CLASSY CONTEST

St Minver v Dobwalls

Goalmouth action from the RGB Cornwall Senior Cup First Round tie between St Minver (blue shirts) and Dobwalls.

IN A PAST LIFE, I was lucky enough to do some work as a travel journalist and the one cliché that you tried so hard to avoid was to say that wherever you were visiting was a “land of contrasts”. Sometimes you could work yourself into literary knots in order not to say it but, right here, right now, I am going to untangle myself and say it: Cornwall is a land of contrasts.

From Land’s End in the wild west to Launceston in the historic east; from the family resort of Newquay on the North Cornwall coast to the fishing village charms of Polperro on the south, there’s an awful lot of contrast packed into a small space and you don’t have to travel very far to go from one aspect of the Duchy to the next.

On Saturday, I found myself in the posh part.

The address of St Minver’s home ground is Trewint Lane, Rock. For those of you who don’t know, Rock is the sort of place where celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay can buy a house for £4.4million – and then plan to knock it down and replace it with something more to his liking.

There’s even a celebrity chef touch at the football ground, with an advert on the wall of the clubhouse for a nearby pub with Nathan Outlaw’s name on the food.

The ground itself is along a leafy lane and is surrounded by what estate agents love to call “architect-designed” houses. I thought all houses were designed by architects, but I think they mean they are not your average little boxes. Why can’t they just say that?

Yes, there’s no shortage of money in these here parts but the rewards we were all interested in on Saturday weren’t financial, they were sporting. This was an intriguing First Round tie in the RGB Building Supplies Cornwall Senior Cup, which was rich in possibilities. How would Minver fare in their first Senior Cup game in almost 30 years? Could they pull off a shock against a Dobwalls team from two divisions above them? And would the rain ever stop? (The answer to that last one was no).

The day for the visitors from Dobwalls didn’t get off to the best of starts. Lots of traffic, and a delay caused by an accident which blocked their main route for a while, meant that the journey north from South East Cornwall had taken longer than expected and it was a bit of a rush to get organised in time for the 2pm kick-off. I played a very minor role in helping by “lending” one of the team officials a pen so that he could complete the official teamsheet in time. I never saw the pen again – but I guess that means that a part of my DNA is now part of the history of the Cornwall Senior Cup. Happy to take that.

The home side are in Division One of the East Cornwall League, their first season back in senior football for many years. The visitors are established members of the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Division One West. They are not often thought of as footballing giants but that was the epithet they were to bear in this tie.

Waterproofs, umbrellas and cosy dug-outs: Just another day in the rain at the neat and tidy Trewint Lane home of St Minver.

The relative minnows of Minver started brightly, forcing the first of many good saves in an impressive display from Dobwalls keeper Jamie Blatchford but, with just five minutes gone, the visitors took the lead, Sam Ingram slotting home on the break after a defensive error.

It was, in fact, the sort of mistake that would often have the manager and coaches on the sideline effing and blinding at the top of their voices, letting everyone know in colourful fashion what they thought of their player’s efforts. But, this time, the St Minver management just had a quiet shake of the head and kept their thoughts quietly to themselves. It set the tone for the match with voices very rarely raised in anger on the sidelines.

This was probably just as well as the dug-outs at Trewint Lane are semi-detached and the teams, in effect, share one very large technical area. On Saturday, the St Minver management stood on the far left and their Dobwalls counterparts on the far right. It looked like they weren’t talking to each other – but what they were actually doing was not shouting at each other. I was impressed throughout with the demeanour in the dug-outs of both sides. They were competitive but not nasty, even when there were a couple of flashpoints on the pitch. It was a classy display all-round and was so nice to see.

Despite the appalling weather – it never stopped raining throughout – both sides attempted to play some classy football too, with Minver never looking out of their depth, even if their defence struggled to contain Dobwalls’ lively forwards at times. This is definitely a team that is going to make its mark in senior football.

After 18 minutes, they made their mark on the scoresheet too, Ryan Pooley equalising after Dobwalls failed to deal with a corner. Almost immediately, Minver forgot they were supposed to do some defending too and Ingram restored the visitors’ lead. Twenty minutes gone and the water was seeping into my boots from the sodden turf but it already looked like being a cup classic of its kind.

Ten minutes before half-time, Steve Wootton’s low ball across the box was tapped in by Callum Wilson to make it 2-2 and the thoughts of many started to drift towards what the ref had said as he led the teams out at the start: “We play to a finish today.” Extra time and penalties in the pouring rain? Thoughts were mixed on that one.

Now, in case you think I have suddenly turned into a proper reporter again, these names are all being culled from the excellent match reports posted by each side on social media. The St Minver version can be found on its pitchero.com website – I followed the link from Twitter – while the Dobwalls account is on the club’s Facebook page. And, as is often the way, the reports didn’t always agree. For instance, Dobwalls described the second Minver goal as being the result of “another defending error at the back post” while the home side said it was a “brilliant cross … which fizzed across goal”.

You pays yer money and you takes your choice, as they say. From my neutral point of view, it was a lovely cross but the Dobwalls defence did allow it to travel a long way. That’s my Gary Neville pundit moment. Do you think Sky might be interested?

Anyway, back to the action and, five minutes before half-time, thoughts of extra time etc, faded as Ingram produced a fine finish to complete a first-half hat-trick and put his side 3-2 up at the break.

After that breathless first half I needed a cup of tea. No wandering into a nice warm and dry clubhouse, though. Tea and refreshments were served by a lovely smiling lady from a table set up under a little bit of shelter outside the changing rooms. There are plans in place to improve the clubhouse at this St Minver Lowlands Parish Council-owned ground and it will be great to go back in future to see how it all looks. This time, however, I just had to wander around in the rain with my cuppa. And very welcome it was too.

The second half was still as wet, still as competitive, still as full-on as the first half had been, but this time the goals were missing. Dobwalls did extend their lead to 4-2 after 65 minutes when Ryan Oxley rounded the keeper to score and, despite pressing and pressing, Minver could not find a way back into the game. A combination of some wayward finishing and quality goalkeeping kept them at bay, while the visitors were also wasteful in front of goal, even hitting the post from about two yards at one stage.

Another cliché that writers try to avoid is “football was the real winner today”. Well, today it was. Dobwalls were delighted to have made progress from an awkward cup tie while St Minver put in a good performance and were happy with their reintroduction to this most coveted of local football cups. The home team’s match report said: “It was a very proud day for the club.” It was – and it was a classy effort by both sides, too. What a nice part of Cornwall in which to spend a wet Saturday afternoon.

THE STATISTICS BIT

St Minver 2 Dobwalls 4

(Half-time 2-3)

Trewint Lane, Rock, on Saturday, October 7, 2017

RGB Building Supplies Cornwall Senior Cup First Round

Matches watched this season: 9

Home wins: 4

Away wins: 2

Draws: 3

Number of competitions watched: 7

Home goals: 21

Away goals: 16

Total goals: 37

CONTACT

If you have any thoughts or comments about this blog, email me at thecupfootballblogger@hotmail.com; find me on Twitter via @cupfootballblog; or find me on Facebook at Peter Harlow (the cup football blogger)

PICTURES EXTRA

Some more pictures from St Minver v Dobwalls in the Cornwall Senior Cup First Round.

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PICTURE PERFECT

Perranwell v West Cornwall

The lovely view from the high side of the ground – it slopes from touchline to touchline – at Perranwell as the hosts (in blue) entertained West Cornwall in the LWC Drinks Cornwall Combination League Cup.

I MAY BE ABOUT to get carried away, so stop me if I get all gushy, but Saturday was an absolute and charming surprise, all just ten minutes’ drive from my own home. You never really know what’s on your doorstep, do you?

I may also be about to upset some of those who don’t want to think of Cornwall as part of England, who see the Duchy as a Celtic nation in its own right which the English should understand and leave well alone.

But I can think of nowhere else I have ever been for a football match that was more quintessentially English than the King George V Memorial Field at Perranarworthal Village Hall, the home of Perranwell FC.

Bridgerule, just over the border in Devon/England, might have been a contender last season, but this was absolutely picture perfect. All that was missing was a church spire in the background but you can never have everything, can you?

It probably helped that the weather was glorious, a magnificent autumn day after the dreariest of summers, and that I went for a walk around the village beforehand, with its super country pub, its post office, some lovely homes and a picturesque cricket ground. There’s even a garage where you can hire a British Morgan sports car and go for an open-top spin. How great is that?

The only thing that confused me was where exactly I was. Well, I knew where I was, but what exactly was it called? Was it Perranarworthal, as it says on the sign on the main road from Truro to Falmouth which runs by the village? Was it a hyphenated Perran-ar-worthal, as it is at the cricket club, or a hyphenated and capitalised Perran-Ar-Worthal as it as the local primary school? Or is it Perranwell, in the parish of Perranarworthal? Or is it all Perranwell Station, where the railway halt is actually a request stop?

