Welcome to Cornwall, an incredibly beautiful county in southwest Britain, where the distinct Cornish identity is reflected in its sporting traditions. Like many other summer vacationers from England and continental Europe (and the odd American stray), I am here with my family enjoying its beautiful beaches, hiking trails and pubs in the wonderful towns of Penzance, Falmouth, St. Ives and Truro.
What I am not enjoying however is local sport, played at a great local stadium, and source of local controversy. Despite its abundance of natural sights, Cornwall is without a significant sports stadium. This does not mean it is without sports interest. In addition to plenty of outdoor pursuits, surfing, gig (boat) racing, and a growing football culture, Cornwall is primarily known for its rugby. The Cornwall Rugby Football Union (CRFU) was formed in 1883 and consists of 39 strong local clubs. The County Championships are a main feature on the sporting calender and in the late 90’s-early 2000’s the Cornish side regularly made it to the final at London’s Twickenham Stadium, the home of the Rugby Football Union. In 1908, the Cornish team actually represented Great Britain and took a silver medal in the London Olympics. The biggest club rugby team is the Cornish Pirates who play at 3,500-seat Mennaye Field in Penzance, a town of 21,000 at the most westerly tip of Cornwall. Though regularly packed for Sunday matches, Mennaye Field is under the 10,000-seat minimum required for a top flight Rugby Union side. Despite coming close to winning promotion in the 2011-12 season, without a stadium of this size, the Cornish Pirates will never be allowed promotion to the top league.
Over the past five years plans have been developed to build a new 10,000 seat stadium in Cornwall’s capital city of Truro. The initial proposal was for the Pirates to share the facility with Truro City Football Club. It was intended to be a boon not only for the local economy, which slows down in winter when tourists like myself go home, but also for local sports teams who could also use the facility. As with many stadium proposals, however, the new stadium requires a complicated mix of public and private funding and as of now is not going forward, the financing proposal having been rejected by Cornwall Council in March 2012.
Solving this complicated financial model is well above my pay scale. However, it does seem that a £10m, 10,000-seat multi-use stadium is a small price to pay for the benefits it would bring to this sports-enthusiast county of over 500,000. In the summer, I can’t think of any place more beautiful – thanks in part to favorable weather, over the past several days here I have often felt like I was in Spain or Italy, with its coastal towns sitting beautifully over the clear blue water below. However, in the winter months the tourists all but disappear and the mining, farming and fishing economies struggle to keep pace. A 10,000 stadium where every weekend local teams could compete against Britain’s best would be a wonderful way to bring visitors and locals out to Cornwall in the winter months.