FA Cup: How Helston Athletic is battling cost-of-living crisis outside the league

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The players of Helston celebrate the goal against Bishop’s Cleeve in the FA Cup second qualifying round

“Our hearts sink every time we hear the FA Cup draw,” said Paul Hendy, chairman of Helston Athletic.

An away game almost inevitably means a long day on the road for the part-time Cornish club. This weekend is no different.

On Saturday, Helston’s team coach will head out at 08:30 for a third qualifying round tie at Weston-super-Mare, a 340-mile round trip with five stops to pick up players and staff at Truro, Bodmin. Saltash, Plymouth and Tiverton.

On the final lap they were off at 7am with pots of breakfast cereal for the mammoth 450 mile day to Bishop’s Cleeve in Gloucestershire.

After starting in the additional preliminary round on August 6, this is Helston’s fourth away game in eight weeks and means the club, nicknamed the Blues, will have accumulated 1,250 FA Cup miles this season.

With winter approaching and the livelihood crisis looming, hundreds of clubs are concerned about heating bills, floodlight energy bills and fuel prices.

Didcot Town, who play in Southern League Division One Central, say theirs Energy bill increasesexternal link from £1,250 per month to £5,450.

Mansfield, who play five leagues higher than Helston in the second division, brought the kick-off for their home game against Walsall on October 15 to try and ease the situation “significant increase in energy costs”.

Down in the Western League Premier Division, where money is even tighter, Helston is bracing for tough times.

“We have already been asked by a club in our league whether we would agree to a postponement of the kick-off time in order to save on floodlight costs,” adds Hendy.

“Our clubhouse used to be open every evening. Not any longer longer. We can’t afford it if just one person comes in for a bottle of coke.”

But Helston, who operates 25 teams from his home in Kellaway Park, believes they can weather the financial storm and provide a community facility for the city for many years to come.

It helps if the club treasurer, who also washes the equipment, is a former bank manager.

Helston Athletic Chairman Paul Hendy (left) and Treasurer Sandra Egan
Paul Hendy is Helston Athletic’s chairman and groundsman, while club treasurer Sandra Egan is a former bank manager who washes equipment

“Gasoline prices difficult for us”

Helston is just two and a half miles from the picturesque fishing port of Porthleven in Cornwall which attracts tens of thousands of tourists each year.

But for all its beauty, Helston is still almost a two-hour drive from Plymouth, where the core of the team’s players are based.

Only one of the players – former England defender Josh Storey – has a contract. The rest receive expenses but no wages.

“Helston is pretty far down geographically,” says Blues manager Matt Cusack.

“When we try to recruit players from further afield, they may be reluctant to join because the fuel costs more than it did.

“I hear murmurs from players about the cost of fuel and that might make things a bit difficult for us.”

The cost of living crisis hasn’t stopped defender Tom Hands from playing for the team, despite studying at Bath University 200 miles away.

“He travels down every game,” adds Hendy, who doubles as Helston’s groundsman to save costs.

“They are all young players. They have mortgages and, like all of us, are affected by rising costs.

“I just filled up my car and it cost me £102. Not too long ago it was a maximum of 75 pounds.”

Players Josh Storey (right) and Tyler Elliott (centre) help wash up Paul Osborne, who runs the Blues Kitchen, which serves food to fans on game days
Players Josh Storey (right) and Tyler Elliott (centre) help wash up Paul Osborne, who runs the Blues Kitchen, which serves food to fans on game days

From scoring in Europe to Helston

In addition to being the chairman and groundsman, Hendy also helps run the bar on match days. The 57-year-old once played for the club and edited the show.

Helston has been promoted three times in his nine years as chairman, while Kellaway Park has seen improvements worth more than £100,000, including the installation of floodlights in 2015.

They have also appointed a Director of Football. Steve Massey is part of Wrexham folklore after scoring in the 1986 European Cup Winners’ Cup against Spanish club Real Zaragoza.

Hendy, a retired BT operations manager, devotes 50 hours a week to the club with his partner Sandra, a former bank manager who uses her experience to keep the club’s finances in check.

She also washes the Kit, one of the members of the volunteer committee who help keep Helston running.

The players of Helston celebrate the goal against Bishop's Cleeve in the FA Cup second qualifying round
Helston Athletic are playing in the FA Cup third qualifying round for the first time

“I know that there are teams at our level that have problems,” says Hendy. “Sandra and I come from an environment where we were driven to cut costs and eliminate waste. We want the club to survive for the community.

“To save costs, we changed the energy supplier and the brewery that supplies the drinks for the bar.

“We had a company that pulled out of a sponsorship deal but times are tough and we’re moving on. I’m always grateful to the companies that support us because they don’t have to. It’s not like we’re being shown on national TV.

“We are fortunate that we are located next to a busy road that has around 12,000 vehicles passing by every day. It’s a prime advertising space and we’re making full use of our location.”

Helston’s average league crowd is around 150, who pay £5 (adults), £3 (over 65) and £1 (under 18) to watch the Blues against the likes of Barnstaple Town, Buckland Athletic and Cadbury Heath .

“We had 351 in the ground for the FA Cup replay with Bishop’s Cleeve,” adds Hendy. “I think we even had a few climb over the fence too.

“We talked about raising the prices. It’s not about that for us. We want to give people the opportunity to come and enjoy football.”

Helston Athletic players receive cereal pots for long trips
Helston Athletic players are given pots of cereal to eat on the team bus for long trips

Free travel to Weston-super-Mare

To help its fans with the cost of living crisis, Helston is offering free bus trips to Weston-super-Mare, playing two levels up.

“We’ve already exceeded our expectations in the FA Cup this season so there’s no pressure,” adds coach Cusack.

This is the club’s best FA Cup run in their 126-year history and Hendy is determined to give as many fans as possible a chance to experience Saturday’s game.

Helston will use part of the £10,000 he has earned this season to fund the trip, while Helston’s women’s team secured a further £1,800 last month after winning their FA Cup first qualifying round tie with Crediton United.

“Even though there’s a lot going on with the cost of living, we’re in a much stronger position than we were before,” says Hendy.

“The money we made from the FA Cup is not going into things like electricity and petrol because we will lower our costs on that accordingly.

“It will be used to improve facilities and will serve as a lasting reminder of the year we made it to the FA Cup third qualifying round for the first time.”

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