From Wembley to Pennygillam
David Harrison on the new manager of his ‘other’ club
You’ve not bought YBR! to read about me, but a little context is necessary for this everyday story of far-flung Watford folk. Bear with me.
Having lived within a few miles of Vicarage Road for 60-odd years and held a season ticket for most of them, the time came for a domestic change of scene. The children (one with a season ticket in the SEJ) had long since fled so we decided to seize the opportunity and move to the far south-west.
An eight-hour round trip meant visits to the Vic became increasingly sporadic and although my affection for the Horns remains undiminished, I badly needed a decent local club to satisfy my yearning for involvement in the game.
I put in the groundwork, visited half a dozen geographically suitable clubs and quickly ruled out all bar one. The welcome at my local club – north-Cornwall-based Launceston of the step 6 South West Peninsula League (Premier West Division) was such that I soon became a signed-up Claret, travelling home and away, the length and breadth of Cornwall.
Long-standing YBR! readers may even recognise the background to this story. I wrote an early-lockdown piece for the Cornish Times, subsequently reproduced in these pages, about the role played by my grandfather, a wonderful old boy and proud Cornishman, in my football upbringing.
Grandpa told me it was fine to support two clubs, as long as they operated in non-overlapping football worlds and would never meet. Consequently I could safely throw in my lot with Launceston, a good 200 miles from Vicarage Road and occupying an entirely different sporting universe.
Recent events, however, have conspired to challenge that situation to some degree.
After a successful 2021/22, the Clarets lost their manager, lured away by the bright lights of... well, Newton Abbot actually, but to be fair it represented a significant opportunity for a young manager, keen to test himself at a higher level.
The resultant Launceston job advertisement provoked a healthy response, mostly comprising seasoned West Country managerial figures. However in amongst the predictable Cornish candidates one name stood out, unfamiliar to my fellow committee members.
I was asked, “Does the name Neil Price mean anything to you?” I replied that the only Neil Price I knew had played for Watford in the 1984 Cup Final so it was hardly likely to be him.
“Yup, that’s the one.”
For younger readers, defined here as those aged under 50, Neil enjoyed a brief but spectacular Vicarage Road career. His first start came in the epic UEFA Cup victory in Sofia, in front of 60,000 screaming Bulgarians. He followed that by becoming the last player ever to be sent off by legendary Welsh referee Clive Thomas, in a League game at Highbury.
However Neil owed his Wembley appearance to another high-profile official. When the theatrical Roger Milford inexplicably dismissed club skipper Wilf Rostron from a game at Kenilworth Road three weeks before the Cup Final, Neil stepped up and filled the left-back position.
It transpired that Neil and his wife were in the process of moving to north Cornwall, having bought a property just outside Launceston. Neil fancied getting involved in the game at a local level, happened to spot that the club were looking for a new manager and got in touch.
From Launceston’s viewpoint Neil’s playing career would help bring visibility and credibility as the club sought to attract players and build on an encouraging eighth-place finish. More relevant, however, was his experience towards the very top of the non-League game, successfully managing the likes of Walton & Hersham, Staines, Hendon and Neil’s home-town club, Hemel Hempstead.
Neil came in to meet the club committee, the stars aligned and he joined Launceston in good time to start planning for the new season. He’s excited by the challenge and can’t wait to get cracking.
Now clearly this is a story without an ending. In fact it doesn’t even have a beginning, with Neil’s first game in charge not scheduled until Saturday 6 August when the Clarets travel to Newquay to face the evocatively named Godolphin Atlantic.
But next time you hammer down the A30, heading for the Cornish beaches, you’ll pass within 50 yards of the club’s Pennygillam home. Glance to the left just after the Launceston turn-off and you’ll see a gigantic wind turbine. Look down – quite a long way down, actually – and you’ll spot a set of floodlights.
In truth it’s not a location that would win a beauty contest but the welcome is guaranteed to be warm and, if you buy the manager a post-match pint, you’re likely to be regaled with some very decent GT anecdotes, along with a summary of Launceston’s season.
So why not keep an eye on how the Clarets fare this season? Better still, come and see us. No guarantees about the football, but the pasties will be good!