Back At The Beginning

Sticker AFC 3 Penryn Athletic 1

The Durning Lawrence Charity Cup Final

Played at Godolphin Way, Newquay, the home of Godolphin Atlantic FC.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Cup Magic Moment: Jack Bowyer’s lob for Sticker’s third goal. Real quality.

It’s there! Joel Cockings races away to celebrate, pursued by his team-mates, after putting Sticker 1-0 up in the second minute of their Durning Lawrence Cornwall Charity Cup final against Penryn Athletic at the Godolphin Way home of Godolphin Atlantic, in Newquay.

TWO years ago, I went to my first Cornish cup final. Having not long moved to Penryn, I decided to go along to the Charity Cup final to see the team from my new hometown take on St Dennis.

And, not long after the final whistle, this blog was born.

You see, the boys from Penryn had travelled to the final at Treyew Road, the home of Truro City, with high hopes after a decent season in the league but, despite playing the best football for large parts of the game, they were beaten by a more decisive St Dennis side.

As the teams waited for the presentation of the cup and the medals, I looked at the expressions on the faces of the players. St Dennis, naturally, were jubilant. They were wreathed in smiles and were dancing around, the energy of success bursting from every pore of their being.

Penryn, on the other hand, were exhausted, shocked and dismayed. They all looked as if they would rather be anywhere else than sitting on the grass, watching their conquerors start to party.

Those looks on the players’ faces – the joy and the misery – crystallised something in my mind that I had always thought but never quite so clearly: cup football is the heart of the game, it really matters, it is the purest form of football.

You don’t have to be the best side, you just have to win. Pundits and media types might go to games in order to wax lyrical about formations and flicks and artistic fulfilment but fans know what football is really about – winning. Sure, lovely football and glorious goals are a joy to any spectator, but the beautiful game is a whole lot more beautiful when your team wins.

And in cup games you get an instant reward for your success – either a place in the next round or a trophy. For the loser, there is no second chance, no shot at redemption in the next game. Defeated is defeated. You are out of the competition.

No blog about a cup final would be complete without the obligatory picture of the delighted winners, even if the photo is a bit fuzzy around the edges! So here are Sticker celebrating their Durning Lawrence Cornwall Charity Cup win over Penryn.

So, why would someone like me who goes to most games in Cornwall as a neutral, become so fixated with knockout football? Because it is more exciting than just another league game, because someone has to score to win, because teams do throw caution to the wind. Because, all in all, it is a better spectacle. In two seasons and almost 70 games I have only seen one goalless draw – teams have to go for it at some stage if they want to progress.

And, to be fair, that 0-0 was probably the highest quality of football I have seen in Cornwall as Truro City held Forest Green Rovers (a Football League team for next season, remember) in a Treyew Road cracker. And the evening didn’t finish without a goal as it went to extra time and was settled by an absolutely glorious long-range strike from the high-flying visitors.

So, when Penryn found themselves in the Cornwall Charity Cup final for the second time in three years, it seemed the perfect way for me to finish off the second season of my cup football odyssey by watching them take on Sticker at the Newquay home of Godolphin Atlantic. Part of me would be the neutral blogger and part of me would be a fan. I wanted to see Penryn win.

Now, that’s nothing against Sticker, which is a super little club that is on the up and up. They cruised to the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Division One West title, losing just once and winning 29 of their 34 league games, always try to play good football and are always welcoming and friendly. I like them a lot – but still wanted Penryn to win.

I had seen Sticker almost lose earlier on in this competition but they showed great resilience to finally overcome a battling St Dennis side 4-3 in the quarter-final and they were big favourites to complete a trophy double against a Penryn side who had finished fifth in the same division.

So, could Penryn upset the form book, could they add winners’ medals to the losers’ ones they had collected two seasons ago? Could they make it a night to remember for those of us who wanted them to pull off a proper cup shock?

The final kicked off at 7.30pm. By 7.35pm, they were 2-0 down.

The linesman – sorry, assistant referee – keeps a close eye on the action between Sticker (in yellow) and Penryn in the Durning Lawrence Cornwall Charity Cup final at Godolphin Atlantic.

The first goal came inside two minutes and, by then, there had already been a delay in the action as Sticker had to move a Cornwall FA banner in order to be able to take a corner! When they finally did take it, Penryn made a right royal hash of clearing it and The Sticky’s Joel Cockings turned the ball in for the opener.

OK, the main thing for Penryn now was to stay calm and not get overwhelmed. In the fifth minute, they gave away a penalty for handball.

It was a controversial decision and Penryn complained about it long and hard. For what it’s worth, I think it probably wasn’t handball but the player had moved his shoulder and body towards the ball, giving the ref a decision to make. It was another clumsy bit of defending and they paid the ultimate football price as the penalty was calmly converted.

What would Penryn’s tactics be now? How would they try to get back into the game? Well, by trying to get the match abandoned due to a lack of footballs seemed to be their choice. Godolphin Way is a ground which is improving all the time but it is completely hemmed in by houses and, time and again, Penryn’s clearances flew into neighbouring gardens.

So hemmed in is it that, when I took a photo or two, my phone wanted to tag me as being at Tregarthen Guesthouse. For a man who has told his wife he is going to the football, that could all end up in a bit of an unfortunate misunderstanding!

The missing balls didn’t seem too much of a problem originally as the first couple to find their way out of the ground were quickly retrieved and returned. But then more and more balls disappeared and, as some youngsters climbed a fence to try to get them back, came the cry that all boys who have ever played football in the street will know all about: “Get out of my garden!” We were not getting our ball back.

The latter stages of the Durning Lawrence Charity Cup final at Godolphin Way were not just floodlit, they were also moonlit.

This went from being humorous to being concerning and then a bit embarrassing as play eventually ground to a halt for a good two or three minutes. Thankfully, a supply of footballs was secured, some were retrieved and we managed to get through the rest of the game without any more major worries. It would have been the most unusual abandonment of a cup final you could imagine – although one of our street games about 45 years ago was ended in sudden style when a wayward shot smashed the milk bottles on the doorstep of the most miserable neighbour on our street and we all scattered. It was probably the only game we ever played in which the final whistle wasn’t one of the players’ mums loudly announcing: “Get in here now, your tea is ready.”

Thirty-three minutes into this final, many in the 200-plus crowd would have been wondering about going home for their own tea as Sticker’s prolific forward Jack Bowyer had put the favourites 3-0 up by then with an absolutely sublime lob over stranded Penryn keeper Chris Symons. This was my last cup game of the season and that was a stunning way to mark it. Great goal.

Penryn did play better after the break as they finally found their feet in the game and started to find one another’s feet with some neat passing. They duly pulled a goal back midway through the half and tried to apply more and more pressure, but Sticker always looked dangerous on the break and, in truth, the result was never much in doubt.

So, once again, it was the boys from my hometown who were left with long faces and losers’ medals while Sticker, who had had much to celebrate already this season, were heading for another trophy-winning party. Once again, the joy and dismay was there for all to see. Cup football, even when I lose, I love it.

And Sticker won’t be in this competition next season as their promotion takes them too high in the pyramid to enter – maybe it will be third time lucky for the boys from Penryn? If it is, I aim to be there to see it.

FOOTNOTE 1: The Durning Lawrence Charity Cup raises money for a good cause in Cornwall each season. For 2016-17, the beneficiary was FLEET – which stands for Front Line Emergency Equipment. The group helps to raise money for defibrillators, one of which has been donated to Cornwall FA for use at grounds around The Duchy.

FOOTNOTE 2: If you have any thoughts or comments about this blog, email me on thecupfootballblogger@hotmail.com, find me on Twitter via @cupfootballblog, or search for “Peter Harlow” on Facebook. There are two of me on there – for football-related stuff you want the one with the hat.

The crowd and team officials keep a close eye on the action in the Durning Lawrence Cornwall Charity Cup final between Penryn ( in red) and Sticker.
Sportsmanship from Cornwall Charity Cup winners Sticker as they applaud the Penryn players as they collect their runners-up medals.
Sticker, runaway champions of the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Division One West title this season, added to their trophy collection by lifting the Durning Lawrence Cornwall Charity Cup with a 3-1 win over Penryn Athletic.

Lording It

St Austell 1 Exmouth Town 0

Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors League Cup final

Played at Lords Meadow, Crediton United

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Cup Magic Moment: Finding out when I got home that Walter C Parson Funeral Directors had renewed their sponsorship of the league cup until 2020. The best name in cup football will continue!

St Austell with the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors League Cup trophy after their 1-0 win over Exmouth Town at the Lords Meadow home of Crediton United.

WHEN I first moved to the South West, just over a decade ago, Crediton United on a Monday night was a fairly regular destination for my football fix.

I lived in Okehampton and so followed the fortunes of Okehampton Argyle in the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Division One East (they have now slipped into the Devon & Exeter League, sadly) but there were no floodlights at Simmons Park so, in midweek, I had to look around for a game.

Tavistock, who have just been crowned as Peninsula League champions, had lights, as did Launceston and Bodmin if I fancied crossing the Tamar for a match. But the nearest team to my home was Crediton United and so their Lords Meadow ground became a familiar haunt for me.