In the end, all I could work out was that it all felt glorious. I drive to work on the road that bypasses the village and I have been bypassing this lovely ground, too. That’s a footballing wrong properly righted now.

Right, that’s enough of that. I shall indulge myself with lots of pictures at the bottom of this blog so you can all get an idea of what I am talking about. Now, though, it is time to talk football.

The players – well, most of them – shake hands before the LWC Drinks Cornwall Combination League Cup tie between Perranwell and West Cornwall. Rather than on the centre circle, as normal, this ritual took place about 20 metres behind one goal.

The Cornwall Combination is at Step Eight of the non-league pyramid and is the lowest level of senior football. This was a tie in the Qualifying Round of the competition’s League Cup and, with just 20 teams in it, it offers a real chance of silverware. This match mattered – although there are some who needed convincing of that fact. Before kick-off, I heard people from Perran complaining that they were short of players for this game and then one of them said: “What’s this? It’s only the Combo Cup. I am not bothered about that.”

I still have some people to convert to the joys of cup football, obviously.

They were also complaining about the lack of supporters at the game, thinking that many people would have been confused by the kick-off time being 2.30pm rather than the usual 3pm. That’s the second time I have heard that this season. Honestly, people, get your acts together, it’s not that hard to find out when a game is going to start. Anyway, as mentioned in previous blogs, I have been asked to give a head count of the attendance at games I visit, just to paint a more complete picture. I reckoned there were about 25 there at 2.30pm, but the league’s official Facebook account put the final figure at 40 and who am I to argue?

On a beautiful day, with the sun shining on a lovely ground and a game of football about to start, there was one very sad note to report. We had a minute’s silence in remembrance of Dave Curnow, a young lad who played for West Cornwall but who was murdered by drunken thugs in Redruth on September 21, 2015. He was reported to have been the youngest British soldier to have served in Afghanistan and then for that to happen back home was beyond reprehensible.

West Cornwall, in their first season in senior football following promotion from the Trelawny League, have done much to keep his memory alive and his name is now inextricably linked with the club. I wasn’t going to mention him, as I thought the club deserved the chance to be thought of on its own for this blog but, as the match fell so close to the anniversary of his death, it was impossible not to think about it. It cast a shadow over a stunning September day. RIP, Dave Curnow.

A view from a long way behind the goal at Perranwell’s King George V Memorial Field.

Once the action on the pitch started, it soon became clear that this was going to be a closely contested encounter. Perranwell had beaten their visitors 3-0 in the league just three weeks earlier but that never looked likely to happen again. Maybe the home side were under-strength after all, or maybe Wests were just getting stronger, but it was clear there was nothing between them.

In fact, so evenly matched were they, that I began to worry that the game might end goalless and I am proud of my record of not having seen one of those in three seasons of writing this blog. Thankfully for me, if not the home side, Wests finally broke the deadlock on 31 minutes, heading home at the far post after the young home keeper flapped at a corner.

Right, now would come the test for the home side. Could they find a way back? Six minutes later, that became less likely as the visitors doubled their lead. I had gambled and was standing behind the goal at the other end so didn’t have a clear view of who got the final touch as the ball found its way into the net. I thought it might have been an own goal but, once again, the Combination League’s Facebook page came to my rescue, naming the West Cornwall scorers as Archie Condie and Gareth Pitt.

At this point, I was going to say: “Look, an English name and a Celtic one, how apt is that?” but it turns out that Archie is a Scottish name. Sometimes even a blogger’s best-laid plans don’t, well, go to plan.

It’s not exactly Old Trafford but the King George V Memorial Field at Perranarworthal Village Hall makes a charming home ground for Cornwall Combination League side Perranwell. This is the entrance at the top end of the ground.

So would Perranwell have a plan of their own to get back into this game? Well, you certainly couldn’t fault their effort after the break but they struggled to create any clear-cut chances. The Wests keeper looked solid while their captain and centre-half invoked the ire of the home faithful as he marshalled Perran’s attacks with a strong and physical approach. Apart from one tackle, I didn’t think he did a lot wrong, but the home faithful were infuriated by him. It led to a brief row between the West Cornwall bench and some loud Perran fans 40 yards away. Even in an idyllic setting, football can get under people’s skins. I love it.

With three minutes to go, Jack Adams finally broke free of the West Cornwall shackles and rifled the ball into the top of the net. Perranwell then huffed and puffed and pushed and probed but they could not find a way through again. Wests were winners and the hosts were left to concentrate on the league – and the Supplementary Cup, which is for those knocked out in the Qualifying and First Rounds of the League Cup. I hope they get a home draw in that because I would love a return trip to Perranwell.

It’s such a lovely part of England, or Cornwall, or wherever…

THE STATISTICS BIT

Perranwell 1 West Cornwall 2

(Half-time 0-2)

At the King George V Memorial Field, Perranarworthal, on Saturday, September 23, 2017

LWC Drinks Cornwall Combination League Cup Qualifying Round

Matches watched this season: 8

Home wins: 4

Away wins: 1

Draws: 3

Number of competitions watched: 6

Home goals: 19

Away goals: 12

Total goals:31

CONTACT

If you have any thoughts or comments about this blog, email me at thecupfootballblogger@hotmail.com; find me on Twitter via @cupfootballblog; or find me on Facebook at Peter Harlow (the cup football blogger)

PICTURES EXTRA

Some more pictures from Perranwell v West Cornwall in the LWC Drinks Cornwall Combination League Cup Qualifying Round. Yes, there are lots of them and, yes, the ground does slope from one touchline to the other but not as much as it might appear in some of my photographs!

A MATTER OF TIME

Bodmin Town v Bideford

Goalmouth action from the dramatic FA Cup tie at Priory Park between Bodmin (yellow shirts) and Bideford.

It’s not only the players, match officials, groundsmen etc, who have to get prepared for a big game – a dedicated blogger has to get their thoughts in order before the match, be aware of the possibilities, have ideas about what might and might not happen, think of all the angles and generally know what your tactics for writing up a match are going to be.

But sometimes it doesn’t go to plan.

This was a bit of a bonus game for me, a delayed FA Cup Second Qualifying Round tie which had been postponed on the Saturday and moved to the Wednesday. It gave me my first chance to get to a midweek match this season and eased my guilt at not having chosen this game to go to on its original date. You see, I had seen Step Six Bodmin host Step Four Bideford before and, exciting as that game was, I wasn’t sure about covering a repeat fixture for the blog.

So, on Saturday, I had opted for Launceston v Brixham in the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors League Cup – I never miss a chance to get that competition name into my blogs somehow.

The postponement of the FA Cup game not only made me feel better about my choice but offered me a second chance to actually go to watch it. So that’s what I decided to do and my prep began.

This does not only involve checking league tables, current form, past encounters etc, it also involves thinking about a possible theme for the blog, to pick an idea from my head and try to turn it into something readable. And the theme that was going through my brain in the days before this tie was – cricket.

I love cricket and I especially love listening to Test Match Special. TMS is the sound of my summer. Even as I write this, I am listening to coverage of England v West Indies in the latest one-day international. The inventive, effective, humorous and intelligent commentary is a thing of unbridled joy as far as I am concerned.

And one of the greatest commentators of them all, the spoken-word genius that is Henry Blofeld, has just retired, causing much mourning among those of us who have spent just about our whole lives listening to his excited, informed, entertaining and unique commentaries. Fun is the word that always springs to mind when trying to describe his microphone work and I wondered if I could transfer his style from the summer game to the beautiful game.

What would Blowers make of Bodders versus Bidders?

So that was what was in my blogging mind as I approached Priory Park for this cup tie. The first thing that went through my head was that rain would have stopped play as it was a foul night, with a series of driving showers and some horrible fog on the A30.

The second thing was that Blowers was better at this than I was. I looked for fancy dress in the crowd, or even a splash of colour, but almost everyone was wrapped up in dark, waterproof clothing, or huddled under monochrome umbrellas. There were no vivid pink coats or stag parties dressed as a fox and hounds to give the wordsmith something to play with; even Bideford had decided to play in white shirts and blue shorts, rather than their normal shocking crimson, so the only real colour for the whole occasion came from Bodmin’s yellow shirts and the luminous jackets of the matchday stewards. So not much to work with there.

So I tried turning my attention to buses. Blowers famously enjoys bringing phrases such as: “There’s a trio of bright red buses making their way down the Harleyford Road,” into his commentary as he paints a perfect picture of the scene in front of him but, even though there is a road behind the goal at one end of Priory Park, all I could see through the gloom was headlights. I spotted no bus action at all.

And even though it was nice weather for ducks, it was also rotten weather for pigeons, another staple of the Blowers commentary lexicon.

This was proving impossible and so I did what all aspiring writers should do in those circumstances – I gave up.

Now I was relying on the game itself to give me something to write about – and it did so in spades.

