Truro City, the Cornish big shots aim for the league. Josh Widdicombe reports
Until recently, the only time Truro City had spent outside the South Western League was when they were relegated in 1975 because their ground had been demolished to widen a road. This summer they find themselves with a Wembley victory to brag about, are odds-on favourites to win the Western Premier Division next season on the back of two successive promotions and have plans for a new multi-million-pound stadium.
It all started in 2004 when, with the club in financial trouble, head of youth development Chris Webb was searching for sponsors and a player’s grandmother put him in touch with property developer Kevin Heaney. What was supposed to be a routine half-hour chat to raise some funds became a three-hour conversation about Heaney’s plans to turn Truro into Cornwall’s first Football League club.
Heaney, whose company Cornish Homes has earned him £60 million and 458th place on the Sunday Times Rich List, was initially met with suspicion by many directors and fans. As a property developer and with no history in football, many questioned his motives; now many in the city think that Heaney has the belief and the chequebook to take Truro into the League, and maybe even beyond.
Heaney claims it will take £3m to make Truro into a League team and his initial outgoings are already showing the power of cash is as strong in non-League as it is at the highest level. The team sheet reads like a who’s who of former League players from the area: six of the starting XI in the FA Vase final had been on the books of Plymouth Argyle at some point in their career and three others have played for League clubs.
Top scorer Stewart Yetton didn’t make the grade at Home Park but could easily have played at a higher level than Truro; nevertheless, Heaney stumped up for his wages and this season Yetton scored 72 goals. Never one to miss a publicity stunt, Heaney has placed a £1m price tag on the striker-cum-mortgage administrator. Truro lost just once all season, winning the league by 22 points, with a goal difference of 162.
Beating AFC Totton 3-1 to lift the FA Vase in the second-ever final at the new Wembley was a great showpiece occasion for the club, but Heaney is more concerned with securing lasting success. After the final, the club announced a plan for a new £6m stadium and sporting complex in the city, which will provide a base for them to attract 10‑15,000 to watch the team regularly. In a city of just over 20,000 this could seem more like fantasy than ambition to some, but Heaney is banking on one thing: Cornwall. As the county’s lone representative on the higher rungs of the league ladder, he believes Truro can become a team not just for the city but the whole county.
Two years ago the club abandoned their traditional red-and-black strip for the Cornish colours of white, black and gold, a symbolic replacement of city with county. Like the arrival of Heaney, it seemed a culture shock at the time, but success has brought acceptance and at Wembley many Truro fans were decked in Cornish flags and singing songs about the county. It’s a tactic the area’s top rugby clubs have used to gather support and it seems logical that Truro will pick up fans whose only other option to watch high-level football is crossing the Tamar to watch Argyle.
But while there is much more to look forward to for the club, Heaney’s methods have also caused upset. When Truro beat Clyst Rovers 11-2 in December, Clyst manager Tom Warren complained that Truro’s budget (the same for a week as Clyst have for a year, he claimed) made a mockery of the league. “It is morally wrong. We have got young lads playing for the love of playing and they just don’t stand a chance,” he said. “Something should be done to make sure this sort of thing can be avoided.” It is unlikely to be. In response to Warren’s comments, Western League secretary Ken Clarke ruled out the possibility of Truro jumping a couple of levels to a more competitive division, afraid that it would cause more complaint than letting them steamroll their way up the pyramid.
Next season Truro will play in the Western League Premier Division, five divisions off the Football League, with a team that could almost certainly hold their own two rungs higher. They are 2-9 favourites for the title. For now, teams may just have to sit back and accept a thrashing.
From WSC 245 July 2007