, , , , , , ,

Saturday 30th November 2013 ko 14.15

South West Peninsula League Division One East

AXMINSTER TOWN 0 Downs sent off 65 (violent conduct)

STOKE GABRIEL 4 (Stevens 45 Fisher 56 Critchlow 60 Worthington 80)

Att 42

Entry & Programme £3

It’s impossible not to think of carpets when you consider the Devon town of Axminster. Not that you’re in Devon by much, you’re in that part of England where you can be in Devon, Somerset or Dorset within a short drive. The town has been a centre for carpet production since 1755 when weaver Thomas Whitty saw a Turkish carpet in Cheapside, London, and to worked out how to produce a product of similar quality. Within a few years his carpets covered the floors in places such as the Brighton Pavilion, Chatsworth, Warwick Castle, and a little ironically Defterdar Palace, home of the Sultan of Turkey!

These days the town is also the base to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage culinary empire, and I have to say the coffee and millionaire’s shortbread I tried at the River Cottage Canteen in the centre of town before the game was excellent.

Other than the fact that the South West Peninsula League is beautifully run by Phil Hiscox, and ran several extremely popular groundhops in years past, the reason Axminster Town is seeing an influx of groundhoppers is that this season they’re on a temporary ground, 6 miles south-east of the town at a leisure centre attached to Colyton Grammar School, while their new ground is being built.

Before heading out I paid a visit to Axminster’s future and past grounds. The new ground is to be found on the outskirts of town on the Chard Road. If you reach the ground of Perry Street and District League outfit Millwey Rise FC, you’ve gone too far! There’s a new road being built from the right down to the ground, by the railway lines, and already there’s two pitches, a clubhouse and a small reservoir! I assume the reservoir is to aid drainage, but I have to report it’s extremely muddy down there, being at the bottom of a hill doesn’t help!

From there I visited Axminster’s old ground at Sector Lane. The clubhouse is still there and is still used as the club’s base until the new ground is ready, perhaps even at the end of the season. However there’s nothing left of the ground, save for the ridge by the side of the pitch where once, a long time ago a stand stood. I found the now disused line-ups board rather poignant. Still, at least this club will eventually get a ground better than the old one, up to Step 5 standard in fact. That is in contrast to many others I’ve seen.

It didn’t take long to find Colyton School, finding and giving a lift to a couple of hoppers on my way. For the pitch hopper, Axminster are in fact using two pitches, adjacent to each other at the back of the leisure centre. It’s no surprise that there isn’t a lot there in terms of facilties, just a roped off pitch and the changing rooms and toilets of the leisure centre. The league are to be congratulated on taking such a sensible view of Axminster’s needs when set alongside the needs of the league, and ground grading regulations.

On the pitch, with all the upheaval off of it, its not surprising that the club are struggling. They’re second-from-bottom with only Liverton below, and Liverton lost 27-0 to the day’s visitors Stoke Gabriel. The club, based between Totnes and Brixham on the River Dart are third, but unbeaten in the league. The difference was there for all to see, Gabriel moved the ball well, and were far sharper up front.

In a physical game Axminster keeper Brett Garner managed to keep them out until just before half time but once Dean Stevens opened the scoring the goals came in regular intervals. Axminster forward Adam Downs saw red in both senses of the term, being dismissed for a headbutt. It wasn’t that Axminster didn’t create chances, they could have easily scored a couple, but it was clear that the visitors will be in the mix from promotion in April.

As for the friendly hosts I got the impression that they’ve drawn a metaphorical line in the sand. The new ground is a new start for them, and they’re aiming to make that on the pitch as well as off of it. I suspect too that the groundhopping masses have their cards marked for the Easter when the Peninsula League Groundhop pays them a visit. I’ll be there.

My thanks to Mike Woodward for a lot of the research for this piece