Sometimes it was cold and wet, sometimes it was cold and frosty, sometimes it was cold and foggy. In fact, it was once so foggy that the game was abandoned at half-time when the far side of the pitch finally disappeared. Occasionally, very occasionally, the weather was passable and, on a rare Saturday afternoon outing, the sun actually shone. On that day, I managed to get an already-booked home player to realise that, if he kept loudly mouthing his forceful opinions, he would get sent off.

As he started another tirade about the antics of a particular opposition player, I shouted at him to shut up or he’d get booked again and sent off. He turned to me and shouted back: “He’s effing winding me up.” I pointed out that that was probably what he was trying to do. I watched the penny drop, ever so slowly, and he finally went quiet. He had a good game after that. I took all the credit.

The officials and the teams walk out on to the Lords Meadow pitch in Crediton for the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors League Cup final

Lords Meadow, as well as being in a marshy area and attracting unusually horrible weather, is also on the edge of an industrial estate and always felt a bit dark and gloomy. It didn’t ever feel like a cup final venue and I was surprised when the cup competition with the best name in football, the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors League Cup, decided to stage its 2017 final there.

I wasn’t the only one.

When you get a Cornish team and a Devonian one meeting in the final, there’s always going to be a bit of a row over where it is going to be played and it was certainly a much longer trip for St Austell than for Exmouth Town – 71.5 miles as against 25.3 miles, if Google is to be believed. All in all, it felt like a strange place to have a cup final.

I was wrong.

Lords Meadow looked absolutely resplendent. The trees around the ground were beautifully green, the pitch looked in tip-top condition, if a bit bumpy, and the goal nets looked as if they been newly washed in Daz. They were whiter than white. Even the sun was shining. It looked like a proper cup final day and venue. Drink had also been taken in some parts, livening up proceedings, and there was a generally an excited and exciting atmosphere. Crediton was doing itself proud.

When the game kicked off at a fantastically frantic pace it looked as if the unexpectedly excellent venue might have a suitably excellent final. There were six corners in the first five minutes, three to Cornwall and then three to Devon, which had the statistically-minded wondering what the world record for flag-kicks in one match was – well, I wondered anyway.

Celebrations for St Austell’s players and supporters after Martin Watts put them ahead with a free-kick midway through the first half. It proved to be the winner.

But the one set-piece which really mattered in the end came in the 21st minute and was a free-kick not a corner kick. St Austell left-back Martin Watts has a powerful left foot and, when he lined up a free-kick from about 30 yards, the Exmouth alarm bells were ringing. The shot, however, looked more speculative than powerful but it was still too much for the Town keeper and ended up nestling in the net.

Cue Cornish celebrations and Devonian despair.

For Exmouth, it must have all begun to feel horribly familiar. Just five days before, they had taken part in another cup final, this time in the Devon St Lukes Bowl, the county’s premier cup competition. They were beaten 3-1 by Tiverton Town. Now they were trailing again. How would they respond?

Well, not too bad for the remainder of the first half. The game was pretty even and there were chances at either end but, as a neutral, you would have to say that St Austell were still just edging it. Then, at half-time, there was a big decision for me to make – should I go to the clubhouse for a beer or not?

In all my visits to Lords Meadow, I had never set foot inside the clubhouse. It is out of the ground on the other side of a fenced-off five-a-side court and, when we used to go there in the evening, it was along a poorly lit path. It just wasn’t worth the effort. This time, though, I was determined to try.

But I was in a good position near the halfway line, there was an outstanding cup final attendance of 334, and the queue for the bar might have been a long one. Nah, I couldn’t be bothered this time either. I promise I will go there on my next visit. Probably.

Crediton United’s Lords Meadow looking resplendent for the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors League Cup final between St Austell and Exmouth Town.

The second half was a tense affair but the football failed to hit any great heights. St Austell had an effort disallowed for offside soon after the break and Exmouth missed a good chance as they tried to work up a head of steam to get back into the game.

Yet the Devon side looked tired and struggled to get going; the Cornish club were generally able to keep them at arm’s length. There was a scare for St Austell 10 minutes from time when an Exmouth corner clipped the top of the crossbar and, five minutes into injury time, the Lillywhites’ keeper was stretched properly for the one and only time when he clawed away a header that was heading for the top corner.

But that was all Exmouth could muster and the best-named trophy in local football was heading back down the A30 and over the Tamar to a deserving St Austell team.

Ok, sing along now: Championes, championes, ole, ole, ole!

Action from the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors League Cup final between St Austell (in white) and Exmouth Town.
What it is all about. The Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors League Cup trophy.
Everyone wants a picture of the winners.
Crediton United’s Lords Meadow looking resplendent for the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors League Cup final between St Austell and Exmouth Town.

FOOTNOTE: If you have any comments about this blog, email me at thecupfootballblogger@hotmail.com, find me on Twitter via @cupfootballblog, or search for Peter Harlow on Facebook. There are two of me on there. For football-related matters, you want the one with the hat.

Saints And Winners

St Ives 2 Ludgvan 1

LWC Drinks Cornwall Combination League Cup Final

Played at Trevassack Park, the home of Hayle FC

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Cup Magic Moment: A gorgeous day for a cup final, a cracking game and a good crowd. What’s not to like?

Championes!! Cornwall Combination League Cup winners St Ives pose for the obligatory post-match pictures after their cup final victory over Ludgvan.

GETTING to a new ground is always a bit of an adventure. Do I have the right address? Are the directions good enough? Will it be easy to find? Have I left enough time to get there, allowing for any mistakes in navigation? Have I left too much time so that I could end up getting there hours before kick-off and have to wander around looking like a numpty, pretending that I always meant to get there early to have a good look around?

And will there be anywhere to park? Oh yes, parking.

Trevassack Park, the home of Hayle FC, was one of those Cornish grounds I had always meant to visit but somehow had never managed. The occasion of the Combination League Cup seemed the ideal opportunity to rectify that omission.

And it looked set to be a belter of a game too, between two of the Combination’s high-flyers. At the time of the cup final, Ludgvan were second in the table, having won the league title the previous season, while St Ives were sitting in a handy fourth. The sides had drawn 0-0 two weeks before, with Ludgvan edging their previous league encounter 3-2. Nothing between them.

So, well worth taking on the challenge of getting there then.

The journey itself went smoothly and my timing was looking to be perfect. But then came the parking bit.

While looking out for the ground when I knew I must be close, out of the corner of my eye I saw a sign bearing the legend “Cup final parking” with an arrow pointing to my right. It appeared to be pointing to a hole in a roadside hedge.

“Must mean the next turning,” I told myself and so continued on my merry way.

Well, you know that feeling you get when you know you’ve gone wrong but can’t quite work out where? That was me. So I turned round in a country lane and headed back again. This time, just before seeing the sign again, I saw the ground. Ahhh. At least I was in the right place – but the sign still seemed to point to a footpath through the hedge. So I went past it for a second time, this time heading in the other direction, and pulled up in a gravelly layby about 50 metres later.

I walked back to the hole, peered through the hedge and, lo and behold, there was an entrance just wide enough to drive through, another football pitch, a building site and a couple of parked cars in the field. I had solved the parking conundrum. Hooray!

 

The sign I should have believed. The horse didn’t go to the game, just so you know.
The hole in the hedge that did lead to the parking for the Combination League Cup final. It looks wider in this picture than it did from my car!

Ten minutes later, having queued up to pay my £4 entrance fee (which included a superb programme), I was in the ground and taking in the sights and sounds of a glorious cup final day. It was proper cup final weather, too, with the sun shining and the newly cut pitch looking in tip-top condition, while there was also a lovely buzz of excited conversation as fans and families sat at the wooden tables outside the clubhouse, drinking, eating and chatting away.

It felt like a traditional Cornish fair day – all fun and frolics but with the added bonus of football. Perfect.

Now, a cup football blogger is supposed to remain determinedly neutral on matchday but I must admit leaning towards wanting a Ludgvan victory as kick-off neared. There were a couple of reasons for this.

Firstly, I had seen them take Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Premier Division big shots Bodmin all the way in a Cornwall Senior Cup tie earlier in the season, finally going down on penalties. Ludgvan play two steps below Bodmin in the pyramid and a victory for them would have been one of the biggest cup shocks in Cornish football for many a long year.

I loved Ludgvan’s style and spirit and instantly had a soft spot for them.

On the other hand, I don’t like St Ives.

By that, I mean the town not the football team, but I was holding that against them. St Ives is a proper tourist hotspot and is manic in the high season. My wife once made me drive through crowds and crowds of people along the quayside because she thought she had seen a parking space. I nearly killed several people and the whole thing was exhausting. And there was no parking space. I have forgiven my wife but not the town!

Lots of Cornish people are a bit offhand about St Ives because it is so full of tourists. I don’t mind that. I just don’t like the attitude of the town itself. I think it’s a bit sniffy, a bit too up-its-own-bum arty, and the road signs saying “Residents Only” have a sort of “Visitors Sod Off” feel about them. Beauty, they say, is only skin deep and, pretty as it is, that’s certainly what I feel about St Ives. We don’t get along.

Action from the Cornwall Combination Cup final between St Ives (in black and blue) and Ludgvan, held at Hayle’s Trevassack Park ground.

