Growing up as a sports fan in Cornwall was always going to be tough. The media reports Premiership football results, transfers and gossip around the clock but lower league football has always been more challenging to keep up with.
For those who prefer the sport of rugby, trying to find any information is a committed affair and, though it pains me to say it, when I was a lad there was no such thing as the internet.
The nearest stadium to Cornwall is Home Park in South Devon where Plymouth Argyle play their football. The team reached the Championship for six seasons, the second tier of English football, however two consecutive relegations meant that they dropped back to where, at the time of writing, they now play.
Within the duchy Truro City are the most successful team, a National League South club which by comparison is the sixth tier of English Football.
The rugby union County Championships have seen Cornwall as finalists in four consecutive years between 2013 and 2016 which shows which side residents normally fall in the debate between rugby and football (although certainly not always) and so it is no surprise that Cornwall’s most successful rugby outfit, the Cornish Pirates, are in the Championship, the second tier of the rugby union league system.
As a football fan I have regularly attended Home Park for the atmosphere and once made it to Wembley to support England, however I also have a very keen interest in rugby union and even played as a youngster yet I have never made the journey to watch the Cornish Pirates despite my Dad being a season ticket holder who regularly watches games.
Visitors to the duchy may even see their local teams travelling down as London, Bedford and Nottingham all have teams in the Championship…again, at the time of writing.
I decided to correct my serial non-attendance by watching the Cornish Pirates play Yorkshire Carnegie on a fresh and glorious Sunday in October.
Although talks were in place for the team to relocate to a brand new, all seater stadium just outside Truro the facility had not yet seen a digger to clear the weeds and so I made my way to the Mennaye Field in Penzance which has been home to the team since 1945 after Penzance RFC and Newlyn RFC amalgamated to become Penzance & Newlyn RFC.
The Cornish Pirates name came in 2005 under the direction of club president Dicky Evans and with it came a dedicated style of rugby which benefitted the players and fans alike.
The game itself was due to be an absolute thriller as Yorkshire Carnegie were undefeated in the league and the Pirates had just come off the back of a very slim loss, 25-24 against London Scottish, their first defeat of the season. Lying second and third respectively showed how well both teams were playing and being so close at the top of the table meant every player knew how important the game was.
I thought it was going to be the Pirates’ day as they went over the line to score a try within the first five minutes and the standard of rugby played at the Mennaye was plain for all to see.
The team were together, well coached and focused and there were very few mistakes throughout the match, a key feature of professional sport.
We were all treated to a tightly balanced match that ended 28-35, with both sides gaining bonus points. The visitors secured theirs through scoring four tries in the match (they actually scored five overall), whilst the Pirates gained their bonus point for keeping the game within seven points.
There’s a great sense of community within the ground and it’s clear who the regular fans are as they greet each other and the ground staff before discussing the current form and potential changes in the team.
As a first timer I still felt a part of the community as I listened to the conversations and caught up with previous matches from the program, gauging who was on form and which players would be the ones to watch before they took to the field.
Visitors to the ground have the opportunity to take up a hospitality package which allows them to have a three course meal, a seat and a program as well as interviews with former and current players.
I chose to mingle with the regulars outside the marquee and had the choice between a hog roast or pasty and a pint for a very reasonable price.
The marquee was hosting the Cadgwith Singers after the game which was open to all and so a trip to watch a game of rugby can easily be turned into a laid back afternoon and evening session.
There’s no doubting the Cornish spirit within the club and a day out with the Pirates is a great advert for the duchy that families will find enjoyable and relaxing.