LAKENHEATH FC are ready to create more history during the 2021-22 season.
The west Suffolk club will play their first match at Step 5 level when the new Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division starts on Saturday.
Then a week later Lakenheath, who won the CNet Training Suffolk Senior Cup last season as well as being awarded promotion, will make their first foray into the FA Cup.
However, the build-up to Saturday’s opening fixture, at home to Thetford Town, has been overshadowed by Covid concerns.
Since playing at Bury Town on July 20th, Lakenheath have had to cancel fixtures against Godmanchester Rovers and Cambridge University Press due to Covid.
Manager Ben Cowling said seven out of 16 first-team squad members had caught Covid during the course of pre-season, with several cases following the 6-1 loss at Bury Town.
He said: “We have not been able to train, so we are going in undercooked, but it is one of those things at the minute unfortunately.
“I am almost the last man standing among the coaching staff, but player-wise we hope to have everyone back apart from Craig Nurse, who is suspended for the first two games, and Tom Debenham, who has a back problem.”
Despite the disrupted build-up, Cowling is eagerly anticipating Saturday’s curtain-raiser.
“It will be lovely to be at home playing in front of our own supporters. With history being made it will certainly be a day to look forward to. The pitch is in very good condition as we have spent a lot of money on it over the summer.
“The match against Thetford Town will be one of four derbies we will face in the league this season, with games also against Mildenhall Town, Newmarket Town and Ely City.
“These games will bring added excitement rather than, with all due respect, matches against reserve sides at Step 6 level.
“To play Mildenhall on the same footing will be extra special considering three years ago they were at Step 4 and we were a Step 7 side.”
Lakenheath manager Ben Cowling, whose side's pre-season has been disrupted by Covid concerns among the squad.
It’s not just one the pitch but also off it that the club have made huge strides in recent seasons at their home ground The Nest, which is also sometimes called The Pit.
Work will start next week on a new stand, which will provide covered standing for 100 spectators, opposite the main stand.
The club secured funding of just under £20,000 from the Football Stadia Improvement Fund towards the £29,000 cost, while a hard-standing is being installed around the remainder of the pitch, enabling supporters to stand behind both goals.
Bucket seats have also been fitted in the main stand and new guttering installed at a further cost of £12,000, with the improvements bringing the ground to up to the grading required for Step 5 level.
Cowling added: “There has been phenomenal investment in the ground, which is one of the most iconic in the county, over the last three years.
“We have tried to maintain the identity of the ground by getting a local builder to design the stand, rather than have a pre-fab stand.”
The club are also trying to engage more with the local community, sending out leaflets to 3,600 residents in the surrounding area detailing the club’s opening games to try to get more people into the ground and show off the improved facilities.
Cowling continued: “I hope attendances will be well into three figures for a lot of our games. We regularly attracted 70-80 at Step 6, but hopefully we can play in front of 120-150 to boost interest and income into the club.”
After Saturday’s opener, Lakenheath travel to March Town United on Tuesday evening, before hosting Mulbarton Wanderers in the Extra Preliminary Round in their first-ever FA Cup tie next Saturday.
“It will be brilliant to play in the FA Cup – the oldest cup competition in the world – and great to be at home.
“It is slightly disappointing not to be playing a team from a different league, but just like with March Town, we have had some great battles with Mulbarton over the two or three years.
“They are a strong and well organised side so we hope it will be a very close and entertaining game.”
Lakenheath goalkeeper Charlie Beckwith punches clear under pressure from David ‘Bart’ Lorimer, player-manager of Bildeston Rangers, in last season’s CNet Training Suffolk Senior Cup Final. Lakenheath won the final, played at The New Croft in Haverhill, 2-0.
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Lakenheath FC are a shining example