North Hill v St Breward, Duchy League Division 1
I can’t think of any better time of year to watch a game of football than on a warm, calm Autumnal day with the late October sunshine on your back. It’s even more satisfying when it’s in a place like North Hill, a little village in a valley on the eastern edge of Bodmin Moor, overlooked by woodland and the crag of Hawk’s Tor.
Yet if the setting’s idyllic, the village football team aren’t currently finding things so comfortable. North Hill are bottom of the league with one point from four games. Martin Budge – player-manager, chairman, groundsman – has been with the club since its formation in 1999 and has never known such a hard job of finding a consistent core of players.
“We’re struggling to get a regular side out at the moment,” says Martin. “We’ve got 40-odd people signed on but, because of youngsters with work commitments and so on, we’re just about managing to put a full side out for matches. Last year was very much a local team. But a lot of those local boys have gone off working or whatever, some have retired, and a lot of our boys now are what was Callington third team last year. Until this season we’d kept pretty much the same side for years. Then it just fell apart. When I went to the AGM I didn’t think we were going to even have a team.”
Martin echoes the thoughts of many grassroots managers when he laments a lack of commitment in younger players: “They’d rather go shopping with their wife than they would come and play football. When we were all youngsters you would want to play any game you possibly could. You worked hard all week and Saturday afternoon was football, wasn’t it?”
It’s only since last season that the club have been at their current ground. They’d rented their old pitch, outside the village at Way Cross, from a local farmer. They had a portacabin up there but the Trebartha Estate, the local lords of the manor, wouldn’t allow the installation of running water and electricity. So now they’ve moved into the heart of the village, paying to have a parish council field levelled. There’s a nice little homebuilt changing room/storage shed, but they’ve got plans to build new changing rooms on the back of the village hall if they can get funding.
In their short history the team’s current presence in Duchy Division One is the highest level they’ve reached. The highlight for Martin was reaching the final of the Launceston Knockout Cup in 2001, where they lost to a strong Dobwalls side.
For today’s game he’s managed to again muster a full side plus substitutes, but it seems he’s had to cast the net wide: “Today we’ve got one bloke coming back who hasn’t played for years. Another founder member. 54 years old.”
With Martin in goal and his fellow veteran bumping up the average age of a very young team, North Hill create the only real early chance when the away keeper is forced to make a point blank save. Otherwise, neither side has the guile to break through their opponents’ defence. As the half progresses it’s St Breward who start to look the more likely to produce something, and they miss a couple of sitters before finally taking the lead with a well-placed 25 yard shot a minute before half time.
In the second half the home side are having more possession and attacking pressure, forcing a few corners without ever really creating any clear-cut chances. Just as they seem to be working their way back into the game a soft goal from a mishit backpass makes it 0-2. North Hill are still having most of the ball but no luck in front of goal. They’ve got some young players who are good on the ball but need someone who’s able to wrest control of the game. I remember the last time I saw them play, in a win away at Grampound last season. The difference between the teams that day was that North Hill had a couple of older, tough, savvy operators on the field, who could completely boss Grampound’s youngsters. Maybe thinking the same thing, Martin
decides to hand over the gloves and come out of goal in an effort to firm up the defence. It doesn’t work. St Breward get a third with about ten minutes to go, and then break out of defence to score again at the death to make it 0-4.
It’s a horribly harsh scoreline for North Hill, but they can take heart from the fact that they matched their opponents in ability. If they can get a bit more clout and experience into the side, they’ll be fine.