Lies, Damned Lies And Goalless Draws

Where it all began ... Saltash v St Austell in the FA Cup in the first game of my cup footballing season. Wembley seemed a long way from here.
Where it all began … Saltash v St Austell in the FA Cup in the first game of my cup footballing season.

IT MADE be hard for the younger generation to believe, but there was a time when football wasn’t awash with statistics and mathematical analysis. All that mattered was the number of goals you scored, the number you let in, and whether that meant you were in the next round of the cup or moving up the league table.

The most complicated it got was trying to work out your goal average, which was the rule used to split teams tied on points before the advent of the much simpler goal difference. Nowadays you only have to do taking away rather than long division.

Of course, there was the “away goals count double” rule which always had the potential to thoroughly confuse. Did it count before extra-time? Did it count in the League Cup semi-finals? If you lost 3-2 away did that mean you actually won?

No, football was a simple game, a beautiful game, and that’s why it was the world’s most popular game. Why change it?

And then there came an idea that, instead of having penalty shoot-outs – or “kicks from the penalty mark”, as the official FA rules would have it – drawn matches should be decided on the number of corners each side earned. But football fans everywhere shook their heads at the silliness of it all. Not only did it seem a bit artificial, it also meant some poor soul would have to keep count of the corners. Who could be bothered to do that?

Well, as it turned out, poor, put-upon local newspaper reporters could. Or, rather, they had to. Someone decided that what match reports really needed was a bright graphic with the teams and bookings and scorers and … er, how are we going to fill it? I know, count the corners.

So, cub reporters, would-be reporters, volunteers and the terminally dull were all sent off to matches, not to watch the game, not to feel the joy and despair of athletic contest, not to thrill in the excitement, the skill, the drama, but to count corners and free-kicks and generally miss the point altogether.

Actually what happened was that these auditors of footballing facts often did get caught up in the unfolding story on the pitch and lost count or forgot to count. In the early days, there were a lot of what we should think of as “estimated” figures. They made them up.

But the statistical cat was out of the mathematical bag and there was no going back. Now we have whole companies and whole TV channels (yes, I mean you Sky Sports News HQ) making a living from counting and measuring everything that happens on a football pitch, somehow taking away the soul of the game.

I have just seen the aforementioned channel going through how many minutes of football every player chosen for Euro 2016 has already played this season, presumably to try to prove that England are too tired to succeed. The poor dears, being paid all that money to play football all the time. Terrible for them, terrible.

I did get grim satisfaction from the fact that all it really proved was that it didn’t really prove anything as a large proportion of the players in the tournament, from any number of countries, played in England so they should all be as tired as each other. So, no, tiredness will not be an excuse for Roy’s Boys.

Where will this obsession with statistics end? Will the average waistline of each starting XI soon be used to determine who are favourites for a particular clash? Will the number of lace-holes in each pair of boots be compared to decide who has the competitive edge? Lacing-up experts are waiting for their phones to ring as I type.

Will Sky and BT Sport soon be rolling out the glossmeters (yes, they really exist) to see who has the shiniest shirts? Just how silly will it get?

Mousehole's players support their fans after lifting the Cornwall Charity Cup.
What my season was all about – the joy of cup football. Here, Mousehole celebrate their triumph in the final of the Cornwall Charity Cup.

Still, if you can’t beat them, join them. So here’s my statistical analysis of my first football season of exclusively following cup football. Just imagine a pretty presenter in a TV studio reading out numbers on a screen which you can read for yourself anyway and you’ll get the point.

My season started with an FA Cup tie at Saltash on August 15, 2015, which St Austell won 4-0, and ended at Wembley Stadium on Sunday, May 29, 2016, when Millwall were beaten 3-1 by Barnsley in the League One play-off final.

In total, I saw 41 cup matches in 18 different competitions, with 11 home wins, 16 away wins, three draws and 11 matches played at neutral venues. All the games I saw were in Cornwall apart from trips to Roman Glass St George for an FA Vase tie, Plymouth Argyle for a Johnstone Paints Trophy thriller against Millwall which The Lions won 5-3, and, of course, Wembley.

And I made a second trip to Plymouth, this time to Devonport High School for Boys to see a quarter-final in the wonderfully-named Optimus PM Plymouth & West Devon Combination League Marshall Motors SW Premier Cup.

It had been moved to the plastic pitch at the school to cope with the fixture congestion caused by the wettest of wet winters and was a really good battle which ended The Windmill 2 Bar Sol Ona 3. The winners have now been absorbed into their neighbours, Plymouth Parkway, making them the only club I have seen this season who won’t be about for the next campaign.

Incidentally, anyone who has read this blog at any time this season, will know that my favourite name for a competition is the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors League Cup. OK, that’s not a statistic but I had to get it in somehow!

And so to the most important statistics of all – goals. I saw an amazing 171 of them in those 41 games, an average of 4.17 per game. The biggest win, and the highest scoring game, was an 8-1 win for Helston Athletic Reserves at Penryn Reserves in the Jolly’s Cornwall Combination League Cup quarter-final. Matt Buchan scored seven goals in that match, all in the second half, the most I saw any player score throughout the season.

But the really amazing fact, the statistic that really stands out, is that, in those 41 games, I didn’t see a single goalless draw. And there were just two that only finished 1-0. I am truly the goals master!

I have had a fabulous season of watching cup football, of watching the highs and the lows, the glory and the gloom. I have had my belief that cup football is the real spirit of the game, the real heart of it, thoroughly and delightfully confirmed. It has been an absolute joy. Cup football is truly number one – and that’s the only stat you really need to know.

View from the posh seats: Wembley stadium an hour before kick-off in the League One play-off final between Millwall and Barnsley.
Wembley Stadium was the venue for my final cup game of the season, the League One play-off final between Millwall and Barnsley. This picture was taken from the Millwall end an hour before kick-off. We still had hope then.

 

 

 

 

Taking It Personally

View from the posh seats: Wembley stadium an hour before kick-off in the League One play-off final between Millwall and Barnsley.
View from the posh seats: Wembley stadium an hour before kick-off in the League One play-off final between Millwall and Barnsley.

THIS has been a hard blog to write. Or, to be more accurate, it has been a hard one to get started, to get my head around.

I have had a fabulous season following cup football across Cornwall and, occasionally, beyond. I have loved visiting different grounds and towns, seeing games in different competitions, meeting the people to whom those particular matches mean so much.

With one or two notable exceptions – mainly when watching Bodmin Town in the FA Vase and Millwall in the Johnstone Paints Trophy – I have been determinedly neutral, enjoying the football for the occasion, not for the result.

But, in cup football, the result is what it is all about. It’s about winning and losing, about going through or going home, about being in or being out (one for the referendum fans, there). That’s what I love about it, the winner-take-all nature of it, the immediacy of it, the simplicity of it. It doesn’t matter about who deserves to win, it just matters about who does.

All season, I have been blithely writing about the agony and ecstasy, taking photographs of winning teams, smiling at their singing, avoiding eye contact with the defeated and just enjoying the nature of their shared triumphs and disasters. But I haven’t felt it, I haven’t felt the ecstasy, I haven’t suffered the agony.

I have now.

And, for me, it was agony, a bittersweet final whistle to my first season of writing about, and immersing myself in, the unending ups and downs of knockout football.

When I set out on this cup journey, at Saltash back in August 2015, I had my own dreams of Wembley, the ultimate home of cup finals, the ultimate goal for a cup football blogger. And, for a while, I had three different routes to North London seemingly opening up in front of me.

I used to love going to the old Wembley with its iconic Twin Towers, but now the arch at the new stadium has achieved the same status.
I used to love going to the old Wembley with its iconic Twin Towers, but now the arch at the new stadium has achieved the same status.

One of them was via Bodmin Town, the most successful team in Cornwall at Step 6, who had high hopes of a glorious run in the FA Vase. The previous season had seen their big Cornish rivals, St Austell, come within a whisker of a day out at the home of football before finally being edged out in the semi-finals. Could the Priory Park boys go one step further and give me the final fixture I craved?

No. They were beaten at home on a pudding of a pitch by Ipswich Wanderers and had to settle instead for the “domestic” treble of Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Premier Division title, Cornwall Senior Cup and, of course, the CSWPL Walter C Parson Funeral Directors League Cup. Whoo hoo! (As I write this, the draw for the 2016-17 version is taking place. Bodmin will be away to Vospers Oak Villa or Galmpton United in the second round. You can see the full draw online at http://www.swpleague.co.uk/cups/league-cup).

A second, less likely, route was via Truro City in the FA Trophy. The White Tigers had previously been to Wembley in the FA Vase, but were now plying their trade in the National League South and so were up against the big boys of non-league in the FA Trophy. Well, they got further than ever before but the road to Wembley hit a dead end in Macclesfield on a Tuesday night. We’ve all been there.

And so my best chance of a day out at Wembley was with the club closest to my heart, the mighty Lions of Millwall. And, after beating Plymouth Argyle 5-3 in the Johnstone Paints Trophy in a Home Park goal-fest, I came to genuinely believe that ‘Wall would make it all the way to Wembley.

Stupid boy.

We came unstuck in a two-legged semi-final with Oxford United and that seemed to be that. Finishing my first season as cup football blogger at Wembley had become the impossible dream. Well, I thought, there’s always next season. And then, all of a sudden, there was this season again.