As the tie kicked off, there were all the usual exhortations of encouragement from the players to one another in order to get them all going. They included the Bodmin keeper urging his team: “From the off, boys, from the first whistle.” Seventy seconds later, he was picking the ball out of the net, his advice having been comprehensively ignored by his collectively dozy team-mates as Bideford forward Ryan Turner burst through the home defence and slotted the ball home easily with nary a glove being laid on him.

The early hopes, therefore, of Bodmin being able to pull off a cup shock, seemed to be dampened very quickly. What they needed was something to get them going. They decided to take the John McEnroe approach and use a couple of decisions that went against them to spark them into action.

On 19 minutes, they thought they had levelled but the officials ruled it out for offside. Bodmin were convinced that the ball had come off a defender, thus playing the scorer onside, but the ref and his linesman refused to change their minds. Cue several minutes of Cornish complaints, even long after play had restarted.

“My Dad’s bigger than your Dad”. Handbags from the Bodmin v Bideford FA Cup tie. Bodmin were thoroughly grumpy throughout the first half.

The home side’s mood was darkened further a little while later when one of their defenders was caught in the head by an attacker as they battled for possession inside the Bodmin area. The home side was convinced it was a purposeful attack while Bideford protested that it was an accident, a view echoed by the ref. This all sparked what is colloquially known in football as “handbags”, as players from both sides squared up to each other like a bunch of befuddled drunks outside a nightclub on a Saturday night. It’s all a bit ugly but, in truth, nothing much happens.

The victim of the “attack” was forced to leave the pitch after having treatment (a thoroughly stupid rule when the player is clearly hurt) and then stood on the halfway line right in front of me screaming at the ref to let him back on. In truth, the ref was a bit tardy in waving him back onto the field of play and the defender decided the linesman would benefit from being screamed at instead. As he did this, the ref waved him on – he did, I saw it – but the player missed it and continued ranting. When play stopped and he finally came on, you could hear the ref say: “I did wave you on.” The player decided to scream at him from 40 metres away: “You’re a liar” and then seemed surprised when he was booked. Sometimes you wonder about footballers.

His mood wasn’t helped a few minutes later when, with the matchball being kicked a long way out of play, a spare one was kicked towards him in order to take the throw-on. From a long way out, it was clear it was going to bounce over him and, subsequently, over me and my outstretched hand. We stood there looking at one another. I thought it was funny. He didn’t.

Bodmin went in 1-0 down at half-time and still feeling grumpy. Maybe it was the tactical acuity of their visitors that was frustrating them. My favourite shout of the evening – other than the away fans singing “Ooh Ooh Michael van Gerwen” at the bald ref – was a piece of advice from one Bideford player to another when they had a free-kick on the halfway line. “Westy, Westy, WESTY, eff off and get central.” (This quote has been censored).

The second half was less tetchy. Not mild-mannered but less tetchy. Bodmin huffed and puffed and dominated possession but struggled to make any chances against their Southern League visitors. They claimed an equaliser with ten minutes to go but it was clearly handball and the effort was disallowed. That looked like being it but commentators are fond of saying: “They’ll always get one last chance,” and Bodmin did.

It came seven minutes into injury time. Well, I am reliably informed it was seven minutes. My phone died about ten minutes from the end and, as I had not taken my watch as a back-up, timings were all a bit of a mystery to me. One disgruntled Bideford fan was heard to say: “Where he did he get 12 minutes of injury time from?” but most social media feeds had it closer to seven. Bodders had spent the whole match complaining about time-wasting by the Bidders keeper so maybe that was why but, whatever the reason, the home side had time for one final chance. With everybody up, the ball was lumped into the area and Jake Ash managed to loop a header over the goalie and into the net.

Cue pandemonium, joy, despair, frustration, anger, elation, relief and disbelief.

Blowers, that master of sporting theatricality and drama, would have loved it and would have had the words to paint the perfect picture of the moment. I just went: “Wow! The FA Cup, eh?”

And so, my dear old things, we head for Devon on Tuesday night and the replay. A Second Test, you might say…

THE STATISTICS BIT

Bodmin Town 1 Bideford 1

(Half-time 0-1)

At Priory Park, Bodmin, on Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Emirates FA Cup Second Qualifying Round

Matches watched this season: 7

Home wins: 4

Away wins: 0

Draws: 3

Number of competitions watched: 5

Home goals: 18

Away goals: 10

Total goals:28

CONTACT

If you have any thoughts or comments about this blog, email me at thecupfootballblogger@hotmail.com; find me on Twitter via @cupfootballblog; or find me on Facebook at Peter Harlow (the cup football blogger)

PICTURES EXTRA

Some more pictures from Bodmin (in yellow and black) v Bideford in the Emirates FA Cup Second Qualifying Round. (Sorry they are out of focus and grainy but it was dark, it was raining and my phone was on a go-slow. If anyone wants to buy me  a nice camera for Christmas…)

 

 

MORE INDUSTRY THAN ART

Launceston v Brixham

Action from the opening moments of the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors League Cup First Round clash between Launceston (in claret) and Brixham.

BACK IN THE DAYS before the likes of Sky Sports and Opta stats and analysis of the importance of sock colours and how far the substitutes ran in their warm-ups on the touchline, punditry on football matches was a much simpler affair.

On BBC, we had the sensible and sober Football Focus, which told it how it was, without recourse to avant-garde screen art or musical interventions from hip-hop artists who no one will remember by the following weekend. It was football talk, pure and simple.

On ITV, there was a more humorous and lively approach from Saint & Greavsie. For those of you too young to remember them – which, sadly, is an awful lot of you – they were Liverpool legend Ian St John and possibly the greatest English goalscorer of all time Jimmy Greaves, who played for Tottenham, among others. I am just too young to have seen him at his peak but I have seen plenty of clips of his scoring exploits. Give yourself a treat and search online for some old footage of him. What a player.

Despite their more light-hearted outlook, Saint & Greavsie still provided some valuable insight into the action, which was usually summed up in what was to become Greavsie’s catchphrase: “It’s a funny old game,” something which modern experts have been unable to disprove. It’s also a phrase I have used in the blog before and it’s one which applied to this cup tie on Saturday.

It turned out not to be what I expected at all.

My build-up to the game had been a bit odd in itself. For days, I had agonised over which cup tie should get the benefit of my blogging presence. I felt that it should be Bodmin v Bideford in the FA Cup, THE cup, but I had seen the same two sides clash in the competition a couple of seasons before and a second outing for the same tie didn’t have as much appeal. I felt guilty about that. Fortunately, for me anyway, the match was rained off and I might get there for the restaging, thus making me feel better about myself. Result.

I could also have gone to see Tavistock, also in the FA Cup, but I had seen them in an earlier round and, this early in the season, I didn’t want to visit the same ground again. I could even have gone to see Truro entertain Portchester in the Cup but, with the home side ranked so much higher than their visitors, I felt the chances of a real humdinger of a tie were limited. So I didn’t go there either. I had ruled out three FA Cup ties. How could any self-respecting cup football blogger respect himself after that?

Well, in my defence, it was also first round day in the, yes, you have guessed it, the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors League Cup. There is no cup competition with a better name anywhere.

A run through the fixtures, all of which appealed, finally saw me head to the Pennygillam Industrial Estate, on the edge of Launceston, to see the Cornish town’s team, known as The Clarets, take on their Devon visitors from Brixham. It had all the makings of a fascinating tie. Not only was it a Cornwall v Devon encounter, which always has an added edge in this part of the world, it was also a Premier Division v Division One East encounter, with an outside chance of a shock. Launceston have had a decent start to the Premier season, with four wins and four defeats in nine games while Brixham have started their D1E campaign with three wins and three draws. I was looking forward to it – let the games commence.

Well, just when this game was going to commence soon became a bit of a mystery. The advertised kick-off time was 2.30pm. We were running a bit late and rocked up just after 2.15pm, only to see the two teams still in the early stages of their warm-ups. The man on the gate advised us that, due to Brixham having traffic trouble on their journey, the match would now start at 2.45. So we headed for the bar.

There was no lack of pace to the action – certainly too much for the photographer (that’s me). There is a ball just ahead of these Launceston and Brixham players, honestly.

At this stage, it became clear that, although this game had attracted my interest, it hadn’t captured the imagination of the local footballing public. We were the only two paying customers in the clubhouse. Well, I thought, everyone will turn up soon. I was wrong. They didn’t. After my previous blog, I was asked if I could give an estimate of the crowd figures for future matches. A quick headcount around Pennygillam came up with a generous 50. My Dad, who is good with figures, said it was no more than 40. Pretty disappointing whichever way you look at it.

While in the clubhouse, I checked my Twitter feed and the league’s official feed said the kick-off would now be 3pm. So, when would it be? 2.30? 2.45? 3pm? It kicked off at 2.48pm. Oh the joys of local football.

