SITUATED roughly between Falmouth and Redruth in West Cornwall, the civil parish of Wendron has a population of around 3,000 spread far and wide, and it is, therefore, all the more remarkable that there should be such a stunning, state-of-the art football ground within it, dwarfing almost all others in the county in both style and class.
Cornwall football grounds are, in the main, rather blessed in that most have not been forced into ‘improvements’, the like of which have ruined dozens of others ‘up country’, and that’s because the Duchy’s parent clubs chug along nicely in localised Leagues, largely unencumbered by the official pyramid system and restraints.
It has left classic old grounds such as those at Penzance, Falmouth, Newquay, Porthleven and Bodmin more or less untouched but Wendron’s Underlane home, actually near the village of Rame in West Cornwall, is spanking new and joins those aforementioned as a classic in the making.
Two men have made a massive impact on how football is played and administered at Wendron United, who currently play in the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League’s Division One (West).
Local man Peter Thorne, who has been involved in both the football and neighbouring cricket clubs for more than 40 years, was richly deserving of his ‘Lifetime Services to Sport’ recognition at last year’s Cornwall Sports Awards, and he has played a major part in transforming the facilities into an eco-friendly ground which has drawn admiration from around the country and which was brought to the attention of many when the club were part of the League’s ‘Groundhop’ programme in 2016.
In 1993, Yorkshire-born Royal Navy aviator Kevin Williamson came on to the scene and started a youth section, which now boasts a whole host of teams from under-eights to 18s, and which is a starting point in the game for kids who can then progress through the four senior sides and one Sunday side who all play out of Underlane.
Williamson is now secretary at the club, which was formed in 1986 when a football section was added to the cricket club to play occasional friendlies. Matches were staged on Willie Martin’s field, half-a-mile from the clubhouse until they moved to the field next to the new cricket ground which had a pavilion and clubhouse with changing rooms, showers, a kitchen, bar and function room built entirely by voluntary labour and opened in 1982.
Thorne outlined how things began with various Leagues providing football for the fledgling club: “We had two teams in the Falmouth and Helston League and new players came in, but we were rock bottom and so played a season in Sunday football before a season in the Mining League which eventually led to us re-joining the Helston League,” he recalled.
The club began to collect trophies in a successful eight-year spell before applying to join the Cornwall Combination and, after initial rejections, they were accepted.
“We were fortunate to be given a grant of £25,000 in the first week of the National Lottery in 1995 and from then on the club and the ground has improved and expanded,” said Thorne. “Tim Wearne did much of the groundwork while Rex Andrews levelled the main pitch and, after we got into the Combination, more of our plans became achievements.”
Later, another local man, Alan Watson, turned up with his son, who wanted to play the game, and he took on the task of planning and designing the next stage.
In 2006, the Football Foundation awarded them a grant of £650,000 towards a total cost of £762,768, and the club was able to build an impressive, environmentally friendly and efficient new changing facility.
“As well as the Football Foundation grant, we gained help from SITA (the county’s waste management company) and our own fundraising and sponsored walks, plus we had a £25,000 loan from the FA which is now paid off,” said Thorne. “A small seated area for 100 was erected before a link up with a solar farm led to a covered disabled walkway which houses 120 solar panels and reduces our electrical outgoings by £8,500 a year.”
In 2006, the club were awarded the inaugural Cornwall Sports Partnership ‘Club of the Year’ accolade and also the FA Charter Standard County and South West Regional awards, followed a year later by a further grant from the Football Foundation which helped them extend the main pitch so that it now has a huge 100-metres x 64-metres level playing surface.
While the ground and facilities were gaining plaudits, on the field there were mixed fortunes as the brief sojourn in the Peninsula League came to an ignominious halt after the first 13 games of the second season had brought just one goal.
Williamson and Thorne took over the reigns as the club went back to basics and another spell in the Combination and the new Trelawny League brought success again.
By now Wendron United were fielding five Saturday sides and, following an Evely Cup all-county final win in 2015, they were ready to return to the Peninsula League.
“We have to thank Phil Hiscox and Mark Hayman as they saw our vision and we returned and were part of the ‘Groundhop’ a year later which put us on the map,” added Thorne.
Underlane is a remarkable triumph in an area which had little or no sporting facilities away from the larger towns but Peter and Kevin and Wendron United are not finished yet as floodlights are the next project.
“We have 20 sides at our club and they all need somewhere to play,” explained Thorne. “I feel the FA should look at expanding their remit as we own our ground and there should be, maybe, three clubs in the West and three in the East divisions given grants for lighting which would see the whole League lit up in five years’ time.
“The FA are looking at getting more playing the game but they should filter some of the help to the lower Leagues.”
However long it takes, Kevin and Peter are sure to be at the sharp end urging forward their beloved Wendron United FC.
By Kerry Miller.
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