Grampound v North Hill, Duchy League Division 1
In a global, digital age it’s frustrating that so many grassroots clubs don’t seem bothered to engage with a wider world beyond their immediate community. Some make a go of it, but the web’s littered with the long-dead websites and social media pages of Cornish clubs. They start enthusiastically, with a flurry of announcements about pre-season training, record a few early results and then stop abruptly around late August. 2014. It’s like finding the log of a doomed Antarctic expedition.
Similarly there are so many clubs that struggle financially but don’t have the administrative skill or will to access the resources and national funding schemes that are out there. Like insular cottage industries, stubbornly twentieth century analogue, they risk being left behind.
So there’s something refreshing about the way a club like Grampound have broadened their horizons and embraced the ways of modernity.
They’ve never been big hitters (the only notable trophy in their 115 year history being a Duchy League Championship in 1971) but, at a time when mere survival is the primary goal for many grassroots clubs, they look to have established themselves as a well-funded, tightly-organised village institution.
There’s nothing ramshackle here. The club’s development plan emphasises social inclusion and community development as one of the criteria of its FA Charter status. This has led to a thriving youth team and a veterans team, and a real sense of it being put back at the heart of the village community.
Club chairman Allan Webb, who played for Hendon in the old Isthmian League and has been here for 18 years, explains how they have gradually built up a solid financial base.
A village community fund from the siting of a pair of wind turbines has paid for a mini tractor for the groundsman and mobile floodlights, while FA Charter status has provided new kits and match balls. Sponsorship and fundraising events supplement this income.
Four years ago, thanks to a Sport England grant, a new pitch was installed at a cost of £75k, and it’s one of the best to be found at this level. It’s actually flat, and it now drains well despite its position on the clay soil of the fledgling River Fal, which hugs one side of the ground. The changing rooms, too, are good for this league, and it’s hoped the standard of facilities will attract players.
The Under-15 team will, it’s anticipated, not only go on to sustain the senior squad and make the club more self-sufficient in recruitment, but nurture genuine talent. Allan enthuses about their quality: “They are really, really good. They’ll move on to a higher level. I don’t mean second division of the East Cornwall League. Peninsula League at least”.
But if the infrastructure looks solid, things on the pitch aren’t going so well. They’ve struggled to recruit players from the village and the reserve team recently folded after the manager left. Many of last season’s squad have departed and most of their replacements are youngsters from the St Austell area. Allan despairs of the numerous alternative attractions that keep local teenagers from football: “When I was seventeen, eighteen, you lived for Saturday. You couldn’t wait to play. You’re seventeen! Play football when you can! When you’re forty you’ll regret it”. There’s also the sense that players are being lured away by the promise of small rewards elsewhere: “Believe it or not there are players at this level who say ‘Can you pay my travel expenses, pay this and that, buy me a pair of boots?’. When I was playing in the Isthmian League we didn’t get paid!”.
Allan acknowledges that the team underperformed last season, narrowly avoiding relegation. His main goal for this season is league survival, but this new, young team have lost their first three games. Allan puts it down to naivety against more experienced opponents.
Today’s visitors are newly-promoted North Hill. Within about 20 minutes Grampound find themselves 0-2 down. In the swirling rain they’re up against a North Hill side who are bolstered by two or three of those older, hard, canny, motivated buggers it’s so horrible to play against. Watching them contemptuously brush aside some of the Grampound kids the image that I can’t shake from my mind is the scene from Saving Private Ryan where, having registered that he offers no threat, the SS soldier dismissively passes a frozen-in-terror Corporal Upham on the stairs. The horrors of war, indeed.
But then the home team work themselves back into the game and pull a goal back. For a while they’re looking good, until North Hill break and get a third. Two soft goals just before half-time and they somehow manage to go in 1-5 down.
Playing for pride in the second half they have a bit more possession and purpose, but never really look like turning things around. With Grampound tiring the end of the game sees a period of North Hill pressure, and it’s cruel when a last minute goal makes it 1-6.
Grampound are a young team that are going to need to learn to toughen up quickly if they’re going to stay in this league. For all the progress the club has seen through embracing the new, the solution to their on-pitch woes is more likely to lie in something more old-fashioned. They just need a couple of those old battle-hardened fanatics to stiffen the ranks and make them a bit nastier. Schnell!
More match photos here