Guernseyman James Hamon is the latest islander to make the breakthrough into professional football. He shared his experiences at Exeter City with Nick Mollet, and insists Guernsey FC is the only route for any aspiring young footballers aiming to follow in his footsteps.
The 19-year-old former St Sampson’s Secondary School pupil has cemented his place in Exeter City’s first team after making his debut at home against Shrewsbury Town last November and his strong mentality and composure for one so young has been earning rave reviews.
He joins an esteemed list of islanders in the past few decades to make the professional grade – following the likes of Matt Le Tissier, Tony Vance, Grant Chalmers, Lee Luscombe, Dave Waterman and Chris Tardif. After playing locally at youth level for Vale Rec and St Martin’s he turned out 12 times for Guernsey FC after debuting at 16. His big break came thanks to help from Steve Sharman, the former England University coach and current Muratti coach, who recommended him to Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale.
After trialling with the club last season he was offered a permanent contract to play this season. “I think being involved with GFC helped massively. It was a brand new opportunity for everyone to test themselves against new teams at a higher level than just the local league. It was great to get first team experience with GFC and to play and train with the best players in Guernsey week in week out only helped me develop and mature into the person I am now,’ he admitted.
The tall youngster is hugely indebted to Sharman and GFC coach Tony Vance and to his father Chris, a highly accomplished former Muratti number one, and GFC goalkeeper Tardif for their influences in making his dreams of a professional career materialise.
“Tardy has been a massive influence to me. He has the experience because he’s been there and done it so I can ask him pretty much anything and he will be able to help me or point me in the right direction. Not only that, but working with him twice a week on the training ground helped me develop massively too. Watching and listening to what he does was important and made me into a better player. My dad also helped me out a lot – having him coach me and pass his experience down to me has made me into a better goalkeeper and I can only thank him for everything he’s done and is doing for me.”
Hamon is not only a talented footballer though – he is also one of Guernsey’s top golfers and had a difficult decision to make on which sport to pursue professionally. “Choosing between the two was tough but I always wanted to play football so when the opportunity came along to play the sport I love every day and get paid for it was a no brainer really,” he confessed.
He is yet to be beaten at golf by his Exeter teammates and although he has played a few times it has not been as much as he would have liked in his spare time.
“Obviously my focus has changed so I have to concentrate on my career but when I get the chance to play I do. My current handicap is inactive so when anyone asks I’m now going to say 12,” he joked.
“Unfortunately I don’t think I will be able to represent Guernsey in the Island Games [in Jersey] due to my work commitments but I wish them all the best.”
SO HOW DOES EXETER COMPARE TO GUERNSEY?
“Exeter is a great club. It is very family orientated and everyone around the place makes you feel welcome just like GFC. It’s been a great experience up to now and I couldn’t think of a better place to be at this present time in my career. Hopefully I will be able to hold down my place in the first team and keep playing games and keep enjoying my football as much as I am currently,” he exclusively told gbg.
SO WHAT DOES HE RECALL ABOUT HIS FIRST FORAY INTO THE PROFESSIONAL GAME?
“Making my debut was a great experience and one I will treasure forever. I got a little bit nervous during the build-up to the Shrewsbury game but as soon as I got out on to the pitch the nerves soon went and I managed to grow into the game and relax and enjoy the moment.”
“I’m not a very nervous person and anyone who knows me will tell you I’m a confident person and I think that’s an important attribute to have to be a professional footballer,” said Hamon.
Exeter have been on the fringes of the play-off positions in League Two in their bid to gain promotion but the youngster is keeping his big feet firmly on the ground.
“At the moment my target is to keep my place in the team and keep performing well. As a team we are chasing promotion this season and hopefully we can get back to winning ways and force our way up the table and secure that target.”
“My long-term goal is to play at the highest level I can for as long as I can. It would be great to have 10 years in the Premier League but I know it takes time and hard work to get there as well as a bit of luck at the right times. At the moment I’m just focusing on my role in the first team and being the best I can be here and everything else will take care of itself,” he stressed.
He said Tisdale is a great boss and with him being the second longest serving manager in English league football insisted he must be doing something right.
“He has helped me settle in from day one as well as the rest of the lads. They were great when I first turned up and made me feel very welcome. Now I have become part of it the banter is always flying around and the changing room is a great place to be in.”
“Everyone has been really supportive towards me and it’s a great feeling to have to be walking out on to that pitch on a Saturday afternoon.”
Hamon did not expect to play against Shrewsbury but is eternally grateful for the chance to prove himself at the top level and having taken it with his safe hands he has impressively been keeping England under 20s goalkeeper Christy Pym out of the first team.
“I feel I haven’t done too much wrong. I made one mistake on my debut but since then I think I’ve been pretty solid. Christy is a great goalkeeper and he will be around for a long time and he’s got a great future ahead of him. But I’m a naturally confident person so my confidence is never low for too long.”
SO WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE LEVELS EXETER AND GUERNSEY ARE PLAYING AT AND WHAT ARE HIS MESSAGES FOR YOUNG GUERNSEY FOOTBALLERS ASPIRING TO FOLLOW HIS FOOTSTEPS INTO THE PROFESSIONAL GAME?
“I think the main difference is just the tempo of the game is a lot faster and the players are sharper. Obviously you have to have the quality but as long as you are dedicated and have hunger to make it I think the young players involved with GFC have a great chance. They just need to want it enough and continue to work hard.” “I think GFC is the only route to go down in Guernsey if you aspire to be a professional footballer. You are playing at a high standard against good players week in week out and it’s a chance to prove yourself. In England you never know who may be watching your game so it’s important to go out and give it your best shot every time,” he stressed.
“I think the philosophy behind Guernsey FC is great. Giving young players a chance is really important and if you’re working hard in training you will get your chance. I think doing this will obviously have some effect to the standard they will be able to play at but I don’t think that’s too important if you’re giving young local talent an opportunity.”
BUT DOES HE THINK THE TRANSITION TO THE FIRST TEAM IN THE UK WAS EASIER THAN EXPECTED?
“I wouldn’t say it was easy. It was something completely different and an experience I have never had to deal with before. I think the more games I play the easier it gets but it’s still hard work keeping your place in a team with so many top quality players.” “The pressure is always on and you can’t shy away from anything at this level otherwise you get found out pretty quickly. This is a job now and not just for fun so you have to be serious all the time and focus on your role in the team. People’s livelihoods hang in the balance and people have mortgages to pay so you need to be on your game every day and don’t let your concentration slip at all,” said Hamon.
SO COULD WE SEE HIM DONNING THE GLOVES AGAIN FOR GUERNSEY IN AN INTER-INSULAR ANY TIME SOON?
“It will be great to represent Guernsey in a Muratti but my main focus is on staying in the professional game for as long as possible. I guess I’ll have to wait and see what happens.”