Never mind. The people who were there were funny and enthusiastic, the game itself kicked off at a furious pace and all looked set fair for an afternoon of footballing fun. Even the weather, which had been truly horrendous earlier in the day, held off for the duration of the game. We were taking no chances with that, though, and sat in the covered stand, ready to be thrilled and delighted by the fare about to be offered up to us.

Well, if you were watching the highlights on Match of the Day, you would have thought it a cup cracker. We had goals, we had missed chances galore, there were a couple of hefty tackles, there was even extra time and a late penalty to decide the outcome. It should have been a great watch.

But, in truth, it never really hit the heights. It was a low-key affair in so many ways throughout the whole 120 minutes. Whether it was the small crowd, the weather worries, the fact that the two teams were so evenly matched that they almost cancelled each other out, or even the fact that both sets of players were unusually well-behaved, without much of the normal arguing and bad language which permeates so much local football, it never really sparked.

There was no lack of effort and industry on the pitch, no lack of pace, of goalmouth action and, in the end, no lack of drama. But even the drama was somehow undramatic. Perhaps it was just one of those days when the footballing stars didn’t quite align. Perhaps it was just me, although even the linesman on our side of the pitch was slightly out of kilter with the ultimate reality. When quizzed by anxious supporters as the clock ticked towards 90 minutes with the scores level, he assured us all that the tie would go straight to penalties.

It didn’t. It went to extra time. This was confirmed by one of the home players just as the action was about to restart. In a quick chat with members of the crowd, he said that there would be another 30 minutes of action. This elicited a cry from one supporter of: “Blimey, the first hour and a half was bad enough!” So, it wasn’t just me then…

The Clarets had taken the lead on 31 minutes. A Brixham free-kick on the edge of the box was saved by the Launceston keeper, who quickly cleared it upfield and over the visiting defence. A home forward took possession, rounded the Brixham goalie and more or less walked the ball into the net. It was ultimate in simple goals but would it spark the game into life? Well, cue both sides missing chances before the break but the general feel of the day never really lifted.

Just before the second half kicked off, my Dad decided he needed the loo and traipsed around the ground back to the clubhouse. He was gone just long enough to miss Brixham’s equaliser, a simple header from a corner on 47 minutes. He wasn’t best pleased by that.

For a while, the Devon visitors took control and a cup upset looked to be on the cards but they contrived to miss a number of chances and soon the Cornish hosts were in the ascendancy and creating openings of their own. They too, though, were profligate in front of goal but had a late, late chance to give this quiet game a dramatic ending. True to form, they missed it and we headed off into extra time.

Ironically, in view of the earlier confusion over penalties, the game was ultimately settled by a spot-kick. Just a minute into the second half of extra time (that’s on 106 minutes by my rudimentary maths) a Launceston cross into the box led to appeals for handball and the ref pointed to the spot. It looked harsh to me but there few complaints from Brixham.

The home side duly knocked in the penalty to go 2-1 ahead. Brixham had a glorious opportunity to level right at the death but, once again, they missed it, the Clarets were through to the next round, and the lino never got his penalty shoot-out.

No, this cup tie was by no means a classic and yes, in truth, it was a bit of a slog. But Launceston won’t worry about that if they go on to have a good cup run and Brixham showed more than enough to show that they can expect a fruitful season in the league. And we all at least had an afternoon out at the football – much better than just watching it on the telly.

THE STATISTICS BIT

Launceston 2 Brixham 1 (after extra time)

(Half-time 1-1)

At Pennygillam, Launceston, on Saturday, September 16, 2017

Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors League Cup First Round

Matches watched this season: 6

Home wins: 4

Away wins: 0

Draws: 2

Number of competitions watched: 5

Home goals: 17

Away goals: 9

Total goals:26

Number of shocks: 1

CONTACT

If you have any thoughts or comments about this blog, email me at thecupfootballblogger@hotmail.com; find me on Twitter via @cupfootballblog; or find me on Facebook at Peter Harlow (the cup football blogger)

PICTURES EXTRA

Some more pictures from Launceston (claret kit) v Brixham in the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors League Cup (My phone camera died in the first couple of minutes so I used my Dad’s phone for a while instead. The photography didn’t get any better!)

CATCH OF THE DAY

Camelford v Helston Athletic

Glory and despair: The Helston keeper lies distraught on the turf, well, mud, and his team-mates trudge away disconsolate as Camelford celebrate their injury-time winner.

THERE ARE MANY REASONS to find yourself watching a particular football match. Sometimes, in fact most of the time, it is because you are a fan of one of the sides involved in the game. Sometimes it is because you happened to be at a loose end and there was a game nearby. Sometimes it is because it is the big game in the area and, even as a neutral, you fancy going along to watch. Sometimes, you just want to get a bit groundhoppy and tick off a new ground. And sometimes it is because your brother Colin has booked a fishing holiday nearby and he needs a lift to get his tons of tackle to where he is staying.

So, when my brother asked for help to get to his angling venue, we cast around for a nearby cup game and discovered that he would be staying just ten minutes from Camelford’s delightful Trefrew Park ground. And it was hosting a cup game – an all-Cornish affair against Helston Athletic in the First Qualifying Round of the Buildbase FA Vase. Result.

Whatever Colin manages to lure onto his line in his week by the lakeside, he will do well to net a more exciting catch than this cup tie. It was an absolute blockbuster. Fishermen are well-known for their tales of “the one that got away”, of embellishing their fishy stories but, honestly, this was a monster of a match. You’ll have to go a long way this season to see a more committed, more hard-fought and, ultimately, more dramatic game of cup football than this.

Even the weather played its part. A morning of downpours and strong winds, gave way to a sunny but still windy opening 45 minutes before the heavy showers returned for the second half. All this necessitated a pre-match inspection to make sure the game could go ahead and then meant that large parts of the pitch turned to mud during the enthralling 90 minutes of action. The players’ pristine kits were soon a swampy, sodden nightmare for those doing the laundry, a real old school muddy mess. Yes, this was proper mud, blood and glory stuff.

These two teams both play in the Premier Division of the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League and have had similar starts to the season – Camelford in 15th spot with two wins and a draw from their opening six games and Helston in ninth with three wins and three defeats. It always looked as if it was going to be a tight affair.

When I was a local newspaper sports reporter, the local rugby clubs would send in their own reports each week, which often started: “In the first half, we were playing uphill against the wind…” Sometimes, you would get a report from both sides in the same match and they would both start the same way! Football stringers didn’t seem to feel the same need to get all meteorological every week, but they would have been well within their rights to do so on Saturday. It was blowing a hoolie straight down the ground, and it was the home side who were playing into it in the first half.

It didn’t seem to bother them, though, and they took the lead after just 12 minutes, the Camels’ lively number 11 slotting home the opener, keeping alive my record of not having seen a goalless draw while covering a game for this blog, which is now in its third season. I am your man for goals.

No quarter given. This crunching 50-50 tackle left a player from each side on the ground but nobody complained, they just got up and got on with it.

Helston had almost taken the lead before Camelford scored, a curling effort crashing back off the bar, and they wasted several other chances to get level, a combination of wayward finishing, the woodwork and one very fine Camelford save low down to his right keeping the visitors at bay. The home side almost doubled their lead but were also denied by the post as the action never ceased in a frantic first 45.

But, just when it looked as if the Camels would go in 1-0 up at the break, Helston levelled.

With a free-kick.

From the halfway line.

By the goalkeeper.

All through the first half, I had been saying to Colin – who I had made come to the game before I dropped him off for his fishing holiday, thus adding one to the number of paying spectators in this year’s FA Vase – that Helston should be trying to drop their wind-assisted set-pieces right on top of the home keeper to see how he dealt with the conditions. Finally, in first-half injury time, my advice was heeded. Helston goalie Barrie Wyatt, who has a prodigious boot on him, stepped up to take a free-kick from just on halfway. He made a great connection, the wind helped it on his way, and it flew straight over the home custodian (lovely old-fashioned word) and into the net. Cue pandemonium and celebrations for one keeper and embarrassment for the other.

I have seen goalkeepers score from the penalty spot before but never the centre spot. You just never know what you are going to see when you rock up to a game, whatever the reason for you going there.

A half-time downpour sent us scurrying for cover and we watched the second half from a covered standing area midway through the half that Camelford were attacking. It was so crowded in there that there was lots of standing on tiptoe and peering around people, which, together with the muddy pitch and the sliding tackles, added to the old school feel of the game. I was loving it.

The home crowd weren’t loving it so much when, on 58 minutes and perhaps against the run of play, Helston took the lead, the forward heading home after a cross appeared to be deflected to his benefit. It was at this point when a cry from a home supporter reminded me of the importance of punctuation.

“Heads up, Camels,” means one thing, while “heads up camels” paints a completely different picture.

Right, English lesson over and back to the football match.

The Camels were dancing with delight again (another interesting image) when they levelled things up on 68 minutes as Helston failed to effectively clear a corner, but Camelford heads were in their collective hands just moments later when a completely free header from only ten yards out went wide of the goal. Would they get a better chance to win this tie?

