Stormy Weather

Storm v St Agnes, Trelawny League Division 3

Tony Howard, who took on the player-manager role at Storm FC at the start of the season, is on the touchline of the Roskear pitch waiting to see if he’ll have enough players to fill the teamsheet for today’s game. These are troubled times for the club. Relegated last season, now after just seven games in the Trelawny third division they’re rooted to the bottom of the league with a goal difference of minus 57 (teleprinter: fifty-seven). If they’re going to pull themselves out of freefall they’d better start doing it soon.

This is the third home in their 17 year history. After playing in the old Mining League on a pitch behind Camborne Rugby Club they moved to the council-owned facilities at Clijah in Redruth. It was the infamously muddy Clijah that played a large part in their downfall last season. During a winter when the rains somehow managed to arrive on cue every Saturday, wiping out scheduled fixture lists, the resulting backlog meant having to cram games into midweek for the last third of the season. With the majority of the team being night workers this proved impossible for Storm and they forfeited eight of their last games. What ultimately forced the move from Clijah was a collapsed mineshaft that caused part of the pitch to sink. The world was literally collapsing under their boots. Disillusioned, most of the players drifted away to other clubs, leaving Storm to rebuild a team from scratch.

“There’s just two of us left from last season.” says Tony. “Two months ago we were an e-mail away from folding the club.”
But with help from the League registration secretary the club put out a series of pleas for players on social media. One by one they showed up, and Tony now finds himself with over 30 players signed on. Whether they can commit regularly and whether they’re actually any use are the big uncertainties.

Just twenty minutes before kick off new players are arriving to sign on. They’re unknown quantities to Tony and their new teammates, but right now the club doesn’t have the luxury of being able to pick and choose. It must be doubly frustrating for Tony because he’s unable to influence things on the pitch. He’s stood on the sidelines on crutches, having snapped his ankle in a game at St Erme two weeks ago. He’s been told he’ll be completely out of action for nine months, but isn’t expecting to be able to play again for a couple of seasons.

Despite their dire start to the season Tony is still keeping faith.
“We’ve lost but we’re noticeably improving. We should have won the last game, but there was a lack of concentration, little errors. But last week was a head and shoulders improvement.”

There’s been a different eleven on the pitch for each game, and there’s something of a race against time to gel the ragbag of signees into a decent group of players. Tony recognises the risk of morale plummeting if he’s unable to pick a regular team that can win a few points soon, but he’s still confident they can distil those 30-odd players into an effective squad.
“We’re trying to keep ourselves together and consolidate. We’ll be fine by next season.”

There are three new lads today, two of them full backs. They’ve managed to assemble  eleven players. A twelfth turns up just after the team sheet has been submitted to the ref, so if the new players aren’t doing well, there’ll be no option to sub them.

From the start there are worrying signs for Storm, with mid-table St Agnes thirds cutting through the defence and peppering the home goal with shots. After five minutes they pass their way neatly through the Storm defenders and score. It’s painfully evident that this is a defence that hasn’t played as a unit before, haven’t actually been aware of each other’s existence until half an hour ago, and a second goal comes after ten minutes. Many of the Storm team are showing little composure on the ball and, with St Agnes dominant in midfield, the away team are starting to treat the game as shooting practice. Storm hold out until the last ten minutes of the half before they concede twice more and go in 4-0 down.

At half time Tony reminds the team that they’d been four goals down to this St Agnes side on the first day of the season and had managed to pull them back to 4-4 (wisely, perhaps, not mentioning the fact that
they’d gone on to lose 11-5).

In a bizarre opening to the second half Storm give themselves hope. Immediately after kick off a powerful run through the middle and a good finish produces a home goal, only to be followed straight away by Storm’s failure to clear a cross and a close range goal for St Agnes. From the restart Storm score a second with a strong shot from the edge of the area. Three minutes into the half it’s 2-5, and there’s suddenly a buzz going through the team and the home spectators. Storm are actually starting to win tackles and threaten the away goal. Even when St Agnes score a sixth Storm maintain their momentum and immediately respond with a lovely goal from a tight angle on the right to make it 3-6.

And then the deluge. Midway through the half St Agnes start to take complete control. Storm look to be tiring after the manic opening to the half and a static home defence is failing to make challenges. St Agnes go on to score seven more and by the end Storm, heads dropped, are reduced to lobbing aimless balls forward that only allow St Agnes to build their next attack. The ref’s whistle comes as a merciful release, as it ends 3-13.

The club has some decent players, but having to drag in people to make up the numbers means that today there was just too much filler in the team. Against an established side those weak spots will be horribly exposed. The danger is that a few more hammerings like this, before they’re able to form a regular, proven core of a squad, and players will start to lose hope and drift away. Storm are living in interesting times.

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