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Grassroots Spotlight: 16 goal thriller in the Blackmore Vale Football League

calendario 20.12.2020
by: Zach
  • England
Grassroots Spotlight: 16 goal thriller in the Blackmore Vale Football League

Winning 8-1 with only 25 minutes to go, the Donhead United barbarians could be forgiven for thinking they had secured all three points in their clash with Sturminster Rovers. However, if 2020, has taught us anything, it's to take nothing for granted. This, after all, was the Blackmore Vale League, the grassroots of English football, where anything was possible. The game ended in an 8-8 draw, due mainly to the solo-efforts of Sturminster's wunderkind number three George Coleman. 

Off the back of a 5-1 defeat to South Cheriton Comets, Sturminster had a shaky start to the game. They let in, according to their club Facebook page, several "soft goals" through "poor defending" early on. However, with less than half an hour to go and a seven-goal deficit, they found their momentum and pulled off the comeback of a lifetime.

George Coleman's deep-lying central midfield role allowed him to rally the Rovers with a full view of the ground. He scored four long-range goals in the space of ten minutes, adding to the tally with Kev Griffin, Billy Bright, Josh Guppy and Jay Danoris. 

The magic of non-league football lies in its chaos, and in comeback stories like this. In the sheer number of goals, the premier league can't compete. No premier league game has ever broken the teens in terms of goal tally, the closest being Portsmouth and Reading's 11 goal thriller in 2007. Since Donhead and Sturmister's 16 goal thriller, the league saw another huge result in mid-December as the Wincanton United wasps beat Hazelbury Bryan 14-1. As you can see, there's never a dull moment in leagues at this level. What they may lack in defensive consistency, they make up for in attacking surprise, and grassroots footballing passion.

While both Reading and Portsmouth have since slid down the football hierarchy, Sturminster Rovers and Donhead United occupy a different realm of football entirely, firmly amongst the roots of grassroots. Their league, the Blackmore Vale Football League, sponsored by Kellaway Building Supplies, ranks in the 14th tier of English football, alongside divisions like the Dorset Football League and the Yeovil District League. Like much of English football, the league has a long and storied tradition.

English footballers formed the Blackmore Vale League in 1914, just before the start of the First World War. It includes teams from Somerset and Dorset, with Donhead United forming the only Wiltshire team in the league. These teams compete for the Blackmore Vale Division cup, which Sturminster most recently won in 2009 and Donhead United most recently won in 1997. They also compete with other local grassroots leagues. 

While the Sturminster formed as recently as 1991, they have a core of loyal rovers fans. The Sturminster Rovers' unverified Twitter account includes the bio "if you're sober, you're not a rover," revealing the intoxicating energy with which grassroots football, and Sturminster in particular, fills its fans. However, the rovers' Twitter account has been inactive since 2015, so the last five years may have had a sobering effect on the team's most hardcore loyalists. 

The ever-changing pandemic restrictions, and increasing economic hardship, will have a huge impact on Sunday league, grassroots, amateur, and semi-pro football. In making national news, Sturminster's heroic comeback shines a much-needed spotlight on an important but under-valued area of English sport and British culture. The result shows the huge potential for frenetic energy and immortal sporting stories that grassroots football can deliver.

Although it may be difficult to follow untelevised regional leagues, particularly when their teams and players aren't as well documented as those further up the hierarchy, there will be a grassroots local league near you that's desperate for support. If you're out of lockdown, and it's safe to do so, you could do worse than finding a local grassroots team to support. 

In some ways, things look bleak for leagues like the Blackmore Vale Football League. League favourites Abbasalona FC, modelled after the iconic Barca Blaugranes, even dropped out of the competition in recent years. However, with the right support from communities, individuals, and authorities alike, grassroots football can make a comeback as inspiring as Sturminster Rovers' 8-8 draw with Donhead United.

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