THE year 2021 has proved as challenging as the previous 12 months.
After Covid-19 caused major disruption everywhere in 2020, this year has been equally as difficult for many.
That includes the grassroots game as football has had to continue to adapt to the world we now live in.
However, these has still been much to celebrate.
Clubs continued to come to the fore in their local communities by raising thousands of pounds.
One outstanding individual effort came from 11-year-old Alfie Woolnough. He decided to raise money to buy a defibrillator for his club Maestros FC, who play at Delson’s Meadow in Stonham Aspal, after watching Christian Eriksen collapse playing for Denmark versus Finland in a Euro 2020 group match in June. The new defibrillator was installed in September.
Alfie Woolnough pictured with the defibrillator he raised money for at Delson's Meadow in Stonham Aspal. Main photograph: Needham Market striker Luke Ingram (red shirt) fires in a shot during his side's 2-1 victory over Wealdstone (blue shirts) in the FA Trophy Third Round Proper at Bloomfields. Photograph: Amy Gilson
Kirkley & Pakefield FC was used as an asymptomatic testing centre for those unable to work from home during the pandemic, while funding from local business Action Handling enabled the Haverhill Community Sports Association to run new free-of-charge sessions for girls aged 5-11-years-old at The New Croft - the stories of the Suffolk football family contributing to their local communities are numerous and heart-warming in equal measure.
The Football Foundation has continued to support the grassroots game through grants.
Suffolk clubs were among those nationwide to benefit from their ‘Game On’ grants which contributed more than £16m to grassroots football.
Among those whose clubhouse facilities have been improved due to Football Foundation grants are Brandon Town FC, Capel Plough FC, Long Melford FC and Walsham-le-Willows FC.
Other clubs including Brantham Athletic FC, Cavendish FC and Claydon FC have received funding towards improving their grass pitches, training areas and grounds.
Clubs also benefited from Suffolk County Council’s Community Restart Fund administered by Community Action Suffolk.
Suffolk FA partnered with OneLife Suffolk to get people active and a new partnership was formed with 12th Man providing the Suffolk football community with the opportunity to access a form of Mental Health First Aid training.
On the pitch, Monday Night Football sponsored by Drax (formerly Haven Power) at Ipswich Academy returned in May after a 14-month absence, while a Euro 2020 Disability Festival sponsored by Blue Square Solutions Ltd was held on the new 3G surface at Copleston.
A new three-year Reviving the Local Game strategy for 2021-24 was released at the start of July setting out Suffolk FA’s ambitions to return the local game to over and above pre-pandemic levels.
The same month saw the launch of the Suffolk FA Youth Retention Fund to support families facing challenges caused by the pandemic, essentially young players in danger of not being able to play for an affiliated team.
Three KBB Pre-Season Festivals were held at Kesgrave, Haverhill, and Kirkley & Pakefield to mark the start of the new season after lockdown.
Action from one of the Girls' Festivals at the KBB Pre-Season Suffolk FA Grassroots Festival at Kesgrave High School in August
Suffolk County Council Most Active Country Partnership provided opportunity to start ten new Walking Football Centres in the county.
Although the third lockdown period meant the majority of 2020-21 league campaigns were not completed, some leagues did manage to conclude their season’s schedule by extending into May and even June.
The 2020-21 Suffolk Youth County Cups had to be shelved but the adult county cups returned to be concluded with the exception of the Turners Hyundai Suffolk Premier Cup.
Ipswich Town Ladies made it a ‘Magnificent Seven’ in a row with victory over Needham Market in the HomeStore Self Storage Suffolk Women’s Cup, before withdrawing from the 2021-22 competition.
AFC Sudbury completed five straight wins in the Blue Square Solutions Boys’ U18 Midweek Cup against first-time finalists Leiston.
Woodbridge Town beat Beccles Town for a second year running in the final of the Portable Space Suffolk Senior Reserve Cup
Two late goals saw Lakenheath break Bildeston Rangers’ resistance to lift the CNet Training Suffolk Senior Cup just days after confirmation of their promotion to the Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division.
That final was the first of a double-header at The New Croft in Haverhill on May Day, Stowupland Flacons winning the Total Football Suffolk Junior Cup thanks to a 92nd minute goal against Mutford & Wrentham.
