ROTY Dec 2023 - Walsham FA Vase

Much to celebrate despite tough year

THERE has been much to celebrate in Suffolk football in 2023.

THERE has been much to celebrate in Suffolk football in 2023.

It has been a difficult 12 months in some respects, with grassroots football continuing to find its feet post the pandemic.

But while the landscape has changed as some people’s priorities have shifted, there has also been much to admire and enjoy across the county.

This year saw both the adult and Youth county cup competitions completed for the first time since before Covid-19 disrupted the 2019-20 season.

Needham Market made it three wins in a row in the Suffolk Premier Cup, now sponsored by Endeavour Automotive, who took over mid-season from Turners Hyundai.

However, the Marketmen needed a penalty shoot-out for the second time in three seasons to claim the trophy after a thrilling 3-3 draw in the final versus Stowmarket Town at Bury Town FC.

ROTY Dec 2023 - Needham Market Women FA Cup v Dussindale

Shercye Slater (No.15) heads home an injury time winner for Needham Market in their 4-3 victory over Dussindale & Hellesdon in the Adobe Women’s FA Cup First Round Proper. Main photograph: Jack Brame fires home in the first minute of the match for Walsham-le-Willows in their 3-2 win at home to White Ensign in the Isuzu FA Vase Third Round Proper in mid-December.

Framlingham Town lifted the CNet Training Suffolk Senior Cup for the first time in the club’s history, while AFC Kesgrave triumphed in the Parkers Pitches Suffolk Junior Cup for the second time in five years.

Those two finals were among five staged at Colchester United FC – the first of which only went ahead after a sterling mopping up operation following a deluge not long before the scheduled kick-off.

Even some players joined in to sweep away the water before Coddenham Athletic and Gipping Gnats drew 2-2, the Cod Army then winning 4-3 on spot kicks in the McDonald’s Suffolk Primary Cup.

A thunderstorm half-an-hour before kick-off left the pitch at Leiston FC under water on the original date of the Portable Space Suffolk Senior Reserve Cup Final.

The match was rescheduled for the following week when a solitary spot kick divided the two teams as Hadleigh United condemned Beccles Town Reserves to a third final defeat in four years.

Needham Market won the MH Goals Suffolk Women’s Cup for the first time, beating Bungay Town in the final, but the club were denied a hat-trick of final successes by AFC Sudbury, who won the Veo Suffolk U18 Midweek Cup for an impressive seventh season in a row.

The Needham side included Ollie Fraser, who earlier in the season had represented England Schools’ U18s.

This year’s four adult Sunday men’s competitions, all sponsored by Best Badges, were concluded on Super Sunday at Needham Market FC.

Taverners goalkeeper Brandon Burton saved three penalties as his side won the Suffolk Sunday Trophy, defeating AFC Dragonfly 3-1 in the shoot-out following a 2-2 draw.

Bacton United 89 were the Suffolk Sunday Shield winners just 12 months after lifting the Sunday Trophy.

A solitary goal saw Mellis lose in the Suffolk Sunday Cup Final for a fifth time against first-time winners Moreton Hall Youth Ferals.

Steve Dearsley was on target four times as Woodbridge Town routed opponents Haverhill Rovers to claim the Suffolk Veterans’ Cup for a third time.

ROTY Dec 2023 - AFC Sudbury yel Heybridge red PO Final

AFC Sudbury (yellow shirts) on the attack against Heybridge Swifts in the Pitching In Isthmian North Play-Off Final which they won 1-0 to win promotion.

AFC Sudbury celebrated promotion to Step 3 via the Pitching In Isthmian North play-offs and were replaced at Step 4 by Ipswich Wanderers, winners of the Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division.

A penalty shoot-out success for Lakenheath in the Thurlow Nunn League Challenge Cup Final denied Wanderers a second successive double-winning campaign.

AFC Sudbury won promotion from the East Region Women’s Football League, while this season Needham Market reached the Adobe Women’s FA Cup Second Round Proper for the first time, before losing 3-0 to West Bromwich Albion after extra time.

