Buckland's team are pulling the same way to help their club
SITTING around a table with the team from Buckland Athletic FC, it occurs to me that this lot would probably be useless on the football pitch.
Unless I'm very much underestimating them, they don't look like they would have accurate passing, powerful shooting or fierce tackling. I'm not even sure they would make it to half time. Off the pitch, however, and it's a different story – as this is where they really excel.
It's because the 'team' in question aren't the ones who pull on boots and don the yellow strip every Saturday for nine months of the year. Instead, they are the people who make the actual footballing part possible.
They are the people who have ensured the club have a ground to play on – and even built the clubhouse with their own hands. They are the people who prepare the pitch, wash the kit, produce the programme, take the money on the gate and behind the bar and generally organise the players. And they're the ones who stay on long after the season has finished, running the clubhouse and maintaining the pitch.
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Without them, there's little chance the club would have made it to the Western League – where they will start next season – completing a meteoric rise over the last 35 years.
Buckland Athletic didn't even field a senior team for the first decade of their existence, as they started life as a junior club playing in the Pioneer Youth League.
It was how Roy Holmes, now chairman, first became involved. Roy, sitting opposite me and very much in the centre of the group, explains that he only became involved some two years after the formation of the club because his son Billy was in the team at the time. Little would he have realised that he would later become manager of the senior side and hold the role for seven seasons.
"When I started there were two [junior] teams, and I was a linesman. Because my lad was involved, I was asked to be manager, and I agreed," he says.
"I didn't come until 1979 – I took the boys right through from U13s progressing year by year until they did two years at U18 level.
"Without being too big-headed about it, we won the league every year, we were that strong.
"The first year in the U18s we were beaten in the Devon Youth Cup by Newton Abbot 66, but we came back the next year and won the final against Stoke Gabriel.
"When we started we were rag-ass rovers – a bunch of kids across the bypass on a little pitch next to the Penn Inn roundabout with a big slope on it."
But the story of the club's incredible progression through the non-league structure is most definitely not about one person, and there are plenty of others also round the table.
Among them is Christine Holmes – Roy's wife and current club secretary. She also makes a mean cup of coffee. There's also Roger Madge – who took over from Roy as joint-first team manager in 1994 and guided the club to their first Premier Division championship with Nigel Holmes.
To the other side of Roy is Simon Glanfield, groundsman and part of the group which built the clubhouse we're now sat in. And next to him is Paul Hardingham, editor of the club's award-winning programme and website.
Others drop in while we're talking, including Charlie Hardingham and Paul Tucker.
What links them all is their passion and dedication to the club, as Roy explains.
"Each person you see within the room is a volunteer – we spend all our time up here for nothing," he says.
"For instance the guy out there (he gestures outside) has just finished painting both changing rooms and the referee's room.
"We couldn't survive without the number of volunteers that we've got."
It was the work of volunteers doing shifts on evenings and weekends which saw the clubhouse take shape alongside the main pitch. There are boards of photos documenting the process, with impromptu games of football alongside pictures of cement lorries and diggers.
But the work didn't finish when the facility opened in July 2005, as the clubhouse is regularly updated. It doubles as a function venue, providing a key revenue stream, and so fixtures and fittings have to be top-notch. It certainly isn't 'cheap and cheerful' which is perhaps what could be expected.
"We probably worked about two years before we came out here properly, from around October 2003 onwards," chips in Simon Glanfield.
Roy continues: "We had a clapped out caravan, and Christine use to come along with breakfasts in Chinese takeaway containers to keep them hot.
"If we had gone through the same funding channels as other football clubs, we worked out that our percentage of the grant would cost more than if we just did it ourselves."
It's clearly a subject which every member of the team knows well – as almost everyone wants a say now. It's Roger Madge who goes next.
He says: "With lottery funding, we would have had to wait for six to nine months before we got a decision, and even then there would be no guarantee that we would get it."
"We took out a bank loan instead, and paid it off by what we made on the bar."
The group seem very much at ease chipping in with tid-bits of the story – very much like a family would talk. And the family aspect has been a key part of the tale of the club.
Many of the members of the original youth team have gone on to have sons who now play for the club, while other figures have been commemorated in structures around the ground.
On the opposite side to the clubhouse is the Clive Holmes Memorial Stand, a covered seating area named after Nigel Holmes' father - a member who 'would do anything' to help the club before he died from prostate cancer. He's no relation to Roy, incidentally.
Even the name of the ground itself is significant. After first playing on Sandringham Park next to the Penn Inn roundabout, they moved to Homers Lane in Kingsteignton, leading club members to nickname themselves as 'Homers'. The Heath part comes from Roy's father-in-law Gerald Heath, who was killed at the age of 42 in an industrial accident.
The move away from Kingsteignton was meant to free up land which would see an enlarged Tesco store and new pitches for the rugby club.
"We were the first cog in the movement of what was going to happen – and nothing else has happened since," says Roy.
"People say that we're lucky, but I tell 'em that it's nothing to do with luck as we've had to work hard for everything we've got."
The club have also enjoyed the support of plenty of local firms in their time, and Paul Hardingham explains that it is a good thing that they don't rely on a single company or individual.
"What we try and do is spread it around really, as we don't rely on one benefactor," he says.
"Falmouth Town had to cut their budget this season because they rely on one person, whereas we get a little bit from a lot of different people."
Various firms do get a mention, including sponsors Firewatch and Wotton Printers, who produce the programme. Viridor have also made a significant investment in the club (more than £20,000) thanks to landfill credits – as the ground sits on an old dump.
Two key figures who aren't able to be at the interview are John Piller and Billy Holmes, who work as 'commercial managers' of a sort. They sell sponsorship around the ground and in the programme and website which effectively covers the players' travelling expenses.
There is a strict separation of these finances, so money from behind the bar will not go into 'paying players' as some may expect.
Roy says: "It really has been a case of beg, steal or borrow – you look here and think that the clubhouse earns some money, but it goes back to the running of the club, and the work on improving things.
"Anything made in here doesn't go into the players' pockets – far from it."
The organisation, dedication and ability of the group is certainly what has helped make the club's on-the-field progress possible – and it could even take them higher.
The club's thick, glossy programme has been described as 'Conference standard' by outsiders, and has won awards from the South West Peninsula League for the last four years. And the ground itself has been graded to the level which could stage Southern League football – something the club have already considered.
Roy says: "The financial aspect will be looked at – people have said that the Southern League would be cheaper in terms of travelling expenses than the Western League.
"We've talked about the fact that the behind the goal area we are going to try and do a covered standing area with a little bit of terracing. We would need that as well if we were going into the Southern League.
"But we are capable, with the volunteers we've got, of doing it ourselves."
Yet for the moment, the excitement of going up to the Western League is what is keeping everyone around the table going. And it's something that Roy admits he would not have even dreamed about when he first started.
"I've got to admit it's been a meteoric rise over the past 30 years – I once said that I hoped that maybe one day we could have a side in the Herald Cup final, and we've done that already.
"I never envisioned it would grow like it has."
He adds: "There's going to be more travelling – our only saving grace is that Merthyr Town got promoted, otherwise we would be going to Wales next season.
"A group of us travel by train where we can so we can have an away day, and there are a load of games next season where we can get there by changing at Bristol Temple Meads or Bath Spa.
"What's better than going to a new place for the first time?
"I'm quite looking forward to it myself."