Stowupland Falcons celebrate after scoring an injury-time winner against Mutford & Wrentham in the Total Football Suffolk Junior Cup Final at The New Croft in Haverhill. Photograph: Paul Voller
AFC Sudbury hosted ‘Super Sunday’ as three finals were held on the 3G pitch on the same day.
Twelve months on from winning the Sunday Trophy, Hardy made it two county cup victories in successive seasons as they defeated fellow Ipswich Sunday Football League side Gainsborough United to lift the Veo Suffolk Sunday Shield.
Wamil Wasps, drawn from players at Mildenhall Cricket Club, then bowled over opponents Stoke by Clare to win the Bluefin Sport Suffolk Sunday Trophy.
The third final of the day saw Whitton United complete a hat-trick of successes in the Best Badges Suffolk Veterans’ Cup, defeating Woodbridge Town for a third year in a row.
Suffolk FA introduced the Suffolk Champions Charity Cup and Suffolk Champions Charity Shield to raise money for local charities whose finances had been hit during lockdown.
Turners Hyundai Suffolk Premier Cup holders Needham Market selected Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) for their match against Lakenheath, who chose Dementia UK, at Bury Town FC. Needham won 3-1.
In the Suffolk Champions Charity Shield Suffolk Junior Cup winners Stowupland Falcons (Stowmarket Food Bank) were beaten 5-0 by Bramford United (Suffolk MIND) at Needham Market FC.
A total of £1,160 was raised and split between the four charities.
Globex Freight Management Ltd sponsored the referees’ match fees, with the officials choosing to support St Elizabeth’s Hospice in Ipswich, who received £200 as a result.
Waveney FC announced that they had achieved charitable status.
Needham Market U15s Junior Premier League team lost 5-4 on penalties in the final of the JPL National Cup competition to Henley Lions FC Blues at Gloucester City AFC. They were within four seconds of winning when they conceded a penalty from which their opponents made the score 3-3.
Stowmarket Town played their first Step 4 fixture in the Isthmian League North in August after being awarded promotion from the Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division.
The same month saw Lakenheath not only play their first match as a Step 5 club but also their first match in the Emirates FA Cup.
However, it is in the Buildbase FA Vase that they are enjoying greater success, reaching the Fourth Round Proper and are Suffolk’s sole remaining side. They will travel to Rugby Town on January 15th.
Lakenheath (green shirts) on the attack against Shefford Town & Campton (blue & white striped shirts) in their Buildbase FA Vase Third Round Proper tie at The Nest.
The same day Needham Market will be flying the flag for Suffolk in the last 32 of the FA Trophy when they visit former Football League club Yeovil Town.
Needham won 2-1 at home to Wealdstone, who play two leagues higher in the Vanarama National League, to reach the Fourth Round Proper and, like Lakenheath, can now look forward to the biggest game in the club’s history.
AFC Sudbury’s reward for getting through to the First Round Proper of the FA Cup was not only a home tie against Colchester United but the match, which the visitors won 4-0, was broadcast live on BBC 2.
Along with Brantham Athletic, AFC Sudbury had flown the flag for Suffolk in the FA Youth Cup, with both clubs getting through to the first-round proper before bowing out.
Ipswich Town Ladies, another side to be awarded promotion by The FA ahead of the 2021-22 season, took the FA Women’s National League Southern Premier Division by storm.
They had opened up a five-point gap at the top of the table following 11 straight wins before suffering their first defeat. They are through to the Fourth Round Proper of the Vitality Women’s FA Cup and will travel to Newcastle United on January 30th.
Leiston’s Will Davies, who found the net seven times, finished as the top scorer in the entire 2020-21 Emirates FA Cup.
Kaci-Jai of St Joseph’s College in Ipswich and Hugh Cullum of Needham Market Academy were both selected for their respective English Schools’ Football Association squads – Kaci-Jai the Under-15 Schoolgirls and Hugh the Under-18 Schoolboys.
There was considerable success for Suffolk officials too.
Abi Byrne refereed The FA WSL Continental Tyres League Cup Final and was also on the middle for one of the Women’s FA Cup Semi-Finals.
Just before Christmas Abi was promoted from a FIFA Category 3 to Category 1 official, meaning she is just one step away from the Elite category which makes up officials for major tournaments.
Emily Heaslip followed her appointment as fourth official at the other Women’s FA Cup Semi-Finals by undertaking the same role for the final at Wembley.
