St Mawgan is a small village in Cornwall with a lot going on, writes Tom Howe. There is big industry, with the nearby Royal Air Force station and Newquay Airport, and plenty of history too thanks to Lanherne House and its famous occupants, the Arundell family.
Mixed between the parish church, craft shop and, wait for it, a Japanese Garden attraction, is a football club that continues to grow exponentially for players across a range of different levels.
First team player/manager Ash Bicknell, himself from a famous family in the local football fraternity, is one of the catalysts behind the march of the Saints, who ply their trade within the grounds of Trevarrian Holiday Park.
A short foray past the caravans, the indoor swimming pool and the bowling centre affords a glimpse at a new changing room / clubhouse facility in the process of being built, as well as a brand new 50-seater stand, all part of the latest phase of an honest commitment to update and improve the club’s facilities.
“We are trying to meet the gradings of the FA so that we can facilitate as high a standard of football as we possibly can,” Bicknell told Cornwall Sports Media. “This is my sixth season as manager. My aim was always about how far we could take this bunch of players and how we could enable the youth a pathway into the adult game.
“Between myself and the chairman [Jamie Phillips], it was about what we could put in place to keep the players we have and develop the youth set-up, how can we sustain two men’s teams and what sort of standard we can push them to. These things off the pitch help attract players and keep the ones that we have got. It keeps the St Mawgan conversation alive.
“The more we are progressing with things at the club, the more recognition we are getting from other sides and supporters. We are in a small catchment area in which, if you are good enough, you go and play South West Peninsula football. There are also a lot of other clubs, be it in the Duchy League or whatever, situated around us.
“You have to have unique selling points to get these players over to your club. We take the approach to make sure the youth set up is as good as it can be, that our reserve side is at a point where they are competing in an enjoyable environment and the first team is pushing and competing in the league we are in. If you can get the facilities and everything else around the club right, then you will be able to attract players from around the area and improve.”
On the pitch, the last few seasons have brought cup final success and promotions to boot, with Bicknell himself steadily shaping a core squad of first team players with the old adage of blended experience and youth.
His side occupy sixth spot in the St Piran League East — the highest level of football in Cornwall below the National League System. With games in hand on each of the teams above them, they have ridden the storm of a stop-start campaign to carve out an unbeaten run that now stretches to some seven games.
“We have had a really mixed season,” reflected Bicknell. “We only played nine or ten times before Christmas and three of those we lost with the last kick of the game. The performances in a couple of games weren’t good enough. That may have been because we hadn’t played for two or three weeks. Some performances probably warranted a lot more, though.
“In our last eight games however, we have only been beaten once. There is a bit of a run being put together. Performances of late, since we have been playing more regularly, have been much better and the relationship between the reserves [in Duchy Division One] and the first team is as good as it has been for a few years. Training with them means there is a pathway, which is something we have been building since our AGM last summer.
“There have been a few second team players who have stepped up and played first team football which creates a good feeling around the club. Our oldest youth side now is at under-16s so we only have to wait one more season for them to hopefully make their way into men’s football, too.
“All in all we can’t afford to have all these nice things off the pitch and allow ourselves to get distracted. We need to keep winning on the pitch and enjoying it. The big hurdle then is the summer, seeing where we finish in the leagues, what the facilities have to offer us, try to attract players and keep the better ones that we have got. We need to be in a position that the club is able to progress — if that is what we want — or to be stable if we want to stick around.”
Photos: Colin Bradbury / Cornwall Sports Media