THE year 2020 will live long in the memory, but not all for the obvious reasons.
It has been the most challenging year for everyone, and that includes Suffolk’s football clubs.
Volunteers have had to go above and beyond to make their club facilities and sites COVID-19 secure just to get games on and training sessions safely staged and be as flexible as possible to the ever-changing situation as members of league committees.
But through all the doom, gloom and multiple guidance documents, there has still been much to look back on and celebrate across a year of Suffolk football.
Clubs have taken advantage of the funding pots on offer, largely via the Football Foundation, to secure much-needed financial help to keep them afloat and prepare for the return of football while traditional revenue streams have been significantly reduced.
Sports facilities in Suffolk which support football provision were successful in applying for a total of £103,212 from Sport England’s Community Emergency Fund. This included £55,561 directly into Suffolk football clubs.
The Suffolk FA Emergency Grants and Loan schemes, originally launched in April, and still available to all clubs, has already financially supported Haverhill Borough and Achilles with grants. Suffolk FA don’t know of any other CFAs who have offered their local clubs such schemes.
The Football Foundation made 173 grants to Suffolk clubs worth a total of £1,026,948 towards projects valued at £1,348,077.
Financial help this year has included the following:
- The Football Foundation’s Pitch Preparation Fund awarded applicable Suffolk clubs with £144,000 to help with pitch maintenance through the Summer.
- The Football Foundation’s Club Preparation Fund awarded applicable Suffolk clubs with £42,000 to help with making facilities COVID-secure.
- The Football Foundation’s Matchday Support Fund awarded applicable Suffolk NLS and WFP clubs with £109,500 to help with making their facilities safe to welcome back spectators.
Whilst support was provided to help clubs stay afloat, Suffolk clubs were able to attract large amounts of funding through the Football Foundation to improve pitches and facilities. A new state-of-the-art 3G sports pitch was opened in September at Copleston High School, which will benefit Coplestonians FC and the local community, while Bury Town opened their facility renovations in the same month.
It was announced in January that Stowmarket Town had been awarded £25,000 worth of building materials to improve their facilities as one of the winners of the 2019 Buildbase £100k Transfer Deal.
Kirkley & Pakefield subsequently reached the final stages of the 2020 competition.
The summer also saw the release of the Suffolk Local Football Facility Plans, outlining future facility projects in each district area.
Suffolk clubs enjoyed a degree of success in national competitions, none more so than Ipswich Town Women, who became the first ever fourth tier team to reach the fifth round of the Women’s FA Cup, before losing to eventual winners Manchester City.
Ipswich are already through to the second round of this season’s competition, where they will be away to Billericay Town.
Bury Town and Leiston both came tantalisingly close to making it through to the first-round proper of the Emirates FA Cup, both suffering single-goal defeats in the fourth qualifying round.
Needham Market FC, pictured above celebrating after winning the delayed 2019-20 Turners Hyundai Suffolk Premier Cup Final, also enjoyed a good run in this season's Buildbase FA Trophy. Main photograph: Ipswich Town women celebrate scoring a goal during last season's Women's FA Cup run
Needham Market also enjoyed a good run this season’s Buildbase FA Trophy, before bowing out to Gloucester City, the leaders of National League North.
Stowmarket Town once again carry the county’s hopes on their shoulders in the Buildbase FA Vase, and will face Cobham in the fourth-round proper, after reaching the last 16 of the 2019-20 competition.
Likewise, AFC Sudbury enjoyed another good run in the FA Youth Cup, before bowing out to AFC Wimbledon in the second round proper.
Suffolk Fire & Rescue Service FC reached the final of the National FRS Cup for the first time and also supplied four players to the England team.
Newmarket Academy progressed through to the semi-finals of the English Schools’ FA Small Schools’ Cup.
AFC Sudbury Academy reached the semi-finals of the AoC Sport England Colleges FA Men’s Knockout Trophy, while the club’s striker Freddie King was selected to represent England Colleges FA.