Amazingly, Millwall went on a superb run in League One, shot up the table, even had an outside chance of automatic promotion on the final day, and then happily settled for a place in the play-offs.

A few weeks before, I had ummed and ahhed over whether play-offs counted as cup football but, having watched Truro City take on Maidstone United in the National League South final four, I decided that, if it looks like cup football, feels like cup football, and hurts like cup football, then it must be cup football. And so Millwall were suddenly, astonishingly, just one round away from a Wembley final.

At half-time in the first leg of the semi-final, we (no more Mr Neutral) were 3-1 up at Bradford and thoughts were already turning to the outside chance of getting tickets. Not long after the end of the second leg, I was on the phone to my brother who had been on the phone to my Uncle Bill, who is a season-ticket holder, and dreams became reality. I had a ticket for a cup final at Wembley! Magnificent.

Battered and bruised, a bit like my footballing soul, my Wembley ticket shows the pain of a tough day on the train and the Tube.
Battered and bruised, a bit like my footballing soul, my Wembley ticket shows the pain of a tough day at the stadium, on the train and on the Tube.

Now, I have always loved Wembley, both old and new. As a youngster living in South London, we used to go up there for almost every England international. The magic of the venue’s history, the glory of the iconic Twin Towers, the sheer atmosphere of the stadium, was always utterly engrossing and charming, even when there were only 27,000 of us there to watch Ian Rush turn Phil Neal inside out and then outside in again as Wales came to visit.

But there were glorious games and glorious names, from Glenn Hoddle’s England debut, to Zico starring for Brazil, to Germany’s man mountain Gunter Netzer, to Paul Gascoigne sending the whole crowd the wrong way with one stepover, to a young and brilliant Maradona. It was a footballing privilege to see them all.

I even saw Millwall there, in the 1999 Auto Windscreens Shield final v Wigan. Not that we had been starved of success, but there were almost 50,000 Lions’ fans there that day. We lost 1-0 to a 93rd minute goal. Gutted.

I hated it when the old Wembley closed and I believed that the new stadium would never reclaim its former glory. Then there was the magnificent Millennium Stadium, in Cardiff, which threatened to steal its mantle as THE stadium. I loved it, and even saw Millwall in an FA Cup final there. Now that was unexpected. Obviously, we lost again, but this time we lost to a Manchester United team featuring the likes of Ronaldo and Ruud van Nistelrooy, not a Wigan team featuring nobody I can remember.

Then, incredibly, amazingly, wonderfully, Millwall made it to a final at the new Wembley. Even more amazingly, the new stadium was simply fantastic, with awesome views from wherever you were watching, that fabulous and newly iconic arch, and the most powerful hand-dryers I have ever found in any loo anywhere. It was, and is, such a brilliant place for football. We were playing Scunthorpe in the League One play-off final and, guess what, we lost again, this time 3-2 in a thriller. Although, ask any Millwall fan, and they will tell you that Gary Alexander’s wonder strike from many a mile out was the best goal yet scored at the new Wembley and was worth the price of admission alone.

There was no such sentimental feeling when we returned the following year, this time against Swindon Town. This time it was all about winning, it was all about proper cup football. A first-half goal from our Captain Fantastic, Paul Robinson, coupled with Charlie Austin missing a golden chance for the Robins, meant that finally – finally – we had won at Wembley.

And then, just over a week ago, we had the chance to win there again (I had missed our FA Cup semi-final defeat to those pesky Wiganers a couple of seasons ago). This time it was the League One play-off final (yet again) against Barnsley. This time, I wasn’t a neutral blogger. This time,  I was a Lion through and through. This time, I would feel the agony or the ecstasy. This time, there was no hiding, no gently observing, no sitting on the fence. This time, I really meant it. This time, would it be our time? Would it?

Well, we had a good first 55 seconds.

A ball out to the wing saw Shane Ferguson crudely hacked down and, from the free-kick, we headed just wide. Ohhh, we said, with hands on our heads and hope in our hearts. A minute later, we were a goal down. Twenty minutes later it was 2-0. Barnsley were going up.

But this is cup football and you never know, do you? In a league game, it might be a case of shutting up shop and trying to avoid a heavy defeat. In cup football, 2-0 or 5-0 makes no difference; winning is winning, losing is losing and nothing else matters.

Then, amid the agony, there was a moment of sheer bloody ecstasy as centre-half Mark Beevers turned into a world-class centre-forward, shielding the ball from his marker, turning sharply, and lashing the ball high into the net. Goal!! We are back in this. Come on!!

Sadly, that was as good as it got. We huffed and puffed but never really hurt the Tykes and, with less than 15 minutes left, we forgot to defend a corner, our keeper forgot how to jump, and Barnsley headed in a simple third. There was no way back from that. Gutted, simply gutted.

But, in among the agony, there was a bittersweet ecstasy. My first cup football season HAD ended in a day out at Wembley, at the home of cup football, at the home of football itself. It was more than I could have genuinely hoped for when I headed off towards Saltash ten months ago.

Just need to go back next season and see The Lions win this time!

You know you are in the posh seats when there is a cupholder for your beer. Just wish I had a pint now, after watching Millwalls performance.
You know you are in the posh seats when there is a cupholder for your beer. Just wish I had had a pint now, after watching Millwall’s performance.

FOOTNOTE: If you have any comments about this blog, find me on Facebook, at thecupfootballblogger, get in touch on Twitter, via @cupfootballblog, or email me at thecupfootballblogger@hotmail.com

 

 

 

A Festival Of Finals

That winning feeling: Mabe players celebrate their Russell Hall Cup final win over Falmouth thirds.
That winning feeling: Mabe players celebrate their Russell Hall Cup final win over Falmouth thirds.

EAT your heart out Wembley Stadium. Yes, you might be the cup mecca of English football and you might have hosted a double-header of non-league’s biggest games on Sunday, but I can go one better than that. Well, two or three better, in fact.

Forget your Morpeth Towns (4-1 winners over Hereford FC in the FA Vase final) and your FC Halifaxes (1-0 winners over Grimsby Town in the FA Trophy final) the place to be on Sunday was another footballing W – not Wembley, but Wendron.

Yep, the Underlane home of the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Division One West side was the home to FIVE cup finals on Sunday. Yes, five. Now that’s a proper festival of  fantastic knockout football.

It all began at 10.15am with a West Cornwall Sunday League cup final between Wendron and Troon. The hosts lifted the trophy by winning 5-3. I got there too late to watch that (even a dedicated blogger needs a lie-in sometimes) but it set the tone for a day of goals, excitement, agony and ecstasy.

Attention then turned to the Trelawny League, which is a goldmine of football for a cup fan like me. It is for amateur teams in the western part of the Duchy and boasts 75 sides in six divisions. But, better than that, it runs no fewer than eight cup competitions. Eight! I am sure some teams end up playing more cup games than league games every season.

Sunday saw the finals of four of those cups, using two pitches at Underlane. At 1pm we had the Dunn Cup final between St Keverne and West Cornwall, and the Russell Hall Cup clash between Mabe and Falmouth Town Thirds. The Dunn Cup is for teams in the Trelawny Premier, while the Russell Hall Cup is contested by teams in Division Three.

In fact, as far as I can see, every one of the six divisions has its own cup competition, plus there is the Percy Stephens Cup for the whole league and the Arthur Pearce Cup which, I think, is for reserve and third teams, but I stand to be corrected.

The scheduled 3pm kick-offs saw Lanner take on Division Two rivals Helston Athletic Thirds in the Lockhart Cup, while Falmouth Dracaena Centre faced Probus Reserves in the Division Four Jubilee Cup showdown.

 

Another one for album as Helston Athletic thirds hold aloft the Lockhart Cup.
Another one for the album as Helston Athletic thirds hold aloft the Lockhart Cup.

So, faced with this plethora of final football, what was a poor, overwhelmed blogger to do? I decided just to concentrate on one game at a time – but which games to concentrate on? Well, I had already seen a Dunn Cup clash earlier in the season when West Cornwall won 5-0 at Troon so, at 1pm, I decided to concentrate on the Mabe v Falmouth clash in the Russell Hall final.

At 3pm, I plumped for Lanner v Helston in the Lockhart Cup. I had seen a Jubilee Cup game a few months ago when Probus Reserves won 4-3 at Frogpool and Cusgarne Reserves. I had only ended up at that tie because just about every other game had been rained off but I thoroughly enjoyed it. However, the lure of a different cup competition on Sunday was too much to resist.

I knew I was going to be in for a fun finals day when I arrived at the ground and was promptly directed to park in an adjoining field. In my experience, there’s always a sense of occasion, a feeling of a special event, when you have to park in a field. And with the countryside in this lovely rural setting putting on its very best Cornish colours, the whole thing had the feel of a music festival about. The atmosphere was humming.

Underlane is one of my favourite grounds and was looking better than ever, especially as the main stand, now with a roof full of solar panels, had been completed since I was last there and now stretched all the way along one touchline. An impressive sight for a club at Step 7 of the non-league pyramid.

Mind you, solar wasn’t the only renewable energy on show down that side of the pitch. As I was to discover later in the afternoon, the stand also acted as a pretty effective wind tunnel, making me pretty pleased to have brought an extra layer of clothing as I shivered through the Lockhart Cup final. It all looked decidedly warmer than it felt!

