A NEW series shining light on what life is like behind the scenes on a non-league matchday.

Next up is Falmouth Town, Truro City and Kernow FA defender James Ward.

Ward has been one Falmouth’s top performers in recent seasons, with his form earning him a move to Truro City in the summer of 2019.

He returned to Falmouth at the end of 2019 but remains on the books at City as well. He is also the captain of the Kernow Football Alliance squad.

For a typical Saturday home game, his matchday routine begins gently with eggs on toast for breakfast and a stroll around Truro before meeting his parents for a weekly catch-up.

If Falmouth are at home then he will catch a lift to Bickland Park at lunchtime with team-mates Tim Nixon and Ryan Barnes.

“He [Nixon] lives in Goonhavern so normally drives through so we car-share on the way down to the game, which is nice,” James says.

The trio normally arrives at Bickland at 1.15pm ahead of the 1.45pm meeting time, allowing them time to have a stroll around the clubhouse, have a look at the pitch, see the rest of the squad and get the music going in the changing room – before dishing out the weekly fines.

“It’s what it’s normally like in any club,” James says, “rolling the dice, dirty boots, forget your kit and all that sort of stuff, so it’s all jokes and laughing before the game, and then when it gets to about two o’clock that’s when the game starts.”

The next job is to get prepared for the warm-up, which can be a methodical exercise for the centre-back, who by his own admission is quite superstitious.

“It doesn’t matter what game it’s in, whether it’s just a regular league game or a cup final, I have to go through the same routines in terms of how I get dressed and what things I put on at certain times,” he says.

“I don’t even know where that came from – I don’t work myself up but I have to go through these checklists to feel ready to go!”

Such items on James’ checklist include putting shin pads on a certain leg first, high-fiving everyone before the team goes out and having to be in a certain place in the line as the team walks out.

Falmouth Packet:

Ward (centre) wheels away in celebration after scoring in Truro's victory at Farnborough in September 2019. Pic: Cameron Weldon

That desire for routine is hardly a new thing in sporting circles, and the need for order extends to the usual pre-match warm-up.

“All of the players like to have routine in their own ways,” James says. “Regardless of what manager it’s been under, whether that’s Paul Wotton [Truro City manager] or under Westy [Andrew Westgarth, Falmouth manager], the warm-ups are always the same and you have to do things in a certain order, which is quite a nice thing. No matter what team you’re part of, everyone’s got their own structures.

“If I haven’t done something in my order then in my head I’m like, ‘I’m going to mess up the next pass when I go into the game’, because I haven’t done my rituals or routines.”

When the warm-up – which normally lasts for around 25 minutes – is over it’s time to head back to the changing room, crank the music back up and get changed ahead of kick-off.

“At Falmouth, James Miller [assistant manager] will say his bit, that’s more of a motivational thing,” James says, “and once that’s been said everyone high-fives each other and then we’re ready to line up.”

Once he has selected his preferred place in the line-up, James then walks out onto the pitch accompanied by either the cheers of the City supporters by the clubhouse at Treyew Road or the roar of the F-Troop behind the goal at Bickland.

“The F-Troop have made themselves known for being very loud and when we’re walking down the steps at Bickland they’re chanting and a lot of the boys tend to buzz off that,” he says.

“You can’t ignore that type of noise at the ground, so that’s always in the back of your mind, but it’s not like, ‘Oh my God look how many of the F-Troop are here’. You can hear them but you are focused on the game, but it does buzz around the ground and when they’re singing it has an impact on us.”

The first big decision on the pitch is the coin toss, which can determine the start of the game, with which team is kicking off, what end of the pitch you’re playing towards and the direction of the wind to take into consideration – as well as the contours of the pitch.

“You like to think that most pitches are flat but they’re not!” James says.

Other things to consider are how his own team is setting up, which can vary depending on whether they have kick-off, and how the other team is setting up.

“In that short space of time, it’s probably only about 20 or 30 seconds, a lot of things go through your mind,” James says, “but it’s all stuff that happens naturally.”

With Town generally tending to play towards their F-Troop supporters in the second half, it means that Ward usually has them behind him in the first half – something that he prefers.

Falmouth Packet:

Ward in action for Town against Torridgeside in January

"I get more of a buzz playing in the first half because I've got the crowd behind me and I can hear them more," he says.

"If I go up for a corner [in the second half] I want to score [in front of the F-Troop], because having returned to Falmouth I've not scored yet, which is a bit annoying!"

When the referee’s whistle blows to signal half-time it is straight back to the changing room, with the mood during the next 15 minutes depending very much on how the previous 45 went on the pitch.

“I’ve seen tactics boards being kicked across the changing rooms, I’ve seen bottles thrown across the changing room, I’ve seen people being slated,” James says. “There’s no half-time talk that’s the same. It all depends on what happens in that first half.

“I’ve heard it all, ‘This is the worst half I’ve seen us play, this is the best half I’ve ever seen us play, I’ve never seen a half so poor from you, you’ve got five minutes to prove yourself otherwise you’re going to get substituted’. Honestly, I’ve heard it all.

“You can’t put a definitive answer on what a typical half-time talk is like, but what I can say is you do always get orange juice at half-time, so that never changes!”

Much like half-time, the course of the second half largely depends on the events of the first.

“It’s more about scoreline, personnel, whether you go a bit more direct or you target certain players you know are not having a good game – they’re just the things that happen naturally,” James says.

At sometime between 4.50pm and 5pm on a normal Saturday afternoon, the referee will sound his whistle for the final time, with post-match celebrations to begin if a win is achieved, or the inquest to begin if it isn’t.

“There’s never really that much shouting or screaming if we’ve lost,” James says. “It’s normally a quick debrief of the game. It’s very monotone and very quiet because the shouting’s already done – the game’s over, you can’t change it.

"There might be a few home truths, but it’s never a shouting match.”

Falmouth Packet:

Ward heads in the winning goal for Falmouth in the Cornwall Senior Cup final in 2019. Pic: Colin Higgs

If it’s a home game, then a debrief and shower before a beer in the clubhouse is the order of the day, but if it’s a Truro away game then it’s a rather different story, with journeys of up to 300 miles a distinct possibility.

“If we’re playing away in London it’s very much: have a shower, get your food, back on the bus, and then it’s a five-hour journey back home,” James says.

“A lot of the older players like to have a beer after the game on the bus and like to stick on the music and have a good time on the way back, but again that’s result-dependent.

“If it’s a game you should have won and we’ve lost it does definitely change the dynamic of the bus on the way back and it can be very quiet, but if you win then it’s a laugh on the way back as well.”

Normally that would be when the matchday comes to an end, unless a night on the town is suggested by someone in the group.

“There are a lot of spontaneous weekends that happen when we sit around the table in the clubhouse,” James says. “Conversations would lead towards, ‘What are you boys up to tonight?’ Some boys would say, ‘I’m out in Falmouth, I’m out in Truro,’ three or four boys end up getting roped into it and it turns into a bit of a night out!

“Probably once every three or four weeks there’s a decent team night out, whether that’s at Truro or Falmouth – if it’s with the Truro boys it’s normally up in Torquay or Plymouth.“I think it does help with team cohesion and team bonding and getting to know your players a lot more.

“The social side is really important in the game because what you don’t want to do is play football, go home and that’s the only time you see people.

“Footballing careers can end very quickly and you don’t want to take those for granted.”