Colin was gutted as well. As the clocked ticked towards 90 minutes, the spectre of extra-time was looming large and his fishing trip looked like it would be delayed just a little bit longer. Me, I was thoroughly enjoying the action and would have been happy to see another 30 minutes for my £5 entrance fee. An over-enthusiastic challenge from a Helston forward did drag things out a bit longer as it led to a Camelford defender dislocating his shoulder, which in turn led to about eight minutes of injury time.

But, in those extra minutes, Helston keeper Wyatt saw the glory of being a goalscorer slip through his hands as he couldn’t keep a grip on a free-kick floated into the box and the loose ball was pounced on by a delighted Tom Cowling to put Camelford in dreamland – well, the Second Qualifying Round of the Vase, anyway.

The decisive moment. Deep into injury time and the Helston keeper can’t keep hold of the ball and Camelford (in blue) pounced on the rebound to net the winner.

Twenty minutes after the final whistle, Colin was leading me around the lakes on the site he had booked for his angling holiday, trying to pick out the best swims for the week ahead. It was all very calm and tranquil, a far cry from the thunderous fun of the match we had just witnessed. Yes, there was nothing for me to carp on about after the tench-shun of a stunning cup tie in which the app-roach of both sides left me with a bream-ing smile. Catching this game because of my brother’s piscatorial passions was nothing short of a net gain.

I’ll stop it now. I was just so glad I chose this game, whatever the reason for doing so. If I had not gone it really would have been a case of the one that got away.

OK, OK, I really will stop it now. Cup football? You could say I am hooked.

And now I have stopped it. Sorry.

THE STATISTICS BIT

Camelford 3 Helston Athletic 2

(Half-time 1-1)

At Trefrew Park, Camelford, on Saturday, September 9, 2017

Buildbase FA Vase First Qualifying Round

Matches watched this season: 5

Home wins: 3

Away wins: 0

Draws: 2

Number of competitions watched: 4

Home goals: 15

Away goals: 8

Total goals:23

Number of shocks: 1

CONTACT

If you have any thoughts or comments about this blog, email me at thecupfootballblogger@hotmail.com; find me on Twitter via @cupfootballblog; or find me on Facebook at Peter Harlow (the cup football blogger)

PICTURES EXTRA

Some more pictures from Camelford (blue kit) v Helston Athletic in the Buildbase FA Vase.

HOME COMFORTS

Okehampton Argyle v Topsham Town

The green, green grass of home. Looking towards the clubhouse end at Okehampton Argyle’s Simmons Park ground.

AS THE WORLD’S foremost football writer focusing exclusively on cup ties – well, with the possible exception of the excellent FA Cup Factfile – I have made it my business to be as neutral as possible when I attend a game. It’s the occasion that drives me, the event, not the final result.

Of course, this rule goes out of the window completely when I write about my beloved Millwall. As long as they win, I don’t care about anything else. And when a local side from Cornwall or Devon takes on a team from another part of the country in a national competition, I tend to lean ever so slightly towards the West Country side.

On Saturday, I totally threw away any idea of neutrality, though. I wanted Oke to win.

Now let me make it clear immediately that this was not because I have anything against Topsham. It’s a lovely little place near Exeter and I have had many a happy ramble and a pint along the river there. I don’t even have anything against the town’s football team – the only thing that vaguely annoyed me about them was that they played in a yellow and blue kit which was very similar to a former Oke strip and that befuddled me for an instant.

No, I wanted Oke to win because, when I moved down West more than a decade ago, Okehampton was where I made my home. Lots of members of my family still live in the town and my Dad, who has just turned 80, goes to almost every home game. I spent five or six years going along with him and so have a strong affinity with the Simmons Park club – I am an Oke Argyle supporter.

Ever since I started this blog, which is now in its third season, I have been looking for an excuse to head to a game there. Sadly, though, Oke haven’t had a great cup record lately and, in fact, they haven’t had a great record at all. The best they have achieved since I have been watching them is a couple of top-half finishes in the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Division One East. Two seasons ago, they finished bottom and were relegated to the Macron Devon & Exeter League Premier Division, Step Eight of the non-league pyramid. (For those of you watching in Cornwall, it’s the equivalent of the Combination. For those of you reading this elsewhere in the world, you’ll just have to work it out for yourselves).

I once even made a guest appearance on the Okehampton committee. They were playing away at Penryn – which, strangely enough, is now where I live – in the Devon side’s single season in Division One West of the Peninsula League, and the only two people there supporting them were me and the club’s then-secretary Charlie Bond. He invited me to join him as an Oke representative in the clubhouse at half-time in order to help him drink the free tea and eat all the free sandwiches. It was a magic moment!

Just before the start of this season, Penryn withdrew their first team from the Peninsula League and dropped down to the Combination (for those reading this in Devon and around the world, see the info in the brackets above). It would seem that having me live in your town is not a recipe for footballing success!

The fact that Oke spent a season travelling away to the likes of Penryn and all points Cornwall, shows some of the geographical confusion surrounding the exact whereabouts of Okehampton. They spent time in both the East and West divisions of the SWPL, the local council is called West Devon but the competition they were playing in on Saturday was the East Devon Senior Cup. And when I played cricket for Belstone, a village about two miles from Oke, we played in the North Devon League!

Despite this compass confusion, everyone seemed to find their way to Simmons Park happily enough on Saturday and the ground looked absolutely glorious. Pre-season work parties had painted and tidied, the sun shone down on what I think is a lovely setting on the edge of Dartmoor and the grass on the newly-cut pitch was a glorious green. Perfect. Well, not quite. The lines on the pitch were still being painted even as the two teams came on to the pitch. There’s always something else to do!

A proper photographer would be able to definitely tell you that this cross led to a goal for Okehampton Argyle (in yellow) in their East Devon Senior Cup tie v Topsham Town at Oke’s lovely Simmons Park ground. I am pretty sure that this is the cross the Topsham keeper only palmed away to the feet of a home player, who tapped it in, but I could be wrong!

There is a really positive feel to the club at the moment. Oke have won their first three games of the season in the league while this cup competition, which has been running since 1904, offers a very real chance of winning some silverware. There were some worries on Saturday as they were without five or six first-teamers but Topsham weren’t feeling that bright either. They have lost their first two games of this campaign and it is already looking as if they could face a long, hard season ahead. Okehampton were big favourites to make straightforward progress through this tie.

It didn’t look like it in the early exchanges, though. The visitors dominated early on and threatened to not only upset the apple cart but also to upset a cup football blogger who had come along expecting to bask in the glow of an Oke victory.

The game kicked off at 2pm and, when it did, the players easily exceeded the numbers in the crowd. “I bet people don’t know it started earlier than a normal league game,” said Dad, sagely, and it seemed he was right as, by 2.15, the amount of spectators had swelled nicely. It also seemed as if the home team was waiting for everyone to turn up because, as soon as they did, Oke started to take control.

With 17 minutes gone, the scoring was opened by Steve Kinsey, one of three Oke players who seem to have featured in just about every Argyle game I have seen over the years. The others were Chris Wills and James Williams, back at the club after a season away, but I missed that entirely. Also in the Oke line-up was Corey Burns, who used to play in the same Oke age-group teams as my nephew. Yep, I definitely have history with this club.

With 20 minutes gone, a lovely sweeping move, out of keeping with much of what had passed earlier, resulted in a second goal for Oke, finished beautifully by the impressive Ben Dickle. He looks to be a real find. Oke were now well on top and they made it 3-0 on 26 minutes, player-manager Ed Bradshaw netting at the clubhouse end. Five minutes before half-time, the home side made it four and the only question now was how many they would win by.

It became 5-0 after 62 minutes and, despite a really spirited effort by Topsham, Okehampton made it six on 72 minutes. With the result beyond doubt, lots of happy chatter on the sidelines, and a running event taking place on another part of the park, the whole atmosphere had more of the feel of a genteel garden fete rather than a combative cup tie.

That changed a bit towards the end when there was a bit of a kerfuffle over an offside decision and the Topsham linesman took offence at the players disputing his verdict. He threw his flag down and stormed off, having to be replaced for the final few minutes of the match. I love local football!

With almost the last kick of the game, the visitors got the consolation goal their determined attitude deserved, but it really annoyed the Oke keeper and defenders, who had seen their clean sheet ruined.

They were the only members of the Okehampton Argyle community to be at all grumpy, though. This was a thoroughly deserved and nicely accomplished victory for the home side and the signs for the season look very good indeed.

It’s a good time to be an Oke Argyle fan.

My moment of ball retrieval glory. I chipped the ball back over this fence behind the goal and straight into the arms of the Topsham keeper. It could all have gone so embarrassingly wrong.

