TREVOR FROST stands at the door to the bar at South Molton Rugby Club and points to a field just across the road beyond the pitch.
Thinking back 12 years, he recalls the events which forced the club to suspend playing with lasting consequences.
South Molton were performing at the highest level in their history when the foot-and-mouth crisis struck.
"We peaked in 2001, then the club was closed because the cattle across the way were culled," says Frost, a player for 26 seasons, a former chairman and now the club president.
"We were third in Western Counties, two leagues above where we are now, but some cows were infected and they closed anything within a certain radius. The club was a no-go area."
For the last eight weeks of the season, South Molton did not play a match. As a result, some players moved to other clubs, leading to a drop through the Cornwall/Devon league into Tribute Devon One, where they remain to this day.
"About five or six of our players went to Barnstaple, a couple to Crediton and one to Tiverton," says Frost. "We trained through the summer and were playing again by August. In the first season we scraped away from relegation but in the second we went down. Then we had four or five seasons in Cornwall/Devon before dropping down to Devon One."
This could be the season, though, that finally sees the club start to climb back up. More than at any time in recent seasons, South Molton have fixed their sights firmly on promotion and there is good reason to be optimistic – the squad is strong, the ambition is clear and the junior and colts sections are bearing fruit.
"This squad is as strong as I have played in since the Western Counties and the difference now is that it is a lot younger," says long-serving fly half Steve Ayre. "So I think it is a squad that will stay together longer and in three or four seasons will be at their peak."
Ayre, 32, has been at South Molton for 16 years, while prop Simon Murch, 31, is not far behind with 14 years' service.
"It's starting to come back to the old Molton," says Murch. "We are upping the pace and the team is fitter, not the slouchy team of old."
Optimism remains intact, if slightly dulled, by the afternoon's defeat at home to Topsham. In a match between the only teams in Devon One to win their opening two matches, the visitors leave with a 17-16 win.
Both Frost and head coach Gary Bucknell had spoken before kick-off about the importance of winning all their home matches in a division in which only the champions are guaranteed promotion.
"The team that wins this league cannot afford to lose any home games," said Frost. "It is a very open league and there will be four sides in it, I imagine, towards the end of the season – ourselves, Topsham, Wessex and Plymstock."
Fifteen minutes until kick-off and Bucknell is unafraid to lay it on the line. "If we want to be serious about the promotion race we have got to win our home games, so it is as big as they come today," he says.
But it is Topsham who snatch a last-minute win from a penalty kick, leaving Bucknell to lament "too many basic errors".
Can they still win the league? "It's a very big question but we are aiming for it," says Murch. "If players have not got aspirations to win the league they should not be in the team. I want to win it, I want to play in a higher league again, so we will keep pushing hard."
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the team's improvement can be traced to the formation of a thriving junior section, started some 13 years ago, and the resurrection of a colts' team four seasons ago after a gap of 10 years.
"There are nine age groups on a Sunday and about 20 qualified coaches for the juniors, so there is quite an investment in the club's future," says Frost.
Seven who face Topsham have developed through the Molton junior programme – Jones, Ben Butler, Ollie Shaddick, Dominic Stoneman, Matt Smart, Luke Doyle and Barnaby Newell.
Reflecting on the club's slide post foot-and-mouth, Ayre says: "We felt the knock-on effect of not having a junior section. We didn't have the players coming up and each year it was the same old people.
"We had a batch of players who we got up to Western Counties, those players retired and there was a big gap to the second team, a lot who played for fun and did not step up to the commitment of the first team. As much as you can learn the skills as a senior player you can't learn them as well as you can as a junior."
Investment on the pitch has been matched off it. "The current chairman, Grant Sheldon, and ex-chairman Neil Kingdon have done a fantastic job off the field," says Frost.
Improvements have been made to the clubhouse, the playing areas and the car park – all of which the club own – with plans to establish a third pitch on the other side of town. "So we are very ambitious," adds Frost.
As indeed are Topsham who on Saturday will open a £500,000 clubhouse with a guest appearance by former England and British and Irish Lions player Paul Ackford. It is being described as "the biggest day in Topsham RFC's history" and it will go ahead with the team at the top of the league after their dramatic win at Unicorn Park.
Molton lead 9-7 at half time thanks to three kicks out of three by Ayre against Topsham's try from Lewis Trickey and Ricky Pellow's conversion. Russell Sayer takes less than two minutes of the second half to score Topsham's second try, converted by Pellow, and the visitors lead 14-9.
The next 35 minutes are spent mostly in Topsham defensive territory during which time Molton's furious efforts are repelled.
Hopes rise momentarily among home supporters when replacement Courtney Lucas, returning to the squad after getting married the weekend before, goes on a run. "Go on Courtney, don't let that wedding ring slow you down," cries a wag, just before the wing is tackled.
But this is serious stuff and, with time running out, Molton begin to look desperate. Finally, though, with three minutes left Dan Smith forces his way through for Molton's first try and Ayre's conversion gives them a 16-14 lead.
Then, gut-wrenchingly, Topsham are awarded a penalty for offside in the last minute and Pellow kicks the winning points.
Charlie Mahon, Topsham and former Barnstaple coach, says: "The win was not pretty but the result was more important than the performance. I thought both defences played well and, for the last 20 minutes, we were under the cosh.
"A lot of players I coached at Barnstaple came from here and it is a breeding ground for good players."
This time, though, South Molton intend to hold on to as many as they can for as long as they can.