Axminster Town FC by Paul HarrisonThere is arguably no better place to follow “proper football” than at a grass roots level. Non-league remains a mystery to myself, having never properly played football outside of school nor ever watching a non-professional match. In an effort to shed some light on the teams that form a pillar of our local communities I recently spoke to John Clements, assistant manager of Axminster Town’s first team. Nicknamed ‘The Tigers’, the club were formed in 1902 under a different nickname of ‘The Terriers’ and originally wore green and white – this kit was quickly changed to “white shorts and blue knickers” at the inaugural club meeting on Friday 14th November that very same year! Since then many facets of the club have changed, a lot of which is documented in A Tiger’s Tale – a 2003 publication detailing the first 100 years of Axminster Town. Currently, the first team sit in the upper reaches of the South West Peninsula League Division One East – what a mouthful, but it goes to show just how many teams and players are involved in non-league when a league name needs such high levels of identification. Due to restructuring of the league system, from next season onwards this will be a Step 6 league (where Step 1 represents the Conference), allowing Axminster the opportunity to play against higher quality opposition. Meanwhile the seconds and thirds play in the Devon and Exeter Leagues; John further notes the quality of the Tigers’ youth sides, with a few 16 year olds recently coming off the bench for the first team. It seems that the higher powers within the club have a clear vision of the future, pushing the first team onwards towards greater things whilst also providing the right platform for ongoing successes – even at this level, giving younger players a taste of first team football will have a big impact on their experience and can drastically elevate the performance of their subsidiary teams. Joint first team managers Jon Hurford and Josh Stunell, together with goalkeeping coach Stuart Parris, garner a lot of respect from opposing teams due to their wealth of experience at a good level of non-league football – Josh’s influence can be seen with the recent arrival of Cameron Vere from Bridport FC, having played under Stunell as a youngster. Other coaching staff are also helping contribute to the ‘Axminster experience’, working hard to help put the team on the map. Chairman Andy Hurford is pivotal to the everyday functioning of the club – performing a number of duties admirably from organising officials and welcoming the opposition team right down to compiling the matchday programme and looking after sponsors. John also made it clear how fundamental Axminster’s numerous volunteers are to the club, stating that without them the club would struggle to operate. The Tigers also boast a very successful ladies side who currently sit third in their league and are managed by vice-chairman Martin Knightley, further demonstrating how close-knit the whole club appears to be.


A factor I never personally considered in relation grass roots football is the fanbase. Despite being aware that teams sitting in the upper tiers of the non-league pyramid have a reasonable following (hands up if you can remember the infamous “Wealdstone Raider”, who reached number 5 in the charts with a song based on his heckling), I was never completely convinced that it truly filtered down to our local sides. John is pleased to see numerous supporters not just attending home fixtures but journeying to away games too, and is hoping to soon get a supporter’s coach for fans to travel on. Axminster benefit from having a very modern clubhouse which generates funds for the team via wedding receptions and company parties, but the financial challenges of grass roots football are still apparent. Having partaken in the FA Vase in recent years, Axminster are looking to enter the FA Cup proper but need further investment in the playing facilities to reach this stage. Another major challenge lies with the players, who must dig deep to supplement their work and family life with football, all whilst the club aims higher and puts further strain on this balance. Dedication and professionalism are qualities arguably held more important than any other by management, developing the right atmosphere within the club for when the FA Cup eventually comes knocking. John notes that top scorer Tony Pinder has shown these traits in abundance, working incredibly hard over the last few years to reach the first term and is now seeing the fruits of his labour.


Above all else, John stresses the importance of Axminster developing as a community-orientated club – prosperity on-the-field over the coming years has the potential to help boost the town, but often relies on local businesses to sow the seeds for success. It is evident that the differences between teams at a grass roots level are much smaller than in the Premier League, and thus with a little kick in the right direction the fortunes of a well-run club like Axminster Town can escalate dramatically.


Originally published in The Diary, March 2019