JUST like the recent World Cup Final, it has been a year of ups and downs for all concerned with grassroots football.
The effects of the Covid pandemic are still apparent as the Non-League game continues to recover from the fall-out.
While for some the enforced break has led to them reassessing their lifestyle, for others it has been a case of realising just how much they missed their weekly football fix during lockdowns.
All local leagues and cups are on schedule to be completed this season, with the Suffolk Youth Cups having returned after a two-year hiatus due to Covid.
The 2021-22 adult Suffolk FA county cup competitions were all completed earlier this year, with four sides retaining the cup they had won the previous season.
Stowupland Falcons (Parkers Pitches Suffolk Junior Cup), Kitchener Taverners (Sunday Cup), Whitton United (Best Badges Veterans’ Cup) and AFC Sudbury (Veo Suffolk Boys’ U18 Midweek Cup) all successfully defended their titles.
AFC Sudbury celebrate winning the Veo Suffolk Boys’ U18 Midweek Cup for the sixth consecutive time. Photograph: Paul Voller. Main Photograph: Players from Needham Market Women's FC represented The Three Tuns (red shirts) in the BT Sport Pub Cup Final at Wembley Stadium. Photograph: Ben Pooley
For AFC Sudbury it was their sixth win in the last six finals, while Whitton United made it four wins on the bounce.
Added to this, Needham Market made it back-to-back wins in the Turners Hyundai Suffolk Premier Cup either side of the competition being halted during the 2020-21 campaign.
Needham went on to retain the Suffolk Champions Charity Cup, defeating CNet Training Suffolk Senior Cup winners (and Thurlow Nunn League Division One South champions) Ipswich Wanderers 3-1 on penalties following a 1-1 draw at Bloomfields.
For the second successive season, Stowupland Falcons were beaten in the Suffolk Champions Charity Shield, losing 3-1 at Bury Town FC to Bardwell Sports, holders of the McDonald’s Suffolk Primary Cup.
Needham Market also enjoyed considerable exposure nationally on three separate occasions.
The club’s men’s first team reached the last eight – the first Suffolk side ever to do so – in the Buildbase FA Trophy in March, before losing to National League leaders Stockport County, who went on to regain their Football League status at the end of the season.
The Marketmen tasted more cup success earlier this season, emulating the feat of AFC Sudbury last season in progressing to the First Round Proper of the Emirates FA Cup.
That earned the club a trip to League One side Burton Albion, where they went down 2-0 last month, with the second goal not coming until the last minute of normal time.
Just a fortnight later the club’s Women’s side, playing under the guise of The Three Tuns public house in Needham Market, walked out at Wembley Stadium for the final of the BT Sport Pub Cup.
Despite losing 2-1 to the White Board hotel in Lancashire the occasion exceeded their expectations.
This followed on from Needham Market Women winning Division One North to earn promotion to the Premier Division of the Eastern Region Women’s Football League at the end of last season and then also being victorious in the Veo Suffolk Sixes female six-a-side tournament in the summer.
AFC Sudbury also made the step up to the top division of the ERWFL after winning Division One South and they completed a treble by also lifting the Suffolk Women’s Cup and the League Plate.
Ipswich Town Women, who reached the quarter-finals of the Vitality Women’s FA Cup. Photograph: Ross Halls
Ipswich Town Women reached the quarter-finals of the Vitality Women’s FA Cup, where they lost 1-0 to Women’s Super League side West Ham United in front of a packed-out Goldstar Ground in Felixstowe.
The Tractor Girls, who just missed out on promotion from National League South last season, are still in this season’s competition, with a home tie in the Fourth Round Proper to come at the end of January.
Going into the New Year Suffolk sides are well-placed for possible promotion come the end of the season at both Step 3 and Step 4 levels of the Non-League pyramid.
Leiston have enjoyed a splendid opening half of the campaign and sit second in Pitching In Southern League Premier Central at Step 3, as well as still being in the last 32 of the Isuzu FA Trophy.
