Friday 14th April 2017, 1100 KO
Saltash United FC vs Torpoint Athletic FC
When my plans to attend the Dockyard Derby, and hopefully watch Plymouth Argyle secure promotion at Fratton Park, sank upon the iceberg of ticket booking eligibility criteria, I started searching around for alternative Easter Weekend options.
Now, clearly, with a girlfriend who also wants to enjoy the Bank Holiday, my first thought was to get a non-league match in, but maybe, just maybe, to do it somewhere sunny. So, having perused the fixture lists, I stumbled across this gem. I grew up in Cornwall, and the opportunity to head home to watch and report on a fixture a six year old girl’s stone’s throw from my childhood home was too good to pass up.
So, with this in mind, my lucky partner and I joined the rush of downtrodden rat racers fleeing the city for a weekend’s blissful escapism, heading down the M4 to the promised land of pasties, pilled-up fishermen and long defunct tin mines. After a Maundy Thursday evening spent dodging my mother’s multiple offers of dessert, I dragged as many of my family members as I could down the street to bolster the crowd at Kimberley Stadium – home of the Ashes.
A disturbingly early 1100 kick off wasn’t the exact start I’d have liked to a Bank Holiday Friday, but I wasn’t about to miss a chance to cover a match on the pitch where I famously scored a half-time penalty past Plymouth Argyle legend Romain Larrieu (as part of some bizarre children-versus-professional-adults half time show).
As if the setting wasn’t already grand enough, this was no run-of-the-mill fixture. Good Friday marked the visit of local rivals Torpoint Athletic for a Caradon derby. With Saltash United sitting second in the South West Peninsula League Premier Division (astonishingly sponsored by Carlsberg) but only 5 points behind Tavistock with a game in hand, the title is a real possibility for the Ashes.
The South West Peninsula League Premier Division is Cornwall and Devon’s representation at Level 10 of the football pyramid (Step 6 National League System), and promotes to the Toolstation Western League Premier Division. Although Club Chairman Colin Phillips told me that neither Saltash, nor Tavistock, would be likely to take a promotion if available, the title is still very much up for grabs. As is often the case with football at this level, the travelling costs associated with promotion would be too great for the club to bear.
A major force in South Western non-league in the 80s, The Ashes were Western League Premier Champions 3 times, and runners-up twice, however, over time they have struggled to recapture their former glories. This season, under the stewardship of Matt Cusack, represents their best chance at a title in many years – driven by the goalscoring exploits of Ryan Richards, who has banged in 45 for the season already. Incredibly, this puts him only second in the scoring charts, behind Tavistock’s Glynn Hobbs on a frankly mental 50. I strongly doubt there are many leagues outside Cornwall where a man named Glynn will feature in the running for Golden Boot.
Saltash won the reverse fixture 3-0 earlier this season and would be looking to complete the double against their local rivals, who have underwhelmed this season. Torpoint currently sit in 13th, but with a number of games in hand over the clubs around them, a strong finish to the season should see them shoot up the league.
Prior to the fixture I arranged to meet up with Club Secretary Steve Ladlow for a look around the ground and to chat about the fixture, so, I paid my £5.00 entry fee, ditched my family, and went off to find the man in question. One thing I have noticed in my blogging thus far is that one of the most difficult tasks is simply getting an accurate teamsheet – so finding someone involved with the club who can go through the team pre-match is pretty damn useful.
To add to my £5.00 ticket, I coughed up another quid for a programme and then looked into the food options. An 1100 kick off presented the interesting dichotomy as to what would be an appropriate choice – can’t really wander around a pitch with a fry up. However, in Cornwall, irrespective of the question, the answer is always “a pasty”, so £3.75 got me a pasty and the obligatory Diet Coke.
Onto the match, and with a Cup Final against Bodmin Town on Monday awaiting, top scorer Ryan Richards was rested, but was named on the bench in case of emergency. In his place came Sam Stevens, alongside 18-goal Sam Hughes.
