Is Falmouth’s Melville Benney Britain’s longest-serving football boss?

Mike Truscott has been talking to a Falmouth man who is in his 55th season as a manger.

It’s got to be some sort of record, hasn’t it?  Surely . . .

Started managing at 14 – in 1965 – and still going strong.  Is there a better example, anywhere, of “grass roots” football involvement? 

At very least, it’s light years away from Premier League Dreamland. He’s not into the realms of big bucks – the multi-millionaires who “earn” six-figure sums every week at the top end of the sport.  In fact, he’s never taken a penny from the game (but he’s put a fair few into it).

I’m talking about Melville Benney . . . and he’s just possibly Britain’s longest-serving football boss.

Now 71, the Falmouth-based retired postman is into his 55th season as a manager.  With rarely more than a few weeks break in between, and often no break at all, he’s been at the helm of 16 teams in Cornish junior soccer.  He once managed two sides  simultaneously!

He’s received top-level recognition for his services to the game – which have covered so much more than mere team-coaching – and has spanned the generations by managing more than 30 fathers-and-sons.  He’s even guided one grandfather-son-and grandson.

It all began when he was one of a group of schoolboys who played the game in Falmouth’s Kimberley Park virtually every night of the week. They hit on the idea of a team and thus were born Kimberley Park Rangers and manager Mel.

They played friendly matches on the town’s Dracaena Avenue pitch or over at Mylor and word of their enthusiasm, if not major success, soon spread. Those hearing of them included two employees from Falmouth Post Office, Dennis Parry and Mike Rowe, who approached him one evening in the park.

They explained that they had entered the County Youth League only to discover that they couldn’t raise a team.  Would the rangers like to become the posties and would Melville manage them? It was yes on both counts, with Mel now heading up the GPO Wasps, later to become known simply as Falmouth GPO.

The GPO move was at the start of season 1968-69 and one of Melville’s earliest concerns was how to transport his team – all of school age and too young to drive – to away matches. He found a benefactor in Peter James at Falmouth YMCA, who laid on a coach out of his own pocket. That link strengthened in the following season when Melville’s players actually became the YMCA team. 

Since then he has managed Falmouth GPO (again, for some 15 years), Penryn Athletic Under-18s, Mylor, Mabe, Falmouth Docks reserves, Falmouth Town thirds, Falmouth Town Under-16s, Falmouth Albion, Falmouth Youth Club, Falmouth DC (Dracaena Centre), Falmouth United (his present club), Perranwell and Falmouth Athletic.

He also assisted Keith Rashleigh in managing Helston Athletic reserves in the Cornwall Combination League. That was the highest level at which he managed, but the highlight of his “career” – so far – was taking Falmouth GPO to the final of the post offices national knockout competition in 1994.

Falmouth, the smallest office in the competition, lost 1-0 to Leith, Edinburgh. The match was played on the Leith ground, which meant a 1,160-mile round trip for the Cornish boys. The Post Office itself laid on a luxury coach and top-notch hotel accommodation – although the coach broke down in Plymouth on the way up, with arrival at the hotel delayed until 3 am on the morning of the match!

The epic cup run did not go unnoticed in high places and it helped Melville earn the FA’s Long Service To Football award, made in 2018.

Greg Clarke, leader of the FA Council, told him: “No undertaking has been too small to warrant your attention, and you are valued more than you know.”

Those additional tasks have included the roles of club secretary and, currently, secretary of the Trelawny League.

“They asked if I could do it temporarily, just for a couple of weeks or so,” he recalls.  “That was two years ago!”

He adds: “If there’s a job needs doing at a club, I’ve probably done it. I’ve put up the goal nets, applied emergency first aid, even scooped up the dog’s mess on a pitch before a match!

“I’ve been very lucky, though, in having some first class assistants over the years. These have included Dave Spear with Falmouth Albion and Terry Pellow over a number of years; if it wasn’t for Terry, I would not have continued.”

Melville’s wife of 42 years’ standing, Teresa, is not a football fan and must qualify as the ultimate “soccer widow.” 

“Every year she tells me I’m useless and should give it up,” he laughs.

“She is very tolerant, as are all my family.”

That includes daughter Sarah, who told him 13 years ago that she was going to get married on a Saturday during the soccer season.

“You can’t do that,” he said.

“But it’s fixed, Dad,” Sarah pleaded.

“I don’t care; you’ve had all summer to choose from.  You’ll have to change it,” Melville countered.

She did (of course).

Thanks partly to Sarah’s indulgence, he’s now gone 41½ years without missing a single match involving one of his teams.

And, health permitting, Melville will only quit by choice if he finds he’s no longer enjoying it – “and I don’t envisage that any time soon!”

Mike’s musings – on sport and more – can be found on Mike Truscott’s Blog HERE

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