AS 2019 draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on the past 12 months in Suffolk football.
Highlights include an increase in the number of players participating in football across the county, more Suffolk County Cup finals played at Portman Road than ever before and Suffolk’s first female official at a Wembley cup final!
Six county cup finals were staged at Portman Road during May, along with the county youth finals hosted at Ipswich Town’s training ground, while Ipswich Town have entered an unprecedented four teams into different county cup competitions during the current season.
Adult county cup semi-final draws were broadcast live during the Non-League Hour on BBC Radio Suffolk’s Thursday Night Sports Social for the first time.
The majority of this season’s quarter-final draws have been filmed and broadcast live for the first time via the Suffolk FA Twitter feed.
Four Suffolk clubs are still involved in FA competitions heading into the New Year – with Ipswich Town FC Women due to host Portsmouth Women on January 5th in the SSE Women’s FA Cup third round, and Kirkley & Pakefield FC, Stowmarket Town FC and Woodbridge Town FC all face tough Buildbase FA Vase fourth round ties on January 11th.
A successful Awards Night was staged at Portman Road in October, with winners of The FA & McDonald’s Grassroots Football Awards, Groundsman of the Year winners, and recipients of the Referee Long Service Awards being honoured.
Lowestoft Referee Keith Howlett received an FA 50-Year Long Service Award – one of seven to be presented over the course of the year.
The others were former Suffolk referee, referee developer and Suffolk FA Chair George Whight, former Whitton United player, manager and Suffolk FA Life Member Maurice Lowe, SIL Chairman Keith Norton, Long Melford FC Secretary Richard Powell, Framlingham Town FC Life Vice President Keith Whatling, and AFC Sudbury stalwart Mike Ford .
Abi Byrne (pictured above) was praised for her performance after she became the first Suffolk female official to referee the SSE Women’s FA Cup Final at Wembley.
She took charge of Manchester City’s 3-0 victory over West Ham United – and the accolades kept coming as she was voted Sports Personality of the Year at the West Suffolk Sports Awards, where she also won the Individual Performance of the Year.
Lakenheath manager Ben Cowling won the Community Volunteer of the Year category at the same awards evening at St Edmundsbury Cathedral in October, and Bill Tinkler (St Edmundsbury League) and Stewart Chapman (Bury & District Sunday League) were also nominated.
The Bealings Primary School Futsal team (pictured below) were crowned the Team of the Year at the Suffolk Sports Awards, after becoming the first Suffolk school to ever reach the national final at St George’s Park. What a performance this was from the Orange Legends!
In addition to Abi Byrne receiving appointments through her role as an international referee with FIFA, two other Suffolk officials received international call-ups.
Emily Heaslip was fourth official for the Women’s International Friendly between England and Denmark at Walsall FC in May, while George Byrne was an assistant referee as England Under-17s faced the Czech Republic at Solihull Moors FC in November.
New facilities, supported with funding from the Football Foundation, were opened at five Suffolk clubs – a brand new 3G pitch at Beccles Town FC, improved ground facilities at Felixstowe & Walton United FC, ground improvements at Leiston FC, a 3G pitch and community facility at Needham Market FC, and new floodlights and ground improvements at Lakenheath FC.
A total of 11 clubs were supported to improve their grass pitches through the Suffolk FA Small Grants Scheme.
A total of £34,083 has been accessed by clubs through the Football Foundation’s Small Grant Scheme, representing an investment of £77,276 into small capital projects.
A further £501,072 of Football Foundation funding has been accessed to support large capital grassroots facility development, representing a total investment of £751,952.
The Football Stadia Improvement Fund has channelled £172,703 into National League System clubs (Step 1-7) representing investment of £246,835.
The Stay in the Game scheme supported 16 adult male clubs with a total investment of £12,000, while The Football Foundation’s Grow the Game Scheme funded clubs to support the creation of 11 new team; 10 new female teams and a disability team.
In the past year Suffolk FA have supported local clubs and organisations to achieve a 5% increase in male players, a 23 per cent increase in female players, 29% increase in disabled players, and 90% of Youth clubs and 53% adult clubs now have the FA Charter Standard accreditation meaning more people than ever are involved in high quality environments.
England legend Kelly Smith said it brings ‘joy to my heart’ to see so many young girls participating in the KBB Suffolk FA Grassroots Festival sponsored by McDonald’s when she visited as guest of honour in May. A record 175 teams took part in the event, which included a Youth Disability Festival and Walking Football for the first time, at Whitton United FC.
There then followed the first KBB Pre-Season Grassroots Festival (pictured below) at Kirkley & Pakefield FC in early September, which attracted 70 teams, mainly from north Suffolk.
A total of 343 coaches attended Level 1 courses, and a further 37 have started their Level 2 course, while 281 volunteers attended FA Level 1 Emergency First Aid Courses and 223 attended Safeguarding Children Workshops. Bursaries totalling £25,480 were awarded by Suffolk FA, using funding from The FA, to help coaches in achieving and furthering their coaching knowledge.
The year saw 21 referees within the county promoted to a higher level, headlined by Suffolk’s latest Football League referee as Chris Pollard was promoted to the National List of Referees. Chris has been taking charge of matches in both League 1 and 2 during the 2019-20 season.
In addition, Callum Walchester also received a promotion to Level 2B and is now taking charge of games in the National Leagues North and South.
There are now 455 referees registered with the county, showing an increase compared to the same time last season. This has been through 80 new referees being trained and who are now officiating in matches throughout the county.
This contributes to our ambition to ensure that every game has a qualified match official to facilitate the environment in which people play, and currently this season has seen coverage in all adult football of 99.4%.
This year has also seen the introduction of the County FA’s Centre of Referee Excellence (CORE) Programme to develop a pathway for referees who have the potential to progress to the higher levels of the game.
This is supported by a highly skilled team of Referee Developers who work one-to-one with referees on both match day and through training workshops.
Development ‘For All’ referees has been made available through the County FA’s working relationship with the fantastic Referees’ Associations, opening up meetings to both members and non-members.
Suffolk FA launched two new ventures in November – a Flexi Football League at Skyliner Sports Centre in Bury St Edmunds and a Female Leadership Academy to coincide with Women’s Football Weekend.
Suffolk FA have also actively supported national initiatives and campaigns such as KickOff@3, Heads Up and Rainbow Laces during the past 12 months.
Other notable achievements include AFC Sudbury’s Academy reaching the final of the AoC Sport England Colleges FA Under-19 National Knockout Trophy at Walsall FC, Long Melford FC winning the Thurlow Nunn League Cup, Bildeston Rangers FC winning promotion to Senior football for the first time in their history, Fusiliers FC winning the Suffolk Sunday Shield in their last ever game as a club, Beccles Town FC winning the Suffolk Walking Football Cup, and Isabel Chaplin becoming Chair of the Suffolk FA Youth Council.
On a more sombre note, a number of dedicated participants of the game sadly passed during the year, including Suffolk FA President Gordon Blake at the start of November, aged 88. Our continued thoughts are with all those still dealing with the loss of a member of the Suffolk football family.
We wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.