CLUB PROFILE: AXMINSTER TOWN FC

Kerry Miller drops by a club that is making big strides...

AXMINSTER Town Football Club has come a long way in a relatively short time and is enjoying life in its sparkly new home at Cloakham Lawns, having left Sector Lane, after 94 years, back in 2015.

Several generations of Axminster supporters grew up watching the yellow and blacks at Sector which, in its latter years, was looking a touch tired and had lost its old wooden stand 20 years earlier having done sterling service since being bought from the Roundham Racecourse near Crewkerne in 1923.

After the Second World War, the Sector pitch was levelled and drained to make it one of the best playing pitches in the area. Then, after the American Hospital at Millway Rise was vacated, the club obtained a building which became the club’s headquarters and changing rooms, which was a vast improvement to the White Hart pub.

The hard graft meant the club did very well in the following years, winning the Devon Intermediate Cup four times and Devon Senior Cup twice as well as many local Charity Cups including the Axminster Hospital Cup.

In 1986, the grandstand was removed along with the many caravans which were bringing in funds and the land was sold off to a developer which paid for a new clubhouse.

The club remained there until Devonshire Homes came a calling and a whole new chapter in the life of Axminster Town FC was about to be written.

At the time, current club chairman Ray Self said of the situation:

“Nothing will ever take away or replace the wonderful experiences and memories I have for Sector Lane but I am equally excited by the opportunities that lie ahead at our new ground.

“The club has made considerable progress over the last ten to 12 years despite the difficulties of the last few years. The new ground will allow us to build on this and develop the club in all areas still further.”

Ray has been described as having Axminster Town written through him like Blackpool rock and over many years at the club was a player and manager several times. A family connection is completed by wife Bridget, who is found on match days providing food in the clubhouse.

Ray has a team alongside him which is building the club towards higher things and vice-chairman Andy Hurford has been around for around 25 years now. Andy is the brother of first team boss Jonny Hurford and both are active farmers, Andy having a dairy herd locally while Jonny farms near Dorchester.

He started the youth team with Danny Galloway, the current second team manager who has played for the club from youth up to the first team, and Bryan Morgan, and both now coach the under-11s.

Rachel, wife of club linesman Mark Burrough, and sister to Andy and John, looks after the gate on match days. They are both very enthusiastic about football and Rachel and their sons Dylan, 11, and Giles, 8, travel with Mark to all the away games.

Andy went on to detail who else does what at Tiger Way: “Stuart Ellis is the club secretary while Martin Keightley runs the ladies team and assists new facility manager Alan West in the clubhouse.

“Alan has full say in booking and organising events while on and off the pitch the club is fortunate to have the services of Mark Burrough, who is the club linesman which, in the SW Peninsula League, is an important role.

“He also helps on the youth football side of things and, as well as being a qualified referee, is now a Level 2 coach.

“Nick Cooper has just started in his role as commercial manager with a mandate to make sure our sponsors are looked after and fed and watered, which is something we have been lacking in before but we are slowly getting it all together as it is a steep learning curve.”

The main aim for the future is to get into the top flight of the Peninsula League and pit themselves against the likes of St Austell, Tavistock, Bodmin Town and Launceston with Level Five football in the Western League the ultimate ambition.

The facilities are certainly geared up for more senior football and they will need to run smoothly which is where the volunteers come in, who are just as vital at Tiger Way as at any other club.

Life member Eunice Beer runs the bingo sessions every other Friday at the clubhouse to raise money for the youth section as well as providing teas for the reserve team games.

Built behind the new housing development at Cloakham Lawns and just over the hedge from the home of Devon and Exeter League side Millwey Rise, the Tiger Way ground has an immaculate main pitch with floodlights to ‘Step Five’ level, a second pitch to ‘Step Seven’ standard and a third pitch for youth football and a stunning clubhouse which houses the changing rooms and a large bar.

Although now almost three years old, the Tigers’ home was given added and welcome publicity recently as part of the SW Peninsula League ground-hop when several hundred football fans from all parts descended on the club to watch their match with Crediton United on Good Friday evening.

They will have been full of praise for the work put in to rescue the game from the continued deluge with football matches falling away everywhere else and that, in itself, left all with a warm and welcome feeling towards the club that day.

On the field this season, player-manager Jonny Hurford has seen his side have an up-and-down campaign with, to date, ten wins and ten losses before last weekend’s clash with Bovey Tracey and, when all the other sides catch up with their fixtures, a comfortable mid-table place should be assured.

The club’s main sponsor is Axminster Tools and Machinery who Ray stated “have been invaluable, as have Marstons Brewery and local company Creative Solutions and we are hoping the new commercial man will be getting others on board as we push on”.

New visitors to the ground have been impressed by the whole venue while the regulars are contributing to some healthy attendances which is in marked contrast to a number of other clubs at the same level.

The club feels that with good football on a superb surface, a comfortable place to have a drink, plenty of parking, cover and seats and an excellent match programme, there is plenty to be proud about.

By KERRY MILLER

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