So that’s why I was quietly rooting for the Ludgvan boys as the teams came on to the pitch for this cup final. They were led out by a very young officiating team who went on to have a superb game between them. So, here and now, I’d like to say thank you and well done to Matthew Carney, Oliver Ingall, Elliott Green and fourth official Liam Mankee. I thought you were all stars.

My only complaint was their kit. True, it was the traditional all-black, but it clashed horribly with the St Ives strip, which was black and blue at the front and virtually all black on the back. Another reason not to like the St Ives!

However, once the game kicked off, I began to slowly change my opinion of the Saints team. They started well, tried to play some neat football and defended well against the more direct and powerful approach from Ludgvan. This was going to be interesting.

As the half wore on, though, the canary-coloured kits of Ludgvan – no mistaking them for referees – came forward more and more and they started to exert some control. It was no surprise when they finally took the lead six minutes before half-time when a free-kick from the right was eventually touched in for the opener. It had been coming.

It was a different story after the break. St Ives were the now the better team and pushed and pushed for the equaliser, without making that final breakthrough. They almost paid the price when Ludgvan hit the post in a rare attack. A second goal then would have killed off the cup final.

The excellent cup final programme.

But, just when it felt as if St Ives wouldn’t get the goal their football deserved, they were awarded a free-kick about 10 yards out but close to the left-hand touchline. A sub who had come on a few minutes before was given the responsibility of taking it and, with a bit of assistance from a strong breeze blowing in his side’s favour, curled in the leveller. Eight minutes to go and it was definitely game on now.

Who would have the desire and determination to find a winner? Would we get the drama of extra time? Would I see Ludgvan in a second penalty shoot-out of the season? The answers to those questions turned out to be 1) yes, St Ives, 2) no and 3) no again.

With just two minutes to go, the same St Ives sub who had curled home the equaliser, cracked home an absolute pearler from the edge of the box to seal the victory and the trophy for St Ives. It was a goal worthy of winning any cup tie and a fabulous way to finish a final.

The final whistle led to the normal scenes of jubilation and despair, medals being presented, wasted champagne being sprayed everywhere, dozens of people milling about on the pitch taking pictures, and the first tuneless rendition of the by now traditional “championes” chant from the winners. I love all of that.

I felt sorry for Ludgvan but, a few weeks later, they were able to console themselves by securing second spot in the league, thus securing their much-wanted promotion to Division One West of the Peninsula League.

As for St Ives, I grew to really like them. I liked the way they tried to play tidy football throughout, I liked the way they defended stoutly when they needed to, and I enjoyed their positive attitude throughout the 90 minutes.

Yes, I now liked St Ives, the football team.

Not the town, though, not the town. The parking is a nightmare.

A glorious day for a cup final. The scene at Hayle’s Trevassack Park ground before the start of the Combination League Cup final between St Ives Town and Ludgvan.
Action from the Cornwall Combination Cup final between St Ives (in black and blue) and Ludgvan, held at Hayle’s Trevassack Park ground.
Celebration time for St Ives after their Cornwall Combination League Cup final victory over Ludgvan.
There was a good turnout for the Combination League Cup final between Ludgvan and St Ives.
The young officials, who did a superb job, collect their medals.

FOOTNOTE: If you have any thoughts or comments about this blog, email me on thecupfootballblogger@hotmail.com, find me on Twitter via @cupfootballblog or search on Facebook for Peter Harlow. There are two of me on there – you want the one with the hat.

 

Fantastic Final Four

North Petherwin 4 St Dennis Seconds 5

KMD Developments Duchy League Knockout Cup Semi-Final

Played at Bodieve Park, Wadebridge.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Cup Magic Moment: Goals galore in a thrilling cup clash on a gorgeous Cornish evening.

Action from the KMD Developments Duchy League Knockout Cup Semi-Final between North Petherwin (in black and white) and St Dennis Seconds. The game was played at Bodieve Park, Wadebridge.

I DO LIKE a good cup semi-final – and this one was an absolute belter, with nine goals, a battling comeback and a late winner, all played at a neutral venue on a glorious Cornish evening. Spectacular.

This particular cup competition has been a good friend to me this season. This was the third match I had seen it and those games have now totalled 24 goals! In a December downpour I saw Gerrans & St Mawes hammer Biscovey 6-2 and then, in a full-on February football fiesta, I enjoyed Foxhole Stars’ 4-3 comeback victory over Torpoint Athletic Thirds. No boring nil-nils here.

The Duchy League is the home of junior football in the eastern half of Cornwall. North Petherwin are in the top flight while, at the time of this match, St Dennis were fourth in the second tier, but with loads of games in hand on those above them. (At the time of writing, they are top of the league with 17 wins from 19 games and heading for the title).

These two teams were always going to be evenly matched and, for once, expectations raised were expectations met – although it didn’t look like that early on. It seemed as if the big occasion had got to the Petherwin boys as they started terribly and were 3-0 down inside the first 16 minutes.

Maybe it was the fact that the match was being played at a neutral venue that made them start so slowly. I love cup games played on neutral grounds – the setting makes everyone involved feel just how important and special the game is; it’s not just another run-of-the-mill 90 minutes; it’s different; it really matters. And it can make teams really nervous.

Semi-finals are more nerve-racking than finals. If you reach the final, even if you lose, the players and the fans have had a day out, have had the spine-tingling excitement of the build-up, have revelled in the sense of occasion. There are medals all-round, a trophy if your side wins, and memories made. You can’t beat a cup final.

But if you lose in the final four, you get none of that. You just get a sense of what might have been. The cliché about losing in the semi-finals is being so near and yet so far, and it survives as a phrase because it sums things up perfectly.

My own football career never really hit any dizzy heights – despite my own opinion of my own prowess – but I did once score in a major cup semi-final. It was for Applegarth against West Thornton in the Croydon Borough Primary Schools Cup, almost 45 years ago. That should have been a step on the way to a cup final at Selhurst Park against our big rivals Gilbert Scott, but it wasn’t. We somehow managed to lose 4-2 in extra time and missed out on our big day.

As some sort of punishment, we were made to go along to the final at the home of Crystal Palace to watch our conquerors get thumped, as we suspected that they would. If you remember Jim Bowen’s darts-based quiz Bullseye, back in the days when there were only three TV channels, there was a catchphrase when the top prize – such as a speedboat or a caravan – was revealed to those who had fallen at the final hurdle: “Look what you could have won.” That’s how it felt on that dismal day at Selhurst Park.

It was a harsh lesson for an 11-year-old but one that I took to heart. I vowed never to lose in a semi-final again. Sadly, I never played for a side that got that far in a cup competition again, but the hurt still lives on inside. Oh, it still hurts.

Action from the KMD Developments Duchy League Knockout Cup Semi-Final between North Petherwin (in black and white) and St Dennis Seconds. The game was played at Bodieve Park, Wadebridge.

That semi-final, as a semi-final should be, was played on a neutral ground, a vital ingredient of knockout football that seems to be lost on the English FA. Yes, technically-speaking, Wembley is a neutral venue, but it is the home of the final, not the semis. They used to be played at the likes of Old Trafford or Highbury or Villa Park and part of the fun of them was the inevitable argument about the chosen ground being closer to one of the participating teams than the other, and which team’s fans should have which end or the bigger ticket allocation. That was all fun grist to the FA Cup mill.

The Hillsborough disaster obviously cast a dark, dark shadow over that final four tradition but the FA’s decision to hold the semis at Wembley was more about finance than fans. Ask most football supporters and I strongly suspect that they would prefer a move back to the old ways. We now have even more stadia that would be suitable to host such big games so a step back to the future would be a safe option and bring a little bit more magic back to the biggest cup competition in the world.

It’s not going to happen, but I can dream…

Anyway, back to the KMD Developments Duchy League Cup. At least they had the sense to use a neutral venue for this last four tie, the Bodieve Park home of Wadebridge Town FC. Proper job.

Early on, though, it looked like it was going to be a proper demolition job rather than a cup classic. St Dennis scored two almost identical goals in the first 11 minutes, both lobs over the keeper, and added a third on 16 minutes despite Petherwin’s furious protests about offside.

It was beginning to look as if even the tiny £2 entrance fee (which included a very informative one-sheet programme) might have been a waste of money as a rout loomed. But North Petherwin regathered their collective thoughts, kept trying to play some neat football and almost pulled a goal back on 21 minutes when a free-kick thumped the bar. I wrote in my notebook at that stage: “Can they stage a comeback?” and, within seven minutes, they had pulled a goal back with a fine individual effort.

Reading the programme notes at half-time, it said that North Petherwin had had an inconsistent season. Well, that was borne out by them having a very inconsistent 45 minutes – and that continued in the second half.

Action from the KMD Developments Duchy League Knockout Cup Semi-Final between North Petherwin (in black and white) and St Dennis Seconds. The game was played at Bodieve Park, Wadebridge.

Seven minutes after the break, we were all wondering what they would produce next as they pulled back a second goal and then, with 55 minutes gone, they were all square when a free-kick found its way through. This sensational clash was proving impossible to predict.

Three minutes after that, we had yet another goal. This time it was St Dennis showing their resilience by retaking the lead, the North Petherwin keeper being beaten to a ball on the edge of the box as the forward slotted home. 4-3 to St Dennis. Are you keeping up?

