If You Build It, They Will Come

Halsetown v Camborne School of Mines, Trelawny League Premier Division

When Londoner Bob Pratt moved down to Halsetown, a little village just south of St Ives that’s a gateway between the tourist town and the badlands of West Penwith, he was missing his football. This was the mid-seventies and, while Bob was enjoying watching the beautifully named and now long-defunct team that was the St Ives Dodgems, he felt he wanted to get a bit more involved in the game.  So, with a handful of mates and in an extraordinary labour of love, he created his own club.

Initially he started a pub side with a few fellow regulars at the Halsetown Inn. They’d play Sunday friendlies on a pitch six miles down the coast road at Gurnard’s Head. After a few fixtures though, they realised they wanted something closer to home.  In true Hollywood fairytale fashion the pub landlord piped up: “If you can do anything with that field over there behind the car park you can have that for a pitch”. And there it began.

 

Any veterans of the old West Penwith and Mining Leagues will testify to the bleak location of the old Halsetown pitch. On an exposed hillside, its touchlines ringed by granite boulders, when the wind and rain were coming in from the west there were few less welcoming grounds. It’s hard to imagine the state it must have been in before Bob and his pals got to work. They’d go up there every evening and weekend with picks and shovels and a tractor borrowed from a local farmer, gradually clearing away the gorse and rocks. The bigger boulders had to be broken with dynamite, provided by a mate who worked in quarrying. After several months work the holes had been filled and the pitch rolled, grassed and marked out in time for the 1978-79 season. While the team were continuing to play friendlies Bob and the crew were busy gutting a disused pub outbuilding, installing showers and converting it to changing rooms.

 

Having strengthened the squad with recruits from as far afield as St Buryan and St Just the team entered the West Penwith League the following season, immediately winning the Amor Shield and, the next season, the West Penwith League championship. “And we just progressed from there”, says Bob, with the team going on to win the Charity Cup before entering the Mining League and then becoming founder members of the Trelawny League.

 

But as the club became more established so the demands it placed on Bob grew: “I was spending two or three nights a week doing all the work. Getting hold of the referee, sorting out the results sheets, getting in touch with the opposition and the players… I was trying my hardest to get someone to take over the secretary’s job”. The killer blow came a few years ago, when a new pub landlord wanted to start charging the club a hugely increased, prohibitive fee for the use of the pitch. They had little option but to relocate to a new home connected to St Ives Rugby Club.

 

For Bob the move was too much of an upheaval after all the work he’d put into the village pitch: “The weeks that we spent up there, and it’s just standing idle now. The posts are still up but nobody uses it.  It’s a shame, really, but there you go. It was good while it lasted. I don’t come down here so much now”.

Current secretary John Leach admits that, after the comparative plain sailing of the early years, the past few seasons have been a struggle at times. Following the ground move the club found they could no longer maintain a reserve side, and were having trouble recruiting players for the firsts. But John now believes that, thanks to a dedicated handful of volunteers and influential players, they’ve turned things around. They’re managing to retain a consistent squad and promotion last season has helped bring a real buzz back to the team.

Today’s visitors are last season’s champions, Camborne School of Mines, but the conditions suggest we might not be in for a show of Gullitesque sexy football.  If the new pitch is a vast improvement on the old village ground, then the site itself is no less exposed. On a clear day the ground has a backdrop of Godrevy Lighthouse and the Hayle coastline, but on a grim November afternoon such as this, with a relentless Atlantic westerly and darkening skies, there’s little to be seen through the murk.

 

 

After a scrappy start it seems to take CSM a while to get used to the idea of having the wind at their backs, but they eventually start to have the edge and take the lead from a corner on the half-hour. The second half is more even. It’s hard-fought and close, competitive but never dirty, and it’s to both teams credit that they continue to try to play football despite the conditions. It seems harsh on Halsetown when CSM score a second, a chip from the edge of the box, with about ten minutes to go. But the home team then quickly pull one back following a goalmouth scramble from a corner.  Roused, Halsetown launch a desperate up-and-at-’em surge for the last five minutes. They go close, but it’s not to be, and the game ends 1-2.

Bob, his heart not quite in it the way it had been, left at half-time.

 

More match photos here

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