Needham already planning for future
NEEDHAM Market may be preparing for the biggest game in their history, but the club are already planning for the future.
Their run to the quarter-finals of this season’s Buildbase FA Trophy has captured the imagination of Suffolk Non-League followers and beyond.
Six wins in the competition have propelled the Marketmen into unchartered territory – no Suffolk side has ever gone this far before – and a home tie versus National League leaders Stockport County.
The club are hoping to attract a ground record attendance close to the 2,200 capacity at Bloomfields on Saturday for the all-ticket tie.
If they do so it will eclipse the 1,748 who watched the FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round 1-0 loss to Cambridge United, who were leaders of the Conference (now National League) on October 26th 2013.
It’s a far cry from when current chair Keith Nunn, whose father played for the club as a centre forward before becoming treasurer, made his first team debut for Needham as a 15-year-old.
Keith played alongside Derrick Bloomfield, after whom the current ground is named, and also turned out for the Reserves and captained the U18 side on Sunday mornings.
That was when the club’s home ground was nearby at Crowley Park. Keith’s younger brother Barry also played for Needham and later used to carry out a collection at home games, before becoming gateman when the club moved to Bloomfields in 1996 – a role he still fulfils to this day.
Although he was born in Needham Market the now 76-year-old has not lived there since he left to go to university. He was a good enough player to have trials with Ipswich Town before opting to further his education, gaining a PhD in geophysics and then lecturing at the University of Birmingham for 11 years before working for BP for 25 years.
Keith, who now lives in Billericay, was invited to become a vice president in 1991 and regularly started watching the first team.
He became president in 2003 and took over as interim chair in 2013 – and is now into his ninth year!
Keith said: “Our FA Trophy run has put the club on the map and the PR benefits are huge. We have had people from all over the country watch us – and not just Groundhoppers.
“Hopefully they have enjoyed watching us play some good football and we have deserved those three big victories against National League sides, particularly against Wealdstone and Dartford, while people at Yeovil admitted we deserved to win the nail-biting penalty shoot-out.
“We like to think we are the most successful Non-League side in Suffolk – we are the holders of the Suffolk Premier Cup and have finished above both Leiston and Lowestoft Town in the last two seasons and want to hold on to that position.
“We feel we have the best non-league Academy in the county and our geography being situated near the A14 and with a railway station in the town gives us an advantage when youngsters are choosing where to go along with our facilities and the 3G pitch.
“Kevin Horlock, our first-team manager, runs the Academy along with Rob Peace and others. In the last round of the FA Trophy against Dartford ex-Academy players Jake Dye, Keiran Morphew, Callum Page and Noah Collard all started and the bench was made up of seven current Academy youngsters.”
The club have already pocketed nearly £25,000 from their FA Trophy run – and are guaranteed a further £2,000 even if they lose to Stockport County.
Earnings from this season’s Emirates FA Cup has taken that total to £30,000, a healthy income considering the club budgeted for £10,000 from the prize money available for those two competitions.
The club were able to furlough players under contract during the Covid lockdowns and that, together with grants the club have received, have left Needham Market in a stronger position than a lot of clubs, despite a drop in attendances.
Needham Market players (left to right) Kyle Hammond, Jake Dye and captain Kieran Morphew outnumber a Dartford opponent in their 1-0 victory at Bloomfields in the Buildbase FA Trophy Fifth Round Proper tie in February. Photograph: Ben Pooley. Main Photograph: Keith Nunn, Chair of Needham Market FC
Keith said: “Prior to Covid we were getting around 300 spectators for a league game, but that is now just over 250. Ipswich Town have had a better season and near-neighbours Stowmarket Town are also having a good season and challenging at the top of their table.
“We are very fortunate in that we own our own ground and not many sides at our level can say that. During the last two years our finances have been okay despite Covid as we have been able to apply for Football Foundation and local authority funding, so we have managed to keep our heads above water – it is important to be financially self-sustaining.
“The FA Trophy run will help us to make a profit this season – we have already earned £20,000 more in prize money than we budgeted for this season.”
A slow start to has left Needham playing catch-up in the Pitching In Southern League Premier Central and a play-off place would appear to be beyond their grasp this season.
No-one knows at present whether Needham will remain in the Southern League next season or possibly re-join the Isthmian League.
Keith said: “There is a similar amount of travel involved whichever league we are in, but player recruitment and retention is easier towards London rather than the West Midlands particularly given Kevin’s close contacts with Colchester United.
“Whichever league we are in we want to get promotion to Step 2. Ideally, if we were to get promoted, we would prefer to be in National League South, rather than National League North.
“If we do get promoted we will need a new main stand and we have already had plans drawn up. We are still considering these before making an application to the Football Foundation. We are hoping to have a 350-seat main stand and then extend both ends of the Les Ward Stand at the far end of the ground.
“If the work goes ahead it is planned that it will be carried out at the end of next season, while, longer term the club are also looking at the possibility of a hybrid main pitch.”
Before then efforts are being concentrated on the match against Stockport County, with extra stewards, portable toilets and extra outside catering among the preparations being finalised.
The chairman is relishing the occasion and hoping the team can rise to the occasion once again against their former Football League visitors.
“We play better against the better teams – we will certainly be fired up again against Stockport and top teams tend to under-estimate us, which was certainly the case with both Wealdstone and Dartford,” he said.