But I didn’t start my day on the first team pitch. No, like any self-respecting festivalgoer, I eschewed the delights of the main stage and went to watch the much cooler band playing on the small stage out the back, the one that only the real fans know about. I felt suitably smug.

The acts in the spotlight here were local derby rivals Falmouth Town and Mabe and the music theme was thrust to the fore once again as I realised that the Mabe centre-half, instantly recognisable from his team-mates by virtue of wearing a shirt from a completely different kit, was none other than “Damo”, star of local pub band The Pistoleros.

The Lanner keeper retrieves the ball from the back of the net after his fumble handed Helston Athletic thirds and early lead in the Lockhart Cup final.
The Lanner keeper retrieves the ball from the back of the net after his fumble handed Helston Athletic thirds an early lead in the Lockhart Cup final.

He was certainly the lead singer here, orchestrating his team’s efforts right from the start and being vocal throughout. Mind you, he was nearly upstaged by his team’s coach on the sidelines who came out with one of the best lines of the season as Mabe defended a corner. Feeling the need to pass on some guidance to his charges, he yelled: “Watch this runner! Watch that runner!” Heartfelt, perhaps, but not actually that helpful.

In all fairness, though, Mabe didn’t need much help. They were 3-0 up in less than 30 minutes and it looked like the real drama would be whether we would we run out of footballs before the 90 minutes was up as clearance after clearance after wayward shot found its way over the surrounding hedges and into the fields beyond. There was a lot of climbing and clambering over fences and foliage to get them back. After my efforts earlier this season at Illogan RBL, when I couldn’t get back over a wall after a ball-retrieval exercise, I declined to join in.

Blue-shirted Mabe were 1-0 up after 12 minutes with a solo effort reminiscent of Anthony Stokes’ opener for Hibs in the Scottish Cup final the day before. Basically, the forward just ran towards goal with the ball and then slid it home as the defenders kept backing off and backing off. Players of the quality found in Falmouth Town Thirds might have some excuse for such dozy defending. I am not sure the same applies to the highly paid professionals of Glasgow Rangers.

A free header after 16 minutes made it 2-0 and then a lob over the advancing keeper made it 3-0 on 28 minutes. I had already seen a few one-sided finals this season and this Russell Hall Cup showdown appeared to be heading in much the same direction. Falmouth did pull a goal back soon after but, by half-time, they had conceded again and Mabe were 4-1 up.

Action from the Russell Hall Cup final between Mabe (in blue) and Falmouth Town Thirds. This match was played on the reserve team pitch at Wendron United's Underlane home.
Action from the Russell Hall Cup final between Mabe (in blue) and Falmouth Town Thirds. This match was played on the reserve team pitch at Wendron United’s Underlane home.

Twelve minutes after the break and it was all over. A penalty made it 5-1 and there was no way back from that. The spot-kick decision, given for a scything tackle, was a pretty straightforward one for the young ref, 17-year-old Rowan Clarke, but he had the courage to give it at a key moment in a cup final. If Falmouth had scored next it would have been game on. In fact, he was calm and controlled throughout the 90 minutes and I thought he had an excellent game. If he can put up with the routine abuse suffered by all refs, normally handed out by people who should know a lot better, he could go far in the game. Good luck to him.

With just over 20 minutes to go, Falmouth did pull a goal back but it was too little, too late and all that was left was to watch the cup presentation, listen to the tuneless singing of a triumphant football team, and try to avoid being splashed with any of the various forms of alcohol being sprayed around before heading off to the next game.

As it happened, kick-off on the main pitch for the Lockhart Cup final was delayed as the Dunn Cup final between West Cornwall and St Keverne finished 2-2 and headed into extra time. The blue-clad Helston players stood, watched and waited from behind one goal while those in the red and black of Lanner gathered behind the other. It looked like they might have a very long wait for their game until West Cornwall grabbed a late winner, thus avoiding the need for a penalty shoot-out.

Their cup celebrations had an extra special emotion to them as they held aloft the framed shirt of former player Dave Curnow, a 20-year-old who had survived being one of the youngest British soldiers to serve in Afghanistan only to be murdered in an attack by drunken thugs on the streets of Redruth as he returned home after a night out.

That put the triumph and despair felt at football finals into sharp perspective.

Looking from the solar panel-covered main stand at Wendron towards the overflow car park in a field during the Trelawny League Finals Day.
Looking from the solar panel-covered main stand at Wendron towards the overflow car park in a field during the Trelawny League Finals Day.

But there was still footballing agony and ecstasy to be meted out as the remaining two cup finals on the day finally kicked off, both almost an hour later than scheduled. With just 11 minutes gone in the Lockhart Cup final, it was the Lanner keeper feeling the agony as he fumbled a free-kick and saw the rebound bundled in for Helston’s opener. And all the signs were that it was going to be another one-sided affair as Helston doubled their lead on 28 minutes when a shot which might have been a cross flew in at the near post.

Lanner looked defeated and dispirited but survived another goalmouth scramble to get to half-time only 2-0 down and then more than held their own after the break without ever looking likely to mount a meaningful comeback. In the end, the only goal of the second half went to Helston, a solo effort as the game went into injury time wrapping up a 3-0 cup final victory. Cue the celebrations, the singing, the dancing, the delight and despair. It was the third time I had seen it that day and it still never gets boring.

I saw it for a fourth time as I scooted around to the top pitch to see Probus celebrate their 3-1 Jubilee Cup triumph over Falmouth DC. In fact, it was a double celebration as they were also presented with the league championship trophy at the same time. There were cups everywhere at Wendron on Sunday!

And that was it, the finals day was over. As at any festival, there is always one tune that sticks in your head, one that you can’t shake. As I headed back to the parking field to find my car, it wasn’t really a song that I was humming but a chant. As each of the winners went up to collect their trophies there was a repeated chorus from the defeated of “Three cheers for (insert team name here).”

It was fabulous sportsmanship on a fabulous day of football played in a fabulous setting and it all left me wondering: “I wonder who the main acts will be at next year’s festival of finals?” Coming back to do it all over again – now that is a fabulous thought.

EXTRA, EXTRA, READ ALL ABOUT IT: Wendron wasn’t the only place to be to watch cup final football in Cornwall on Sunday. The Kernick Road ground of my hometown team Penryn, just four miles from Wendron’s Underlane, hosted the Jolly’s Cornwall Combination League Supplementary Cup final between Holmans and Hayle. I saw Holmans beat RNAS Culdrose 3-1 in a preliminary round tie in March and they completed their cup journey with a resounding 3-0 success this time.

And the seventh Cornish final I know of on Sunday was the Cornwall Women’s FA Cup clash between Charlestown Ladies, who I saw beat Callington 3-0 in the semi-final, and Newquay Ladies. The final was played at St Agnes and Charlestown completed the league and cup double with a 2-1 triumph.

Double winners Probus Reserves were handed both the Trelawny League Division Four trophy and the Jubilee Cup as they completed the double with a win over Falmouth Dracaena Centre in the cup final.
Double winners Probus Reserves were handed both the Trelawny League Division Four trophy and the Jubilee Cup as they completed the double with a win over Falmouth Dracaena Centre in the cup final.
Action from the Russell Hall Cup final between Mabe (in blue) and Falmouth Town Thirds. This match was played on the reserve team pitch at Wendron United's Underlane home.
Action from the Russell Hall Cup final between Mabe (in blue) and Falmouth Town Thirds. This match was played on the reserve team pitch at Wendron United’s Underlane home.

 

Action from the Lockhart Cup final between Lanner (in red and black) and Helston Athletic Thirds.
Action from the Lockhart Cup final between Lanner (in red and black) and Helston Athletic Thirds.
The lovely view over Cornish countryside from the reserve team pitch at Wendron United.
The lovely view over Cornish countryside from the reserve team pitch at Wendron United.
"Three cheers for Helston." Superb sportsmanship from Lanner as the Helston players line up to collect their Lockhart Cup winners' medals.
“Three cheers for Helston.” Superb sportsmanship from Lanner as the Helston players line up to collect their Lockhart Cup winners’ medals.
Action from the Lockhart Cup final between Lanner (in red and black) and Helston Athletic Thirds. This was played on the main pitch at Wendron and it wasn't as warm as this photo makes it look!
Action from the Lockhart Cup final between Lanner (in red and black) and Helston Athletic Thirds. This was played on the main pitch at Wendron and it wasn’t as warm as this photo makes it look!
Say cheese. Everyone wants your picture when you have just won the cup.
Say cheese. Everyone wants your picture when you have just won the cup.
The impressive new main stand at Wendron United. The roof is covered in solar panels and the stand itself serves as a pretty good wind tunnel!
The impressive new main stand at Wendron United. The roof is covered in solar panels and the stand itself serves as a pretty good wind tunnel!

FOOTNOTE: If you have any comments or queries about this blog email me at thecupfootballblogger@hotmail.com, find me on Facebook as thecupfootballblogger, or on Twitter via @cupfootballblog

Their Name’s On The Cup

One for the sponsors as Bodmin Town celebrate winning the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors Cup.
One for the sponsors as Bodmin Town celebrate winning the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors League Cup.

THIS was it, this was the big one. The day had arrived for the game I had been looking forward to all season, the final of what has undoubtedly been my favourite competition of the entire cup football season.

