In the latest in a series of popular weekly Spotlight features on our GFA-affiliated grassroots clubs, we turn our attentions to M4 Karting Cirencester and District League club South Cerney.
Simon Parkinson asked their devoted Kingscote-born 80-year-old chairman Gordon Stratford, and club secretary-of-three-decades Kay Allen, to tell us about spiders, rats, cow pats, tin baths and, oh, football in the village...
Club: South Cerney FC
Ground: Upper Up Playing Fields, South Cerney, Cirencester GL7 5UT
League status: M4 Karting Cirencester and District League
Last season’s final placements; First XI: Third in Division One; Reserves: Fourth in Division Two
First team managers: Simon Allen, Damian Mueller
Chairman: Gordon Stratford
Vice-chairman: Datch Allen
Secretary: Kay Allen
Treasurer: Michelle Guppy
Kay, you first! Tell us something about this marvellous club of yours at this time
Well, we’ve had our ups and downs over the past year or so, that’s for sure. Mind you, having been secretary for 30 years – I was only meant to fill in for a short spell until they found someone – that’s bound to happen!
Everything was looking rosy two years ago when our first team won the Cirencester League Division One championship, while only last season our reserves not only finished up a creditable fourth in the second division but they had us all celebrating a GFA Primary Cup penalty shoot-out win in the final against Kingsway Rovers at Slimbridge.
Our difficulties really took a hold after that as our first team – and bear in mind we’d been up there competing hard for many years at the top end of Division One – began losing more and more players for various reasons.
In order to keep the first team alive we had to effectively prop them up with many of our reserve team players, which meant that around October/November time we had to pull the plug completely on our reserves which was a real disappointment because we’d always run with at least two senior teams.
That said our first team, who are managed by my son Simon Allen and Damian Mueller, who was our reserves boss, have, to their credit, done their best to keep us competitive and as we speak we’ve been holding our own well in the top three with a lot of inexperienced and youthful players.
The facilities have changed considerably haven’t they from their original state?
They certainly have. We’ve always been at these premises but around eight years ago, possibly more, everyone pulled together to raise the £35,000 we needed to revamp our changing rooms and clubhouse.
It had been an old wooden structure and still is, but a modern one now and unrecognisable compared with the original building which was falling to pieces and had all manner of creepy crawlies, spiders and even rats running amok, although you don’t want to hear too much about that!
The cricket club allowed us to use their changing facilities for a bit so that was fine. A really good community spirit and togetherness was shown and it’s lovely now. I remember we needed another £5,000 to finish it all off and the fishing club loaned it us.
It’s called the Gordon Stratford Clubhouse now in honour of our long-serving chairman and there’s a commemorative plaque inside.
We have two changing rooms and a big kitchen out the front, so if it’s raining people like me can watch from the window!
Our committee is a strong one and includes our two managers; my husband Datch, who is vice-chairman; Wendy and Martin O’Keeffe, Gary Randall and Rose Stratford, who is Gordon’s wife, as well as Michelle Guppy, our treasurer, and Gordon and me.
Keeping it in the family as we like to do, Michelle is the better half of my manager son Simon!
On to you, Gordon; how long have you been associated with South Cerney FC?
I joined the club in 1963 as an outside right, even though I played left-back for the District. As far as I know the club has been going since the late 1800s so I’ve only been a part of it for 50-odd years!
In my early days there we’d hire the pitch from the farmer, Tom Ponting, a lovely fella, and at the end of the season we’d go to him and ask him how much he wanted. He’d say, “Give oi five bob and we’ll call it quits”, but we’d give him a bottle of scotch instead which I think he quietly preferred.
Our biggest problem was the cows. We had to herd Tom’s cows to the bottom of the field before games and try and shovel away as many cow pats as possible before putting up the goals. I can remember on one occasion squaring the ball invitingly to our centre-forward David Allaway and it landed right in the middle of a large pat.
He only had to stick the ball in the net but instead of scoring he jumped over it and said, “I’m not kicking that!” I informed him in no uncertain words that he could have worried about washing his boots after.
The away teams would change at a garage on the side of the Royal Oak Pub about 100 yards down from the field and use an old fashioned tin bath after games there. Most of our lads were locals and came to games changed and ready to play.
Eventually we managed to buy an old telephone exchange building off the Post Office, which in effect was a glorified shed. But we worked hard on it and transformed it into changing rooms, clubhouse and kitchen; something we could at least call our own.
Eventually the local parish council bought the field and turned it into a recreational facility and it’s one of the finest around now.
Up in the clubhouse we have a wonderful black and white team picture from 1926 of South Cerney players holding their trophies after beating Cirencester Town in the final of the Senior Charities Cup.
It’s all very different now but you still have your challenges in 2017 I presume...
Yes, that’s right. As Kay said, it was a shame our reserves had to pull out earlier this season but it’s something I am determined to see back next season if at all possible. Our village has expanded so quickly so there are opportunities to recruit there.
The young players have had to step up to first-team level and they’re learning and doing okay. It was tremendous to see them winning that county cup last year before folding. I played in three county cup semi-finals but never reached a final and I can’t recall any of our sides winning such a competition until then.
We’ve won the league title on numerous occasions but never had the goal to move any higher. That said, if we could attract more good quality players then I see no reason why we couldn’t progress one day, possibly to the Northern Senior League.
Who are the key figures out on the sidelines and pitch when it comes to matchdays?
Kay’s son Simon and Damian Mueller work really well together and are doing a very good job as a management pairing in difficult circumstances. We began the season slowly but have picked up again recently.
Our most prolific striker is Nathan Littler, a very quick lad who scored 30 goals for our reserves last year and has put away around 19 so far for the firsts this season.
He is an excellent footballer who can use both feet and he has pace. Nathan is definitely someone who could play at a higher level.
Michelle Guppy does a terrific job as treasurer and Kay is absolutely brilliant as secretary. Her hubbie Datch does so much hard work marking the pitches and the like with Simon but you can’t fault the effort and dedication shown by all our committee members.
It’s funny to think that having captained our firsts and reserves, and going on to become reserves manager, I’ve also been groundsman, plumber, chairman and filled pretty much every position other than secretary!
In the early seventies, when I managed the reserves, I brought through many talented youngsters including Datch and he was an outstanding player, a front runner and prolific scorer with clever feet. I’d rate him as one of the finest players I’ve worked with.
It pleases me that we have a thriving youth section with around 90 children playing in the North Wilts Youth League. I started it up in 1978 but was forced to take a step back when I required an operation and the whole thing finished for a few years.
But I was asked to go back and now I’m chairman of that department again as well as of the seniors and it’s brilliant.