The New Croft in Haverhill hosted a total of 13 Youth Cup and Plate Finals on one day in mid-May.

Ipswich Sunday Football League side Borussia Martlesham did the county proud by reaching the quarter-finals of the FA Sunday Cup, before losing 1-0 to St Joseph’s of Luton.

The Suffolk County Schools’ FA Under-14 side reached the semi-finals before losing 2-1 to Sussex School in the GE Knowles Cup.

However, they ended their season on a high by defeating Norfolk 4-0 to win the Ray Carter Charity Cup.

Premier Cup winners Needham Market subsequently won the Suffolk Champions Charity thanks to two late goals against Senior Cup winners Framlingham Town.

And two quickfire goals saw Junior Cup holders AFC Kesgrave overcome Primary Cup winners Coddenham Athletic in the Suffolk Champions Charity Shield.

Money raised at both matches was donated to the British Heart Foundation, with whom Suffolk FA partnered earlier in the year.

Largentina won 19 of their 20 matches to claim this year’s Suffolk Sixes title staged in the summer at Copleston Sports Centre.

ROTY Dec 2023 - Bruce Badcock

Suffolk FA Vice Chair Bruce Badcock and family members after he received the Active Suffolk Lifetime Achievement Award 2023 in November.

Suffolk official Emily Heaslip reflected on the ‘surreal’ experience of refereeing the Vitality Women’s FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium.

The 29-year-old was in charge as Chelsea edged Manchester United 1-0 in front of 77,390 spectators – a world record for a domestic women’s match.

Another Suffolk official had a key role to play at the Emirates FA Cup Final.

Captain Steve Finch, an Administration Officer with 3rd Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment based in Bury St Edmunds, was selected to represent the Army at the final at Wembley Stadium.

His role was to deliver the FA Cup to the Royal Box and place the trophy down in front of and give the salute to HRH the Prince of Wales before the cup was presented to Manchester City following their 2-1 victory over Manchester United.

Suffolk official Isabel Chaplin received international recognition when she was an assistant referee at two Women’s Champions League qualifying matches in Austria.

She then was an assistant referee at three Women’s Under-17 Euro 2024 qualifying matches in Albania.

Callum Walchester led the way among 34 Suffolk officials who received promotions ahead of the 2023-24 season. He was promoted from Level 2B to 2A, meaning he could officiate on the National League.

Brad Mingay was promoted from Level 3F to 3E, enabling him to operate as an assistant referee on the National League.

Earlier this month Jon Block received a mid-season promotion to the National Group of Assistant Referees, meaning he can now receive appointments for EFL League One and Two fixtures.

ROTY Dec 2023 - Grassroots Festival

Young girls taking part in the two-day Suffolk FA Grassroots Festival hosted by Kesgrave Kestrels FC at Kesgrave High School in May.

Kesgrave Kestrels FC hosted what was another highly successful end-of-season Suffolk FA Grassroots Festival, this time at Kesgrave High School, in May.

Ipswich Vale Exiles groundskeeper Simon Edwards said it felt ‘amazing’ to win the Suffolk FA Grounds Team of the Year competition sponsored by Jacobsen Ltd.

His achievement was celebrated at Portman Road along with the winners of this year’s Grassroots Awards.

Winners were presented with their awards before watching Ipswich Town face Fulham in the Carabao Cup as part of the Suffolk FA Awards Ceremony sponsored by Jacobsen Ltd and McDonald’s.

A dream came true for another Suffolk groundskeeper earlier this month when Trevor Chenery of Halesworth Town FC won a competition to help prepare the pitch at Wembley Stadium ahead of the Lionesses match versus the Netherlands.

That came soon after Suffolk FA and BSC Multicultural Services had cause to celebrate at Wembley Stadium after winning the Coach Development category at the County FA Recognition Awards.

And Suffolk FA Vice Chair Bruce Badcock received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Active Suffolk Awards 2023 last month.

