FENITON FOOTBALL CLUB…..
Recollections of when and who formed Feniton football team seem to have faded long in the memories of those who have lived most of their lives in the village. Estimates of its early grass roots go back into the 1920's and possibly sooner although there is little evidence of this. Feniton was only a tiny hamlet in those days and larger villages such as Payhembury, Escot, Broadhembury, Gittisham, Talaton, West Hill, Whimple and even Alfington had established teams, some playing from as early as 1907, and yet all long gone! Feniton certainly had an organised team from around 1929, when the new playing field was donated by Sir John Acland at Sidmouth Junction, but that field has now been built on after serving the village for around 60+ years.
Sir John Acland recalled that such sport as it was in the 1920s, cricket and football, took place in old Feniton village in the flat field above Clapper Lane - up behind the Post Office. This was unsatisfactory due to the poor access and the ground being used at various times for grazing. In 1929, Sir John's Grandfather, Colonel A.D Acland purchased a field of 9 acres near Sidmouth Junction and leased it for a nominal sum of one shilling a year (5p) to the Playing Field Association. This led to a football field, a cricket field and around 1930 a new wooden pavilion and subsequently two tennis courts. Sir John remembers playing for the football team once in the late 1940's when they were short of players due to a flu epidemic. At school he played right back but on this occasion was asked to play on the left wing, and as he could scarcely kick with his left foot it was not a success.
For two years, Sir John's Father, Brigadier P.B.E Acland, tried to produce a football team to play against the village team - around the 1950's - formed from the family and those who worked on the estate. Much the same as the Annual Cricket match which in its way is still played today. However the soccer talent was so poor in the Acland team, apart from Arthur Tuck in goal, that two heavy double figure defeats brought the fixture to an end. Sir John recalled that Arthur would not turn out any more because those who played in front of him were "so bloody hopeless".
John Bishop, father of the Football club's playing stalwart and then Chairman Colin Bishop who sadly died in 2013, remembers joining the club in September 1936 at the age of 10 and playing until it was closed down because of World War II. In those years Feniton were members of the Axe Vale League, and were champions in 1938. However the playing field was ploughed up during the war in 1941 and cereal grown for five years until it restarted again in 1946. The signing on fee was two shillings (10p) and some matches were played at Sherwood Farm until the playing field was grassed out again.
The club then played in the Ottery & District League from 1946 until 1953 before joining the Exeter & District League in 1953 for one season and despite finishing fifth in Junior 2B. They then returned to the Ottery League for a season before in 1955 going back to the E & D League where they have been members ever since. John Bishop finished playing in 1956 but recalls that Feniton were very much involved in the Morrison Bell and Grandisson Cups in those days, which carried more influence than the Leagues, and matches against Gittisham Utd and Escot Rovers were the village equivalent of Celtic v Rangers. To lose to your nearest neighbours was unthinkable !
Feniton must be one of the few clubs which has been so lucky with its Secretaries, and prior to Mel Mead who has been in the job since the early 80's, were Les Stevens, John Clifford, Mr Phillips and Ned Dommett, and that over a span of 70 years. Tony Carnall especially remembers that so many brothers have played for the club over the years, including his own family, and of course all five Perrymans in one match.
Through the 1960's and 70's Feniton was transformed by the building of the present estate which has so increased the population. The club was able to generate a second team, although they did run two teams for one season just after the war. Then youth teams have evolved and a ladies team of high standard and all have enjoyed their football on the present field. There was a time in the 70's when the village had a Sunday team - Feniton Villa ! - but the strain then was not on the field itself but on the old pavilion. How many of us can recall the smell of varnish, changing on the old rolled up cricket mats, and those showers!
During this spell the soccer club enjoyed some of its most successful days and the foundations were laid for the way the club is now, an established Premier side in the Devon & Exeter League. Possibly the best team ever to play for the village was in 2013 when they became Premier League Champions as well as winning The East Devon Senior Cup in 2014 plus a Morisson Bell Cup winning double in 2013 and 2014.
In the late 70's the idea of replacing the old Pavilion finally happened, and the modern Clubhouse being used today slowly came into being. The wear and tear on the famous old pitch however with so many teams wanting to use it forced changes and it was inevitable the day would come when another move was needed. So development of the estate and the generous donation of more green acres by the Acland family, has made the village team what it is today. The club now has three pitches, state of the art changing rooms, and a clubhouse in which to entertain visiting teams. The clubs hospitality makes it a popular destination for opponents so the club has come a long way over its 80 odd years existence.
The progression was highlighted when they were accepted to join The Devon Football League at Step 7 of the Football Pyramid for the 2021/22 season. For the first time a newly formed Development Team entered the Devon and Exeter Football League to compliment the existing Reserve Team. Feniton can also boast a Womens team, an Under 18 team as well as Youth sides ranging from Under 6s to Under 16s.
Further ground improvements for the 2021/22 season include individual player booths in the changing rooms and the opening of the 30 seater Colin Bishop Stand. Also, after a 19 month planning battle with East Devon District Council, in October 2021 Feniton’s application to install floodlights was finally approved.
Sadly the Development squad was discontinued after just one season but on completely the opposite spectrum a Veterans Team was formed and entered into the Vets League at the start of that season
With thanks to Collin Goodwin
HISTORY OF THE CLUB