Darrell Allen reviews the last twelve months across the county’s clubs and leagues.
Above: Martin Francis and his Mulbarton Wanderers team celebrate success in the Norfolk Women and Girls Challenge Cup earlier this year. Photo: Mulbarton Wanderers FC (31/12/21).
The year began for Norfolk Football began as it did for the rest of the country as we were plunged into the third National Lockdown on 4th January. Football was on hold for many weeks after as the beginning part of the year was just filled with rumours and speculation about what the return of football would look like and when indeed it would recommence.
It was decided by the government in late February that organized sport could return from Monday 29th March and further discussions were then held about local leagues, and what if any cup competitions would look like.
It was deemed and widely supported that there was not enough time to complete the season and none of the leagues re-started, which was largely the picture across the country. Instead, it was decided County Cup and other competitions would return and this would be in the form of the Norfolk Women’s Cup which recommenced at the Second Round stage and two separate competitions also run by the Norfolk Women and Girls League; a Challenge Cup and a Challenge Vase competition. Wroxham and Wymondham Town also had an additional competition as the Eastern Region League set up a Challenge Cup format.
Wroxham didn’t make it out of the group phase so, it was Wymondham Town who faired best in the Eastern Region Challenge Cup winning their group phase and entering the finals day which was played at Haverhill Rovers FC between the winners of the four groups in the Eastern Region Challenge Cup. Those winners were Wymondham Town, Royston Town, Bedford, and Cambridge City Development.
Cambridge City Development beat Wymondham Town and Royston Town beat Bedford in the semi-finals to set up a Royston Town vs Cambridge City Development final. The day ended with a 6-5 win for Royston Town on penalties. Not the day local side Wymondham Town hoped for, having to settle for victory over Bedford in the third-place play-off.
Locally this competition was regarded as much more low-key than the usual league fixtures but it was a way of getting football up and running again and the League should be applauded for doing so.
The Norfolk Women’s Cup restarted on Sunday 18th April with the second round stage. North Walsham Angels won 7-2 at Horsford, Sprowston beat Bulldogs 19-0 and Mulbarton Wanderers beat Fakenham Town 10-1. Norwich City, King’s Lynn Town, Wroxham and Wymondham all received byes as well as Tavern who’s opposition Red Rose forfeited the second-round tie.
Sunday 2nd May saw the Quarter-Final ties taking place. Norwich City beat Wymondham Town in the day’s big tie 1-0, Mulbarton caused a massive upset winning 1-0 at Wroxham, Sprowston beat North Walsham Angels 4-0 and the game of the day saw Tavern narrowly beaten at home 4-3 by King’s Lynn Town.
Due to tight deadlines, the semi-finals took place the following Sunday with Norwich City thrashing King’s Lynn Town 7-0 and Mulbarton Wanderers winning 3-1 on penalties after a 1-1 draw with Sprowston to set-up a Norwich City vs Mulbarton Wanderers final.
The final took place on Wednesday 19th May 2021 at the Norfolk FA Headquarters, the FDC in Bowthorpe. Due to Norwich City being a step four side and Mulbarton Wanderers being step seven, it was a one-sided final which was to be expected with Norwich City running out 7-0 winners. A hat trick from Kathryn Stanley was the highlight of the night, although Mulbarton should be praised for their never say die attitude and willingness to never give up. This is installed by head coach Martin Francis who later in the summer won the Norfolk FA Coach of the year award which was fully deserved.
In the Norfolk Women’s and Girls league competitions, Mulbarton Wanderers made up for their county cup final defeat by tasting success in the challenge cup final on 27th June winning 2-1 against Dussindale & Hellesdon Rovers. In the Vase final on 30th June, Sprowston beat Fakenham Town 4-1.
That was the 2020/2021 season restarted and finished in a couple of months with various fun cup competitions, but attention quickly turned to 2021/2022 as excitement and anticipation built ahead of the start and return of all our much-loved leagues. Here is a rundown of what has been happening so far this season.