After 79 minutes, it looked as if extra-time was on the menu as North Petherwin levelled again, this time from the penalty spot. 4-4. I was loving this.

Then, with eight minutes to go, came the final twist of this serpentine tale. The ball was heading for the North Petherwin byline and a defender was doing his very best to shepherd it out of play while under increasing pressure from a St Dennis attacker. The attacker won the battle, slid the ball across the six-yard box and a team-mate was left with a tap-in to make it 5-4.

And that was that. The fun was over, North Petherwin’s cup run was over and St Dennis’s players and supporters were simply over the moon. They, after all, had a cup final to look forward to. For the losers, it truly was a case of so near and yet so far. And for the neutral at the neutral venue, it was a case of £2 very well spent and more cup memories made. It was a proper proper job after all.

Action from the KMD Developments Duchy League Knockout Cup Semi-Final between North Petherwin (in black and white) and St Dennis Seconds. The game was played at Bodieve Park, Wadebridge.
Action from the KMD Developments Duchy League Knockout Cup Semi-Final between North Petherwin (in black and white) and St Dennis Seconds. The game was played at Bodieve Park, Wadebridge.

If you have any comments about this blog, email me on thecupfootballblogger@hotmail.com, find me on Twitter via @cupfootballblog, or search for “Peter Harlow” on Facebook. There are two of me on there, you want the one with the hat.

 

Super Sunday

Bridgerule 0 Altarnun 2

The Launceston Cup Quarter-Final

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Cup Magic Moment: Thinking I was late for kick-off but, on turning into the village, seeing the pitch and the teams still warming up. I was on time!

GOAL!! The Altarnun number four turns to celebrate as the ball nestles in the back of the Bridgerule net. That made it 2-0 and more or less ended any hope the home side had of making a comeback in this Launceston Cup Quarter-Final.

WHAT better way to spend a glorious early spring afternoon in a bucolic part of England than watching a keenly contested cup tie between two determined teams, with the sun burning brightly and the football flowing nicely? Add in the fact that it was a last-eight clash in a competition I hadn’t even heard of until a few months ago, and you have everything a cup football blogger could need.

What I didn’t need, however, was the fraught journey I had to travel the 60-odd miles from my home in south Cornwall to beautiful Bridgerule, just over the border in north Devon. Roadworks, trucks, tractors and not knowing exactly where I was going made the drive along the Atlantic Highway irritating rather than enjoyable.

It didn’t help that I didn’t know when kick-off would be either. I had had two emails, one from a cup official and one from a club official, stating that it would start at 2pm on one and 2.30pm on another. This being junior football, it actually started at 2.15pm!

That suited me, though, as I arrived at Vinnicombe Park at about five minutes past two.

As I drove down the hill into the village I could see the pitch laid out before me, just by the River Tamar, and I could also see that the players were still warming up. I was in time for kick-off. Result!

The Launceston Cup had attracted my attention earlier in the season but, when I got to my intended game at Halwill, the match was off. With my struggles to get to Sunday’s tie, I was beginning to think I was jinxed with this competition.

So what is it, what is the Launceston Cup? Well, if you Google it, you might end up finding yourself reading about a horse race in Tasmania with a prize fund of 200,000 Australian dollars. That’s not the cup you want – I don’t think the prize fund for the footballers is quite as generous!

No, this Launceston Cup, is a knock-out tournament for junior clubs based near to the eponymous Cornish town, with entrants coming from both sides of the Cornwall-Devon border. In fact, at one stage on my trip to the game I reached a T-junction where, if you turned left, there was a sign saying “Welcome to Devon” and, if you turned right, there was one saying “Welcome to Cornwall”. Which begged the question – where the hell was I?

Action from the Launceston Cup quarter-final at Vinnicombe Park between Bridgerule (in yellow) and Altarnun.

The contest has an excellent website attached to it – www.launceston-cup.co.uk – which informs me that this competition I had never heard of has been going for well over 100 years. You live and learn, eh?

It’s worth visiting the site and reading the history of the cup for yourself but there is one part I can’t resist reproducing here. It says: “Newspaper archives can definitely trace the competition back to 1907 when an AGM is reported and the competition was won by the Boys of England Football Club. The Boys of England FC had taken over from Launceston Football Club (the town’s senior team) after they had disbanded in 1906 due to the club’s ground being closed down by the Cornwall County FA after the unruly behaviour of spectators during a match against Torpoint when a player named Ted Chambers had been sent off.”

Who said crowd trouble was a modern phenomenon?

There certainly wasn’t anything resembling trouble at Bridgerule on Sunday. This cup tie was competitive and determined but was played in an excellent spirit throughout, even as the home side got a bit irritated with themselves as the game wore on. “Bridge” are top of the North Devon Gazette Football League Intermediate Division Two with 16 wins from 20 games and a goal difference of plus 73 and would have thought themselves favourites for this game.

Altarnun, on the other hand, are bottom of Duchy League Division One, with just two wins from 20 league games. They didn’t play like a struggling side, though. In fact, there was not much to choose between the teams for the entire game. I shall leave you to draw your own conclusions about the relative merits of the two leagues – I certainly had no idea how the standards would compare.

Luckily for the neutrals in the crowd (that was me, then) the closeness in levels made for a thoroughly entertaining day out. The first half was close and competitive and, although not of the highest standard, it was thoroughly watchable. It was also goalless. The better chances probably fell to the visitors but the hosts always looked dangerous up front. I relaxed and enjoyed it – it was well worth the fraught journey up.

My fears of seeing my first 0-0 draw in two seasons were ended just four minutes into the second half. A neat little move opened up the Bridge defence, the goalkeeper failed to deal with the ball into the box, and Altarnun were left with a tap-in to take the lead.

Goalmouth action from the Launceston Cup quarter-final at Vinnicombe Park between Bridgerule (in yellow) and Altarnun.

Maybe the home side had needed a longer half-time break than the five minutes we had. No messing about with wandering back to dressing rooms for an in-depth tactical discussion and some energy drinks here. Just a quick turnaround and get on with it – as it should be.

The loud opinion of many of the Bridgerule supporters was that the team was “too quiet”, perhaps as a result of this game being played on a Sunday after the Saturday night before. Whatever the reason, the players soon picked up on it and started telling each other they were too quiet. In fact, they said it so many times that it drowned out anything else.

There were plenty of smiles and laughter from the Altarnun side, though, as they thoroughly enjoyed their day out in Devon. Bridgerule is split in two by the River Tamar but, hereabouts, that’s the not the border between the two counties – or what many in the far west would call Cornwall and England. Even the pub in the village, the Bridge Inn, bills itself as the only hostelry west of the Tamar that’s still in Devon. Those sort of things matter in this part of the world.

What matters in any part of the world is whether the pub is open or not. At one stage, an Altarnun forward went down after shooting over the bar but there was little sympathy for his turned-ankle agony apart from a cry of: “Oh, just get him a bleeping beer.” He wouldn’t have had much luck, though, as the pub was shut when I tried to get some refreshment after the match. That almost took the shine off the day.

What took the shine off the day for the home side was their inability to get back into the game. They dominated possession for much of the second half but never really created many clear-cut chances. Their fate was sealed ten minutes from time when an Altarnun forward twisted and turned in the box before sliding the ball into the far corner of the net. It was a very neat finish and finished off Bridgerule.

Despite the fact that I couldn’t finish my day off with a nice pint by the river, it had been a beautiful day out in a beautiful part of Devon, followed by a beautiful, fraught-free drive back home to Cornwall. And I had added another competition to my cup collection. As I said, what better way to spend a sunny Sunday? Loved it.

Looking from one end of Vinnicombe Park, Bridgerule, to the other on a glorious sunny Sunday.
Action from the Launceston Cup quarter-final at Vinnicombe Park between Bridgerule (in yellow) and Altarnun.
Looking along the touchline at Bridgerule’s Vinnicombe Park ground.
This effort from Bridgerule (in yellow) goes high over the bar in their Launceston Cup clash with Altarnun. It was a pretty rural setting for a game of football, I think you’d agree.
Altarnun, in red, on the attack against Bridgerule in their Launceston Cup game in north Devon.
What happened next? Well, the Altarnun number four managed to twist, turn and smuggle the ball in for his side’s second goal in their 2-0 win over Bridgerule in the Launceston Cup.

FOOTNOTE: If you have any comments on this blog, email me at thecupfootballblogger@hotmail.com, find me on Twitter at @cupfootballblog, or search for “Peter Harlow” on Facebook. There are two of me on there – for football matters you need the one with the hat.

 

A Day In The Sun

Lanreath 0 Plymouth Parkway Reserves 6

The Mortgage Advice Bureau East Cornwall Premier League Roy Radford Division One Cup (sponsored by Steve Andrews Tyres) semi-final

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Cup Magic Moment: The beautiful sun shining, making it a beautiful day to watch the beautiful game in a beautiful part of the world. Beautiful.

Goalmouth action from the Lanreath v Plymouth Parkway Reserves semi-final in The Mortgage Advice Bureau East Cornwall Premier League Roy Radford Division One Cup (sponsored by Steve Andrews Tyres). Parkway are in the yellow.

