Altarnun v Saltash United, Duchy League Division 2
Kevin Sandercock, Altarnun FC’s self-styled ‘secretary-cum-everything-else’, is doing the pre-match changing room tidy up. At most clubs this would involve a once-over with the cloth and broom but for Kevin it’s a hellish fortnightly ritual of sweeping up great mounds of flies – literally thousands of dead and dying houseflies to be swept from the windowsills and benches and shovelled into piles and into the bin. It’s a grotesque spectacle, as though a young Damien Hirst had given the place a makeover, and Kevin says it’s the same every matchday. “I don’t know where they come from. Get in through the vents or something. I hate flies”.
This is just one feature of the footballing empire Kevin found himself taking on when he inherited stewardship of the club, following the death of his mother, Pam, four years ago. Pam Sandercock is something of a local footballing legend. Together with her husband Mike she steered the club for decades with a rare devotion and energy. Now, as his wife, and club treasurer, Pat, makes ready the tea bar and Kevin grits his teeth in the insect charnel house, it seems that Pam might have been a tough act to follow.
On a hill above the historic village on the north-eastern edge of Bodmin Moor, Altarnun’s Tresibbett is one of the county’s more isolated grounds. They’re competing for a pool of local players with teams like Southgate, Pensilva and North Petherwin, and in a season that has seen the loss of clubs with the calibre of Nanpean and, only this week, Chacewater, due to an inability to retain players, you would expect concerns about the future stability of a village club like this.
Kevin, who first played for the club in the late-70s, is all too aware of the struggles grassroots clubs are facing. He sees the problem as one of players’ sense of allegiance: “This morning we’ve had two ring up and say they can’t play. The commitment’s not there. And a lot of teams are the same. It’s not just the youngsters. The older ones have got work, the missus wants to go shopping. Silly little things. When I was playing the manager would say ‘Who’s alright for next week?’, and you knew you’d be there. But now you can’t. You’re always chasing players. A lot of teams are seeing it. It’s not just us”. He’s also frustrated by what he sees as a lack of devotion to the cause off-pitch, mentioning a fund-raising bingo night last week where “out of twenty players we’ve got in the squad only six turned up. Disgusting. There’s no excuse”.
Like most clubs, Altarnun are grateful to take whatever snippets of funding and support they can find. The village pub puts on a spread after the match and hosts the end-of-season do, and they have a local sponsor. But Kevin despairs of what he sees as the hoop-jumping that is demanded by the financial grant application process: “We’ve put in for grants. We’ve actually got a solicitor playing for us and he checked all the forms but we haven’t heard a thing back”.
Founded in 1946, Altarnun have the distinction of winning the Launceston and District League in their first season with a squad of only thirteen players. They went on to become founder members of the Duchy League in 1967
Their most recent honour was the Duchy Division 1 championship in 2010. After surviving for two seasons in the Duchy Premier, the past five years have seen a steady descent down the League 1 table, culminating in relegation last season. They currently find themselves mid-table in Division 2 alongside today’s opponents, Saltash United’s fourth team, or ‘development side’, if we’re using the current footballing parlance.
For the first half there’s only one team in the game. The opening 20 minutes see a succession of Saltash corners, near misses and a disallowed goal. They finally scramble a goal after about 30 minutes, and Altarnun must be grateful that they reach half-time without having conceded three or four.
But it seems someone’s been on the half-time monkey glands. Early in the second half, the wind now at their backs, the home team somehow manage to get themselves back in the game with an equalizer from a free kick. Saltash begin to assert themselves again without ever reaching the dominance they’d had in the first half, but Altarnun break to score another. Both sides have further chances but Altarnun hold on for a deserved 2-1 win. That’s a proper game of football.
Altarnun FC website here
More match photos here