Suffolk official Abi Byrne made her third appearance in four years as part of the team for the Vitality Women’s FA Cup Final in November in the role of fourth official.
This was her second visit to Wembley in three months, after also being the fourth official for the Women’s Community Shield at the end of August.
George Byrne was appointed as Reserve Assistant Referee for the Leasing.com Trophy Final and as an Assistant Referee for the League 2 Play-off Final, both at Wembley Stadium.
Alex Shipp, who is also a Suffolk referee, was appointed as Vice Chair of the FA National Youth Council.
George Byrne and Carl Fitch-Jackson were promoted to the Select Group 2 list of assistant referees on the EFL Championship and 27 referees achieved the required standard to be awarded with a promotion, while medical cards and U18 green armbands were introduced for Suffolk’s match officials.
East Bergholt United celebrated their 125th anniversary, while Leiston also had cause for celebration in June after regaining their full membership of The FA.
Others celebrating included Bury Town who won the BBC Radio Suffolk Non-League Quiz, Cockfield United who won a national kit competition and our Koolpak first aid competition, while Shirley Whitlow was judged the winner of our Grassroots Photograph of the Season competition sponsored by Lockdales.
Beccles Town retained their Groundsman of the Year titled sponsored by Ransomes Jacobsen, while the achievements of individuals and clubs were recognised as the Suffolk winners in the McDonald’s Grassroots Football Awards.
Clare Town were the subject of an exhibition at The Apex in Bury St Edmunds, while the annual end-of-season KBB Grassroots Festival was held as a virtual event.
Former Ipswich Town Chairman David Sheepshanks was appointed as the new President of Suffolk FA in March and three new directors – Amy Grantham, Kit Morrison and Julie Mulcahy – joined the Board.
David Sheepshanks (above) was appointed as the new President of Suffolk FA in March
Roger Cox was elected as a Suffolk FA Life Member, and Isabel Chaplin was elected Chair of the Suffolk FA Youth Council and a member of The FA Regional Youth Network.
Despite the 2019-20 season being curtailed early, Suffolk FA were able to complete the delayed adult County Cup finals once the current season got under way again in September, as did a number of local leagues with league cup competitions.
Ten finals took place, with the Turners Hyundai Suffolk Premier Cup being played as a two-legged final for the first time since the 1980-81 season.
Ipswich Town, who won the HomeStore Self Storage Suffolk Women’s Cup, and Whitton United, the Suffolk Veterans’ Cup winners, both won the trophies they had lifted in the 2018-19 campaign.
Gym United bowed out by retaining the Rushmere Golf Club Suffolk Sunday Cup with a penalty shoot-out win in the final against Brandon Town Community.
Suffolk FA have been able to welcome a host of new partners and sponsors this season all of whom offer deals and support to local clubs and leagues – Best Badges, Blue Square Solutions, Portable Space, Veo, British Sugar Topsoil, FSL Scoreboards, GiveToLocal, Ipswich Town Community Trust, and Printsave Ltd.
But 2020 will forever be remembered as the one which COVID-19 plagued. Stowmarket Town and Crane Sports in particular had remarkable 2019-20 seasons expunged as leagues across the National League System were declared null and void, whilst other more local league were given the unenviable choice of concluding in a similar way or using a points-per-game system.
Football started and stopped and started and stopped, coach education changed forever, we all became used to developing plans W, X, and Y including league officials who did their best to be flexible to ever-changing demands, and the football world became even more indebted to the commitment and expertise of the army of volunteers who went even further beyond the call of duty than normal.
After this toughest of years, we now face another period of limited football participation as Suffolk is currently subjected to Tier 4 restrictions.
When football returns for everyone, let’s all remain mindful of the importance of football to people’s lives, to mental and physical wellbeing, and look forward to a time we can all be in a changing room and on a pitch together again.
Wishing the Suffolk football community a safe and Happy New Year.