THERE are many, many reasons for choosing to go to a particular game of football. Sometimes, it’s because you are a big supporter of one of the teams playing. Sometimes, it’s because it’s a big occasion between two big teams. Sometimes, it’s because you think there might be a cup shock on the cards. And sometimes it could be simply because it is somewhere you have never been before.

And sometimes, just sometimes, it is because the name of the competition is simply too much to resist.

OK, that last one might just be me but anyone who has read this blog will know that one of my favourite competitions, purely because of its title, is the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors League Cup. How could you not like that? It even featured on a T-shirt at my stag weekend. (I have just realised how sad that sentence makes me sound, but there you go).

Now it has a rival.

Yes, I decided to go to Lanreath on Saturday because it was a semi-final in The Mortgage Advice Bureau East Cornwall Premier League Roy Radford Division One Cup (sponsored by Steve Andrews Tyres). Phew. I think I have got writer’s cramp after getting all that down!

It was also a place I had never been to before, let alone a ground I had seen. Rally Park is in the beautiful village of Lanreath, surrounded by the beautiful rolling countryside of this part of eastern Cornwall. The whole thing looked simply stunning on a strikingly sunny day when spring sprang in glorious style. There was no need for a coat, I swapped my woolly hat for a baseball cap and there was even one young man on the sidelines who decided it was time for shorts and no shirt. That was taking it a bit too far, in my chilly old man’s opinion, but it does give an indication of just what a lovely day it was.

Mind you, I am glad I chose a warm day to go there. There is very little cover and the ground is wide open to the elements. Even on Saturday, there was a strong enough breeze to influence the way the match was played and just to take the edge off the sunshine. But it was still glorious.

Expectations of a cup shock were low, though. The home side were tenth out of the 13 teams in the league while Parkway’s reserves were running away at the top of the division with 17 wins out of 17 and a goal difference of plus 53. My tour around cup football over the past two seasons has taught me to expect the unexpected, but a home win here would have been unexpectedly unexpected.

Action from the Lanreath v Plymouth Parkway Reserves semi-final in The Mortgage Advice Bureau East Cornwall Premier League Roy Radford Division One Cup (sponsored by Steve Andrews Tyres). Lanreath are in the blue and red stripes.

Watching the two teams warming up half an hour before kick-off suddenly reminded me of another cup competition with a fabulous name I had seen a match in last season. One team was in red and blue stripes, the Barcelona colours that were sported last season when I saw Bar Sol Ona beat The Windmill on a plastic pitch in Plymouth in the The Optimus PM Plymouth and West Devon Combination League Marshall Motors South West Premier Cup.

Now, Bar Sol Ona are no more, having merged with Plymouth Parkway, and I remember reading that the new club would use the red and blue shirt for its change kit. So those in the Barcelona stripes had to be Parkway Reserves, right?

Wrong.

It turned out that Lanreath were the ones dressed as the Cornish Messi’s while their Plymouth visitors were in Parkway’s regular yellow outfit. The blue PPFC embroidered on their socks was the big give-away. Reporters at Premier League games have things handed to them on a plate. They might not know how to properly pronounce the name of the new Ecuadorian under-23 international playing at left-back for Moneybags United, but at least they will know which team is which!

As it turned out, for the first 45 minutes of this cup encounter it was hard to tell which side were the runaway leaders of the league and which were struggling at the wrong end of the table as Lanreath gave as good as they were getting. It was, perhaps, the scrappiest and messiest half of football I had seen this season, not helped by the breeze and a very bumpy pitch, but the home side could be happy with their efforts.

Not that you would have known that from the aggressive, loud and dissenting voice from one of those on the Lanreath bench. He berated the ref throughout and the man in the middle finally had enough just before the break and sent him off. Well, that’s what it looked like. However, at the start of the second half, the offender was back on the bench. Maybe the ref had just sent him away to cool off? That seemed to work for a while but, in the end, he could hold his tongue no more, the ref could take it no more and he sent him off again – this time permanently.

You don’t often see the same person apparently sent off twice in the same 90 minutes, especially when they are not even playing in the first place! You just never know what you are going to see at a game of football.

Supporters and officials enjoying the sunshine at Rally Park, Lanreath.

What I always see, though, are goals. I have yet to see a goalless encounter in almost two seasons of writing this cup blog and the first goal in this cup tie came after 37 minutes, Parkway breaking the deadlock with an individual effort from Elliot Cunningham (there was nothing like a programme at Rally Park, I am just nicking the scorer’s name from Parkway’s Twitter feed).

What I also saw was a man walking around the pitch collecting the £1.50 entrance fee. Mind you, he just walked up to me, asked me for my money and then put it in his pocket. He could have been anyone – I am so trusting sometimes!

The second half had little to commend it as a spectacle, however, as Parkway ran riot and Lanreath, who seemed to lack any real belief in their chances of making the cup final, more or less just faded away. They did buck up a bit once they had fallen 3-0 down through goals from “whopper” (that’s what Twitter says) and Cunningham again but they never managed to pull back the goal that might have sparked a bit of a comeback.

Cunningham completed his hat-trick after 78 minutes, at which point the home linesman informed me that Lanreath’s chances had been dealt a fatal blow when their centre-half had had to go off injured, something I must admit I hadn’t noticed at the time. Sometimes, my match reporting skills are a bit rusty.

Two more goals – from Grant Craven and Cunningham yet again – completed the rout and Parkway had comfortably booked their place in the final of a competition with a wonderful name. Few would bet against them winning it and completing a beautiful season for them.

Lanreath will have better days but they can take solace in the fact that, win, lose or draw, they have a beautiful place in the world, especially when the sun shines like it did on Saturday.

And I have now scratched an itch to see a game in a competition with a beautiful name. Now, I just need to find another gloriously monickered cup competition to watch…

Rally Park in the sunshine was a glorious setting for the Lanreath v Plymouth Parkway Reserves semi-final in The Mortgage Advice Bureau East Cornwall Premier League Roy Radford Division One Cup (sponsored by Steve Andrews Tyres).
Just a general shot showing the glorious countryside that surrounds Rally Park at Lanreath. Not a bad place to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon.
Goalmouth action from the Lanreath v Plymouth Parkway Reserves semi-final in The Mortgage Advice Bureau East Cornwall Premier League Roy Radford Division One Cup (sponsored by Steve Andrews Tyres). Parkway are in the yellow.
Blue skies and green rolling hills at Lanreath’s Rally Park ground.

FOOTNOTE: If you have any thoughts or comments about this article, email me at thecupfootballblogger@hotmail.com, find me on Twitter via @cupfootballblog, or search for “Peter Harlow” on Facebook. There are two of me on there – for football chat you need the one with the hat.

A Nice Day Out

Mousehole 1 Wendron United 2

Durning-Lawrence Cornwall Charity Cup quarter-final

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Cup Magic Moment: Almost, almost, getting a really good picture of Mousehole’s goal. My photography skills still need honing, it has to be said!

Action from the Cornwall Charity Cup quarter-final between Mousehole (in green) and Wendron.

WHAT is the biggest problem facing modern football, would you say? Is it the massive disconnect between the weekly millionaires at the top of the game and the weekly millions who play at the park end of the sport? Is it players screaming, diving and feigning injury when an opponent brushes their shoulder with a fingernail? Is it coloured football boots which, in the words of my wife, look like little girl’s shoes? (She makes a very good point).

Or is it the angry, screeching, snarling protests from players and officials whenever a decision goes against them? Is it the constant barrage of foul-mouthed abuse that referees face from so many managers and coaches as they try to intimidate and dominate? Is it the stream of bad language that wouldn’t even be acceptable on a building site or in a barracks but which so many football people think is acceptable in the public space of a football ground?

An expletive in the heat of the moment when you are fouled, or miss a chance or make a mistake, is perfectly understandable but a constant stream of irritated and irritating invective simply isn’t it.

It’s not nice.

Thankfully, both the Seagulls of Mousehole and the ‘Dron of Wendron are “nice” clubs – and therein lies a bit of a problem. Not with them, I hasten to add, but the word itself – nice.

The meaning and the nature of particular words change over time, helping English to be one of the most expressive languages in the world, but sometimes the individual terms don’t come out of this changing literary landscape with their honour and pride intact. “Nice” is one of those words which has lost its edge.

It should mean something good, something to enjoy and to be proud of, but it’s come to mean “not bad”, which isn’t good. It’s a word that is often followed by a “merrr” noise or a desperate explanation

“These shoes are nice”. Merrrr.

“How was your dinner?”

“It was nice – no honestly, it was really tasty.”

Basically, saying that something is nice has come to mean that it’s not really nice.

But I am here to reclaim the word for its original meaning which, according to a quick search on the internet, is “Giving pleasure or satisfaction; pleasant or attractive” and that is a perfect way to sum up my experiences on my day out at Trungle Parc.

Remember Spot The Ball? There was one here when I decided to take this picture – honest!

This was an important cup tie. Mousehole are the cup holders, Wendron are their Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Division One West rivals, and this is a tournament that is probably the best chance of silverware for most clubs at this level. It was a match that mattered – but it was played in a nice atmosphere. There was little or no snarling fury from the benches, the language on the pitch was well within acceptable bounds, the tackling was generally firm but fair, and the whole was superbly controlled with calm authority by referee Steve Annis.