THE STATISTICS BIT

Okehampton Argyle 6 Topsham Town 1

(Half-time 4-0)

At Simmons Park, Okehampton, on Saturday, September 2, 2017

East Devon Senior Cup First Round

Matches watched this season: 4

Home wins: 2

Away wins: 0

Draws: 2

Number of competitions watched: 3

Home goals: 12

Away goals: 6

Total goals:18

Number of shocks: 1

CONTACT

If you have any thoughts or comments about this blog, email me at thecupfootballblogger@hotmail.com; find me on Twitter via @cupfootballblog; or find me on Facebook at Peter Harlow (the cup football blogger)

PICTURES EXTRA

Some more pictures from Okehampton Argyle v Topsham Town in the East Devon Senior Cup.

 

 

 

SHOCKING UNCERTAINTY

Tavistock FC v Shaftesbury FC

The beautiful Devon countryside provided a lovely backdrop to the FA Cup tie between Tavistock and Shaftesbury.

THE WHOLE POINT of the existence of this blog is for me to indulge my love of cup football and to persuade others that it is the most beautiful form of the most beautiful game.

I love its excitement, its winner-takes-all mentality, its urgency, its joy, its despair, its nature as a welcome break from the week-in, week-out slog of league football. Don’t get me wrong, I love football in all its forms, but it is the knockout version of the sport which really sets my sporting heart a-flutter. It is the purest form of the game.

And the one thing everyone loves about cup football is the possibility of proper shock results, of a team from a lower league beating a side from a higher level, of stirring up the established order so that Goliath does not always beat David. Think of the FA Cup and fans of my vintage remember moments like Ronnie Radford’s thunderbolt which saw non-league Hereford humble top-flight Newcastle United; we remember Ian Porterfield’s hooked Wembley winner as Sunderland defied the odds to beat all-conquering Leeds United in the 1973 Cup Final.

Teams like Yeovil, Blyth Spartans, Wrexham, even my own beloved Millwall, have made magnificent memories in the biggest cup competition of them all. And for those fans of a much younger vintage, you only have to think back to last season and the exploits of Lincoln City and Sutton United to know that those magic moments are still capable of happening – and they are still magic.

Yes, a giant-killing is a thing of footballing beauty (unless you are the gaint-killee, or course) and, as a neutral observer, it’s something you really look forward to seeing.

The problem I had on Saturday as I headed to Langsford Park for the FA Cup Preliminary Round tie between Devon side Tavistock and their Dorset visitors Shaftesbury was what would constitute a shock in this game?

On the face of it, a home win would be the cup upset. Tavistock play at Step 6 in the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Premier Division while Shaftesbury are at Step 5 in the Wessex League Premier Division. But it wasn’t quite as simple as that.

The Lambs – probably the least frightening nickname in football – won the SWPL championship last season and have started their defence of the title this season by winning their opening two  games 7-0 and 11-0. Yes, seven and eleven. They had also thumped Step 5 Shepton Mallet 4-1, away from home, in the Extra Preliminary Round.

If they had taken promotion from the SWPL they would now be plying their trade at Step 5 in the Western League. The whole issue of clubs in the South West not progressing higher up the pyramid is a can of footballing worms which I am not going to open here, but suffice it to say that Tavistock and their set-up as more than a whiff of Step 5 about it.

Two seasons ago, Shaftesbury were playing at Step 7 but two successive promotions have taken them to Step 5. They have started their Wessex Premier season in steady style, with four points from three games, but, in the previous round of the FA Cup, they needed a replay to get past Exmouth Town. Exmouth are in the same division as Tavvy and have lost two of their first three games.

So, if that’s not a confused form guide, then I don’t know what is.

I also need to declare an interest, here. Although I try my best to be neutral when watching these games, I do have a bit of history with Tavistock. When I used to live in Devon, they were one of the closest teams with floodlights to my home and so many a midweek evening was spent at Langsford Park, enjoying the football.

They didn’t seem to have a pump that worked properly though. Every game we went to, there seemed to be a problem with flat balls (insert own joke here) and frantic activity on the touchline to try to provide enough footballs to finish the game. It became something I used to look forward to in the end, something I could tut about and take the mickey. Lovely.

I went there for one midweek game because it had a 7.30pm kick-off and I could be back well in time for a good night’s sleep before a particularly early start at work the next day. Two broken legs and two ambulance delays later, the game didn’t finish until gone 10pm and the next day passed in a sleepy blur.

And one night I went there with my Dad for a big league game which attracted a much larger crowd than usual. We paid at the gate while still in our car and then were directed to a parking area so far away that we had to climb over the fence to get back in!

That was a few seasons back and Langsford Park has now improved beyond all recognition. It is a very neat and tidy non-league ground with a lovely backdrop of rolling Devon countryside. In the sunshine on Saturday, it looked in absolutely pristine condition but – by kick-off – I was still no nearer resolving my cup shock conundrum.

Twenty-seven minutes later, it seemed that any doubt about who would actually win the tie had already been brushed aside. Step 6 Tavvy were 2-0 up against Step 5 Shaftesbury and were in dominant form. The home side had more chances to increase their lead and never looked in any trouble until they dropped off for the final 15 minutes of the half and allowed the visitors back into the game. The Dorset side had two good chances to pull a goal back but missed both of them.

It’s hard to tell from this picture (my photography skills still need some work) but I thought the Tavistock manager (seen here looking at his notes as a Tavvy player receives treatment for a bloody nose) was a dead-ringer for Huddersfield boss David Wagner.

The Lambs were again in total control for the first 20 minutes of the second half but missed at least three glorious chances to put the tie to bed. Then, of course, the inevitable happened. A reckless challenge on the edge of the Tavistock box handed Shaftesbury a free-kick and the ball was soon nestling in the back of the home net. Out of nothing, we had a proper cup tie on our hands.

Then something else inevitable happened. Almost every game I have watched at Langsford Park over the years has included at least one red card. I had just mentioned this to anyone around me willing to listen when a Shaftesbury tackle seemed to be followed by a retaliatory stamp and just about every player on the pitch became involved in a melee by the touchline. Surprisingly, the referee – who I thought had a decent game, an opinion somewhat at odds with many of those around me – only produced one card as a result of the contretemps, sending off a Tavvy defender.

Cue a final 20 minutes of a barrage on the home goal as the visitors suddenly believed they could get something from the game. In the end, they couldn’t. Tavistock dug in, Shaftesbury didn’t have enough guile to conjure an equaliser and, after a tense denouement, this FA Cup tale had seen Step 6 beat Step 5.

So, would it go down as a cup upset? In the end, I decided that it would. I decided that it was shock – but not a surprise!

THE STATISTICS BIT

Tavistock FC 2 Shaftesbury FC 1

(Half-time 2-0)

At Langsford Park, Tavistock, on Saturday, August 19, 2017

Emirates FA Cup Preliminary Round

Matches watched this season: 3

Home wins: 1

Away wins: 0

Draws: 2

Number of competitions watched: 2

Home goals: 6

Away goals: 5

Total goals:11

Number of shocks: 1

CONTACT

If you have any thoughts or comments about this blog, email me at thecupfootballblogger@hotmail.com; find me on Twitter via @cupfootballblog; or find me on Facebook at Peter Harlow (the cup football blogger)

PICTURES EXTRA

A few more pictures from Tavistock (red shirts) v Shaftesbury in the FA Cup.

EARLY START

AFC St Austell v Bridport FC

Action from the hard-fought Emirates FA Cup tie between AFC St Austell (in white) and Dorset visitors Bridport FC.

I WAS GOING to start this blog with a bit of a rant. I was going to bang on about how the Football Association, the FA, is doing its best to devalue and undermine the jewel in its crown, the FA Cup. It might not make masses of money like the Premier League does but it’s my belief that it is ultimately more valuable to more fans at all levels across the country.

I was going to moan about teams from the Premier League and Championship being allowed to get away with fielding under-strength teams, virtual reserve teams, almost saying that they would sooner be knocked out of the competition rather than have to bother with a cup run.

I wanted to have a go about playing the semi-finals at Wembley, which is frankly atrocious. I wanted to have a go about only having one replay and deciding that with penalties if necessary. I used to love the drama of second, third, even fourth replays. I know there is little space in today’s crowded calendar for that sort of thing but it’s still a shame it doesn’t happen any more.

And I was going to have a proper grumble about mucking about with the kick-off time of the final itself, in order, allegedly, to attract more TV viewers. It’s THE cup final, for goodness sake; it doesn’t have to worry about clashing with other events – other events have to worry about clashing with it.

Then, having finished moaning about what the FA is doing to the Cup at the top end of the competition, I was going to go on about it starting to chip away at the bottom end. It’s getting harder for teams at the lower end of the non-league pyramid to actually qualify for the competition itself and then, when they do get in, they have to play the first ties in the Extra Preliminary Round before their league season has even started.

This is the second season running the FA Cup has started before most league programmes have kicked off and I do not like it. It feels wrong.

So that’s what my rant was going to be about.

