Pool head for Devon tournament

THE Errea South West Challenge Cup kicks off on Monday with the Seasiders being the highest ranked side in the tournament.

It may not be a glamorous collection of teams – no disrespect to the likes of Barnstaple and Grimsby – but the weeklong pre-season event in North Devon represents a chance for Westcountryman Ian Holloway's squad to bond on and off the pitch.

The format is straightforward. There are four groups of three teams with each side playing each other once in the group stage. The winners of each group will meet in the semi-finals on Saturday before the final takes place on Sunday evening.

In Group D Blackpool play Barnstaple Town, of the Tool Station Premier Division, on Monday at 8pm followed by their final group match against Blue Square Premier side Rushden and Diamonds at Ilfracombe on Wednesday also at 8pm.

Should the Seasiders progress they will play the winners of Group B – either Yeovil, Grimsby or RRFC Montegnee – a Belgian side who play outside the top three divisions in their country. This semi-final will be played at Appledore at 5pm a week today.

Tournament executive Terry Schofield said: "We are looking forward to the event and Blackpool coming down. They will be expected to do well and even go all the way.

"We have had a lot of interest from Blackpool fans. One fan is driving down from Keswick for the match on Monday. Ticket sales in general have gone off the scale. People are booking week-long holidays so it's bringing in good revenue the area needs."

The tournament is in its second year. Eastleigh won the inaugural event last year.

Schofield said: "The idea was born from Michael Bradshaw and myself in the winter of 2007 when we were disillusioned with pre-season friendlies being watched by one man and his dog. There is now a real incentive to win with a cup and medals for the winners and runners-up.

"The tournament is designed to encourage attacking football," added Schofield.

And that's where the fun starts. The tournament boasts a unique points system. There is the normal three points on offer for a win. But there are two points given to a team that scores in a defeat and one point for a loss without scoring.

There are no draws so deadlock at full-time will see the game go straight to a penalty shoot-out. And if you are still with me, the games in the group stages are 40 minutes each way increasing to the normal 45-minute halves for the semi-finals and final.

The rest days on Tuesday and Thursday present opportunities for team bonding exercises with special deals on offer with tourist amenities.

Activities like indoor golf and surfing at local bays, something which Torquay United took advantage of last year, should keep the Seasiders' squad busy.

Tickets for all group games are available for 5 and this will admit one adult and a child to any game played on the day of validity, meaning supporters can choose to watch any of the four games played on the Monday, Wednesday or Friday.

The short distances between the grounds and staggered kick-off times should allow fans to take in two matches in an evening.

For more ticket information call 01237 477757 or 422100 or visit the tournament website at www.southwestchallengecup.co.uk