Match of the Week: Ilfracombe beat Bideford in Devon Women's Football League
AS THE crow flies, the London Olympics kicked off less than 50 miles from Ilfracombe.
Two days before the opening ceremony, Team GB beat New Zealand 1-0 at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
Women's football was on the front page of national newspapers as well as the back.
Six days later, 70,000 spectators poured into Wembley to see the host nation top their group with another 1-0 win, this time over Brazil. Front-page news and pictures again.
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The women's game in Britain was enjoying unprecedented popularity and, it was said, the Olympics was sure to stimulate interest at every level.
Nearly three months later, try telling that to Ilfracombe Town.
Remarkably, Ilfracombe are top of the Westward Developments Devon Women's League first division. Remarkably, because they are desperately short of players.
With a determination that spoke volumes for the commitment of those who turned out on Sunday, Ilfracombe defeated Bideford 2-1.
In a match between the division's last two unbeaten teams, Ilfracombe were able to name only one substitute, while Bideford had five.
Bideford say they have enjoyed an Olympic bounce, but ask Ilfracombe manager Barbara Tarrant if the Games boosted interest in her club and her reply is an emphatic: "No, it didn't."
And ask winning goalscorer Keeley Coates if she thinks her team can stay top of the division, she is no less definite. "No, we need more signings," she said.
Ilfracombe have ten points from four games – it would have been 12 had they not drawn from 3-0 up against Barnstaple FC the week before – in marked contrast to the same stage last season when they were bottom.
And here is another remarkable thing. Their manager knew nothing about football – never managed, never played, never coached, never really watched the game – until she took over midway through last season.
Yet by the end of the campaign they had climbed to a comfortable mid-table position and look at them now.
So how did Tarrant get the job? "My daughter is the goalkeeper and I know most of the girls," she said.
She was attending a match for only the second time in her life – the first had been an earlier Ilfracombe game – when the question came.
"It wasn't going well and they asked me if I would do it," said Tarrant.
"I said, 'I don't know anything about football'. But they were so downhearted, I have just picked them up and given them positivity.
"I don't believe in negativity and these girls are doing better now than they ever have.
"It's partly me and it's partly them because we all gel. We just need more players."
Sunday's game was five minutes old before she turned up at Marlborough Park, having started work at 7.15am with a scheduled finish time of 2.30pm.
"I work as a care assistant at Burrow House residential home and sometimes I can't get out dead on half past two," said Tarrant.
She was in good time for Ilfracombe's first goal, which came on 25 minutes when Sophie Jones headed a Hannah Dibble corner into her own net.
Two minutes later, Coates beat the offside trap for a clinical finish from 15 yards.
Coates might have scored six but was denied by her own profligate finishing and solid goalkeeping by Louise Pontin.
However, to Coates's great credit, most of her chances were of her own making.
Rare among women at this level, she is confident with both feet and used her strength and panache to cut through the visiting defence.
Coates, 18, scored 14 goals in a struggling Budleigh Bicton team last season but signed for Ilfracombe after moving to live with the Tarrant family.
So now four of the Ilfracombe set-up are living under one roof. Barbara's husband, Kevin, is the team coach.
As Bideford came on strong in the second half, Tracey Cross and Bethany Ellis put chances wide but, after Pontin had pushed a shot from Amy Terry on to the bar to prevent the visitors from going further behind, Cross pulled one back.
Her 20-yard shot should have saved by goalkeeper Kizzy Tarrant, leading to a nervous last seven minutes for Ilfracombe.
If Bideford perhaps deserved an equaliser, such an outcome would have been rough for Ilfracombe's excellent central-defensive paring of Emma Jones and Emma Millman.
While a sizeable portion of the Ilfracombe set-up lives at one address, you would need an hotel to get the Bideford squad under one roof.
For coach Mark Lewis it is the classic Premier League manager's problem. He is spoilt for choice.
"Last year, when I took over, we had a full squad but we didn't have two players for each position," said Lewis.
"This year we have the luxury of players for each position and more.
"It makes selection very difficult but it keeps them on their toes."
Sam Jenkins, the captain, said: "We have a record number of players at the moment. We have got at least 20 turning up for training every week."
Jenkins said the club has enjoyed a post-Olympic boost, while the league's representative on the county FA, Lee Hayward, said London 2012 has provided a qualified benefit.
"The answer would have to be yes but I am not sure it has had an immediate ringing effect," said Hayward.
"I think it is going to be a slow burner in that now we have got into an English season we are going to see more people attached to clubs.
"Whether they are going to be of a level of skill to be of use, I don't know, but it is always good to have more people coming through.
"We are in a rural environment and I imagine the clubs in London, Manchester, Birmingham and the big urban areas are going to do a lot better."
Jenkins said: "I don't know about other teams but we have got more people come back to football since the Olympics.
"Another difference is that we have three local teams in the division this year and that means more people coming to watch."