St Merryn v Saltash United, Duchy League Division 1
It’s a bleak fact that the average tenure of a manager in professional English football is about one and a half years. The current longest serving Football League boss has been in post for less than eight years. Ross Osbourne, St Merryn FC’s chairman, in a feat that is almost unimaginable at any level in today’s game, managed the club for an astonishing 40 (teleprinter: forty) years. It’s in his blood.
After a playing career that began at Wadebridge in 1964 and included spells at Bodmin, Padstow and St Minver, Ross ended up marrying a St Merryn girl and moved to the village, a few miles west of Padstow. He joined the club as a player in the Bodmin and District League in 1972 and played for the team for a single season, when a knee injury forced him to retire at the age of 36. He immediately took over as manager, staying at the helm until 2013.
“This club is everything to me,” Ross says. “This is my passion. I wash the kit, mark the pitch, and used to put the nets up before my ill health stopped that. I’ve had to take it a little bit easier.”
“The highlight for me was taking them to the Duchy Premier League. We had two years there. And we had two knockout cup finals against teams from the Premier League. Against Veryan we were winning with ten minutes to go and we lost 2-1. And the other one was a local derby against Padstow. We went up to Wadebridge for the final and the weather came in. A howling gale, torrential rain, the game should never have started. There were pools on the pitch. It was a complete farce, and we lost 1-0. Padstow felt really bad, and they came and celebrated with us back in our pub.”
“We’ve had a lot more ups than we’ve had downs. People have always wanted to play.”
The club was founded in 1938, and in the early days was largely made up of Fleet Air Arm crew from RNAS St Merryn. They joined the Duchy League from the Bodmin and District League in 1967. Twice the team folded, in 1986 and 2009, and each time on reforming had to haul their way back up the league from the bottom rung.
Recently the club has had a remarkably rapid rise through the divisions. Becoming Duchy Division 5 champions in 2014 marked the first of four promotions in five seasons. Ross is enthusiastic about the direction in which the club’s heading.
“We’ve got a new management team this season. Rob Moss and Paul Miller. Those two boys have done amazing for us. We’ve got new sponsors for the tracksuits, £1200 worth of new aluminium goalposts funded. Our old dressing rooms are going to be knocked down in a couple of weeks and we’re going to build new ones, with a new committee room and games room. We’ve got a beautiful ground here. It can be a bit exposed, mind.”
Today’s visitors are Saltash thirds, a team with a similar mid-table record to the hosts. The game has a pleasing flow to it from the start, with both sides building attacks patiently, and both going close with headers from set pieces. Saltash have the best early chance when they break, hit the bar and have the ensuing shot cleared off the line.
At the other end the away keeper goes to collect a weak Merryn shot and somehow, as he stoops to collect the ball it squirms through his gloves, through his feet and over the line. Less a howler than a guttural primal screamer.
With Saltash stunned, almost immediately a long ball through the middle finds the away defence absent, the striker tucks it past the keeper and it’s 2-0 to St Merryn.
St Merryn look well organised and have been slightly the better team, with a nice variation in their play, but Saltash are still getting forward and threatening, and the speed and movement are impressive from both sides. The difference between the two seems to be that, on the whole, the home back four are holding a tight line, with Saltash frequently caught offside, while in the Saltash defence it’s every man for himself.
Saltash have a goal ruled out for offside and then the home defence get into a needless faff over playing the ball out from the edge of the area. It falls to an unmarked Saltash forward who skies it over from ten yards. They must be starting to think it’s not their day.
That feeling’s compounded when, just before half time, a ball through the away defence finds a Merryn winger unmarked at the far post to tap it in for a third.
Saltash start the second half looking more organised. They’re now the better team, and finally get a goal back midway through the half, when a long clearance from defence beats the high Merryn back line, leaving the forward to round the keeper to make it 3-1.
A cracking shot from outside the area makes it 3-2, and when a Merryn defender is sent off for a second yellow the home team start to look a bit rattled. Saltash are in the ascendant.
But relief comes when Merryn break and the forward cuts inside to place a shot nicely past the diving keeper. Any doubt about the outcome is ended when a Merryn player drills a 25 yard shot through a crowded area to make it 5-2.
I catch up with Ross after the game and praise the team’s resolute performance. It’s clear that his conviction about the club and its ambitions doesn’t need boosting.
“We had a committee meeting last week, and we want to get into senior football if we can. We’re hoping to get a few new players in when they see the improvements. ”
And if that ambition to become a ‘senior’ club might ultimately involve joining the imminent, countywide St Piran’s League and the travel commitments that would involve.then Ross remains upbeat at the prospect.
“I think we’d have a go. We’d have to have a go. That’s what we’re here for. I’ve come through the worst of my ill-health and I’m just hopeful to keep it all going. I’ll be their number one supporter. I’m the man!”