Isabel Chaplin was appointed as an assistant referee for England Women’s U23 international versus the Estonia senior side at St George’s Park.
George Byrne was an assistant referee for the delayed 2019-20 Buildbase FA Vase Final.
Suffolk official George Byrne was an assistant referee for the delayed 2019-20 Buildbase FA Vase Final.
The FA 50-Year Award was presented to seven recipients once lockdown restrictions eased.
Roger Cox and Bill Tinkler, two stalwarts of the grassroots game in West Suffolk, received their awards in September.
The following month it was the turn of a trio of long-serving officials of Coplestonians FC to be recognised, namely David Webb, Dave Little and Peter Whittaker.
They were followed in November by referee Ian Friend and Barry Spall, who became the first ever recipient from Leiston FC.
Nearly 100 guests attended the Suffolk FA Awards Ceremony sponsored by McDonald’s and Jacobsen Ltd at Portman Road in late September.
The evening encompassed both the 2020 and 2021 awards and was topped off by those present watching Ipswich Town defeat Doncaster Rovers 6-0.
Two of those to be recognised subsequently achieved further recognition in the Active Suffolk Awards – Gavin Harvey of Wot’s Up Warriors FC won the ‘Active Advocate Award (Volunteer)’ and Lakenheath Youth FC the ‘Active Club Award’ – in an online ceremony staged over three days.
Gavin Harvey won the Suffolk FA ‘The Spirit of Grassroots Football Award’ for 2021. He is pictured after receiving his award from McDonald’s franchisee Carol Rogerson (left) and Suffolk FA Chair Phil Lawler (right) at Portman Road. He subsequently also won the Active Suffolk ‘Active Advocate Award (Volunteer)’. Photograph: Chris Winder
Nando’s won the Suffolk Sixes sponsored by Veo, the female six-a-side summer tournament held over six Wednesday evenings at Ipswich Academy.
Other Suffolk FA competition winners over the course of the calendar year were Claydon, who won the hire of a Veo camera, and Cockfield United, who won a Team Sport First Aid Kit in a competition run in conjunction with Koolpak.
Lowestoft Town won £250 from Suffolk FA fundraising partner easyfundraising.
Parkers Pitches became the new sponsors of the Suffolk Junior Cup, while Total Football signed a new three-year agreement to be the recognised partner for team wear, printing and embroidery.
Suffolk FA were indebted to those businesses who continue to sponsor the county, among them Best Badges, British Sugar TOPSOIL, CNet Training, Globex Freight Management Ltd, Drax (formerly Haven Power), Jacobsen, McDonald’s, MH Goals Ltd, Richard Bugg Trading Ltd, The KBB Centre, Turners Hyundai and Veo.
Anglia Coffee Solutions Ltd signed up as a new partner, while fundraising partners GiveToLocal launched their new #Club Futures campaign in August.
A number of people from the Suffolk football family who we’ve sadly said goodbye to include Bert Bone (Brantham Athletic FC), Martin Chapple (former referee & Sporting 87 FC), ‘Joe’ Coe (Suffolk FA), Lynsey Davies (AFC Sudbury), Mike Ford (AFC Sudbury), David George (East Bergholt Junior & Women’s FC), Lenny Godbold (Bramford Road Old Boys FC), Niall Kavanagh (The Racing Centre FC), Joe Langfield (Borussia Martlesham FC), Peter Mundford (Stowmarket RA), Norman Nicholson (Coplestonians FC), Terry ‘Currants’ Scopes (former player & referee), Brian Tatum (Suffolk FA Life Member & AFC Sudbury), Christine Vice (Framlingham Town FC) and Ethan Wright (Waveney FC).
All contributed hugely to Suffolk football in their own unique way and will be sorely missed but fondly remembered.
As we close the year with Covid-19 rearing its ugly head again, we wish to recognise and acknowledge the extraordinary efforts, resilience and commitment shown by the Suffolk football family to keep local football going in the face of such times.
Those within clubs and leagues, the vast majority of whom undertake their roles purely out of love for the game, have again gone above-and-beyond to keep themselves, colleagues and organisations going throughout another rollercoaster of a year.
What’s to come in 2022 is anybody’s guess, but what is for certain is football participation will continue to be as important and ever.
Wishing you a healthy and successful 2022.