St Keverne v Goonhavern Athletic, Trelawny League Division 1
“Football stinks, to be honest. It stinks. But I’m here because I still want to see St Keverne have a football team.”
Most people involved in the grassroots game will allow themselves the occasional moan about the state of the sport today, but for Morris Thomas, St Keverne’s self-styled ‘secretary, treasurer and toilet cleaner’, it seems the self-contained world of Cornish junior football has descended into a swamp of discord, disloyalty and general skulduggery.
Morris’ vexations about the state of the game include having to play against bigger clubs who are fielding first team players and those registered with other clubs, the constant rumours of the money some clubs are paying players and the all-too-common occurrence of players and manager moving en masse from one club to another. “That’s what’s happening in the league. It’s not like in the old days, where if you were from Gweek or Ruan Minor that’s where you were from and where you played. These days you don’t know who you’re going to play. It’s changed. I can still go around the football teams and meet people from 20 years ago, and we can have a conversation, but I go to a football club now and see the players coming out against our lot and I haven’t got a bloody clue who they are, because they’re not the same ones as last year.”
“Everything’s done online or by email now. I enjoy speaking to the people that I’ve known for years. If you’re phoning someone up about refereeing a game you have a chance to talk about other things, too. Not just the football. It had a social side to it. Talking to the fixtures secretary, it was more than just saying ‘see you Saturday’.
“I’m a rugby player. It was beautiful, rugby, then the leagues messed about with it and ruined it. If you mess about with it and do what they’re doing at the moment, it stinks. You don’t end up meeting with people. It’s meant to be a social event and it no longer is. It’s becoming a chore.”
Yet for all Morris’ gripes about the state of the game, there are thankfully still parts of his role at the club that can bring him a little happiness. “This year we got a £500 county sport grant for a new line marker and new nets. For years I’ve walked round that bloody pitch struggling, but this new marker’s lovely. It’s beautiful.”
Sadly St Keverne’s one of those clubs which have lost touch with their history, and none of the current personnel know anything of the club’s heritage beyond memories of relatives playing for the team in the Falmouth-Helston League in the 1960s. “I actually played for them once,” says Morris, “and I can’t play football. I’m a rugby player. I’m going back, Jesus wept, it must be 50 years. I gave three penalties away.
“We had a very settled team for donkey’s years. They started playing when they were 16, 17, and carried on to play into their 30s. Then obviously they all started retiring and packing up so we took on youngsters. That was our big thing, to take on youngsters, because nobody wanted to know a 16 year old. But of course they’d disappear after a couple of years to go off to college, university, and you have to get another batch in. Some of them are very good and can handle it, others it takes them a year to settle in. So we’re now a young club but we still try to stick to local lads. One or two come from Helston but that’s because they know someone local. It’s their game. They’ve got nothing else. People forget them. They use them, they might even take them on in an under-18s team, then drop them because the older players want to play in the team.”
After seven comfortable seasons in the Trelawny Premier League the team had the shock of relegation in May. “It was bound to happen, because we were pushing our luck with the youngsters,” says Morris. “We shot ourselves in the foot. One minute we were beating the best teams and the next we were losing. It was youngsters, you see. One minute they’d be good, next not so good. And a lot of people that were playing against us were from higher league squads. There are rules, but don’t get me into that, because I spent hours and hours last season trying to make our case for claiming points from a team who, well, let’s say stretched the rules.
“We’ve had two games so far and we’ve lost them. Desperately bad luck. 1-0 and 3-2. But I’m happy with them. Some of them are very good. I’m confident they can play as a football team.”
After consecutive defeats, with five 16 year olds in the team to face Goonhavern today, the match may be a test of their morale. St Keverne start well, playing through the midfield, but five minutes in, with Goonhavern’s first attack, an unthreatening floating cross from the right wing prompts confusion among the home keeper and his defence, resulting in a headed own goal.
If that goal was cheap then St Keverne’s immediate equaliser is even softer. Another speculative cross floats over everyone and into the Goonhavern net. Barely three minutes later a St Keverne forward is brought down in the box. There’s a long wait for the penalty to be taken as the home manager is called into shovel duty to clear up some dog shit near the spot, but the kick’s eventually dispatched straight down the middle to make it 2-1.
The home team are quicker of thought and foot in the midfield and are offering a constant threat down the wings. They’re bossing the game but can’t add to their score until about 35 minutes in, when a cross from the left wing finds a forward past the last man to apply the tap-in. They go in 3-1 up at half time.
Ten minutes into the second half, after St Keverne have had what looked a legitimate goal ruled out for offside, Goonhavern pull a goal back from a well-worked free kick on the edge of the box. Despite their dominance there’s a risk that the home team could let this game slip. But there’s a nice balance and fluidity to the team, with incisive running from the young forward line and a few older heads at the back, and they finally restore the two-goal cushion after a break through the middle on 70 minutes. The game ends a deserved 4-2 win for St Keverne.
After an impressive team performance I catch up with Morris to see what he made of the game, but he’s not letting himself get carried away. “It’s just nice to get the points,” he says.
And it is. It’s nice to get the points.