10 years on: Watson and Boyle getting the test they craved

10 years on: Watson and Boyle getting the test they craved
Midfielder Luke Watson has been ever-present for Jersey Bulls this season - photo credit Simon Roe

It's the winter of 2013. Influential duo Luke Watson and Jack Boyle are amongst the loudest voices calling for Jersey to follow in Guernsey FC's footsteps and put a side into the English league structure. The pair are part of a growing group frustrated by the lack of a regular games programme for the island's top players, and wanting to test, challenge and push themselves outside the Jersey Premiership.

"We've fallen too far behind other sports," Watson told the BBC back then. "It's just a different challenge to go to the UK every week and it gives you a lot more football."

Both midfielders had grown so fed up with local football they were nearly tempted across the water to pull on the green of Guernsey. Unheard of. The moves never materialised, but Jersey Bulls eventually did.

The Bulls entered the English pyramid in 2019, eight years after the Green Lions, to much fanfare and following an awful lot of hard work from the likes of founders Russell Le Feuvre, Ian Horswell and their committee of volunteers.

Ex Southampton and Airdrie man Boyle was there from the start too, but was cruelly injured just 11 minutes into his debut. The road to recovery was to be a long one, and as more than three years passed supporters might have assumed they wouldn't see him pull on a Bulls shirt again.

Jack Boyle has played nine times for Jersey Bulls so far this season - photo credit Simon Roe

Watson, meanwhile, had quit the Jersey FA side in 2017 and had seemingly stepped away from the game, making just sporadic appearances for St Paul's, until his surprise signing for the Bulls this January.

Boyle's return followed less than two months later, and suddenly a decade on from the winter of 2013 both are now key parts in the 2023 midfield jigsaw for Bulls, who sit top of the pile in the Combined Counties Premier Division. For those who've followed Jersey football over the past two decades, there's something reassuring about seeing them walk out together at Springfield to take their places in the middle of the park.

Watson has featured in all 17 fixtures this season, starting 16 of them, particularly impressive for a player now well into his mid-30s and when you consider the amount of travel involved with competing week-after-week.

Bulls are indeed top, a real achievement considering they've been without injured skipper James Queree for a couple of months, but they are far from having it all their own way. In recent weeks they have battled to hard-fought, narrow home wins over Epsom & Ewell, and Cobham. A surprise Springfield loss to AFC Croydon Athletic followed.

Bulls average less than two goals per game this term, despite a superb eight-match unbeaten run which propelled them to the summit of the table. 1-0, 0-1, 1-1, 2-0. More often than not there's just the odd goal, or perhaps two, in it. It's hard work.

Jersey Bulls have won nine of their 13 league matches so far this season.

Even in the 4-2 triumph at Guildford City on Saturday, with Boyle and Watson both starting in the midfield three, an early 1-0 lead was wiped out just after half time. At 3-1 up after 72 minutes their opposition still wouldn't lie down, pulling back to within one goal again to leave Gary Freeman's side with little breathing space as stoppage time approached.

The pressure's always on, there's little time for the players, coaching staff or supporters to relax. Lorne Bickley completed his hat-trick in the closing stages - the tall striker now accounting for more than a third of all his side's goals so far this season.

Every three points have to be earned. But that's what Boyle and Watson had called for. They're getting what they wanted, and seemingly loving it.