Yes, it was Bodmin Town v Godolphin Atlantic in the final of the – wait for it, wait for it – Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors League Cup.

Whoo hoo!!

OK, Blogger, calm down, calm down.

As anyone who has ever read my blog will know, I just love the name of this tournament. Non-league competitions across the country have some fabulous names, names that go on and on, names that fail dismally to trip off the tongue, but this one just flows. Saying it out loud to friends and family has become something of a minor party piece of mine (I do go to some very sad parties).

When I was a youngster, names in football were much simpler. There was the Football League (which sensibly went from Divisions One to Four), the FA Cup and the League Cup. If you were feeling exotic there was the European Cup or even, once every four years, the World Cup. Good, simple, solid names. Things started to get a bit more complicated if you wanted to talk about the European Cup Winners’ Cup cup final but that was a tough as it got.

There weren’t even names on shirts, just the team badge on the front and the numbers 1 to 11 on the back. Everyone played 4-4-2 and we all knew who played where, who marked who and whose job was what. Mind you, if you missed the announcement of the team line-ups, you didn’t really know who the players where. A bit like lots of non-league games nowadays actually.

Then, in 1976, everything changed. Derek Dougan, who had been a star player with Wolverhampton Wanderers, was the manager at Kettering Town, and signed a sponsorship deal with Kettering Tyres to have their name emblazoned on the front of the team’s shirts.

It’s fair to say that it caused a bit of a kerfuffle. The FA didn’t like it and the shirt was banned. But the door had been opened and it was soon the norm to have a sponsor’s name writ large across footballing chests.

Bodmin (in yellow) on the attack against Godolphin Atlantic in the final of the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors Cup. The game was played at Launceston's Pennygillam ground.
Bodmin (in yellow) on the attack against Godolphin Atlantic in the final of the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors League Cup. The game was played at Launceston’s Pennygillam ground.

Nowadays, everything is sponsored, from shirts to shorts to training tops to boots to the very grounds the game is played at, and then to all the competitions that the teams play in. I am not always happy about that. Do you remember when Arsenal played at Highbury not the Emirates and Manchester City played at Maine Road not the Etihad? What is an Etihad anyway?

That’s the downside of modern commercial involvement in the beautiful game. The upside is that you get the chance to have wonderful tournament names such as the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors League Cup.

Surprisingly though, that wasn’t the name on everyone’s lips in the build-up to the game. No, what everyone was talking about was the Cornwall Senior Cup (sponsored by Macsalvors Crane Hire, just so you know). That was because these two teams had met in the final of that just a few weeks ago, and it hadn’t been pretty. True, Godolphin were under-strength but nobody expected Bodmin’s margin of victory to be quite so comprehensive as it turned out to be.

Not only did the Priory Park side triumph 7-0, the biggest win in the final for more than 100 years, but since then they had gone on to win the Peninsula League title, thus completing the double. Now, they were gunning for their third treble in five years. Could the G-Men possibly resist?

There were some clues that they could. For a start, they were the holders of this cup, having beaten Plymouth Parkway in the final last year. And, although they were thumped in the Senior Cup final, that was their second appearance in the final in consecutive seasons, having lost to St Austell the year before. So this was their fourth cup final in two seasons and they had finished fifth in the league. Godolphin are not a bad side and are cup fighters. There were some hopeful signs.

Godolphin Atlantics players wait to get their runners-up trophies after losing to Bodmin Town in the final of the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors Cup.
Godolphin Atlantic’s players wait to get their runners-up trophies after losing to Bodmin Town in the final of the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors League Cup.

I cheered myself up with those thoughts (I was still a neutral but wanted to see a better game) and my mood lightened further when, having paid my £5 to get in, I was given a free Walter C Parson pen. Result! My mood darkened again when the pen wouldn’t work. It would have been somehow fitting, somehow complete, if I could have made my notes about the final of the competition with the best name in football while using a pen bearing that very name. (I know, little things please little minds. Oh, by the way, the pen is working properly now).

There was a crowd of more than 300 at Launceston’s Pennygillam ground for this encounter but they were generally pensive and quiet. A few days before, the fans of Mousehole and St Dennis had been delightfully raucous as their teams met in the final of the Cornwall Charity Cup, but the spectators on Saturday were a worried bunch. Most of us feared another horribly one-sided encounter while Bodmin’s followers perhaps feared that it wouldn’t be.

There had been much better atmospheres at games I had seen in earlier rounds of the CSWPLWCPFD League Cup, notably when Falmouth beat local rivals 2-1 in the first round, in what I am determined to call the “Fal Classico” and then again in the second round, when Helston Athletic beat Falmouth 3-1 in the first cup tie ever played under the new floodlights at Kellaway Park.

And, with 19 minutes gone in the final, the mood of trepidation grew as The G keeper spilled a cross and Bodmin tapped in the opener. Were the floodgates about to open again?

No, they weren’t.

Godolphin dug in, gradually became the better side and, eight minutes into the second half, they equalised. Now we had a proper cup final on our hands.

Twelve minutes later, the crowd really came to life when Godolphin produced a great cross and header and Bodmin keeper Scott Corderoy pulled off a stunning save to push the ball over the bar. He was only in the side because of an injury to regular goalie Kevin Miller and he was to play the biggest part of anyone in the game.

Ten minutes from time, he made another good stop just moments after Godolphin keeper Shaun Semmens had redeemed himself for his earlier error with a superb stop of his own.

Then, with five minutes left, came the big moment in the game. Corderoy looked to have blotted his copybook when he was second to the ball as a Atlantic goalscorer Phil Lowry burst through again and the ref had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. But the Bodmin goalkeeping hero-turned-villain turned into a hero again as he superbly saved Ross Fallens’ spot-kick.

That took the game into extra-time and the treble-chasers took control again. They were the better side throughout the extra thirty minutes, although it took them until early in the second-half of the added period to finally make the breakthrough. A header made it 2-1 and that would have been a fair reflection of what had been a much, much better game than we feared it might be. As it was, Bodmin added two more in the final few minutes to give the final scoreline a much more lopsided look than Godolphin deserved.

This was as good as it got for Godolphin Atlantic as they celebrate their equaliser in the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors Cup final. Bodmin went on to win 4-1 after extra time.
This was as good as it got for Godolphin Atlantic as they celebrate their equaliser in the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors League Cup final. Bodmin went on to win 4-1 after extra time.

Then it was the turn of the gentlemen from Walter C Parson to have their moment in the spotlight as they handed out the medals and the trophy. The G-Men left the pitch in despondent mood while the boys from Bodmin revelled in their trophy success. Winning never gets boring.

And we should all save a cheer for those firms, those sponsors, who put their hands in their pockets to keep football at this level alive and kicking. Especially if they bring to us competitions with such great names as the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors League Cup.

Celebrating in champagne-style for Bodmin Town after their extra-time win over Godolphin Atlantic in the final of the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors Cup.
Celebrating in champagne-style for Bodmin Town after their extra-time win over Godolphin Atlantic in the final of the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors League Cup.

 

Action from the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors Cup final at Launcestons Pennygillam ground. Godolphin Atlantic in blue) are on the attack here but they were beaten 4-1 after extra-time by Bodmin Town who completed a treble-winning trophy season in the process.
Action from the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors League Cup final at Launceston’s Pennygillam ground. Godolphin Atlantic (in blue) are on the attack here but they were beaten 4-1 after extra-time by Bodmin Town who completed a treble-winning trophy season in the process.

FOOTNOTE: If you have any comments or questions about this blog, email me on thecupfootballblogger@hotmail.com, or message me on Facebook, at thecupfootballblogger, on via Twitter, on @cupfootballblog

The Cup That Keeps On Giving

Mousehole's players support their fans after lifting the Cornwall Charity Cup.
Mousehole’s players support their fans after lifting the Cornwall Charity Cup.

I OWE the Durning Lawrence Cornwall Charity Cup a great debt of gratitude. It was watching the final of this competition last season which set me on the way to doing this cup blog this season.

I can pinpoint exactly the moment that night when I thought a season of watching cup football would be a good idea. It was after the Penryn players had received their losers’ medals but then had to stand around and watch St Dennis lift the trophy. The Rynners looked thoroughly dismayed and downcast and you could see that they couldn’t wait to get off the pitch and be alone with their misery.

In contrast, The Saints were dancing and singing, faces wreathed in unstoppable smiles, hearts hoping that the celebrations would never end.

“You don’t get emotions like that at the end of your average league game,” I thought. “I wonder what it’s like to see that sort of cup excitement every week?” And thus the blog was born.

So what was the answer to the question I had posed myself? It was: “OK, not every cup game ends in that amount of excitement but it has been great fun watching knock-out games all season – a real breath of footballing fresh air. I have loved it.”

Thank you, Cornwall Charity Cup, for putting me on the path to a campaign that has rekindled and reaffirmed my love for the beautiful game.

I felt it would be rude, therefore, not to rock up to this year’s final, which was played at Bodmin’s Priory Park ground and which featured last year’s winners St Dennis against their Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Division One West rivals Mousehole.

The Seagulls of Mousehole, from the far west of Cornwall, have had a superb season, winning the league title and enjoying great runs in the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors Cup – reaching the semi-final – and the Cornwall Senior Cup, in which they made the last 16.

