Brandon Veale column: Root, root, root for the home team
I think I had probably come from farther away than the 312 spectators at Mousehole AFC's FA Cup Extra Qualifying Round Replay, but I might have been from as close as anyone.
MOUSEHOLE, United Kingdom — The travel guides said that almost everything was cashless in the United Kingdom these days, but as I approached the gate of Trungle Parc, I found myself slightly worried to think my quest to watch an amateur soccer match in the town of my ancestors might be complicated or even foiled by the lack of a 10-pound note.
Yes, even on vacation this sportswriter found a game to attend. In this case, it was Mousehole AFC in the FA Cup Extra Qualifying Round Replay. My great-grandfather emigrated from Mousehole about 110 years ago, so I had been looking forward to this game as a rare opportunity to express my Cornish heritage in a way other than being picky about pasties.
The FA Cup, the oldest soccer tournament in the world, reaches every corner of the country, even this one in the far southwest, 9 miles away from the literal Land's End. In fact, it was said that this was the westernmost-played game in the tournament's 151-year history, tied with the home games the Seagulls had in the tournament last year.
In theory, practically any team in the country could go to Wembley Stadium and lift the trophy. In practice, Mousehole would need to win six games just to see a fully professional team and nine before the Premier League's giants show up.
Trungle Parc is a modest but well-kept ground next to a campground up the hill a ways from the seaside. It turned out that a ticket was no problem, as they grabbed a portable card reader machine, I tapped my card, and in I went. There were concessions, a tidy clubhouse and a full bar. I thought about treating myself to a pasty and a Tribute (a brand of Cornish ale) but I'd had both already so I decided to save my money and just observe.
In the distance, one can see the St. Pol de Leon church, an Anglican parish founded in the fifth century and gutted in a raid by the Spanish in 1595. In this case, the hostilities were just coming from Barnstaple Town, a club from 120 miles to the northeast in Devon. The teams played to a draw a few days before in Barnstaple, setting up this winner-take-all Tuesday night.
Mousehole plays its league games in the ninth tier of the English football league system. I'm not qualified to judge the play, nor did I want to. I was supposed to be off duty. But I was close enough to the play that, when a Mousehole player barely redirected the ball off his toe to a teammate, I could hear ball graze boot. I could hear the expletives from the burly visiting forward whose build seemed more suited for a different code of football. You can't get that at any price in the Premier League.
The home team grabbed an early edge when, after drawing a foul in the penalty area, Tallan Mitchell scored on a penalty kick. Mousehole added a second goal, from Andy Watkins, for a 2-0 lead just past the half-hour mark and appeared to be well on their way, but Barnstaple pulled one back late in the half, then tied it on a second-half missile from the edge of the box, the kind of goal that forces one into applause no matter what its origins.
The regulation 90 minutes finished tied 2-2, with 30 minutes of extra time and, if needed, penalty kicks looming. The drama continued into the night, with near-misses and shots off the post on both ends before Mousehole's Reece Thomson poked a rebound into the roof of the net a couple minutes from the end for a game-winner.
The outcomes matter, but they don't really matter. Mousehole lost its next game in the FA Cup Preliminary Qualifying Round and is on to bigger and better things in their league play.
The News Tribune will not be covering the exploits of the Toolstation League this season, but I write because, no matter where you're located, sports offer a common culture anyone can understand. I tried to blend in at Trungle Parc, but that lasted about as long as I started speaking. Sure, there are stands and uniforms and lights but fans are fans are fans. We had fun together and one of them even gave me a ride back to my hotel after extra time, which helped a lot when facing a 45-minute hike in the dark.
I was born in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and moved to Duluth seven years ago. Other folks may have come from the Twin Cities or came to Duluth for college and stayed. Almost all of us are transplants of some sort.
I may never get the chance to visit Trungle Parc again, but Mousehole AFC will always be the home team.
Brandon Veale is the sports editor of the News Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com.