Rival managers who are united by a massive task
By North Devon Journal | Thursday, September 08, 2011, 08:00
MARK ELLIS hit the nail on the head two days before kick-off.
ON THE LINE: Glenn Borthwick, the Combe Martin manager, takes his turn with the flag while opposite number Mark Ellis takes in the action. Pictures: Mike Southon. To order these photographs call 0844 4060 269 and quote Ref: BNMS20110903G-013_C (left), BNMS20110903G-018_C (right)
"Massive," he said. "Massive in September. That's a weird thing to say, isn't it? Massive in September."
It was not even the end of September.Or the middle. Ellis was speaking on the first day of the month.
The season had kicked off only 12 days earlier and already the picture was clear.
Both Barnstaple AAC and Combe Martin were in a battle to stay in the premier division of the North Devon Football League.
Results so far? Ammies had played four, lost four. Combe Martin had played four, lost four.
Two days later they would meet at Mill Road, giving each club the chance to put their first points on the board.
To the winners, hope. To the losers, fear they might not win all season. Massive.
For Ellis and his opposite number, Glenn Borthwick, it had been a harsh introduction to premier division management.
Both had managed in the lower divisions and were now stepping up in challenging circumstances.
"They've lost players, we've lost players," said Ellis.
There was even more of a common denominator than that of two new managers working in a post-exodus environment to register a first win.
Both clubs had enjoyed unbroken membership of the top flight for several seasons, both managers had achieved success in the lower divisions and both had been working diligently behind the scenes to keep their clubs going.
And both, typical of their dedication, did a turn as a linesman on Saturday.
Borthwick did not stop there. He even went on as a substitute for the last ten minutes, the former Southampton youth-team player still out on the pitch in his 40s.
Combe Martin had looked in danger of disbanding during the close season when Borthwick came to the rescue in June.
"We have had to go down from two teams to one and it was a case of me taking over as manager or the club would fold," he said.
The loss of a dozen or so players to Ilfracombe Town prompted a change of strategy by Borthwick.
"Over the last two or three years the club had a change in focus, bringing in people from Ilfracombe, Braunton and various places," said the manager.
"It lost the village focus and what I feel a village team should be about.
"We have gone back to where 90 per cent of the lads are from the village or village families.
"Ability wise we will struggle in this division but we are trying to build the spirit, build the community."
With one arm tied behind their backs.
"You have a conurbation the size of Ilfracombe and Combe Martin and there are no artificial pitch training facilities," said Borthwick.
"It is an absolute disgrace to North Devon.
"If you go to Holland or Germany, every small village has an artificial pitch, floodlit and paid for by community taxes.
"That is why I admire the likes of Woolsery and Braunton. They have got big youth structures and players who will come through.
"It is a real shame that Combe Martin, while it has the odd youth team, does not have a youth structure and that is down to facilities."
And another thing. "We don't have our next home Saturday game until the middle of October," said Borthwick.
"I know it is done by computer programme but somebody should look at the fixtures and say, 'What's going on there?'
"How are the club supposed to get in funds without a home Saturday game? It's madness.
"On a Saturday you will have a match, the boys will stay and there might be a game on the telly. That builds a community and brings money in."
Borthwick managed Combe Martin reserves four seasons ago when they won intermediate one.
Ellis took Barnstaple AAC reserves to promotion into the senior division and to four Braunton Cup finals in the five seasons prior to this.
Last season, though, it became a struggle to field a team.
"It was becoming a chore," said Ellis."So I thought, 'Time to step down', and I went pre-season training with Fremington."
But then came a phone call from former first-team manager Danny Rigler suggesting they run the team together in succession to Royston Shaddick.
Inheriting a squad they considered inadequate, together with reserve-team manager Jeremy Hill they worked to improve it.
However, so new to each other are many of the players that they are still learning each other's names.
On Saturday the names to remember were Ryan Crompton, Steve Isaac and Hugo Borrin, the scorers in Ammies' 3-0 win.
Crompton netted from a disputed first-half penalty after a harsh handball decision against Richard Watkins.
In the second half, the Combe Martin defence gifted a goal to Isaac and Borrin headed the third.
Ammies were worth their victory and, as the teams left the pitch, one Combe Martin player was heard to say: "We will be lucky if we get through the season."
Borthwick, though, has pledged to see out the campaign "come what may", while Ellis was cheered enough by victory to offer a message to the absent Rigler prior to their next match four days later.
Rigler had been in Bulgaria watching England play the night before and could not get back in time. So Ammies won for the first time without him.
The message? "I'll be on the phone in a minute telling him to stay away on Wednesday," said Ellis.
Massive result, massive grin.