I have been to their ever-improving Trungle Parc ground twice this season, seeing them beat Appledore 4-0 in the WCP Cup and then losing to eventual Premier Division champions Bodmin Town by 2-0 in the Senior Cup. I spent a happy half-time at the Appledore game chatting to Mousehole chairman Tim Richardson over a cup of tea and a doughnut. It was clear that he had worked hard, along with lots of others, to transform the fortunes and outlook of a club that had been going nowhere fast for a while.

Action from the Cornwall Charity Cup final between St Dennis in blue) and Mousehole. The match was played at Priory Park, Bodmin.
Action from the Cornwall Charity Cup final between St Dennis (in blue) and Mousehole. The match was played at Priory Park, Bodmin.

He was just one of the numerous dedicated, committed and passionate people I have met this season who are the real driving force behind so many clubs at this level. They are the people who make things happen, who fret and worry and wonder about finances and facilities, who prepare the pitch, who make the tea, who write the programme. They give the players the chance to play, they give the fans teams to cheer, they give people like me the chance to indulge our own enthusiasms.

They are the heart and soul of football and they have made my journey around cup games this season an absolute joy. I thank them all.

Mousehole are a great example of that positivity. With ground improvements, success on the field, and a superb atmosphere throughout the whole, tightly-knit club, it is clear that The Seagulls are on the up.

So, in their own way, are St Dennis. They have easily finished in the top half of the table this season – albeit 30 or more points behind the champions – and have improved their own facilities. It’s a solid base and the future for The Saints from Cornwall’s Clay Country looks to be a bright one.

Wednesday night’s cup final was the first chance I had had to see them in action since winning this trophy last season but, sadly for them, they didn’t cover themselves in glory this time. Mousehole were chasing the league and cup double and were backed by a raucous following who had made their way up the A30 to Priory Park. It only took nine minutes for those fans to start partying as the green-and-whites slid home the opener. St Dennis were never able to hit back.

The benches and supporters look on as Mousehole and St Dennis battled it out to win the Cornwall Charity Cup final. Mousehole won 5-0.
The benches and supporters look on as Mousehole and St Dennis battle it out in the Cornwall Charity Cup final. Mousehole won 5-0.

It was 3-0 by half-time and The Saints had lost their composure and seemed to be devoid of belief. They did their best to belie that feeling in the early part of the second half when they had their best spell of the match, but a ball over the top in 67th minute led to the fourth goal, which finally undid their resistance and ended any faint hopes of a comeback.

Mousehole have been the class act at this Step 7 level in Cornwall all season and it was fitting that they should have the final word on this night, too, rounding off an emphatic victory with a fifth goal.

The match wasn’t a great spectacle if you were a St Dennis fan – or a neutral – but the Mousehole massive lapped it up. And, at the final whistle, this time it was St Dennis’s turn to stand glum-faced and watch the celebrations of others. They got off the pitch as soon as politeness could allow while Mousehole’s players and fans were still celebrating 15 minutes later as I started my own drive home. That doesn’t happen at the end of your run-of-the-mill league game. The Seagulls’ spirits were soaring. Ah, the joy of cup football. I love it.

ADDED EXTRA: Mousehole weren’t the only big winners on the night. This competition is an invitation tournament for clubs from Step 7 and below and is run by the Cornwall FA, which chooses the sixteen teams to take part. The whole idea of the event, other than giving cup football fans like me something else to enjoy, is to raise money for the county FA’s chosen charity. This year, that was the Cornish Heart Unit Fund and a cheque for £500 was presented to that good cause at half-time.

A cheque for £500 was handed to the Cornish Heart Unit fund at half-time in the Cornwall Charity Cup final.
A cheque for £500 was handed to the Cornish Heart Unit Fund at half-time in the Cornwall Charity Cup final.

Football gets a bad press a lot of the time, with people critical of everything from over-paid Premier League players to bad behaviour on and off  the pitch at all levels (which is a real problem at the moment) but it is still the most popular sport in the country, it is still a game that we all love, and it is heartwarming when it does things like this. Football’s contribution to the communities in which it is played doesn’t get the credit it deserves, so well done Cornwall FA for this competition and this charity contribution. It’s just another in a long line of reasons why this season has been so enjoyable. Great stuff.

FOOTNOTE: If you have any thoughts or comments on this blog, email thecupfootballblogger@hotmail.com, find me on Facebook at thecupfootballblogger, or on Twitter via ‘cupfootballblog

There was plenty to cheer about for the Mousehole supporters as their side beat St Dennis in the final of the Cornwall Charity Cup.
There was plenty to cheer about for the Mousehole supporters as their side beat St Dennis in the final of the Cornwall Charity Cup.

Play-off poser

Truro City line up a free-kick in the second-half of their National League South play-off semi-final with Maidstone United. They failed to make this effort count and lost 2-0 on the night.
Truro City line up a free-kick in the second-half of their National League South play-off semi-final with Maidstone United. They failed to make this effort count and lost 2-0 on the night.

AS I left Treyew Road, the home of Truro City, on Wednesday night, the place was abuzz with questions. Had we done enough to go through? Can we overcome the deficit? What will the weekend bring?

These were the thoughts going through the minds of the supporters of the White Tigers and their visitors from Maidstone United. But a very different question was rattling around in my head.

Had I just been to a cup game or not?

You see, we had all just watched the first leg of a National League South promotion play-off semi-final which had finished Truro 0 Maidstone 2.

You could make a good case for it being the biggest game of football played in Cornwall in many a long year, maybe even since Falmouth played Oxford United in the First Round of the FA Cup back in 1962.

You could also argue that it was the biggest game played in Cornwall this season although, sadly, it clashed with the other “biggest game in Cornwall this season” as Bodmin took on local rivals St Austell in what was effectively a title decider in the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Premier Division. That finished Bodmin 3 St Austell 2, meaning that the Priory Park club were crowned champions for the fifth time in nine years.

Yes, you could argue lots of things about the game at Truro but could you argue it was a cup game?

I asked that question on Twitter and the general response was, it’s knock-out football so it is cup football. But the official Twitter feed of Dulwich Hamlet, beaten finalists in the Ryman League play-offs, said that they felt they had missed out by not having a decent cup run this season and that a play-off final didn’t count.

I want play-off games to be thought of as cup football as, if the Mighty Lions of Millwall make it through to the League One final, I’d like to end the first season of this blog with a day out at Wembley. From Saltash, where it all started back in August, via the likes of Troon, St Just and Devonport High School, all the way to the home of football – now that would be some cup journey. So, yes, I want it to be a cup game.

It certainly felt like a cup game, a special cup game, in the build-up. From the moment I walked out of my front door to begin the journey to the ground, it felt like something out of the ordinary. There was something extra, something more intense, in the air. I had butterflies.

That feeling got even stronger as I approached the ground. There were cars everywhere. The club car park was full, the overflow parking at nearby County Hall was filling up and there were vehicles parked all the way along the grass verges outside the ground. There are often one or two but on Wednesday night there were dozens. The traffic wardens could have had a field day.

Then there were the queues to get in, 20 or so people in two lines waiting to pay their money. For half-an-hour before kick-off at a non-league game, that’s pretty unusual. I have been to plenty of games this season where the entire attendance wasn’t as high as the number of people waiting to get into Treyew Road at 7.15 on Wednesday night. In the end, the crowd was just over 1,000, more than double the White Tigers’ average for this season.

So it was a pretty special occasion. But was it a cup game?

The fact that it was a first leg encounter only added to my pondering. I am not sure I like two-legged ties. For me, the joy of cup football is the immediacy of it, the fact that it is winner takes all, the fact that, if you are losing, you have no real option but to throw the kitchen sink at it in order to have a chance to progress. But a two-legged tie means that there are all sorts of questions unanswered at the end of the first 90 minutes.

First-half action from the National League South play-off semi-final between Truro City in red) and Maidstone. The Kent side won 2-0.
First-half action from the National League South play-off semi-final between Truro City (in red) and Maidstone. The Kent side won 2-0.

Back in 1999, I saw Millwall beat Walsall 1-0 in the first leg of the Auto Windscreens Shield Southern Area final, with a place at Wembley at stake. What do you do after a result like that? Do you celebrate winning? Do you worry that you didn’t win by enough? Is it a good result or a bad result? It’s all a bit unsatisfactory.

Conversely, second legs can be thrilling as great comebacks are made, late winners are scored, fortunes ebb and flow. Just ask Liverpool and Atletico Madrid fans this week what they think of two-legged clashes – they will love them. For me, second legs are proper do-or-die cup ties. And, as you can’t have second legs without first ones, then I am definitely coming down on the side of play-off games being cup games.

But, having considered all of that, having thought about it, I just needed one more piece of evidence to finally convince me, to finally seal the case. Step forward Steve Tully, the manager of Truro City.

Now, I have an admission to make about Mr Tully. When I first moved to the South West, I lived in Devon, not Cornwall, and used to go to watch Exeter City, where he played full-back. It’s fair to say, I wasn’t his biggest fan. Having once been called the best full-back in London’s Southern Area Sunday League by a very perceptive referee, I had a pretty high opinion of my own defensive abilities. I was never convinced of those of Mr Tully and wasn’t reluctant to share this opinion with those around me on The Big Bank at St James Park.