Norwich City – The FA Women’s National League Division One South East
Step Four Norwich City, the highest placed team in Norfolk have had a difficult season in the FAWNL Division One South East. Despite positive new signings in Freya Simmonds and Mollie O’Callaghan from local rivals Wymondham Town, it was a difficult start to the season for the Canaries losing their first three games and shipping 15 goals in the process against Billericay Town, London Seaward, and Enfield Town. Form came back in September with a very creditable 1-1 draw at AFC Wimbledon before a 2-1 home win over Actonians and a 4-1 away success at Kent Football United which enabled Shaun Howes’s team to climb the league. It has been a disappointing run since with five successive league defeats which leaves them third from bottom. Norwich City excited the Women’s FA Cup at the second round stage losing 5-1 at Stoke City after beating Wymondham Town 2-0 in Round One. Norwich City begin 2022 with a home fixture against London Seawood at The Nest on Sunday 9th January.
Wymondham Town – Eastern Region Premier Division
Step Five Wymondham Town can be very proud of the way they have started the 2021/2022 season. They came out of the blocks firing with four consecutive wins to start the season against Bedford, Colney Heath, St Ives Town, and Luton Town. A slump in late September saw them beaten on the road at Royston Town and handsomely 4-0 at King’s Lynn Town on back to back Sundays. Since those two defeats, they have been absolutely untouchable taking 19 points from a possible 21 in the league with noticeable success in the local derby away to Wroxham with Becca Russell and Katie Knights scoring the goals to seal a midweek derby victory under the Trafford Park floodlights and a huge three points on 28th November beating Bedford 3-2 at Ketts Park, gave them a big lead at the top of the table and sees them sit on 31 points, six points clear of second place Royston Town having scored an impressive 45 goals in 13 games and look to be clear favourites to take the Eastern Region Premier Division title and a place in Step Four next season. Wymondham reached the First Round proper of the Women’s FA Cup losing 2-0 to Norwich City at Ketts Park on 14th November having won 10-0 at Haverhill Rovers in the qualifying rounds to set up that tie with their Norfolk rivals.
Wroxham – Eastern Region Premier Division
Step Five Wroxham hit the headlines in the summer and rightfully so with some incredible transfer business as manager Rebecca Burton brought in Alice Parker from Norwich City and Amber Cantwell from Cambridge United, both were added to an already talented squad. Two transfers that hit the headlines across East Anglia and beyond and a signal of intent that Wroxham meant business heading into 2021/2022. A flying start to the season was expected and Wroxham absolutely delivered with five wins from the five and a place at the top of the table by 12th September. A 4-2 win over Luton Town on the opening day was followed up by a 3-2 win at Haringey Borough, a big 5-2 win in the local derby on August Bank Holiday Sunday at Trafford Park vs King’s Lynn Town followed by an away doubleheader success with a 3-1 win at Bedford and a 4-1 win at St Ives Town made it an incredible start to the season and Wroxham were the team that everyone was talking about.
Unfortunately, four successive league defeats followed against Wymondham Town, Royston Town, Bowers & Pitsea, and Colney Heath before a point away to King’s Lynn Town in an entertaining 1-1 draw on 21st November stopped the run of defeats. The fixture calendar has not been kind to Wroxham with large breaks between fixtures but hope will be that once 2022 arrives with a regular run of matches, the Yachtswomen will start climbing the league again. With many home games to play all is still salvageable for Wroxham and don’t be surprised if we see them finishing in the top three of the division at the end of the season. Wroxham exited the Women’s FA Cup at the 3rd Qualifying Round stage losing 3-2 to Luton Town.
