Saturday 22nd February 2020 ko 14.30
Duchy League Division Two
NANPEAN ROVERS 6 ( Brown 22 R Willmott 35p 66 J Willmott 37 45 L Truscott 81)
BOSCASTLE RESERVES 1 (Joliffe 30)
I’m used to the type of groundhopper who’s closed their minds to any football below Step 6. I can understand why they feel that way, the sixth tier of non-league is the lowest where all grounds need to be (amongst other requirements) to be enclosed and have cover. The self-imposed rule acts as an emotional security blanket against the perceived horror of watching a game on a “Field!” What tends to be forgotten is that you can easily see both below Step 6, and sometimes the lack of ground grading requirements is actually a benefit. With that in mind, dear reader, please consider the glory that is Victoria Bottoms.
You’re in Cornish china clay mining country here and as you make for St Austell you’ll see no end of mine workings both current and past. Football in Nanpean dates from 1901 although Victoria Bottoms as a public space opened in 1936. The village had long since complained that there was nowhere set aside for their children to play. The disused Victoria Bottoms Clay Pit was taken over and employed miners spent their spare time on the project and unemployed miners worked here full time, subsidised by the working men according to local legend.
The clubhouse is quite a mixture, the older brutalist styled bar area dating from 1958 is now expanded by a newer pavilion. Stone set into the new building’s fabric serves as a memorial to 8 Nanpean men who died fighting in the Second World War. Their initials are set either side of the double doors of the pavilion.
The result is a natural amphitheatre with walkways and a stand at the either end, including a balcony on the stand at the far end, used as a pulpit for public meetings. These days if the club played at Step 6 I’m sure much of the ground would be closed off. This was a place designed on the hoof by working men and not by health and safety inspectors!
The move did Nanpean Rovers a world of good too, with the club becoming founder members of the Cornwall Combination in 1959 and after winning that league at the first attempt gained promotion to the South Western League (now the St Piran’s League).
During those years the club had two campaigns in the FA Cup and even after dropping out of the South Western League in 1973 still remained a force in the East Cornwall League. But as the china clay industry declined so did the club. They were relegated to the East Cornwall League’s second tier in 2005 and after a series of bottom and near bottom finishes the club folded in 2018.
Thankfully the club was quickly revived for the start of last season and entered the lowest possible tier of Cornish football, the Duchy League Division 4, some 14 promotions from the EFL. They won the division and after a league restructure ended up in this season’s Division Two. For Robyn and I’s visit, the club went into the game top and having scored over 100 goals. A nil-nil didn’t look likely, but the visit was made all the more enjoyable by the welcome we received. Robyn even won second prize, a box of tea bags no less, on the raffle!
Today Victoria Bottoms is slowly being brought back to former glories. Much of the amphitheatre is now quite overgrown but you can still walk the whole way around and paths and shrubbery do mean that the ground has an almost ethereal feel. You look around, and there’s yet another path to follow. At times you almost wondered when a Lewis Carroll character might jump out of the shadows! It is a magical place to watch a game, something quite unique amongst the 2,000 plus grounds I’ve visited.
The game was part of Nanpean’s march back to former glories. I don’t think anyone expected anything other than a home win, but unlike a few teams this season Boscastle’s reserves really made them work for it.
This was my third visit here, but the first to actually see a game so I knew that Victoria Bottoms was special. What taking the time to both explore and to see a game did was to find out just how special both club and ground are. You really do need to make a beeline here!