The fact that he had a career in professional football while I had to pay to play is probably a better reflection of our respective abilities, however, as is the fact that he has just led Truro to their highest league finish ever, while I had to pay £12 to get in to watch, plus £2.50 for a programme. But that was £2.50 well spent as I finally garnered the evidence I wanted, and it came from the manager’s notes. I quote: “I expect that tonight’s game will have everything. It’s knockout, cup football and anything can happen.”

Thank you, Steve Tully, you have gone right up in my estimation.

Looking from the new covered grandstand at Truro City's Treyew Road ground towards the clubhouse end before the National League South play-off semi-final against Maidstone. The visitors won 2-0.
Looking from the new covered grandstand at Truro City’s Treyew Road ground towards the clubhouse end before the National League South play-off semi-final against Maidstone. The visitors won 2-0.

And so what of the game itself, which I watched from the new covered stand – which is just the old uncovered stand with a roof bolted on. Oh the joys of ground grading.

Well, for a lot of the night, there wasn’t much of a big cup tie atmosphere. The home fans were tense and nervous as Maidstone dominated and, if it hadn’t have been for the singing and dancing visiting fans, it would have been almost silent. The Kent side beat Truro home and away in the regular season and Cornwall’s finest found it hard to deal with their powerful, direct approach. It was like watching Stoke City of a couple of seasons ago as, whenever The Stones had a throw-on in the Truro half, Alex Flisher launched it into the box a la Rory Delap, and City found it tough to cope with.

The first goal, after 26 minutes, came from that source. Truro failed to clear the initial danger and Joe Healy took full advantage to lash home a wonderful bicycle kick. A lot of people down the years have been critical of the direct approach, bemoaning it as lacking skill and style. I’ve always liked it, I’ve always liked the idea of making the most of what you’ve got in order to try to win the game. And no one in Treyew Road on Wednesday night could deny that Healy’s strike was skillful and stylish.

The second goal, 11 minutes into the second half, wasn’t a thing of beauty, Flisher taking full advantage of some calamitous City defending to make it 2-0, that goal being almost as ridiculous as the finish for the first was sublime.

Truro, though, played much better in the second half than they did before the break and came close to reducing the deficit in the final seconds when Matt Wright’s effort hit the bar. How important will that moment be in the tie? How much difference could it have made? They were just two of the questions left hanging in the air after the match. But I have now answered the one that was bothering me.

Yep, play-off football is most definitely cup football.

FOOTNOTE: If you have any thoughts or queries on this article, email me at thecupfootballblogger@hotmail.com, find me on Facebook via thecupfootballblogger, or on Twitter via @cupfootballblog

Watching the Truro City v Maidstone National League South play-off semi-final at the Cornish sides Treyew Road ground.
Watching the Truro City v Maidstone National League South play-off semi-final at the Cornish side’s Treyew Road ground.

 

 

 

These Girls Can – And They Did*

Action from the Cornwall FA Women's Cup semi-final between Callington (in yellow) and Charlestown, held at Godolphin Atlantic, in Newquay.
Action from the Cornwall FA Women’s Cup semi-final between Callington (in yellow) and Charlestown, held at Godolphin Atlantic, in Newquay.

I COME from a family of football fanatics. Whenever there is some sort of gathering it’s not long before the men start grouping together and talking about the beautiful game.

We talk about everything to do with the game but it usually starts with Millwall (who could still help me to finish my season of cup football with a day out at Wembley – if we do get there I am counting it as a cup final not a league game) then moves on to England or the Premier League or whatever game was last on the telly.

We share our football memories, the games we’ve been to, the games we’ve played, the chances we had to play at a higher level if only things had turned out slightly differently, how bad the diving and cheating is now compared to when you used to be able to properly kick people, and how it’s so expensive to watch the game nowadays. Then we talk about where we might go next.

We talk non-League, we talk Football League, we talk Champions League. We talk Dulwich to Dortmund, Liverpool to Leiston. We talk League Cup, we talk FA Cup (my brother once played in an FA Cup tie for Whyteleafe). We are steeped in football. And we all talk a good game.

But, until recently, one thing we didn’t talk about much was women’s football. So it has come as a bit of shock to us all that the best player in our family is a girl.

Maddie is on the books of Watford in the Women’s Super League and this week was even pictured with Troy Deeney in a promotional exercise by the club. I must admit, I am slightly in awe of her success. And very jealous.

Until Tuesday night, I had only ever been to watch two women’s games live. One was to see my cousin in action in a national schools cup final at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena. Even though they lost, the quality of the football on offer was impressive. At one stage, three defenders played a series of short passes to get themselves out of a tight spot. I looked at another of my cousins, another man who prided himself on his football skills, and we laughed. “I would never have thought of doing that,” he said. Neither would I, I would have just lumped the ball into the crowd.

The other game I had been to was at the London 2012 Olympics when I saw Japan take on Brazil in the women’s quarter-finals at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium. The day before, I had seen Millwall play Exeter City in a pre-season game at St James Park. There was no doubt which was the best quality encounter. Japan were simply superb in Cardiff, winning 2-0. I don’t think the ball ever left the ground when they had it. They went on to win the silver medal, being edged out by the United States in the final.

There were 30,000 people at the Millennium for the quarter-final, including my Dad, who had also been to the 1948 Games in London, watching the cycling events at Herne Hill. I reckon that’s a unique Olympic double.

The point of all this preamble is to prove that I am already a fan of the women’s game, I am already a convert.

Action from the Cornwall FA Women's Cup semi-final between Callington (in yellow) and Charlestown, held at Godolphin Atlantic, in Newquay.
Action from the Cornwall FA Women’s Cup semi-final between Callington (in yellow) and Charlestown, held at Godolphin Atlantic, in Newquay.

Nevertheless, I was nervous on Tuesday night when I went to see Charlestown take on Callington Town in the semi-finals of the Cornwall FA Women’s Cup, in a match held on neutral territory at Godolphin Atlantic, in Newquay. It was the first time I had seen women’s football at this lower level and I didn’t know what to expect. I became even more apprehensive when I saw in the programme the two teams’ routes to the semi-final.

Charlestown had won 18-0 (that’s eighteen) in the first round, although their quarter-final victory over Bude was much tighter at 2-1. Callington were 6-0 winners over Mousehole in the first round and then had a walkover in the last eight. So the signs weren’t auspicious. On the plus side, the weekend before this semi, Charlestown had been crowned as champions of the South West Women’s League Division One West, while Callington were confirmed as runners-up in the same division. If Charlestown take the chance of promotion to the South West Premier, they will be the highest-ranked women’s side in Cornwall.

So how did this semi-final clash turn out?

I needn’t have worried. This was a full-on, proper feisty cup tie, with two teams determined to make their mark on the cup football season. OK, so it wasn’t just like watching Brazil, but there was more than enough quality on offer to make it a worthwhile footballing occasion.

As an old centre-half, two players really stood out for me on the night, one forward from either side. As a born defender, I can’t help watching forwards and trying to work out how hard they would be to mark. These two would have definitely kept me on my toes.

Kat Marment, for Callington, was a constant thorn in Charlestown’s side. With a little more support up front she could have caused many more problems but the defence marshalled her well and cut down the supply to her. But she is definitely a player worth another look.

Up front for Charlestown, the real star was Amber Hadrill. Even when her side was under the cosh in a first half which Callington dominated, she always offered an outlet to relieve the pressure and always looked the most likely player on the pitch to find the net. In the end, she found it twice, as three second-half goals saw Charlestown keep their league and cup double hopes alive with a 3-0 win, a scoreline which was a little harsh on their opponents.

Callington Ladies in a huddle before the kick-off of their Cornwall FA Women's Cup semi-final against Charlestown which was held at Godolphin Atlantic, in Newquay.
Callington Ladies in a huddle before the kick-off of their Cornwall FA Women’s Cup semi-final against Charlestown which was held at Godolphin Atlantic, in Newquay.

It was a shame that the first goal came as a result of the sort of incident which those who have yet to be convinced by women’s football would try to use as evidence of its weakness. Not only did the Callington defender dither and then slightly over-hit her back-pass, the keeper’s clearance wasn’t strong enough to clear the onrushing forward, Hadrill, who took full advantage to crack home the opener.

But we have all seen keepers at a much higher level make similar mistakes. Paul Robinson’s air shot for England from a Gary Neville back-pass in a World Cup qualifier and Norwich keeper Bryan Gunn’s similar effort in a classic East Anglian derby against Ipswich immediately spring to mind. And the best non-League game I ever saw, Diss Town’s 1-0 win over Tiverton Town in an FA Vase quarter-final, was settled when Phil Bugg pounced on a similar error by the Tivvy keeper.

No, there’s no evidence against women’s football here.

And Hadrill’s second goal, which made it 2-0 after 64 minutes, would have quietened any critics. Her strike from the edge of the box was as clean as you could ever wish to see, giving the keeper no chance and virtually guaranteeing Charlestown’s progress to the final. Tori Marks slid home a neat third in the 75th minute and, try as they might, battling Callington could find no way back.

League champions Charlestown will now face Newquay Celtic in the final. Their 9-0 win over Mabe in the other semi wasn’t such a good advert for the women’s game but that can happen in a rapidly developing sport. Women’s football is here to stay, there’s no doubt about that. The only question now is how long will it be until a woman gets to play a significant part in a senior men’s team? That will be an interesting day.

