The Cornish Club talk about cost of living crisis and grab attention with stunning FA Cup run


Cornish football club Helston Athletic talk about battling the cost of living crisis and attracting attention with their stunning FA Cup run.

An away game means much of the day traveling for the part-time club, which is about two hours south-west of Plymouth.

“Our hearts sink every time we hear the FA Cup draw,” says Paul Hendy, chairman of Helston, as they get ready to play at Weston-super-Mare.

On Saturday, Helston’s team coach left at 8:30am for a third qualifying round game that will be a 340-mile round trip with five stops en route to pick up players and staff at locations including Truro, Bodmin, Saltash, Plymouth and Tiverton.

In the second round of qualifying, they set off at 7am with pots of breakfast cereal for a 450-mile day trip to Bishop’s Cleeve in Gloucestershire.

After starting in the extra preliminary round on August 6, this is Helston’s fourth away game in eight weeks, having accumulated 1,250 FA Cup miles this season alone.

As winter approaches and the cost of living crisis begins to hit the nation, hundreds of football clubs are worried about heating bills, floodlight energy bills and fuel prices. Concerned, they might be forced to fold.

“We have already been approached 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 now. We can’t afford it if just one person comes in for a bottle of coke.”

Helston, who have 25 teams in action, believe they are just about able to weather the financial storm and provide the town with a community facility for years to come thanks to their run in the Cup but also the staff and volunteers doing their little bit .

Paul Hendy, the chairman of Helston, with Sandra Egan, the groundskeeper’s club treasurer, a former bank manager washing the equipment

As BBC Sport reports, Helston is two and a half miles from the fishing port of Porthleven, which is visited by tens of thousands of tourists each year.

Most of the squad are based in Plymouth, two hours away, and only one of the players – Josh Storey – has a contract. The rest receive expenses but no wages.

“Helston is pretty far down geographically,” says 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 gas and that might make things a bit difficult for us.”

Defender Tom Hands isn’t letting the cost of living and distance stop him from playing for the team, despite studying at Bath University 200 miles away.

“He shuts down every game” adds Hendy, who also acts as Helston’s groundsman, to cut costs.

“These are all young players. You 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

Hendy, 57, acts as chairman and groundskeeper and also runs the bar on match days. He played for the club once and edited the programme.

Helston has won three promotions in his nine years as chairman, while Kellaway Park has seen improvements worth more than £100,000 including installing floodlights in 2015 and also refreshing the dressing rooms.

They have also appointed a director of football in Steve Massey, who once scored for Wrexham against Spanish club Real Zaragoza in the 1986 European Cup Winners’ Cup.

A retired BT operations manager, Hendy spends around 50 hours a week at the club alongside his partner Sandra, a former bank manager who uses her experience to keep the club’s finances on track.

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

“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 on 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 sees an average attendance of around 150, adults are £5, over 65s can hop in for £3 (over 65s) and it’s just £1 for under 18s.

“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. It’s about giving people the opportunity to come and enjoy football.”

To help his fans with the cost of living crisis, Helston has offered free bus trips to Weston-super-Mare, which plays two levels up.

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

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

Helston will use part of the £10,000 earned from the 2022/23 run to fund the trip, while Helston’s women’s side bagged a further £1,800 last month after winning their FA Cup first qualifying round tie against Crediton United.

“Although there is a lot going on with the cost of living, we are 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 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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