South West Peninsula League, Premier Division
Camelford FC v Bodmin Town FC
Friday, 18th April 2014, 11am
Entrance Adults £5 Children free, Programme £1
Distance 220 miles, Attendance 50ish
“Will he finish up coaching or managing?” I asked goalkeeping coach, Terry Huddy, as they left the pitch. “Who?” he looked perplexed.
Staying out on the pitch following the away victory, Bodmin had come together (I assume) to analyse this, their last game before Monday’s Cornwall Senior Cup Final. Behind me Camelford players were already chatting merrily with family and friends; making plans for the rest of this Good Friday, as supporters began to wend their way home.
The past ninety minutes had been an untidy affair where both sides laboured for the upper hand, without really dominating until the visitors took the lead. Even then, a draw would’ve been a fair result. Given that neither side could go up nor down, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone; those watching certainly seemed relatively happy with just having the opportunity to escape to the open, soak up some sun and chat with those of a similar disposition.
As the pivotal goalmouth scramble ensued, I was chatting with a Camelford stalwart behind the away goal; uncharacteristically the opposite end to the action. Watch the goals go in? I had no such aspirations. Bodmin may have donned the right colours but, I’d detoured our family’s return from another lovely Cornish holiday, to catch one final glimpse of The Man; I was only interested in how “our” former Player Of The Season measured up, nineteen years on from Watford’s record breaking nine consecutive clean sheets.
The 1990s brought some success however, taking nearly a century to win any silverware at all, since Miller’s arrival at Priory Park in 2007 – a chance move at best – the club have swept the board; winning the League title, Senior Cup and Throgmorton Cup (no, me neither) four times each. Despite being a similar age, today’s hosts don’t boast the same trophy cabinet however, former player and now Vice-Chairman, Ollie Rowe was rightly proud of his club and their recent achievements.
As our Kevin was settling up the road, in Camelford big moves were also underway with a promotion and a ground move. Google Earth would have you believe that their aging ground sits south of the A39, just off Higher Cross Lane. In actual fact, no more than half a mile north – as the crow, heron or tern flies in these parts – is their impressive new abode. Yes, the Camels were fortunate enough to land one of the Budweiser £50K “Futures” grants but, it’s what you do with the money that counts. Having acquired two fields from one farmer; two pitches were laid, a drive hewn to nearby Maple Avenue (I think; it’s hard to tell given the new housing/building site one drives through en route), a tidy clubhouse built and, solar panels plumbed in to cover “£7-8000” worth of electricity annually which is more than ample for their needs. With a third of another field rented for the youth team to train on, this is a truly wonderful set up, in a beautiful location. For ornithologists, or even those with a keen interest in flora and fauna, this is the one club to visit.
As the players took to the field for this morning’s kick-off, I’d fumbled an introduction of sorts through HIS net and, managed to maintain the conversation – without distracting him from the day job – way into the second period. As, I am sure, many Barnsley and Watford fans (in particular) would testify – Miller is an engaging figure both on and off the field. One minute YELLING encouragement in thick West Country drawl, the next courteously questioning officials, before turning round to share a joke or to check fans agreed with his judgement.
The first action had seen a shot just evade his outstretched arm and bounce off the crossbar. As if immediately learning from such a mistake, nothing else got so close. In front of him the centre back pairing – Huw Morgan and captain Tom Chambers (who took the goal kicks) – were rock solid throughout. In front of them, the worryingly hirsute Jimmy Alexander was a terrier and whilst none of the three appeared capable of hitting the target, what they did was enough to afford others the opportunity to do so. Up front, the second half partnership, of Chris Wright (not the 17 stated on team sheet, Steve Simmonds) and Luke Doddridge, also showed some useful touches, including one fine effort straight out of the Graham Taylor handbook following Miller’s deft punt up field.
For Camelford, Mark Gusterson had one first half effort tipped just over by Miller whilst team mate, Josh Insley made the mistake of deigning to challenge (and amusingly losing out to) the still very imposing Miller. “’He won’t try that again!” muttered one fan nearby. Up the other (far) end, a handful of corners piled on the pressure, culminating in what was the only goal of the game midway through the first half.
From that point on, it would take almost an hour for the Camels to truly attack the big man’s area again. Whenever they did break through, they were met by an immovable force of nature and experience and… (we’ll stop there), whose guile was still as cunning as it was impressive. Of course he’s lost some agility but like any aging (a loose term) sportsman, Miller clearly still reads the game quicker than most.
There was also a constant caring encouragement for young team mates, an admirable appreciation for the support he could offer the Bodmin management and, most thankfully, a cordial manner to my questions. Without going into details – interspersed with almost jovial questioning of the inconsistent officiating before us and of players with big egos – he enquired of the new Vicarage Road regime and of stalwart Alec Chamberlain. We discussed Luton’s unjust 30 point punishment (their crowds and recent elevation back to league status), the importance of black boots even when having to now buy them oneself – “that’ll never change” – and even of my holiday in Cornwall.
Afterwards – once Huddy understood to whom I referred – the answer was short. “No, he’ll call it a day.” He replied, smiling back. Staring at Miller advancing towards us, I found it somewhat strange; a waste of talent maybe. Doubtless his heart resides in the South West but, his mind still has so much to offer the sport. There are many who could benefit from his experience down here/there.
Before arriving, I’d already heard Miller had been doing some youth coaching in the Exeter area and had observed this, both throughout the game and afterwards. When treatment was sort by Morgan, Miller was thinking ahead, rearranging remaining players before the prone centre back was even treated for cramp. Often he praised the “good boy(s)” in front of him, before criticising their marking, or mocking their shooting aim. Opponents and officials didn’t escape either. Almost nudging them towards his ideals when free kicks were conceded, “Oh, that’s soft ref” he’d mutter in the direction of the men in black with a stern look, before yelling at defenders to “PICK ‘IM UP!”. At 45ish, though the team sheet refers to him as “green”, evergreen would be more fitting.
As Kevin left the pitch on this very Good Friday, I shook his still gloved hand and wished him luck for the final; cordially he thanked me before disappearing into the dressing room. Given the incredible length of his career – one he (hopefully, foolishly) told me will come to an end in a few weeks – he probably wouldn’t remember this moment but, I will. Fittingly I will also remember, with thanks, this and many more clean sheets he’s offered to fans of a few chosen clubs.
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The Cornwall Senior Cup Final.
4.30pm, Monday 21st April 2014
Bodmin Town v St Austell
at Bodieve Park, Wadebridge Town AFC