But then, on last Wednesday morning, having parked my car and started my walk to work, I started to think about the game I was going to on Saturday, the FA Cup tie at Poltair Park between St Austell and Bridport, and suddenly I was buzzing with anticipation. What could be more exciting to a cup football blogger than a match in the FA Cup tie itself? No, starting the cup this early in the season is wrong, but I loved not having to wait!

For a Cornish football fan, there was another big reason for heading to this game. It could be the only FA Cup game played in Cornwall this season. Only three teams from the Duchy – St Austell, Bodmin Town and Truro City – are in the competition this season. Bodmin were drawn away to Buckland Athletic and pulled off a bit of a shock with a 3-2 win. However, they will be away again in the next round to Hengrove Athletic so there is no guarantee Bodmin will get to play a home tie. And Truro, from the National League South, don’t come into the competition until much later in the season but there is also no way of knowing yet whether they will get a home draw, either.

No, St Austell’s Poltair Park was the place to be if you wanted to be sure of seeing FA Cup football in Cornwall this season, and there was a healthy crowd there on Saturday to make the most of the opportunity as The Lillywhites took on the higher division Bees of Bridport in a Step Six v Step Five clash.

At this point, thought, I am going to have a minor rant. I am determined to get one in somewhere.

Why did the Dorset visitors, who play in red and black, decide to switch to an all-yellow kit to play a side which plays in white shirts with black shorts? Granted, the black shorts might have clashed a bit but, honestly, all-yellow? I hate all-yellow kits. When I was a youngster in South London I used to go to watch every Millwall home game – and the away team almost invariable wore all-yellow. They all morphed into one nondescript mass of indistinguishable teams with no character of their own at all. The fact that so many of them wandered away from The Den with all the points didn’t endear me to them either!

So, Bridport, you didn’t endear yourselves to me with that particular decision. However, along with the hosts, you did make up for it by providing a full-on, hard-fought, proper cup tie. There was no pre-season feeling about this clash at all. Both teams will be better as the season goes on and they get more into gear but neither could be faulted for their commitment and determination. They were ready for this clash. They were most definitely up for the cup.

Me ref? Never touched him.

The last time I had seen St Austell in action was in the final of the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors League Cup at the end of last season – which they won. And anyone who has ever read this blog will recognise this paragraph as just an excuse to mention once more my second favourite cup competition of them all!

Right, back to my favourite cup competition of them all.

It only took 15 minutes for me to see my first FA Cup goal of the season, although it wasn’t a thing of beauty. A miscommunication in the St Austell defence saw the centre-half duck under a through ball without realising that a Bridport forward was lurking behind him. The Dorset player duly collected the ball, rounded the keeper and rolled the ball into the back of the net. Cue celebrations and recriminations. Cornwall’s cup presence was already looking a bit shaky.

Seven minutes later, Cornish hopes were back on firmer ground, although in somewhat odd circumstances. A corner from the right was quickly followed by a shrill blast on the referee’s whistle and just about everyone in the ground assumed that, as normal, the attacking side had been penalised for a push and that if was a free-kick to Bridport.

It was only when the Bees started buzzing around the ref in an angry swarm that realisation dawned all around the ground. Penalty to St Austell! Mark Goldsworthy slammed it into the top of the net and we were all-square. Game on.

Now, at this stage, I would like to mention an off-the-field incident which would have been my Cup Magic Moment if I was still doing that this season. But I am not, so it wasn’t.

There is quite a big grassy area outside the touchline on one side of Poltair Park and the ball is often cleared onto it, necessitating a bit of effort from the fans to get it back. On this particular occasion the ball almost reached the fence at the back, meaning that one adult fan had a gentle jog of about 15 or 20 metres to retrieve it. Meanwhile, the obligatory enthusiastic youngster charged towards it at speed from about 40 metres away. The man just got there first but the young boy’s desperate attempt at a sliding tackle on him at the last minute brought more than a few oohs and aahs from the crowd. If he had made a proper connection, that would have been hilarious!

Handshakes after the 1-1 FA cup draw between AFC St Austell (in white) and Bridport.

Meanwhile, back on the pitch, the second half turned into a proper end-to-end FA Cup tie, with chances for both sides. St Austell started the second 45 the stronger but Bridport should have taken the lead on 53 minutes. However, with everyone expecting the net to bulge, the ball flew wide and the score stayed level.

The Cornish hosts almost took the lead on 74 minutes but saw an effort cleared off the line while, two minutes later, cup glory should have been heading to Dorset but another golden chance went begging.

By now, both sides were sensing the likelihood of a replay and both went hell for leather to try to avoid it. They failed, meaning they were all heading back to Bridport on Wednesday night to have another go. Obviously, that will go to extra time and possibly penalties if it ends all-square after 90 minutes. Shame we won’t be seeing a second replay next weekend – I could really be up for another FA Cup tie, even if the season hasn’t started yet!

THE STATISTICS BIT

AFC St Austell 1 Bridport FC 1

(Half-time 1-1)

At Poltair Park, St Austell, on Saturday, August 5, 2017

Emirates FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round

Matches watched this season: 2

Home wins: 0

Away wins: 0

Draws: 2

Number of competitions watched: 2

Home goals: 4

Away goals: 4

Total goals: 8

Number of shocks: 0

CONTACT

If you have any thoughts or comments about this blog, email me at thecupfootballblogger@hotmail.com; find me on Twitter via @cupfootballblog; or find me on Facebook at Peter Harlow (the cup football blogger)

PICTURES EXTRA

A few more pictures from AFC St Austell v Bridport FC at Poltair Park. There is also a bit of video action on both Twitter and Facebook, again.

 

A FLYING START

Porthleven AFC v Falmouth Town

Action from Porthleven (in yellow) and Falmouth Town on a very damp July day at Gala Parc.

AS I HEADED OFF in the rain on Saturday to Porthleven’s delightful Gala Parc ground, ready for my third season of cup football blogging in and around Cornwall, I did wonder whether I might be making a bit of a false start.

Anyone who ever saw me in pre-season training will know that I am partial to a false start. The whole “ready, steady, go” rigmarole at the start of sprints was far too involved for me. I just used to go on “steady” and wait for everyone to catch me up. Which they always did. I was one of those players of whom it is often said: “He didn’t lose his pace as he got older … because he never had any to start off with.”

Two things were worrying me about this particular fixture. My first two campaigns of concentrating solely on the joys and drama of knockout football had both started with matches in the cup of cups, the FA Cup. I had been at Saltash and Bodmin for extra preliminary round games and I had planned to begin this season at St Austell on August 5 for another tie in THE cup.

This game, however, was in the Dave Gardner Memorial Trophy.

This is a pre-season tournament involving four Cornish teams for whom the eponymous footballer played – Helston, Falmouth, Penzance and Porthleven. He was, by all accounts, a popular character who died far too young and this competition, which has been running since 2005, has raised loads of money for charity in his honour.

I am not a fan of pre-season friendlies – I can understand why clubs want them but can’t understand why anyone would go to watch them – but I hoped this contest would have an extra edge as it was part of a proper tournament. Even though it wasn’t the FA Cup, I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt.

I was also worried that it wasn’t really a cup game. The tournament is basically a mini-league, with all four teams playing each other once. However, it does end with a finals day when the last two fixtures are played at one ground. Because of that – and because I really wanted to finally get to a game to get the 2017/18 season going – I decided that it did count.

It was also at Gala Parc, one of my favourite grounds in Cornwall. Even in the pouring rain it still looked delightful, although most of us eschewed the delights of the park benches on the grass bank in favour of the relative dryness of the stand on the halfway line. Welcome to a Cornish summer!

Towards the end of the first half it looked as if the rain might be relenting so, at half-time, I wandered around to the grass bank side, which is wide open to the elements, in the hope of getting some pictures with which to entertain and inform you all. However, just as the second half kicked off, the rain started to come down again and I scuttled back towards cover, stopping only to hide under a tree behind the goal to try to get some photographs of a Falmouth attack. That’s dedication to the blogging cause.

The weather meant that it was a day for watching from under cover.

Now, it has to be said, that the first half of this match was not the most entertaining I have ever seen. Scrappy is the word that best describes it. Players are often described as “rusty” as this stage of the footballing calendar and, with the rain hammering down, they looked like they were almost taking that word literally.

One of the highlights of the first 45 minutes actually came about five minutes before those 45 minutes had even started when a young spectator standing in front of me was “volunteered” by his friends to be a linesman for the day. That’s proper local football! He actually did a fair job of it, to be fair.

The other highlight was a piece of skill from Porthleven’s number seven, Dan Carne. His drag-back and turn (at least, that’s what I think it was – if I had been defending against him I would have been left standing) drew gasps and giggles from the crowd and almost resulted in the opening goal. Apparently, he did it again soon after, but I couldn’t see that one past one of the roof-support poles in front of me. I heard the gasps and giggles again though.