AFC Sudbury, meanwhile, sit top of Isthmian North at Step 4, with fellow Suffolk sides Bury Town, Felixstowe & Walton United, Lowestoft Town and Stowmarket Town all in the mix for promotion.
Six Suffolk sides occupy places in the top eight positions in the Thurlow Nunn League at Step 5. One of those is Lakenheath, who reached the last 64 of this season’s Isuzu FA Vase.
Reigning champions Henley Athletic once again lead the way so far this season in the Macron SIL Senior Division, while two clubs were celebrating long-awaited promotions at the end of last season.
After several near misses, Bury St Edmunds-based Sporting 87 finally achieved promotion to the Senior Division of the SIL after claiming the Division One title.
It was ‘a dream come true’ for Woolverstone United who marked their centenary by winning promotion to Division One of the SIL for the first time in the club’s history.
Woolverstone United marked their centenary by winning promotion to Division One of the Macron SIL
And Exning United finished second in Kershaw 2B of the Cambridgeshire County League to secure promotion and made it a double by carrying off the William Coad League Cup.
Lowestoft Town reached the Third Round Proper of this season’s FA Youth Cup before bowing out 3-0 at home to Dover Athletic.
Twelve new Futsal county champions were crowned in March following competitions for schools and clubs across the season.
A number of individuals received recognition for more than 50 years’ service to grassroots football via The FA Long Service Award during the course of the year.
They included Keith Rattle (Woodbridge Town), Framlingham Town’s Fiona Whatling and Christine Vice, whose award was posthumous after she passed away the previous August, Suffolk FA Vice Chair Bruce Badcock, Woolverstone United stalwarts Craig Catchpole and David Hazelwood, Merv Bignell (Hadleigh United), Long Melford’s Richard Kemp and Colin ‘Alf’ Woodhouse and referee Kevin Theobald.
Among other individuals to be honoured were Suffolk FA Football Development Officer (Growth) Kirsty Smith, who led on the Refugee Project that was named winner of the Innovative Project of the Year Award at the Active Suffolk Awards 2022.
The accolade came just two weeks after the project was shortlisted at The FA’s County Recognition Awards held at Wembley Stadium.
The Refugee Project was one of a number that Suffolk FA were involved in across the county during the course of the year.
Bryan Symonds of Bacton United 89 FC was crowned Suffolk FA Groundsman of the Year sponsored by Jacobsen Ltd for clubs playing at Step 7 & Below for the second time.
A group of Suffolk groundsmen enjoyed a trip to the British Sugar factory in February, and were treated to a top-dressing event at the Victory Ground in Bury St Edmunds in April.
Suffolk groundsmen look on during the top-dressing event at the Victory Ground in Bury St Edmunds
Among others, Suffolk FA helped to secure Football Foundation Funding for the following projects:
- The new clubhouse at Long Melford FC
- New portable floodlights at the Sizewell Seniors Walking FC
- An Iseki compact tractor for Cavendish FC
- Grass pitch maintenance equipment for the old Reydon High School site
- Upgrading of spectator facilities at Stowmarket Town FC
- Upgrading changing rooms at Mutford & Wrentham FC
Suffolk clubs were also able to take advantage of a fund set up by the Football Foundation to help those that had suffered storm damage caused by high winds in February.
Clubs in the county benefited to the tune of £60,000 thanks to the Community Action Suffolk Covid Restart Fund.
More than 20 young players in Suffolk have once again benefited from the Suffolk FA Youth Retention Fund, which provides funding for those who may not be able to afford it to continue playing.
The Suffolk FA Safe Eyewear Fund, originally launched in the 2020-21 campaign just for Youth players, has again been available to benefit both Youth and Adult players this season.
Suffolk FA also stepped in to bring the Barnards Soccer Centre in north Lowestoft back to life in October, after Sentinel Leisure Trust, who operated the centre, had ceased trading and closed it earlier this year.