Kings Lynn Town – Eastern Region Premier Division
By far and away Norfolk Football’s success story of 2021, surprising everyone apart from perhaps themselves. After getting promoted to Step Five, I will be totally honest and say I expected King’s Lynn to struggle to stay up. How wrong I was and I am very happy to be wrong. Managed until the last few weeks by the very highly regarded Joe Simpson, King’s Lynn have played all their home games at the men’s clubs stadium at The Walks and it has certainly increased the appeal and awareness of the side off the pitch.
On the pitch, they have done themselves very proud. Spearheaded by captain Tiffany Foreshaw and vice-captain Jodie Hopkins. King’s Lynn sits in an incredible third place in the league on 20 points after 13 games, having won five, drawn five, and only lost three. After a narrow opening day defeat at home to Haringey, Kings Lynn picked up a creditable 1-1 draw at Bowers and Pitsea before a Bank Holiday thumping 5-2 at Wroxham. It was September that saw King’s Lynn go on a rampage, winning three of the next four games, responding to that Wroxham defeat in stunning fashion beating St Ives Town 5-0, before an away success at Dunstable. A disappointing 4-1 loss at Bedford, September ended with a wonderful 4-0 win over Wymondham Town before back to back 2-2 draws at Colney Heath and at home to Luton.
November saw King’s Lynn take seven points from nine with an important late penalty securing a 1-1 draw with Wroxham sandwiched in between two very noticeable away wins at Royston Town and Haringey Borough. Their last game of the year was a 1-1 draw at St Ives Town. Manager Joe Simpson left after this game and we look forward to seeing if King’s Lynn can continue their excellent progress and the foundations Joe has laid.
With many home games to play once 2022 arrives, hopes are high that King’s Lynn can continue their excellent season and finish in the upper reaches of the division. Don’t rule out a Norfolk top three come the end of the season with Wymondham, King’s Lynn, and Wroxham all having favourable fixtures in the second half of the campaign. In the FA Cup, King’s Lynn Town exited at the 3rd Qualifying Round stage losing to Step Four Cambridge United 3-0 at The Walks after a 5-1 win at Suffolk side Brettvale in the second qualifying round.
Norfolk Women and Girls League (NWGFL – Step 7 and 8)
So far in 2021/2022, teams have played between five and nine matches. The league is led by Mulbarton Wanderers who have won seven from seven and sit proudly at the top on 21 points. Martin Francis once again proving why he is the coach of the year. The division’s other unbeaten team is Thetford Town who sit just two points behind Mulbarton having won six and drawn one of their seven games so far under David Skipp and Stuart Terry. A notable date for the diary is 13th February when Thetford travel to Mulbarton for the top-of-the-table clash and if both teams are still unbeaten going into that it is one all eyes are sure to be on.
Bungay Town, Fakenham Town, and Long Stratton make up the next places with Dussindale & Hellesdon Rovers occupying 6th. It is worth keeping an eye on Dussindale in the New Year as they have only played five games and would expect to be higher up the league once they catch their games up.
In the second half of the league, Stalham and Beccles sit on a creditable nine points with Sprowston on seven. The bottom two currently are Thorpe St Andrew on three points and North Walsham Town are rock bottom after eight losses from eight. Certainly, all to play for at both ends of the table.
In Division Two it is Caister who lead the way, on 21 points having played eight, won seven, and lost one so far. An excellent start to the campaign from Sophie Gillett’s team who continue to excel in their first season. Hot on their heels are KLSC just two points behind who were the only team to beat Caister so far this season. Gorleston are a very good third, just a further two points back on KLSC, and worth noting that fourth place Shrublands are unbeaten with four wins and two draws from their first six games. UEA sit fifth in their first season in the NWGFL and Horsford sixth. In the bottom half of the league Freethorpe, Red Rose, and Bulldogs all have six points, FC Viking & Valkyries have three and Loddon United are bottom of the pile having lost seven from seven. Like with Divison One, it’s certainly all to play for at both ends of the table.
Thank you for your continued support of my work and I would like to wish you all a very Happy New Year.