Saltash dominated the first half (a pattern which would continue into the second), so I set myself up firmly behind the Torpoint ‘keeper, expecting (correctly) that Peters would be the busier of the two goalies.
After 19 minutes came the first chance, when Stevens used his aerial prowess to flick the ball just wide from a Chris Menhenick cross. Menhenick’s left-footed distribution from centre back would be a theme throughout the match, regularly zipping in accurate balls to the feet and head of Hughes.
On the half hour (roughly) came the first of many yellow cards, awarded to Torpoint’s left-back Bevan for kicking the ball away. Shortly after, in the 33rd minute, centre midfielder Richard Maddison put Saltash ahead with his 4th of the season. A strong break down The Ashes right hand side resulted in a cut back to around the penalty spot. Torpoint’s centre back caught temporary Ricketts, miskicking the ball straight to the feet of Maddison who slammed the it left-footed into the top corner.
Ten minutes later, Saltash nearly doubled their lead through Stevens after a strong drive into the box by former Plymouth Argyle youth player Henry Wilson. Wilson fed the ball to Hughes who bustled a cross over to Stevens and his snapshot squirmed over the bar. 1-0 at half time.
For a brief period in the second half it looked as though Torpoint would get back into the game, a few crosses causing confusion in the Ashes backline. However, Menhenick and Callum O’Brien regained control and the match settled back into the pattern of Saltash domination.
The second half saw a rise in metaphorical temperature, as thundering tackles started to come in from both sides. Dave Trott in the Saltash engine in room in particular threatened to send one player into orbit with an especially robust effort.
Torpoint seemingly had no answer for the strength and close control of Hughes, and ended up resorting to fouling both him and Stevens repeatedly. After 55 minutes, a hand in the face of Wilson brought a free kick (and apparently compulsory shoving match) which Menhenick nudged back across goal to Hughes, who knocked a header just wide.
Chances came and went to double the lead – Stevens had a good headed opportunity, a free kick from Menhenick was palmed over and Torpoint picked up approximately 300 yellow cards before the second goal finally came. A lovely ball in from substitute Sam Farrant on the right was met by the head of Stevens and the ball snuck in at the near post.
The second goal was cathartic for the Saltash fans behind the goal given the utterly absurd levels of chat coming from Torpoint ‘keeper Peters throughout the match. Giving the fans stick is probably best reserved for when you’re winning…
Two nil was the final score as the referee brought an end to a tempestuous derby. Saltash’s crowd of around 150 became more and more vocal throughout the game and definitely played a role in the victory. With Tavistock still to play Bodmin, a loss for Tavistock in that match could really open up the title race going into the last few games.
Some of the performances deserve an individual mention as well. From Torpoint, central midfielder Billy Palfrey did what he could, and certainly had some nice touches, but up against the hard-tackling combo of Wilson and Trott he appeared outnumbered at times. Maddison in the attacking midfield role had some great touches and right winger Luke Avis-Riordan displayed some engine getting up and down the touchline. However, the standout performers were Menhenick at centre back, who is one of the best defenders I’ve seen at this level, indeed his distribution is better than most of what I’ve seen in much higher leagues. Along with Menhenick, Hughes and Stevens were an absolute handful for the Torpoint defence – they were too strong and too aggressive for their opposition throughout.
Saltash United are an historic club, and having been formed in 1946 they are one of the older clubs in the league. However, this has brought with it problems. Unlike some of the newer sides in the division they struggle to attract funding from the FA or the Council. An amoung as small as £20,000 could make a huge difference to this club as they try to renovate elements of the ground. Under the management team of Cusack and Dane Bunney, Saltash have put together a very strong squad for a Step 6 side – they surely deserve the effort of the club to be matched by the FA in funding assistance.
I have been asked by club officials to request that anyone reading this who knows of any revenue or investment streams could tap into contact the club. I have email addresses for the officials, so contact through me would be much appreciated in this regard.