Two other stalwarts of Suffolk football – Tony Lyes and Alan Sparkes – were presented with The FA 50-Year Service Award in October.

Leiston FC photographer Ben Cunningham’s image of Adam Mills doing a back flip after scoring a last-minute winner at Needham Market was placed third in the Best Amateur World Sports Photography 2023 awards.

ROTY Dec 2023 - Kathryn Bullen & Claire Chenery Halesworth Town Juniors FC

Kathryn Bullen (second left) and Claire Chenery (second right) are pictured receiving the Grassroots Club of the Year award on behalf of Halesworth Town Juniors from Carol Rogerson of McDonald’s (far left) and Suffolk FA Chair Phil Lawler (far right) at the Suffolk FA Awards Ceremony held at Portman Road in November.

Suffolk FA were awarded The FA’s Code of Governance for County Football Associations.

Meanwhile, Framlingham Town FC benefited from a kitchen makeover thanks to support from Howdens and England Football.

And The New Croft in Haverhill is similarly benefiting from a second 3G on the site that opened in October, making it one of the best football facilities in the South of England.

Barnards Meadow Football Centre in Lowestoft, which Suffolk FA took over the tenancy of in October 2022, has started to undergo a facelift helped by sponsorship from local business Dream Installations Ltd.

The year has seen investment of £2.05m in Suffolk football from the Football Foundation, Premier League, The FA and DCMS.

Major projects have included floodlit 3G pitches at The New Croft in Haverhill (£825,000) which was recently opened and Westbourne Academy in Ipswich (£643,000) where will work start early in the New Year.

Hundon FC were also awarded £182,000 towards a new changing pavilion which will commence early next year.

Three clubs received large grants towards grass pitch maintenance – Framlingham Town FC (£68,000), Bungay Town FC (£56,000) and Capel Plough FC (£34,000), while Framlingham Town FC were also awarded a further £33,000 towards grass pitch machinery.

Bury St Edmunds-based Videndum became the new sponsors through their support of the Girls’ Youth Cups, while Suffolk FA forged new partnerships with Ashburnham Solicitors and GroundTech.

The Suffolk FA Youth Council, sponsored by R Bugg Trading Ltd, released a new identity and logo in October, while a new Futsal league was launched in north Suffolk in October.

This followed on from a successful Futsal season across the county which saw 60-plus teams compete in The FA Pokemon Futsal Cup and Suffolk Schools’ Futsal Cup.

Students at Suffolk New College delivered an event in conjunction with Suffolk FA at Goals in Ipswich to celebrate the Amnesty International Football Welcomes project.

ROTY Dec 2023 - Refugee football

Refugees playing football after being supplied with kit through the generosity of Suffolk clubs.

Meanwhile, more refugees in the county benefited from the generosity of local clubs who supplied kit for them to use.

Club and league officials learnt about Disability and Inclusion which was the theme of the Suffolk FA Youth Conference held at Ufford Park.

Suffolk FA held a thank you event for Club Welfare Officers at Portman Road and also offered free affiliation for the 2023-24 season to all teams and clubs.

In addition, Suffolk FA also offered support to players via three different funds – the Benevolent Fund, Youth Retention Fund and Eyewear Support Fund – during the current campaign.

As we enter 2024, Needham Market are well-placed to win promotion from the Pitching In Southern League Premier Central and Lowestoft Town and Felixstowe & Walton United likewise in Isthmian North.

Mildenhall Town are similarly challenging for promotion from the Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division and Framlingham Town from Division One North.

Henley Athletic look well-placed to make it a hat-trick of league titles in the Macron SIL.

Walsham-le-Willows are still flying the flag for Suffolk as the county’s sole representatives in this season’s Isuzu FA Vase and have a home tie in the last 32 versus Tilbury to look forward to in mid-January.

Similarly, Ipswich Town will have home advantage against Charlton Athletic in the Adobe Women’s FA Cup Fourth Round Proper.

Here’s wishing everyone involved in grassroots football across the county a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

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