* This Girl Can is a national campaign developed by Sport England and a wide range of partnership organisations. It’s a celebration of active women up and down the country who are doing their thing no matter how well they do it, how they look or even how red their face gets. (Source: thisgirlcan.co.uk)

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How The West Was Won(derful)

Ground with a view: Looking across Lafrowda Park, the home of St Just FC in the far west of Cornwall, to a backdrop of azure blue seas and bright blue skies.
Ground with a view: Looking across Lafrowda Park, the home of St Just FC in the far west of Cornwall, to a backdrop of azure blue seas and bright blue skies.

SOMETIMES it is better to journey than to arrive, so they say. On Saturday, the journey and the arriving were both spectacular even if the football itself never reached dizzying heights.

It was St George’s Day, the time to celebrate all things English, and Cornwall’s landscape and seascape had decided to join in, even though Cornish nationalists are more interested in marking St Piran’s Day, the March 5 celebration of Kernow’s own patron saint.

English or Cornish, there was no denying that the scenery and the sunshine were simply stunning as I headed as far south-west as you can go on the British mainland and still find a town. And football. My destination was St Just and, even from my home in Penryn, near Falmouth, it was still an hour’s drive.

It was worth every minute. It was a super bright day with wonderful, crystal-clear views over the glorious, isolated, empty, moorland of West Penwith, a landscape that is lonely, lovely and joyously remote. And at the end of the best journey to a match so far this season was one of my new favourite grounds, Lafrowda Park.

OK, so the covered terrace looks a little rundown and the pitch, which slopes from corner to corner, was covered with daisies and dandelions, and there were little piles of rubble and rubbish hidden behind buildings here and there, but there is a lovely little clubhouse and the view from the ground, on this brightest of bright spring days, has to be one of the best in the country.

St Just is just a mile from the Atlantic and all that was between Lafrowda Park and Saturday’s sparkling blue sea were rolling green fields. It was a view to melt the hearts of even the most jaundiced and cynical of football fans. It was so clear that even the Isles of Scilly, more than 20 miles offshore, were clearly visible. I never thought I would ever see them from a football ground. Stunning, simply stunning.

Ok, so enough of the travelogue, it’s time to get down to the business in hand, the reason why I had headed off into the wonderful west. It was for a quarter-final tie in the Jollys Cornwall Combination League’s Supplementary Cup between St Just, nicknamed The Tinners, and Perranwell. This is a competition for which I have developed a bit of a soft spot, despite it being derided by some as “the losers’ cup”.

It’s true that it is for teams who have been knocked out in the preliminary and first rounds of the league cup (St Just had gone down 3-2 at Helston Athletic Reserves while Perranwell were beaten 4-0 at St Ives) but it serves a very real and noble purpose at this level of football, Step 8 of the non-league pyramid. It gives amateur players the chance to play more football, the chance to indulge their sporting passion.

Unlike the poor, pampered professionals of the Premier League who are paid a gazillion pounds a week but who don’t want to play too much in case they get tired, the gazillions of players at this level just want to play and this cup gives them that extra opportunity. It’s something to be applauded.

It also gives teams a real chance of winning some silverware, the chance to enjoy all the excitement of a cup run. St Just are sitting eighth in the 20-team league with Perranwell in sixth and neither of them with any chance of winning the title or possible promotion. With their early cup exits, both sides would have had little to play for for a large chunk of the season if it wasn’t for the Supplementary Cup.

Action from St Just (green) v Perranwell in the Cornwall Combination League's Supplementary Cup.
Action from St Just (green) v Perranwell in the Cornwall Combination League’s Supplementary Cup.

Sadly for St Just, they do now have nothing much left to play for this season. The Tinners were not winners. Perranwell eased through a scrappy, shapeless encounter, finally triumphing 4-1. They took the lead on the half-hour mark with a neat strike and were 3-0 up after 57 minutes as the home side lost their way completely. The Tinners briefly threatened a comeback with a goal of their own on 68  minutes but the fightback never really materialised and Perranwell notched their fourth with virtually the last kick of the game.

Their reward is a semi-final against Hayle (2-1 winners over Illogan RBL Reserves) and a season that is still very much alive.

For me, though, football wasn’t the real winner on Saturday. Everything was upstaged by the glory of Cornwall on a glorious English spring day. And, as it was not only St George’s Day but the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, it would seem churlish of me not to include a quote from the Bard to round off proceedings. So here it is, from As You Like It.

“This our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.”

It was that kind of day. I liked it, I liked it a lot.

FOOTNOTE: If you have any comments on this blog, email me at thecupfootballblogger@hotmail.com, find me on Facebook at thecupfootballblogger, or on Twitter via @cupfootballblog

BELOW: A selection of pictures from the game, showing both the match itself and the glorious setting. I have to admit that I might feel differently about it on a wild, wet, windswept day though…

Ground with a view: Looking across Lafrowda Park, the home of St Just FC in the far west of Cornwall, to a backdrop of azure blue seas and bright blue skies.

The terrace and home dugout at Lafrowda Park, home of St Just FC.

A bright, bright spring day at Lafrowda Park, St Just, as the hosts took on Perranwell in the Cornwall Combination League's Supplementary Cup. The visitors won 4-1.

Entrance to the covered area at Lafrowda Park, home of St Just FC.
Entrance to the covered area at Lafrowda Park, home of St Just FC.

A row of homes behind the goal at Lafrowda Park, St Just,

Action from St Just (green) v Perranwell in the Cornwall Combination League's Supplementary Cup.

The covered area at Lafrowda Park, home of St Just FC.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Civilised Society

A St Day striker launches a lone attack on the Redruth goal watched by a very healthy, and civilised, crowd on the clubhouse balcony.
A St Day striker launches a lone attack on the Redruth goal watched by a very healthy, and civilised, crowd on the clubhouse balcony.

SCHOLARS  have argued for decades about where in the world should be considered as the cradle of civilisation, where it was that we turned from hunter-gatherers into creatures of commerce and culture.

Many say that Mesopotamia, in an area of modern Iraq bordered by the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, was where man became a civilised being. Others argue the case for the Romans or the ancient Greeks. Still others look to China or Egypt. Some say that Atlantis, a possibly mythical land which is now lost beneath the sea, was where it all began. There’s even a group of believers who think little green men from outer space are responsible for our rise.

I have another theory. I currently believe that the cradle of civilisation is the Cornish mining village of St Day.

Yes, I know. The Romans had the roads, Greece had philosophy and democracy, the Egyptians built remarkable pyramids. The Chinese brought us fireworks and a very big wall.

But, at St Day’s Vogue Park ground, you can get an elevated view of the football from a balcony attached to the clubhouse while drinking a pint of beer or nursing a very nice cup of tea. Now, tell me, where can you get more civilised than that?

The ground itself is in a determinedly Cornish setting, with a farmhouse on one hill overlooking the pitch and the remains of mine buildings on another, all surrounded by rolling countryside. I loved it even before I climbed the steps to the clubhouse and came out of the back door onto the balcony behind one goal. You could even see the pub from here. (It’s the Star Inn at Vogue and is highly recommended. I went back the day after the match to check).

A Redruth United player heads for goal in the Cornwall Combination League Supplementary Cup tie at the Vogue Park home of St Day. This effort didnt go in but three more from Redruth did as they eased through to the next round. Picture taken from the clubhouse balcony.
A Redruth United player heads for goal in the Cornwall Combination League Supplementary Cup tie at the Vogue Park home of St Day. This effort didn’t go in but three more from Redruth did as they eased through to the next round. Picture taken from the clubhouse balcony.

It was a ground I had been trying to visit for much of the season but, in this wettest of winters, postponements and re-arrangements meant I kept missing out. And, every time I tried to go, it appeared they were meant to be playing big local rivals Redruth. So local, in fact, that Redruth even appears in the postal address of St Day. Although, as proper non-league football photographer Darren pointed out to me, Carharrack FC is even closer to St Day, the grounds being less than five minutes apart.

However, I chose to ignore that and decided that, for my purposes, this was the big cup derby and I was excited to finally see it on Saturday. I did want to know, though, why it had appeared on the fixture list so many times this season. Right, bear with me, this is going to get complicated.

Including Saturday’s game, which they lost 3-0, St Day have now played three games in cup competitions organised by the Cornwall Combination League, have lost all of them, but have only been knocked out twice. Redruth have won both of the Combination-based cup games they have played but have been knocked out once. Confused? You soon will be. (One for the fans of classic comedy Soap there. It starred Billy Crystal before anyone knew who he really was).

It all began when the two sides were drawn together in the opening round of the Combination League Cup. Redruth won 5-2 but were then thrown out for fielding an ineligible player, with St Day being put through in their stead. The Vogue Park side, though, then lost in the next round as well, going down 5-1 to Falmouth Town Reserves.

Now, as readers of this blog will already know, the Cornwall Combination also has another competition for the teams who are knocked out in the first two rounds of the League Cup. It is called the Supplementary Cup and guess which two sides were drawn together again? Yep, you’ve got it. Redruth emerged victorious once more and St Day were finally out of all the Combination’s cup competitions for this season. (Probably).

I’m glad I’ve got all that sorted. Right, back to the actual football.