Well-known visitors to the county during the course of the year included former England goalkeeper Peter Shilton, who was the special guest at the 50th anniversary celebrations of Cornard Dynamos in June, and English Football League referee Bobby Madley, who attended the Suffolk FA County Cup Final Officials Celebration Evening in April held at Henley Community Centre just outside Ipswich.
The following month the Suffolk winners of the England Football and McDonald’s Grassroots Football Awards were announced. The winners, along with the Groundsmen of the Year winners and Referees who qualified for Long Service Awards, were joined by their guests at the Suffolk FA Awards Ceremony sponsored by Jacobsen Ltd and McDonald’s.
This was held in Beattie’s at Portman Road in October, when guests also enjoyed a two-course meal before watching Ipswich Town’s 1-0 victory over Derby County in Sky Bet League One.
Among the winners were Coplestonians FC whose Frame Football won Grassroots Project of the Year. The club, who run fortnightly sessions, raised £13,000 to purchase game frames for young players.
Young players taking part in a Frame Football session run by Coplestonians FC in Ipswich
The journey of Suffolk disability player Gavin Harvey was highlighted in an article on England Football website www.englandfootball.com
The article was produced in association with Goal Click, who tell real stories about the lives of people and their football communities through analogue photography, short film and their own words.
An Adult Disability Festival formed part of the Suffolk FA Grassroots Festival which returned in May after a two-year break due to Covid.
The two-day event, which also featured boys’ and girls’ teams from under-7s up to under-16s plus, was held at Whitton United FC for the third time.
There was a real feelgood factor around the festival, which was supported by David Goldsmith and Sam Murray, Conservative County Councillors for Whitehouse and Whitton, who both contributed £1,500 through the county council’s locality budget to support the event.
The Suffolk FA Grassroots Festival returned in May after a two-year break due to Covid
A number of sponsors renewed their agreements with Suffolk FA, including CNet Training, who are celebrating their tenth season as a major sponsor.
Andy Wilding was left speechless when he received a surprise presentation to mark ten years of his business Globex Freight Management Ltd supporting Suffolk FA Refereeing.
Best Badges Ltd extended their sponsorship from the Veterans’ Cup to the four adult male county cups, MH Goals became the new sponsors of the Suffolk Women’s Cup and Portable Space returned as Suffolk Senior Reserve Cup sponsors.
The past years has seen several new partners added to the Suffolk FA portfolio including EB Group, Planet League, The Hub and The Offside Trust.
Andy Wilding received a surprise presentation to mark ten years of his business Globex Freight Management Ltd supporting Suffolk FA Refereeing. Photograph: Paul Voller
Sadly, the past year has also seen us say goodbye to a number of individuals who have served Suffolk football so well in various capacities. They include the following:
Lee Adams (Holbrook Hornets & Woolverstone United FC)
Graham Apperley (Referee & Suffolk FA Referee Appointments Officer)
David Beecher (Waveney FC)
John Beecroft (Woodbridge Town FC)
Roger Cox (St Edmundsbury League)
John Day (Hadleigh United FC)
Eric Dickerson (Ipswich Vale Exiles FC)
Barry Felgate (Former referee & Brantham Athletic FC)
Ronald Jarrold (Former referee & Westbury United FC)
Alfred (Freddie) McGhee (Long Melford)
Keith Miller (Bacton United 89 FC)
Reg Payne (Brantham Athletic FC)
Gordon Rayner (Suffolk FA Honorary Life Vice President)
Geoff Squirrell (Stowmarket Town FC)
Ray Stanbridge (Felixstowe & Walton United FC)
Martin Swallow (Bury Town FC & Ipswich Town FC Supporters’ Club)
Bill Tinkler (St Edmundsbury Football League & Suffolk FA Council member)
Sonny Whittle (Framlingham Town FC)
On behalf of all at Suffolk FA, we wish all a healthy and football-filled 2023.
Roger Cox (left) and Bill Tinkler (right) who were both stalwarts of the St Edmundsbury League and are pictured receiving The FA Long Service Award passed away during the past 12 months. Photograph: Neil Dady