Fashioned in the Clay

Foxhole Stars v Gorran, Duchy League Knockout Cup 1st round

There’s something about Foxhole that, for me, makes them the classic Cornish village football team. It’s certainly something to do with their long history and periods of success, but it’s also about their integral place in a changing community.

Maybe it’s the way their Goverseth ground is tucked away behind a row of archetypal clay country terraced cottages under looming clayworks. Or their timeless black and white strip. Whatever it is, there’s a sense of repute, of substance, about the club.

Nobody at the club seems certain of when it was founded, but the oldest photograph on the clubhouse wall dates back to 1919. What they are agreed on is that the club’s golden age was the 1970s. Between 1970 and 1980 they won six East Cornwall Premier League titles, were four time winners of the League Cup and won the Evely Cup three times.

Ivor Trudgeon was there throughout this period of success, taking over as club secretary when they joined the East Cornwall League in 1968 and staying there for eleven years. He still enthuses about the team they assembled.

“The best player we ever had was Terry Metters. He used to play for St Mellion. Fernleigh Whetters, the manager at the time, tapped him up and Terry wanted to come down here to play. He drove down here every Saturday from Plymouth. No money involved. He was top scorer, an excellent player. I remember they were playing a midweek game against Probus and before the match Probus were saying how they’d stop Metters. And he scored nine that night.”

But the burden of being a club secretary can engulf a man, and it was the realisation that he was possibly too immersed in the club that prompted Ivor to finally step down. “One of the things that made me finish was when we went to Bodmin in a Charity Cup match with my six year old son, who was club mascot then. It was never very calm in the dressing room with Foxhole. Everybody spoke their mind. I don’t know what happened but there was a bit of a rumpus in the dressing room after the game. So I just walked out and left. And I forgot my son! I left him up there! Got back to Lanivet and I said ‘Christ! I’ve left Martin up Bodmin!’. So I thought that was time to finish.”

Current club secretary Dave Bunt has been here since 1982. For Dave, the highlight of his tenure was seeing the club win three East Cornwall Premier League titles between 2003 and 2007, and their subsequent promotion to the Southwest Peninsula League. He’s also got good memories of a Peninsula League groundhop day a few years back. “We were playing St Austell, who were vying to win the league, and we managed to beat them 2-1. That was a lovely day. We had over 600 people here. It was a horrible rainy Good Friday. An hour before kick-off the pitch was covered in water, and there were about 20 of us forking it. It’s an amazing way to create some money, because all these groundhoppers like to take things home. We got rid of old kit. You could sell them old shirts for a tenner. We had enamel badges, programmes… we had to limit them to two programmes per person, because they’d fill out one and keep the other pristine.”

If Dave has one regret, it was an opportunity missed. “We had a chance to sign Nigel Martyn in goal, before he went to St Blazey, and our manager at the time said he didn’t rate him. He was playing for Heavy Transport, a Duchy League club, and it was a big step up to the East Cornwall League. That was our biggest mistake. The one that got away.”

Yet promotion from the East Cornwall League in 2007 proved to be a poisoned chalice. In the Peninsula League the club found they didn’t have the finances, or the manager with the right contacts, to lure and retain players.

Ivor had misgivings from the start. “I went to the meeting when they went up. I said to them then they weren’t in a position to compete, because although the club had had success they’d never been good at raising money, and once you go Peninsula money is involved. That was their downfall. Unless you get money or get sponsors you can’t compete. Sticker are finding that problem now. They had their success but there’s no money to pay players, so they’ve drifted away. There’s no club loyalty now. This club’s always been ambitious, but always run on a shoestring. They’ve never had the money to really go anywhere. These days if you want to go somewhere you need to pay players. I don’t agree with paying players, but they look for it now.”

Dave was there to see the first team’s eventual demise four years ago. “We were always struggling in the bottom third of the league. We got a new manager and we thought everything was rosy. Then it came to pre-season friendlies and he couldn’t get a team, and we had to make a decision about what to do. We had a reserve side but their manager thought they weren’t ready to step up from the Duchy League. We just had to pull out before the season started. The second team, in Duchy Division Three, suddenly became the firsts.”

It’s impossible to talk about memories of life round here without mentioning ECLP (the English Clays Lovering Pochin company). Everyone worked for ECLP.  Like Holmans in Camborne it was a company that employed generations of local families and shaped the community, operating throughout the whole of the network of clay mining villages north of St Austell,

Ivor remembers how the company were always generous to the club, lending equipment for ground improvements. “ECLP would help you. This pitch used to slope away, and they came and ripped it all up. It’s built on sand. ECLP at the time were spraying all their sand burrows with grass seed, to stop the sand blowing. They came out here every day for a couple of weeks, lorries tipping sand, then it was levelled out and they sprayed it with grass seed. They paid for it all. They wanted to do it to let people see that grass could actually grow on sand. And after a couple of years, it did.”

And it’s partly the passing of ECLP that has changed the flavour of local football. There’s not the same inter-village rivalry now as there was in the days when most of the team would all work together at the same clay works. Although the squad are all local, they’re no longer exclusively from the village. Ivor considers the main change in the game to be a move from something that was as much social as sporting, to something more serious. “Players are fitter now. All the players back then had to work Saturday mornings at the clay works or dries. They’d come and put the nets up, play football and go home. Back then it was just a kickaround.”

On the pitch things are looking good now. Dave says the club have had no problems maintaining a squad in the Duchy League when so many other teams are struggling.  “We’ve got 54 players signed on for two teams. Obviously, as the games progress and people aren’t getting that much game time, some will be released to go wherever they want to. We’ve got a new management team who’ve kept the majority of last season’s squad and a few additions. And some of last season’s squad have dropped down to the seconds, which has made them a lot stronger. It’s purely down to the people in charge. We pay no money. They pay four pounds a game to play, they pay their own fines. It’s about the people in charge having that pulling power.”

Today’s game sees Foxhole start their defence of the Duchy League Knockout Cup. Opponents Gorran, two leagues lower and without a point on the board, can expect to be in for a tough game.

The game’s played at a fast pace, and after going close a couple of times Foxhole take the lead after 15 minutes. There’s decent movement from both sides and plenty of committed cup-tie tackling, but with the speed of the game neither team’s passing is working. Midway through the half Gorran concede a penalty for a needless trip and it’s 2-0. With Foxhole starting to find their passing range they’re stringing some nice moves together and look to be in control of the game.

But at the start of the second half Foxhole seem to have lost their rhythm a bit, and Gorran look like they might work their way back into it. The home team are still on top though, missing a couple of sitters and hitting the post before the Gorran keeper, who’s had an excellent game, rushes out for a 50/50 ball and in the ensuing collision with the striker takes a stud to the cheek. He’s driven off to hospital for stitches and Foxhole immediately score a third. They get one more towards the end to make it a straightforward 4-0 win.

It’s early days yet, but plenty round here are starting to think Foxhole are on the road back to their rightful place in what seems their natural home, the East Cornwall League.

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