As civilised as it was off the pitch, there wasn’t much place for culture on it. There was, as they say, no quarter asked or given as both sides went at it hammer and tongs. There were lots of little nudges and nurdles off the ball and the defenders often seemed far more interested in playing the man rather than the ball. Someone should tell them that, sometimes, it’s far more effective to just clear the ball than it is to try to block or push or shove the attacker.

But the strange thing was, the players didn’t seem bothered by all the physical stuff and just got on with it in a fairly good-natured manner. I hated all that sort of thing when I played. I much preferred a good honest hacking-down of a centre-forward to pulling shirts and blocking runs or taking sly little kicks when the ref isn’t looking. I don’t know, young people today.

Watching the action from pitch-level.
Watching the action from pitch-level.

The pitch didn’t help much either. It must have been touch-and-go as to whether the game would be played as, following yet another prolonged spell of Cornish rain, there were some areas of the surface that were so wet as to almost be puddles. But played the game was and, of its kind, it was an entertaining encounter. Redruth’s opening goal owed much to the surface, a relatively tame shot from the edge of the box hitting a sodden muddy patch in front of the keeper, barely bouncing and then rolling through his legs.

It wasn’t a thing of beauty but gave Redruth a deserved lead which they never really looked like surrendering. Two more goals after the break wrapped up a pretty straightforward and solid win for the visitors.

Reluctant as I was to leave the civilised surroundings of the balcony, I decided, for research purposes, to watch much of the second half from pitch-level, taking shelter in the tiny stand on the halfway line. So tiny was it, that I banged my head on the roof. The last time I had done that was many, many years ago in the away end at White Hart Lane when I watched a Paul Gascoigne-inspired Tottenham defeat my beloved Millwall. My seat was right at the back of the stand and, in order to be able to see any of the action, I had to stand on it. I banged my head on a beam when I got excited during one of our rare attacks.

Back then, I don’t think I had ever even heard of St Day. Now it’s one of my favourite footballing places. In the words of a certain Mr Schwarzenegger, I’ll be back.

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Pre-match formalities at Vogue Park as St Day (yellow shirts) prepared to take on Redruth United in the Jolly's Cornwall Combination League's Supplementary Cup. Picture taken from the clubhouse balcony.
Pre-match formalities at Vogue Park as St Day (yellow shirts) prepared to take on Redruth United in the Jolly’s Cornwall Combination League’s Supplementary Cup. Picture taken from the clubhouse balcony.

 

St Day, in yellow, clear a corner from rivals Redruth United in their Supplementary Cup clash at Vogue Park. Picture taken from clubhouse balcony.
St Day, in yellow, clear a corner from rivals Redruth United in their Supplementary Cup clash at Vogue Park. Picture taken from clubhouse balcony.

 

Redruth United, in red, naturally, on the attack against near-neighbours St Day in the Cornwall Combination League Supplementary Cup. Redruth won 3-0. Picture taken from the clubhouse balcony.
Redruth United, in red, naturally, on the attack against near-neighbours St Day in the Cornwall Combination League Supplementary Cup. Redruth won 3-0. Picture taken from the clubhouse balcony.

 

A not very interested spectator at St Days Vogue Park ground.
A not very interested spectator at St Day’s Vogue Park ground.

 

Looking across to the clubhouse balcony at Vogue Park, the home of St Day.
Looking across to the clubhouse balcony at Vogue Park, the home of St Day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sound Of Success

Celebrations for Callington Town 3rds after their 2-1 Junior Cup final win over St Stephen in a match played at Wadebridge Towns Bodieve Park.
Celebrations for Callington Town 3rds after their 2-1 Junior Cup final win over St Stephen in a match played at Wadebridge Town’s Bodieve Park.

“CHAMPY-ONAYS, CHAMPY-ONAYS, OLE, OLE, OLE!”

Come on, join in with me. “Champy-onays, champy-onays, ole, ole, ole.”

We all know that song by now and, if we’ve been lucky enough, we might even have joined in chanting it. To the foreign ear, it might sound as if it should be translated as “the mushrooms, the mushrooms, well done, well done, well done,” but we know that, in English football speak, it means: “We’ve won some silverware and we are going to bloody well celebrate it.”

I’ve heard it twice in a week now. Back on Easter Monday, it was the players and officials of Bodmin Town who were “serenading” us after their comprehensive 7-0 win over Godolphin Atlantic in the Cornwall Senior Cup. On Friday night it was the turn of Callington Town’s third team, who were all singing along after their dramatic Cornwall Junior Cup final victory over St Stephen.

With five minutes to go, they were 1-0 down but then, with four minutes to go, they were 2-1 up. It was a dramatic, dramatic finish, probably the most exciting I have seen all season, and that release of tension added to the exuberance of the celebrations.

I was firmly neutral throughout the match, as befits a professional (but, as yet, unpaid) blogger. However, when I stepped onto the muddy turf of Wadebridge Town’s super little Bodieve Park ground to take pictures of the presentation, I couldn’t help but smile as the song rang out from players and fans. It was joyous – although the devastated contingent from St Stephen might disagree with that.

It reaffirmed for me once again just why cup football is simply the best (that’s a whole other song right there) and it rendered thoroughly worthwhile all the standing in the wind and rain, peering at the game through wet and smeared glasses, trying to pick out the numbers on the back of the shirts. Luckily, all three goals in the tie went in at the end where I was standing so I was able to work out who had scored.

Applause for the players of St Stephen as they collect their medals after being beaten 2-1 in the final of the Cornwall Junior Cup.
Applause for the players of St Stephen as they collect their medals after being beaten 2-1 in the final of the Cornwall Junior Cup.

When I set out on this cup football odyssey back in August, I must admit that the Bond Timber-sponsored Cornwall Junior Cup didn’t figure highly in my plans. I more or less expected all the games I went to watch to be at a senior level and thought I wouldn’t go lower than the Jolly’s Cornwall Combination, which is at Step 8 of the non-league pyramid. But then I got a Twitter message saying “Are you going to be at any junior cup games?” and the seed was sown.

It has blossomed into some of the best days I’ve had all season.

Four Lanes beating higher-ranked Troon in an early round of the Junior Cup was full of enthusiasm and joy; Frogpool & Cusgarne Reserves v Probus Reserves in the Trelawny League’s Jubilee Cup was not only fun but of a much better quality than I could have expected; and the Junior Cup semi-final between Callington thirds and St Minver had a real sense of occasion about it, a real feel of footballing theatre. Yes, I’ve loved my forays into junior football.

For the uninitiated, I should explain here that “senior” and “junior” have nothing to do with age (I would definitely be in the “senior” category if that was the case) but are all about the standard of football and the standard of the facilities. Junior football is basically park football whereas sides in senior-level leagues have to have achieved particular ground gradings in order to qualify to play.

St Stephen play at the highest level of junior football, the Duchy League Premier Division, which covers the eastern half of Cornwall. The Trelawny League is its equivalent in the west. Promotion from either of them takes you into the lowest level of senior football, the Cornwall Combination. Confused? Yes, me too. Let’s stick to cup football, it’s simpler and more straightforward. That’s why I love it.

I certainly loved it on Friday night although, for a while, I wasn’t sure I was going to. As I’ve written before, I always imagine cup finals to be played in bright sunshine with the crowd in shirtsleeve order and the heat causing issues for the players. For the second time in a week, though, I experienced the exact opposite of that. It was blowing an absolute gale on Monday in the Senior Cup final, augmented with the odd downpour, and conditions weren’t much better on Friday, although the rain was more of the “sweeping in” variety than sudden, sharp showers.

Action from the Bond Timber Cornwall Junior Cup final, played at Wadebridge Town FC, between St Stephen (yellow shirts) and Callington Town 3rds.
Action from the Bond Timber Cornwall Junior Cup final, played at Wadebridge Town FC, between St Stephen (yellow shirts) and Callington Town 3rds.

The game itself, although a much better and closer encounter than Monday’s one-sided affair, struggled to really come to life at first as the players battled cup final nerves and the non-cup-final-style weather. St Stephen are a division higher than Callington, although The Marshmen are well on their way to promotion, and for much of the match it looked as if Craig Coad’s clever 34th-minute header was going to be enough to win it for the Premier side.

But Callington had beaten Premier Division leaders St Minver 6-1 in the semi-finals and so played with no real fear and battered the Saints’ goal for much of the second half, without finding the breakthrough. They hit the bar, missed a golden chance, and then had a penalty appeal turned down, which sparked some angry scenes on the Cally bench.

They were all a lot happier just a few minutes later, though, as two neat finishes from Dan Ashman and Ricky Coton in the space of sixty seconds turned the whole cup final on its head. It really was proper, full-on cup drama for the magnificent crowd of almost 500.

Many of them would have been heading back to St Stephen feeling thoroughly disappointed that cup glory had been snatched from them. Those from Callington, though, would have headed off east with a smile on their face, joy in their heart, and humming a little footballing ditty under their breath: champy-onays, champy-onays, ole, ole, ole!

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Action from the Bond Timber Cornwall Junior Cup final, played at Wadebridge Town FC, between St Stephen (yellow shirts) and Callington Town 3rds.
Action from the Bond Timber Cornwall Junior Cup final, played at Wadebridge Town FC, between St Stephen (yellow shirts) and Callington Town 3rds.

 

The Callington players collect their winners medals after their Cornwall Junior Cup final triumph against St Stephen.
The Callington players collect their winners medals after their Cornwall Junior Cup final triumph against St Stephen.