The first half finished goalless and, as the clock ticked around to the hour mark, I was starting to fret about nobody getting on the scoresheet all day. A pre-season game in a mini-league that ends goalless – that would leave a cup football blogger a few questions to answer.

Happily for me, the deadlock was broken on 63 minutes. Good hold-up play from a Falmouth sub who had only been on the pitch for minutes set up a chance for an oncoming team-mate, which was finished very nicely from the edge of the box. So 1-0 to the visitors and no goalless draw for me – I still haven’t seen one in two seasons and one game of watching cup football. (I am not counting Truro City v Forest Green Rovers last season. That ended 0-0 after 90 minutes but Rovers won it 1-0 with a sparking extra-time effort).

Falmouth, in the white shirts, on the attack at the start of the second half, just as the rain sent me running for cover again. (The finger in the picture shows that I was a bit rusty for this pre-season game too!)

Five minutes later, Falmouth were 2-0 up, ex-Port player Jordan Annear scoring from the penalty spot after a trip in the box, and it looked like game over. Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Premier Division side Falmouth, who play one division higher than their hosts, had been dominant and looked in total control.

But that man Carne had other ideas. A neat one-two was followed by a spectacular left-foot finish and Port were back in contention. That’s already a contender for my goal of the season – if pre-season counts for that sort of thing.

Six minutes later, it looked like game over again as Annear’s second restored Falmouth’s two-goal lead. Everyone now was just waiting to see how many they won by. Everyone, that is, apart from the Porthleven players. They scrambled a second on 82 minutes and, with a minute to go, a long cross into the box was headed home to make it 3-3.

Cue lots of celebrations among the home players, fans and officials. Pre-season friendly? Maybe, but that was a goal that really mattered to them.

And that was that. Honours shared, a point each, and six goals for a happy crowd. Even as the rain came down heavier than ever as I walked back to my car, I remember thinking to myself: “That turned out to be a cracking way to begin the season. No false start, just a perfectly timed effort.”

The FA Cup has a lot to live up to next week!

THE STATISTICS BIT

Porthleven AFC 3 Falmouth Town 3

(Half-time 0-0)

At Gala Parc, Porthleven, on Saturday, July 29, 2017

Dave Gardner Memorial Trophy group stages (well, it’s all a group, but you know what I mean)

Matches watched this season: 1

Home wins: 0

Away wins: 0

Draws: 1

Number of competitions watched: 1

Home goals: 3

Away goals: 3

Total goals: 6

Number of shocks: 0 (although I very nearly decided that this should count as one).

CONTACT

If you have any thoughts or comments about this blog, email me at thecupfootballblogger@hotmail.com; find me on Twitter via @cupfootballblog; or find me on Facebook at Peter Harlow (the cup football blogger)

PICTURES EXTRA

A couple more pictures from Porthleven v Falmouth Town at Gala Parc. There is also a bit of video action on both Twitter and Facebook. I promise to try to get better at that as the season progresses!

 

 

 

Ere Was I Ere I Saw Alba

IT is the middle of the summer (although the weather seems to have other ideas) and there’s not much going on in the world of cup football locally.

In fact, the biggest football news of my summer so far is that, while on holiday, I bought a replica away shirt for Kedah FA, of the Malaysian Super League. I didn’t know anything about them, I just liked the shirt. I now know that, at the time of writing, they are third in the league table as it prepares to resume after the Ramadan break and that they are one of the best supported teams in the country.

So, as a football fan, I now have another team’s results to worry about. Wonderful.

Since my return to dear old Blighty, I have also been reading about local teams starting to get back into pre-season training. To a man, they are looking fantastic, if they do say so themselves, have made some great signings, if they do say so themselves, and are looking forward to a great season ahead, if they do say so themselves.

Well, if you can’t be optimistic at this time of the footballing year…

Anyway, I decided that if players could indulge their passion with a bit of pre-season preparation, then so could I. So here’s a random bit of cup football blogging, just to keep my writing eye in.

In fact, the idea for it stems from a dull Sunday afternoon back in the autumn when I didn’t have anything to do. Flicking through the channels on the TV, I found BBC Alba, a channel which broadcasts in Gaelic and is aimed at a Scottish audience. And, glory of glories, they were showing live cup football. Result!

The match in question was from the Scottish Challenge Cup, which was branded as the Irn-Bru Cup, instantly putting it right up there in my list of favourite names for cup competitions. Queen of the South, from Dumfries, were at home to Northern Irish side Linfield in the last 16 and the match had certainly caught the attention of the fans of both clubs. The attendance was 2,358, at the time the second biggest crowd of the season at Palmerston Park, and it included almost 1,000 Linfield fans who had made the journey from Belfast.

The day before, Welsh side TNS had made it into the quarter-finals with victory at Forfar and I found myself warming rapidly to the idea of a tournament involving sides from various home nations. I warmed to it even more when I listened to an interview at half-time with the Linfield chairman. Fortunately, this was conducted in English as my grasp of Gaelic is non-existent. It is fun listening to the match commentator gabbling away in a language I can’t understand and then smiling as it is interspersed with cries of “Macdonald”, or “McKay” or even “Smith”.

Anyway, something the chairman said crystallised my thoughts into an idea. He said: “It is wonderful to test yourselves against teams from other national associations.” So, I thought, why couldn’t this tournament be expanded to include English teams?

It would, I believe, make a great replacement for the much-maligned Checkatrade Trophy. That, if you remember, had replaced a successful tournament for English League One and League Two teams which had seen many fans, including me, experience unexpected days out at Wembley. I had seen Millwall lose to Wigan in the final of what was then the Auto Windscreens Shield in the 1999 final at the old stadium. Yes, we lost but we still had the excitement of a day out at a Wembley cup final. Why muck about with that?

A screen grab from TV coverage of Queen of the South v Linfield in the Scottish Challenge Cup. Watching the game sparked an idea. Why not have a cup competition featuring sides from all four home nations?

Well, the powers-that-be decided to muck around it with it last season and introduced Premier League youth sides, group stages and Draconian fines for League clubs who dared not to field full-strength sides in these ties. Millwall at home to West Brom Youth in a group match – that’s how to take the glamour out of a cup competition.

As ever, the tournament did regain some of its lustre in the latter stages, and Coventry City supporters will tell you that their 2-1 victory in the final against Oxford United, in front of a crowd of more than 74,000, was the highlight of an otherwise very disappointing season.

But how many fans would have made the journey to London for a final between two Premier League youth teams? Stoke City under-21s v Swansea City Youth anyone?

Well, there have been some tweaks this season, and more of the “big” teams have entered youth sides this time around, but the competition still suffers from the same fatal flaws that it always did.

No, I have a better idea. Ditch the youth teams from both this and the Scottish Challenge Cup, amalgamate the two competitions and have it revert to a straightforward knockout contest.

So, how would this work? Sadly, I have taken the time to work it out.

From England, there would be the 48 teams from Leagues One and Two. In Round One, there would be 16 ties, involving all 24 teams from League Two and eight drawn at random from League One. The winners of these ties and the 16 teams who had byes in the first round would then meet in Round Two, with the 16 successful sides going through to Round Three – where things start to get a bit more international.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, the 30 teams that make up the Championship and Leagues One and Two would compete in Round One, with 14 ties and two byes. Those 16 winners would then meet in Round Two, leaving eight teams to go through to Round Three.

In Wales, there are 12 teams in the Premier League. In Round One, there would be four matches and four byes, the eight winners would contest Round Two, leaving four teams to go through to Round Three. Northern Ireland, which also has 12 teams in its top division, would follow the same pattern.

Overall, that would leave the competition with 32 teams, 16 from England, eight from Scotland and four each from Wales and Northern Ireland. At this stage, the draw would be set up so that half the English teams are at home to Scottish/Welsh/Irish opposition and half would be away.

From the final 16 onwards, it would be an open draw and the final could still be played at Wembley – with possible options at Hampden or the Cardiff if needed.

I also think the games should be played on a Saturday afternoon, with more league games scheduled for midweek to make the extra dates available. I honestly believe an awful lot of fans would love this sort of  set-up.

Just think of it. Plymouth Argyle v Linfield; TNS v Blackburn Rovers; Inverness Caledonian Thistle v Portsmouth; Exeter City v Berwick Rangers. What’s not to like? It’s got to be better than Luton v Reading under-21s in front of Tuesday night crowd that is so low that no official figures are released for it.

And it would make the tournament about the fans, not just match practice for over-rich Premier League youngsters. It’s time to give fans of lower league clubs their cup back. The campaign starts here.

FOOTNOTE: Incidentally, the Queen of the South v Linfield tie ended 0-0 after 90 minutes, with the Scottish side going on to win 2-0 after extra time. It was a decent game. Dundee United were the winners of the competition overall, beating St Mirren 2-1 at Motherwell’s Fir Park in front of 8,000 paying spectators.

My new Kedah FA away shirt. It’s time to get more acquainted with the Malaysian Super League!