That’s not to say it wasn’t a competitive and emotional encounter. It was a proper full-on cup clash, with plenty of “blood and thunder” and plenty of desire to win and earn a place in the last four, but none of that turned into the sort of nastiness that so often pervades footballing encounters. It was nice to watch.

Ironically, though, it hasn’t been nice at Mousehole over the past couple of months. Last season, the Greens were all-conquering at this level, winning the league in style and cruising past St Dennis 5-0 in the final of this Charity Cup competition. The Seagulls were flying.

Their wings have been clipped a bit this year, though. Although sitting handily in the league, they are not going to retain their title as a dominant Sticker side have, at the time of writing, a Celtic-like 27-point lead at the top and are going to be champions. And, in recent weeks, Mousehole have lost a large tranche of players and management to other clubs, mainly to big local rivals Penzance, who are doing all they can to avoid being relegated from the Peninsula League altogether. That has definitely not left a very nice taste in the mouths of the Trungle faithful.

But Mousehole are now trying to turn a negative into a positive, saying that the club is “pulling together” with several second-team players getting the chance to strut their stuff in the first team. It might make the rest of the season a bit tough for them but they certainly played some nice football, under the guidance of goalkeeper-player-manager Steve Parker-Billinge (that might be the most hyphens I have ever used in one descriptive phrase).

The sign says it all. I am trying so hard not to think “Welcome To The Trungle” but Guns ‘n’ Roses are rocking through my head now!

They played out from the back and, with Wendron deciding to generally stand off them, it made for the sort of tactical spectacle you don’t often get at this level. It also raised the spectre of football fashions. No, I am not talking about boots again (they should always be black and white, by the way), I am talking about fashionable phrases. In the past we have had everything from 4-4-2 to false number nines to sweeper-keepers to Christmas trees. Now, it’s all about pressing – and whether or not to do it. It’s all anyone ever talks about at the moment. Do Liverpool press too much? Should teams stand off Leicester and not press them at all? Can a defensive team keep up the pace of their pressing for 90 minutes? Press, don’t press, press, press, don’t press – aaarrgghhh! I will be glad when we move on to something else. But, then, I never was very fashionable.

But what will always be fashionable, though, is a hard-fought, entertaining, lively and skillful cup tie, and that’s what we were served up with on Saturday.

As a cup football blogger, I am supposed to be neutral, but I have developed a bit of a soft spot for both of these sides in the past couple of seasons. So how would I choose between them? Well, Mousehole played in all-green which reminded me of the kit I wore when playing Sunday League football in South London for a team called Brookside – we had the name first, before the TV soap opera – while Wendron played in red and blue stripes, which reminded me of Crystal Palace. As a Millwall fan, that’s not a good thing. So The Seagulls had the edge in that department.

The first half of this quarter-final was an entertaining, evenly matched affair, with chances at both ends, both goalkeepers making decent saves and chances going begging. It ended 0-0 so my highlight of the first 45 minutes was getting a touch of the ball within the first couple of minutes, retrieving it as it rolled under the barrier next to me. I reckon I got a touch before most of the players. For some reason, that pleased me greatly.

Five minutes after the break, the home side took the lead, courtesy of a superb finish from Luke Johnson. He was very pleased with himself, which is not surprising as, according to the official Mousehole AFC match report, it was his first start since October because of injury. He had every right to celebrate.

I was also celebrating as I thought I had got a really good picture of the goal on my phone – a quick look at the screen, however, proved to me that, just like my finishing when I was a player, I was a bit off target. Gutted!

He shoots he scores: Luke Johnson is about to put Mousehole ahead in their Cornwall Charity Cup tie against Wendron. His super finish was of a much higher quality than my photography.
Disappointment for Wendron keeper Ben Mitchell as Mousehole take a 1-0 lead in their Cornwall Charity Cup clash. The keeper had the last laugh, though, with his side going through 2-1.

During half-time, I had been warned by some of the Trungle faithful that the home side’s youngsters and second-teamers weren’t “streetwise” enough when defending set-pieces and so there was no great surprise when, after 53 minutes, the ‘Dron were back on level terms from a corner-kick, although this one flew straight into the net at the far post without the intervention of anybody in the box.

The visitors soon thought they had taken the lead but the officials ruled the ball had not crossed the line. The action ebbed and flowed from end-to-end after that but neither side could get ahead and extra-time was looming. Wendron, though, were looking the most likely and the home alarm bells were ringing on 89 minutes when the visitors were awarded a corner. Sure enough, Mousehole dealt with the cross as it came in, but the ball arced up and was headed home for a ‘Dron match-winner.

And that was that. Mousehole’s defence of the cup was over and Wendron could look ahead to a semi-final encounter with the all-conquering Sticker. There were cheers and jeers at the final whistle, hand-shakes all round and a general feeling of having enjoyed a decent game of football at a decent ground in a decent setting in the company of lots of decent people from two decent clubs.

All in all, it was definitely a nice day out.

Action from the Cornwall Charity Cup quarter-final between Mousehole (in green) and Wendron.
Action from the Cornwall Charity Cup quarter-final between Mousehole (in green) and Wendron.

FOOTNOTE: If you have any comments or queries on this blog, or any others in the series, you can email me at thecupfootballblogger@hotmail.com, find me on Twitter via @cupfootballblog, or search Facebook for “Peter Harlow”. There are two of me on there – for football-related matters, you want the one with the hat.

The History Boys

Cornwall Under-18s 2 County Durham Under-18s 1

FA County Youth Cup semi-final

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Cup Magic Moment: The great atmosphere, and the quality of the football on show, as Cornwall’s youngsters created their own place in football history.

The winner. A second-half penalty settled the tie in Cornwalls favour. It means the Duchy youngsters had made the final of the FA County Youth Cup for the very first time.
The winner. A second-half penalty settled the tie in Cornwall’s favour. It means the Duchy youngsters had made the final of the FA County Youth Cup for the very first time.

PUT the two words “sport” and “Cornwall” together and most people will probably think of Rugby Union, of hordes of Cornish men and women, clad in black and gold, making their way up to Twickenham to cheer on their oval-ball heroes in a County Championship final. Some might even think of cricket, with sides like Troon making a big impact back in the day in the National Village Cup.

Few will think of football – but that is all set to change.

OK, Cornwall is not the biggest footballing area in the country. There is no fully professional team, for example, with Plymouth Argyle, just over the Tamar, being the closest Football League side to the Duchy. The closest Cornwall has is Truro City, who play in National League South, but they tend to be eyed with wary suspicion by local football followers and constantly struggle to bring in the crowds. Rugby Union, however, has the Cornish Pirates, Redruth, Launceston and Camborne all playing at a very decent level, with the Penzance-based Pirates knocking on the door of the very top flight. A planned new ground should give them real impetus in that challenge.

No, football is seen as the poor sporting cousin in the far South West but a whole new generation of youngsters are trying to change that.

After a superb victory over their under-18 counterparts from County Durham, the young Cornish heroes are now into the final of the FA County Youth Cup, the first time that has ever happened. The fact that this tie drew a crowd of 230 fee-paying customers, much bigger than most non-league sides in Cornwall would normally expect, shows that the beautiful game is alive and well in the Duchy – and is getting bigger all the time.

In fact, it’s always been a major sport down here, but more in terms of participation rather than national recognition. There are now more than 60 teams playing at steps 6, 7 and 8 in Cornwall, with two or three of them capable of playing at a much higher level but who are being held back by the constraints of geography.

Add in the junior level Duchy and Trelawny leagues, which together cover the whole county, and there’s nothing wrong with football in this part of the world. But this generation of youngsters looks determined to put Cornwall on the national footballing map and gain more recognition across the land.

Time to celebrate. Cornwalls youngsters salute the crowd after their history-making victory over County Durham in the FA County Youth Cup semi-final.
Time to celebrate. Cornwall’s youngsters salute the crowd after their history-making victory over County Durham in the FA County Youth Cup semi-final.

For me, personally, it began as a bit of a strange occasion. Although I have lived in Cornwall for seven years now, in my younger years I lived in County Durham for a couple of years and really loved the place. They are properly football-crazy up there! I loved hearing the North East accents around Blaise Park and the first exasperated cry of “Howay, man” after one offside decision brought a wistful smile to my face.

But I soon discovered that I am more Cornish than Northern now. Durham had made an impressive, powerful start, but Cornwall’s pacy attack was causing them lots of problems and, when the home side took the lead 20 minutes in, I found myself cheering along with the majority of the St Blazey crowd.

The intensity of those cheers emphasised just how big a game this was. The fact that we had a fourth official, complete with electronic board, also showed it was an important match. You don’t see that in most Carlsberg South West Peninsula League matches. In fact, you are often lucky to see more than one official – a neutral ref being assisted by one linesman from each club being the norm at Step 7.

The fact that there was also a neat little programme – free with your £2 entry fee – also added to the sense of occasion. I loved the fact that there were bios of the home players in it as, so often in matchday magazines, you get a wealth of information about the visitors but nothing about your own side. I particularly enjoyed the spiel about Porthleven defender Joel Allen, which said: “He is a real presence at the back; throw a brick at him and he will head it away.” Luckily, that theory wasn’t tested on the day.

