Keep On Keeping On

Lostwithiel v Gerrans & St Mawes, Duchy League Premier Division

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“There’s been a distinct lack of trophies”.

Lostwithiel chairman Ken Cook sounds almost apologetic as he describes the club’s less-than-phenomenal history. Their highest honour in recent memory was a Duchy League Division 2 Championship back in 1987, and it’s probably fair to say they’re still waiting for their moment in the sun. Sometimes it really is the taking part that counts.

Ken’s been involved with the club since he moved to the town thirty years ago. Back then, from the late-eighties to the mid-nineties, he was playing South Western League football for St Austell and St Blazey, but would turn out for Lostwithiel when he didn’t have a game. He’s become more involved with the club in the past few years, running the junior team before becoming chairman.

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As with most grassroots clubs they depend on a core of hardworking volunteers. The town community centre provides changing rooms and a local pub sponsorship and food after a game, but finances are always a struggle.

Even going further back in time, nobody can remember Lostwithiel really setting the world on fire. Watching today’s game is Dave Avis, who played for the club in the early- sixties in the Bodmin and District League. The best Dave can say of the team of that time is that they were mediocre: “They never climbed any great heights, the Lostwithiel sides”. But Dave considers the quality of football the team now produces as better, quicker, especially as they no longer have to contend with the sodden leather balls and quagmire pitches of his time: “Oh my gosh! All that cut the grass then was cows or sheep. And there was no changing rooms. We stood up by the hedge and got changed. This lot watch football on the television and get to see the good ones. We didn’t have that”. He considers the current side to be as good as he’s seen for a long time.

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The club’s high point was promotion to the East Cornwall League and senior football in the late-eighties. But they struggled to keep players and meet with the requisite ground regulations. The pitch had to be fenced off, and as it was a public playing field (one of hundreds of historic King George V Playing Fields that adorn the country) that meant the club had to install and remove fence posts for every game. After a few seasons they folded and had to re-enter the Duchy League at the bottom in 1992.

Ken says that the biggest change in local football since his playing days has been the effect of the expansion of the leagues. Where there had previously been the South Western League and one division of the East Cornwall League, there are now two divisions of Southwest Peninsula and two East Cornwall divisions above an expanded Duchy League. He echoes many veterans of the old system in his belief that this has diluted the talent pool and left many teams struggling to get enough players.

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Unusually for a club at this level Lostwithiel have managed to maintain a settled squad, not losing players and having to constantly rebuild season after season. Ken puts this down to the tight-knit, friendly nature of the team. A couple of players left last season to play at a higher level, but soon returned when they realised they weren’t enjoying it so much. This consistency of personnel means they’ve had the chance to blend and develop together, and aren’t dependent on the annual blooding of raw youngsters. The average age of the team is bumped up a few more notches by goalkeeper Billy Davis, in his fifties and still regarded as one of the best goalies in the league.

Because of the settled nature of the squad, many younger players were turning up to train with little hope of getting a game. Ken shaped them into a Sunday League team and in 2015 they entered the Duchy League as a reserve squad, winning the Reserve Cup in their first season.

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Lostwithiel have gradually climbed their way back up the leagues, and after promotion from Division 1 in 2014 have established themselves as a solid mid-table Duchy Premier League team, which is exactly where they find themselves four games into the new season, a point below today’s visitors Gerrans and St Mawes.

Within a couple of minutes of kick-off, thanks to some generous Gerrans defending, Lostwithiel are a goal up. It’s an even game but, thanks to an opposition defence that continues to malfunction, they score three more during a 15-minute spell mid-half. Gerrans are creating as many chances but Lostwithiel’s veteran keeper is on form. He’s finally beaten a couple of minutes before half-time and Lostwithiel go in somewhat flattered by the 4-1 scoreline.

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In the second half the Gerrans defence begin to look as though they’ve actually met each other before, and Lostwithiel aren’t having it so easy. The key moment comes midway through the half when Gerrans miss a penalty and three minutes later the home side break and win a penalty of their own. 5-1. In the ensuing hoo-ha Gerrans have two players sin-binned for dissent and for a while they look in danger of losing their collective rag. Lostwithiel get a sixth on 80 minutes. With the result in the bag Lostwithiel slacken and Gerrans, spurred by the perceived injustice of the scoreline, finally start to click up front. In the last few minutes they pull a goal back. Then another. In a constant wave of Gerrans attacks they get a fourth in stoppage time but they end up beaten by the clock and the game finishes 6-4.

Earlier in the afternoon, up at Anfield, Liverpool had taken on Manchester United in a Great Circus game. Between them they’d managed to muster six shots on target. That’s entertainment. One week of Paul Pogba’s wages would keep every club in this league ticking over happily for years. Meanwhile Ken Cook and his son are doing sponsored walks to raise money for new training kit and to get the showers sorted. For all the glib ‘passion’ professed by the marketing men that run the elite game, they’re shamed week in, week out by grassroots clubs like this. Teams like Lostwithiel might not have much of an illustrious history, but I’d sooner watch a drama like the one they put on with Gerrans and St Mawes today than the grim spectacle of a Mourinho team parking the bus. Any day.

 

More match photos here

 

 

 

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