The Kids Are Alright

St Columb Major v Saltash United, Duchy League Division 2

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Cornish junior football, and indeed the grassroots game across the country, is in something of a crisis. Three clubs from the Duchy and Trelawny Leagues have already folded this season and player registration is down year on year. The finger is routinely pointed at the spoilt Xbox generation and its perceived lack of loyalty to any club, or the lure of live TV coverage of the game. Some blame cuts to funding for council facilities and the increased costs of playing. Others identify the drawn-out seasons, rival midweek 6-a-side leagues or the fact that more people are now having to work at weekends. Locally there’s an argument that there’s too much travelling involved since the leagues were restructured, or that more potential players are moving out of county to study. Whatever the cause, the bottom line is a lack of players, and clubs at this level are seeing recruitment and retention of a squad as their major challenge.

Here at St Columb, a little town probably more famous for its traditional Easter sporting custom of hurling the silver ball than its football (the club’s high points were missing out on the 1967 East Cornwall League title by a point and finishing runners-up in the Cornwall Junior Cup in 2003) they’ve responded to this dilemma with an overarching focus on  nurturing youngsters. They won the Cornwall FA’s Development Club award this year, thanks to a solid youth set-up they started last season and now the introduction of an Under-16 team.

Club secretary Kirstie Mills and her predecessor Clive Horn describe how the youth programme has not only created its own funding stream through FA grassroots grants, but has already started to bear fruit, with the U-16 team being treated as a reserve squad to feed into the seniors.

Financially, they say, the club is as strong as it’s ever been. They’ve used a grant from a local windfarm to revamp the clubhouse and a Co-Op community grant has provided new storage facilities. But while their FA Charter kitemark status has opened up opportunities for funding, the problem for the club is that they only lease the ground from the town council, so are unable to develop it further. With four years left on the council lease, they know that the only possibility of realising their ambitions is to get their own land and their own pitch.

The club’s new vision may prove timely, because they’ve been in something of a decline over the past few years. Riding high in the Duchy Premier League four seasons ago, they were relegated to Division 1 in 2015 and fell into Division 2 last season.

A rapid turnover of managers and players had contributed to disharmony in the squad, culminating in a mass player exodus to local rivals St Mawgan at the start of last season, and the subsequent relegation. But the team spirit is better now and it’s hoped that, now they’ve got the U-16s ready to come through and a core of local players, they’ll be able to steady the ship this season.

They’ve started well, with four wins from six games, and today’s visitors are Saltash’s fourth side.

In a scrappy game the home side go 1-0 up after 15 minutes and get a second with a sweet strike from the edge of the area a few minutes later.  Saltash begin to offer more of a threat as the half wears on but are undone by the chasms that frequently open at the heart of their defence. These are exploited through two quick ‘straight-through-the-middle’ goals from St Columb just before half-time, and they go in 4-0 up.

The scoreline might flatter St Columb but their manager berates his team for their inability to slow the game down and retain any sort of possession through the second half. Saltash have most of the play and won’t allow the home side to relax, finally gaining some consolation and pulling a couple of goals back in the final five minutes. The game ends 4-2 and St Columb find themselves top of the league.  Maybe this really is the start of a turnaround for this new-look club.

More match photos here


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