There was also a great piece from the Cornwall manager, Glynn Hooper, in which he said: “We have a group of players who play the game in the manner which we would all like to see. We encourage players to show respect and not to surround the referee or use appalling language.” The boys generally did live up to that, although I believe there was at least one booking for dissent.

The quality of the football on display from both sides was really encouraging for the future of the game across the nation. Durham were neat, tidy and powerful, while Cornwall stood toe-to-toe with them and used their speedy forwards to pen back their visitors. It was a genuinely good standard.

Ready for action. The under-18s from Cornwall and Durham take to the pitch at Blaise Park, St Blazey, for the FA County Youth Cup semi-final.
Ready for action. The under-18s from Cornwall and Durham take to the pitch at Blaise Park, St Blazey, for the FA County Youth Cup semi-final.

But no game is complete without a mildly comic moment and the best one of this clash came early in the second half. A Cornish player had been hurt in a challenge and, after receiving treatment, was sent to the sidelines to await being recalled. Cornwall duly took the throw-in and the ref kept shouting “Wait” to the player wanting to come back on. Unluckily for Durham, one of their defenders thought that the ref meant “wait” generally and caught the ball as it was thrown in. He still looked nonplussed when the ref gave a free-kick. He was probably the only one in the ground who hadn’t worked out what was going on and the confused look on his face was a picture.

Fortunately for the integrity of the game, the free-kick came to nothing but, not long afterwards, Cornwall were 2-0 up. A long ball forward caught out the Durham defence and the forward who was first on to it was bundled over in the box. Penalty! It was calmly despatched by Helston Athletic’s Matt Buchan and the Cornish boys had one foot in the final.

Durham weren’t going to give up without a fight, though, and they pulled a goal back on 79 minutes, much to the consternation of the home crowd. They poured forward in search of an equaliser but the Cornwall back line was not going to be breached again. Deep into injury time and Durham’s hopes were finally ended when their winger flew into a tackle on the halfway line and got his marching orders. It was, perhaps, more reckless than ruthless but it thoroughly deserved the red card that it got.

At the final whistle, the Cornish boys rushed to embrace each other in the centre circle and take the applause of the delighted home crowd as the enormity of what they had done – for themselves and for football in Cornwall – began to hit home. Cornwall in a national final – and not a fly-half or prop forward in sight. Now that’s an outstanding achievement for this talented group of history boys.

Action from Cornwall (in yellow) v County Durham in the FA County Youth Cup semi-final at Blaise Park, St Blazey. The tie attracted a crowd of more than 200.
Action from Cornwall (in yellow) v County Durham in the FA County Youth Cup semi-final at Blaise Park, St Blazey. The tie attracted a crowd of more than 200.
It's there! Cornwall celebrate taking the lead against County Durham in the FA County Youth Cup semi-final. I promise you, that is what's happening in the distance!
It’s there! Cornwall celebrate taking the lead against County Durham in the FA County Youth Cup semi-final. I promise you, that is what’s happening in the distance!
Action from Cornwall (in yellow) v County Durham in the FA County Youth Cup semi-final at Blaise Park, St Blazey. The tie attracted a crowd of more than 200.
Action from Cornwall (in yellow) v County Durham in the FA County Youth Cup semi-final at Blaise Park, St Blazey. The tie attracted a crowd of more than 200.

FOOTNOTE: If you have any comments to make on this article, or any others in the series, email me at thecupfootballblogger@hotmail.com, find me on Twitter via @cupfootballblog, or search for Peter Harlow on Facebook. There are two of me on there – for football-related matters, you want the one with the hat!

A Classic Cup Weekend

Foxhole Stars 4 Torpoint Athletic Thirds 3

KMD Developments Duchy League Knockout Cup Second Round

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Cup Magic Moment: A late, late winner to seal a mini-classic of a cup clash.

This free-kick from out on the left led to an equaliser for Foxhole Stars in black and white). That was in the 76th minute but the real drama was only just beginning.
This free-kick from out on the left led to an equaliser for Foxhole Stars (in black and white). That was in the 76th minute but the real drama was only just beginning.

SATURDAY was a simply stunning day for cup football across the nation. Not only did my team, the Mighty Lions of Millwall, beat the champions of England – the first time that has happened since 1927 – but also non-league heroes Lincoln City beat Premiership Burnley on their own Turf Moor patch to reach the last eight of the FA Cup. THE cup.

But you didn’t have to be watching at the upper echelons of the beautiful game to get a taste of cup glory, to get yet more evidence of why knockout football matters so much.

Welcome, my friends, to Goverseth Park, the home of Foxhole Stars, deep in Cornish clay mining country.

This is not chocolate box Cornwall. There are no quaint villages here, no cute little fishing harbours, no magnificent waves crashing against  dramatic cliffs, no awe-inspiring expanses of moorland. This is proper, hard-working, industrial, working-class Cornwall, proper football country.

There are no romantic ruins of 200-year-old mines but there are still working pits where china clay, or kaolin, is still removed from the ground for use in industries from porcelain to making paper. It’s not worked on the scale it once was but two and half centuries of hard graft have left their mark on the landscape. According to the Cornwall Guide website, every usable ton of material taken from the earth brought with it five tons of waste and that is what has created this remarkable environment, this is what has created what are now known as The Cornish Alps.

And this is the landscape in which Foxhole sits and the whole area sometimes has a reputation for bleakness and poverty that is directly at odds with the sunshine tourist image of Cornwall.

Looking towards the industrial landscape of Cornwall's China Clay Country from the home ground of Foxhole Stars, Goverseth Park.
Looking towards the industrial landscape of Cornwall’s China Clay Country from the home ground of Foxhole Stars, Goverseth Park.

But there was nothing bleak about the football ground or the football on offer on Saturday, no poverty of emotion or desire. There wasn’t a single player involved on Saturday, from either side, who didn’t put in a real shift. Sometimes their will to win got the better of them, as evidenced by a red card for dissent late on, but both sides really put everything on the line in a grand old battle. In a season of cracking cup ties, this was another belter to add to the list.

To be honest, though, it didn’t feel like that at the start of the match. These two teams play in the Duchy League Premier Division, one rung below senior football, and both are in the wrong half of the table. Early on, the quality of the football reflected that.

I had seen Torpoint’s first team score eight in a Cornwall Senior Cup match earlier in the season and, at one stage, it looked as if their third team might do something similar. With just five minutes gone, and with me congratulating myself for having put on my coat having almost been fooled by the February sunshine into going without it, Torpoint took the lead from a corner. Maybe they benefited from the advice of their goalkeeper who, from the far end, had helpfully yelled: “Make yourself hard to mark,” but I think the decisive factor was that Foxhole’s players were just off to a collectively dozy start.

They looked pretty awful and a long way from Carlsberg South West Peninsula League side they had once been, having withdrawn from Division One West before the 2014-15 season. I was worried that this match might turn into a bit of a damp squib.

Twenty minutes later, those fears has been allayed. A really decent move, involving some slick passing, resulted in the equaliser and, although a determined Torpoint were ahead again before the break, the signs were good for an exciting second half.

Early action from the KMD Developments Duchy Knockout Cup tie between Foxhole Stars in black and white) and Torpoint Athletic Thirds.
Early action from the KMD Developments Duchy Knockout Cup tie between Foxhole Stars (in black and white) and Torpoint Athletic Thirds.

In fact, the 30 or 40 of us in the crowd had to wait for the second half of the second half for the real excitement to begin. Stars, who were by now the better team, finally levelled on 76 minutes, when a free-kick into the box from out on the left was headed home. At least, I believe it was headed in. I had a feeling something might happen from this set-piece and was fiddling with my phone to try to get a picture and only glanced up to see the ball go in. Keep your eye on the ball, son – that’s the advice I needed to give myself.

Two minutes later I was watching much more closely when another Foxhole free-kick, from an almost identical spot about 35 yards from goal, was floated into the box again. This time, it was the Torpoint keeper not the visiting blogger who was surprised by it, and the ball flew over his head and into the net. All of a sudden, the home side were in front.

A minute later, they weren’t. An unfortunate own goal made the tie 3-3 and extra time started to loom. With four minutes to go, the game then ground to a bit of a halt and we started to wonder whether it would ever finish. First of all, there was a row over a throw-in and this was swiftly followed by a full-blown argument over a free-kick. Players surrounded the ref and, every time it looked like things might calm down, they kicked off again. The home side’s fans were getting suitably raucous with the delay and the confrontation, Torpoint were furious with the whole situation and the ref was struggling to get things under control.

The dug-outs at Foxholes Goverseth Park are on opposite sides of the pitch. The Torpoint Athletic coach obviously felt the view from his bench wasnt good enough and climbed on it to get a better look at the cup tie action!
The dug-outs at Foxhole’s Goverseth Park are on opposite sides of the pitch. The Torpoint Athletic coach obviously felt the view from his bench wasn’t good enough and climbed on it to get a better look at the cup tie action!

This might only have been a second round tie in a junior level cup clash but the players all desperately wanted to win and emotions and tempers were running high.

Eventually, and inevitably, they ran too high and the Torpoint centre-half managed to talk himself into two yellows and, thus, a red. It was fair to say that he wasn’t enjoying his trip to Clay Country.

