he also sits on the Football Association’s inclusion advisory board, and is an ambassador for the Football Foundation – supporting its commitment to build better community sports facilities across the country.

‘I’ve just accepted a position on the board of Real Mallorca too,’ reveals Graeme, who grew up in Jersey and still has family in the Island.

‘It’s a really interesting opportunity for me. They are in the third division after relegation last season and I will have an advisory role to help the club create an environment where the team can be successful. Returning to the elite level of Spanish football is certainly a long-term ambition of the club’s.’

Graeme himself enjoyed a swift ascent to the upper echelons of the professional game.

One of the Channel Islands’ greatest footballing exports, he lit the blue touch paper for his playing career when he joined Chelsea in 1987 from Jersey side St Paul’s.

FA Cup success followed before Graeme moved to Blackburn Rovers, and was part of their Premier League winning team.

In an interview with the JEP last year, Graeme said he hoped that the Jersey FA could strengthen its links with top clubs in England and on the continent, to give the next generation of Jersey footballers the opportunity to try to progress their careers.

One of the ways in which promising Island-based players may get the chance to showcase their talents on a wider stage is if Jersey is accepted into Uefa, football’s European governing body.

Uefa’s executive committee binned Jersey’s original application for membership – first submitted in December 2015 – without formal consideration, before the Jersey FA lodged an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

CAS is due to announce whether or not it will overturn Uefa’s decision and instruct Uefa to put Jersey’s application to all of its 55 member nations by the end of this month.

‘The Jersey FA has taken a lot of time to think and work out what their best route is, and now it’s in the hands of CAS to decide what will happen,’ said Graeme.

‘Whatever happens, the most important thing is that the players in the Island get the most opportunities to play competitive football at the highest level they can, in order to fulfil their potential.’

Graeme, who was capped 36 times for England, retired from professional football in 2005.

It is notoriously hard for former elite sportsmen and women – particularly those who enjoyed the constant camaraderie of team sports – to adjust to life when the final whistle is blown on their career.

Some footballers like Graeme and England winger-turned solicitor Stuart Ripley find life after football liberating.

Others continue to crave the adrenalin buzz and sense of identity that elite sport gave them when they were professional athletes.

This week, former Manchester United and England defender Rio Ferdinand, who has been retired for two years, announced he would be launching a professional boxing career.

Despite keeping himself busy in retirement with numerous charity engagements and business endeavours, Ferdinand (38) cited a need to have something to ‘focus on’.

Graeme says that although top-level sportsmen and women should never contemplate a sedentary lifestyle in retirement, he is surprised by Ferdinand’s decision to step into the ring.

‘I retired at 36 and Rio retired at a similar age. Sport is our outlet and you have to keep doing a lot of physical exercise on a regular basis because to suddenly stop is not good for you, both physically and emotionally.

‘However, I am a bit surprised Rio’s chosen boxing. I know he loves the sport, but he’s going to be exposing himself to a physical challenge that is going to be a tremendous strain on him.

‘It’s a big step to go into a psychological position where you are prepared to take the physical punishment of boxing. There’s a risk associated with what he’s doing which I wouldn’t be prepared to take myself, but if that’s his passion, then good luck to him.’

Luck is something that has eluded the England national senior team for more than half a century. Since the sweet summer of 1966, when England lifted the World Cup for the one and only time, the Three Lions have either flopped on the national stage or endured agonisingly painful penalty shoot-out defeats.

Graeme, who was on the five-person FA panel who chose to appoint Gareth Southgate as England manager in November last year, is adamant England are now heading in the right direction.

‘Gareth’s doing an excellent job. The team are very close to qualifying for the World Cup in Russia next year. The other part of what Gareth has done very well is in establishing the identity and the standards of that group.

‘If the players are mentally and physically prepared and you’ve got a coach who is tactically astute, then you are giving yourself the best opportunity and the tools to achieve.’

Celebrating the achievements of altruistic Islanders is top of Graeme’s priority list today on his home soil, a place that remains close to his heart.

‘My dad and one of my sisters still live in Jersey and I try to come back two to three times a year, although trying to fit trips back here around my schedule is always quite difficult.

‘Even when I’m in the UK I’m always very proud to talk to friends about Jersey. When I go off on one about all the things they should do when they’re in Jersey, I think they must presume I’m funded by the tourist board.

‘Certainly, you don’t have to scratch very far under the surface to see that Jersey is right there for me.’

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