A RESILIENT side who were hard to beat and always had a goal in them.
That is how manager Andy Gould sums up his Suffolk Under-18 side who won the FA County Youth Cup ten years ago this week.
Gould was assistant manager to Danny Laws in 2005 when Suffolk defeated Hampshire FA 2-1 at Portman Road to win the competition for the first time and was manager when Suffolk lost in the final on penalties to West Riding FA after a 1-1 draw two years later.
Twelve months later Suffolk beat firm favourites Cambridgeshire FA 2-1 at Portman Road to claim their second title in just four seasons.
Gould (pictured above alongside a photograph of the winning team) said: “Danny Laws was the catalyst for the county’s success. He broke the mould and showed that as a county we could compete at that level, and for five or six years we became a real force on the national scene.”
The Class of 2008 may not have been the most talented team in the competition, but under Gould and coach Alan Johnson they made themselves hard to beat.
Gould recalled: “They were a group of players who bought into the concept from day one. It is a cliché but we took one game at a time and didn’t look beyond that.
“They were buoyed by the success of Suffolk reaching two finals in the previous three years, and so could see the end goal from the outset.
“We prepared thoroughly and adapted tactically for each match which meant we were very resilient and hard to beat, and we always had a goal in us when we needed one.”
Indeed, it was a late goal by Luke Read that saw Suffolk win 1-0 away to Hertfordshire FA in a game which marked the debut of Kirkley & Pakefield’s Chris Henderson, who has since played for Bury Town, Lowestoft Town and now Leiston.
“Although he didn’t play particularly well in his first game, the addition of Chris Henderson alongside Ben Seaman added some star dust to what was a very workman-like team,” said Gould.
Suffolk then faced a very difficult draw away to Durham FA, but won 2-1 after trailing 1-0.
“We played particularly well in difficult conditions, and that was the day that Chris Henderson came to the party with an outstanding display,” said Gould.
Next it was Sussex FA away at East Preston in the quarter-final, and again Suffolk had to come from behind thanks to goals from Read and Henderson.
Gould said: “We were 1-0 down at half-time, and we stopped trying to play too much football on a difficult pitch and got the ball forward into areas to give ourselves a chance to score goals. Playing down the slope with the wind behind us we deservedly turned it around to win 2-1.”
Suffolk were drawn at home in the semi-finals to West Riding, the team who had beaten them on penalties in the final at Bradford City’s ground the previous season.
Gould remembered: “It was never a grudge match because we had lost to them the year before. They had the same management team who were nice people and they had a number of players who had played in the final the year before.
“One of them was a lad called Paddy Miller who was the star of their team, so we played two holding midfielders in front of the back four and he never got a kick.”
Second-half goals from Henderson and Seaman saw Suffolk win 2-0 at Woodbridge Town – and set up a final versus Cambridgeshire at Portman Road.
Bury Town's Nick Middlebrook was suspended after a sending off, but he was included in the official party – and can be seen in photographs with his tracksuit top on joining in the post-match celebration.
Gould said: “We had a squad training session at Playford Road two days before the final and also visited Portman Road itself so they knew what to expect on the day, rather than just turning up and possibly being in awe of the place.”
Cambridgeshire, whose side included ten players from Cambridge United’s Youth team who had a good run to the latter stages of that season’s FA Youth Cup, were favourites to win the final.
They had scored 23 times in five matches to reach the showpiece occasion and ten members of their starting line-up played for CRC in the Eastern Counties League.
Gould said: “If we had played them ten times, they would have won eight or nine of those! Myself and coach Alan Johnson came up with a plan we felt gave us a chance of nicking a goal. We played without a centre forward, leaving Chris Henderson up front on his own.”
Suffolk didn’t just nick one goal – they were 2-0 up after a quarter-of-an-hour! Read stabbed home at the far post following a right-wing corner in the third minute and his Woodbridge Town team-mate Ben Garnham’s 20-yard shot took a slight deflection for the second.
Adam Marriott, who set up the winning goal for Lincoln City when they defeated Ipswich Town 1-0 in last season’s FA Cup, halved the deficit in the 18th minute, but Suffolk defended for their lives and Cambridgeshire could not find a way past goalkeeper Tom Ross, who pulled off a string of superb saves.
Gould continued: “After they scored it was like the Alamo, but Tom Ross was outstanding. He has probably never played as well as that before or since.”
Suffolk went undefeated that season to add the East Anglian Counties Championship title, which they had also won the previous year, to their FA County Youth Cup success.
Gould added: “The fact that Suffolk have not won the national competition since shows what an achievement it was. Suffolk had not won the FA County Youth Cup for 53 years until we won it in 2005 – and that was our third final in four seasons!”
“We were fortunate that clubs like Bury Town, Kirkley & Pakefield and Woodbridge Town were so supportive towards the county. It was a feather in their caps for their players to be performing on a national stage, so we never had any trouble in securing their release.
“I remember Kirkley & Pakefield wanted to put Chris Henderson on a contract, but that would have made him ineligible to play for the county, so they decided not to do it.”
Suffolk FA Final Squad: Tom Ross (Woodbridge Town), Joe Bloomfield (Felixstowe & Walton Utd), Scott Manning (Kirkley & Pakefield, captain), John Sargent (Bury Town), Dale Smith (Lowestoft Town) (sub Stefan Marsh, Woodbridge Town, 46 mins), Luke Bailey (Thetford Town), Camillo Douglas (Whitton Utd) (sub James Ward, Stowmarket Town, 66 mins), Ben Garnham (Woodbridge Town), Chris Henderson (Kirkley & Pakefield), Luke Read (Woodbridge Town), Ben Seaman (Woodbridge Town). Unused subs: Chris Stacey (Bury Town), Richard Gammon (Newmarket Town), David Lorimer (Bildeston Rangers).