Finally, finally, the game got under way again and, deep into injury time, Foxhole won another free-kick out on the left wing, floated the ball into the box again, and it was bundled over the line to win the match. Cue celebrations and dismay, the twin imps of cup football.

Cup football struck an exciting seam of lionhearted drama and passion on Saturday afternoon, be it at The Den, Turf Moor or Goverseth Park. The beauty of the sport is that is simple and straightforward and essentially the same at whatever level it is played; and cup matches are the purest form of the purest game.

Thank you Foxhole and Torpoint for proving that point once again. This was a true cup classic in Clay Country.

The welcoming sign on the clubhouse at Foxhole Stars, although the "You'll never leave" line has a slightly sinister ring to it!
The welcoming sign on the clubhouse at Foxhole Stars, although the “You’ll never leave” line has a slightly sinister ring to it!
The main stand at Goverseth Park, looking towards the clubhouse.
The main stand at Goverseth Park, looking towards the clubhouse.
Action from the KMD Developments Duchy Knockout Cup tie between Foxhole Stars in black and white) and Torpoint Athletic Thirds.
Action from the KMD Developments Duchy Knockout Cup tie between Foxhole Stars, in black and white, and Torpoint Athletic Thirds.

FOOTNOTE: If you have any comments on this piece, or any of the other blogs in this series, you can email me at thecupfootballblogger@hotmail.com, find me on Twitter via @cupfootballblog, or on Facebook by searching for Peter Harlow. There are two of me on there. You want the one with the hat.

 

Pure Drama

Ludgvan 3 Bodmin Town 3 (after extra time). Bodmin won 5-3 on penalties.

Score after 90 minutes: 1-1

RGB Building Supplies Cornwall Senior Cup quarter-final

Cup Magic Moment: Difficult to pick just one after such an enthralling encounter but I loved Ludgvan’s celebrations when they got it back to 3-3; thoroughly enjoyed the enthusiasm of the youngsters behind the goal during the penalty shoot-out; and admired the sportsmanship of both sets of players and officials after the match following this really intense cup tie.

Shoot-out drama: Fans, photographers and enthusiastic youngsters gathered behind the goal to watch penalties after the match had finished level after extra time.
Shoot-out drama: Fans, photographers and enthusiastic youngsters gathered behind the goal to watch penalties after the match had finished level after extra time.

SINCE I set out on this cup football journey 18 months ago, I have occasionally lost focus and had a bit of a waffle. I’ve been distracted by the weather, by referees, by money matters, by the scenery and by my journeys to and from different footballing outposts in the far South West. Sometimes, it has felt as if the football has taken a bit of a back seat.

Not this time.

This was an absolute belter of a cup tie, played in a cracking atmosphere in front of a raucous crowd, with drama from the kick-off all the way through to the final spot-kick in the penalty shoot-out. The pace of events never dropped and you could not take your eyes off the action as the chances of a major cup shock, fell, rose, fell again, rose once more and were finally, cruelly, dashed.

This was exactly the sort of match that inspired me to focus on cup football. I love the drama, the immediacy, the emotional charge of knockout football. Winning is everything and, to win, you have to score, generally making games more open and exciting.

That has certainly been the case this season. I haven’t yet seen one dull game and the only one which finished 0-0 after 90 minutes – between Truro City and Forest Green Rovers in the FA Trophy – was of the highest quality, was intensely nerve-racking, and was settled by one superb strike in extra time.

I have seen goals galore, including an incredible 8-3 scoreline after extra time; I’ve seen a 6-2 cup shock in a monsoon; and last week I saw an absolute cracker between derby rivals Sticker and St Dennis which finished 4-3, settled by an injury-time penalty. But, in pure cup football terms, this was better than all of them.

Ludgvan, down in the west of Cornwall, are an ambitious club. They won the Cornwall Combination League last season but missed out on promotion to the Step 7 Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Division One West because of ground grading. They are aiming to put that right this time around.

Bodmin Town are the big fish in the Cornwall footballing pond at this level. Last season they won this competition, were crowned champions of the Peninsula League Premier Division and, of course, completed the treble by winning the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League Walter C Parson Funeral Directors League Cup. They are still in with a decent chance of defending all three of them this season.

So the scene was set for a proper cup collision between two top teams and it certainly attracted the interest of Cornwall’s footballing faithful. There were photographers and writers everywhere – indeed, I knew I was in the right place when I parked opposite Dave Deacon of Cornish Football magazine. I might not always know where I am going but I am confident that he does!

Close! Ludgvan hit the bar midway through the first half.
Close! Ludgvan hit the bar midway through the first half.

The set-up, with its community centre clubhouse, bar and balcony made a great first impression on this first-time visitor. I watched the opening ten minutes from that balcony, from where everything looked pristine, and then made my way down to pitch-level to get closer to the action. It wasn’t quite so pristine close up – the ground was wet and soft and mud was definitely on the menu.

On a day when cup clichés were to abound – blood and thunder, magic of the cup, giants and minnows, hearts broken, etc – I did hear one radio reporter describe the conditions as a “great leveller”. That’s probably true up to a point, but it is also a bit unfair on Ludgvan who, after a nervous start, showed real quality, gave as good as they got and almost pulled off just about the most unlikely cup shock the Duchy could possibly have seen this season.

Things could have been so different, to coin another cliché, if a 21st-minute rocket from the home side had found the back of the Bodmin net, rather than crashing against the crossbar. There were “oohs” and hands on head all around the park. But now there was real belief that a giant-killing could really happen.

That feeling was punctured a bit just before half-time when Bodmin finally took one of the many chances that both sides had created and so led at the break. Midway through the second half, that feeling was very much alive again when Ludgvan levelled. Game on.

By now, the locals were not so much getting restless as raucous. They were making a great noise and letting the higher-ranked side know that they didn’t think much of their efforts so far. It was great stuff.

As a relative newcomer to Cornwall – I have only been here for just over six years – I still have a lot to learn about this part of the world. I have spent a lot of my time in Falmouth and Truro, which are not always the most Cornish of towns due to the influx of visitors, students and incomers like me. Ludgvan, just a couple of miles up the road from Penzance, felt like “proper” Cornwall.

A couple of years ago, I made one of my irregular visits to a Rugby Union match, this time to watch Redruth. That was a passionate crowd, with its “Hellfire Corner” and Celtic fieriness. It was loud and proud there and it was loud and proud at Ludgvan. I loved it.

Not so close: This free-kick from Bodmin in white) flew well wide of the mark.
Not so close: This free-kick from Bodmin (in white) flew well wide of the mark.

Even when Bodmin scored twice in the first period of extra time, the home side’s fight never faltered. They pulled a goal back on 100 minutes and then thrashed home a cracker in the 108th minute to tie the game up and spark wild celebrations, with substitutes running on the pitch to embrace the scorer and everyone else then piling in. The crowd noise level was magnificent and, if any one moment this season is really going to embrace the joy and drama of cup football, that was it. Simply magic.

And all this for a £3 entry fee plus 50p for a cup of tea. Now that’s value for money.

Sadly, for lovers of a proper giant-killing, Bodmin’s extra quality finally shone through in the penalty shoot-out which eventually settled this quarter-final classic. They scored all five, Ludgvan missed one, and that was that. The cup tie, and Ludgvan’s run in the Senior Cup, were over.

However, the Combination side can be fiercely proud of their efforts and I, for one, hope they win their battle to earn promotion to the SWPL this season. They are a club and a side who would be a credit to the league.

Meanwhile, Bodmin’s relentless march to more silverware continues. It’s not always easy to like teams who win everything, but their sportsmanship and appreciation of Ludgvan’s efforts as the players left the pitch were a real credit to them. Once more, they are going to take some stopping this season.

But, to finish with a cliché which really sums up a classic day of cup football, I have to say: “Honestly, Brian, on the day, football was the real winner.” There’s no argument with that.

The view from on high: watching the opening exchanges of Ludgvan v Bodmin Town in the Cornwall Senior Cup from the clubhouse balcony.
The view from on high. Watching the opening exchanges of Ludgvan v Bodmin Town in the Cornwall Senior Cup from the clubhouse balcony.
Midfield action from the hard-fought Cornwall Senior Cup tie between Ludgvan in yellow) and Bodmin Town.
Midfield action from the hard-fought Cornwall Senior Cup tie between Ludgvan (in yellow) and Bodmin Town.
Another perfect penalty from Bodmin Town. They never missed in the shoot-out against Ludgvan as they maintained their defence of the Cornwall Senior Cup. They are now through to this seasons semi-finals.
Another perfect penalty from Bodmin Town. They never missed in the shoot-out against Ludgvan as they maintained their defence of the Cornwall Senior Cup. They are now through to this season’s semi-finals.
Looking towards the Ludgvan Community Centre end as the West Cornwall hosts took on holders Bodmin Town in the Cornwall Senior Cup.
Looking towards the Ludgvan Community Centre end as the West Cornwall hosts took on holders Bodmin Town in the Cornwall Senior Cup. This was the penalty that put Bodmin 2-1 up early in extra time. The drama, though, was far from over.

FOOTNOTE: If you have any comments on this article, or any others in this series of blogs, email me on thecupfootballblogger@hotmail.com, find me on Twitter, via @cupfootballblog, or find me on Facebook by searching for Peter Harlow. There are two of me on there – the one you want is the one with that hat.