The birth of football in Stowmarket
The history of Stowmarket Town Football Club takes us back more than 125 years to 1883, when the club was first founded.
Our story begins in 1883 and the first date that records show a mention of a football team in the town. A team had been formed from an amalgamation of two local sides, Stowmarket St. Peter and Stowmarket Ironworks, and played a friendly against Needham Market School.
The amalgamated club was named Stowmarket Association, with the ‘Association’ tag being added to distinguish the club from the Rugby Football Club. The team for that memorable day was: Eastleigh, Prentice, Woods, Jordan, Thurlow, Gostling, Ashley, Harper, Earthy and G. Thurlow.
Five years previously, a meeting in Ipswich Town Hall resulted in the formation of Ipswich Association Football Club, and they soon found a home at Broom Hill, where they played for several years before finally ousting their great rivals, the Rugby Club, from its pitch at Portman Road. This was, of course, to become Ipswich Town, whose career was remarkably similar to that of Stowmarket’s for several years.
By 1885, interest was such that a County Association was formed. Among its former members were Stowmarket Association, Ipswich Association, Bury Town, Beccles Caxton, Cowells, Orwell Works, Ipswich Rangers, Ipswich School, Long Melford, Newmarket, Woodbridge and Sudbury. In that year, the Suffolk Senior Cup was introduced, a trophy that Stowmarket were to find strangely difficult to win. The first holders were Woodbridge Town, who defeated Ipswich 3-1 after two replays.
In those days, all matches were billed as ‘friendlies’, although not all lived up to this title. The local papers were particularly scathing of the tactics adopted by Harwich & Parkeston. Many of the military teams insisted on wearing their hobnail boots and fearsome injuries were commonplace. Interestingly, extensive use was made of the railways for travel to away games, like Westbourne Mills – a top side of the times – and Woodbridge Irons Works. On one occasion they even went by barge, as the River Gipping was then navigable. In common with Ipswich, Stowmarket had by this time dropped the ‘Association’ from their title, the break from rugby now complete.
In 1890-91, Stowmarket made their first appearance in the Senior Cup, ending on the wrong end of a 4-0 defeat to Framlingham College. They did however manage a 4-0 win over Bury Town, fierce rivals even in those days. In those early days the team played in red, and the usual team was: Knights, Peacock, Dallas, Bond, Newman, Bryant, Sherrington, Orford, Peacock, Peacock and Mellor.
Success into the 1900's
The closing 10 years of the century were ones of interest and glory at the Cricket Meadow and elsewhere. The formation of the Ipswich and District League saw the club rapidly establish a stranglehold over the championship which came to the town on three of the first four years in 1896-97, 1897-98, 1897-98 and 1899-1900. Elsewhere, the creation of the two leagues in Colchester, the Borough and the District, was significant as they were to merge in 1911 to form the Essex and Suffolk Border League, of which Stowmarket had been until recently, one if it’s longest serving members.
The Amateur Cup debuted in 1893, a competition in which Stowmarket regularly appeared, but with little success. The Amateur Cup was a roaring success for the game with the first winners being Old Carthusians, followed by Middlesbrough (the only Football League club to have held the trophy). At this time, football in Suffolk was growing rapidly. The first inter-county match between Suffolk and Norfolk took place in 1893, with Suffolk thrashing their neighbours 5-1.
In 1903, the East Anglian Cup was introduced, a competition that has never received the publicity it deserves and whose records are few and far between. Its stature is reflected by the list of its holders. Ipswich Town in the first year, Norwich, Spurs and Arsenal to name a few more. Sadly, Stowmarket have never won this particular trophy, and the closest the club has come to winning was during the mid 1980s when the side unluckily lost to Billericay Town in the semi-finals. Cup success was forthcoming in the Suffolk Junior Cup in 1907, with a 5-1 victory over old rivals Westbourne Mills, and in the 1909-10 season, Stowmarket achieved a remarkable double with the Seniors clinching the IDL Division One title, and the Reserves coming up trumps in Division Two.
In these days, the Cricket Meadow was little more than a roped off field and the exact date of the building of the wooden stand is uncertain. The club colours were red shirts (of several different designs – including stripes), and the team during these successful years was usually: Ling, Ward, Baker, T. Stroud, Tricker, Tuck, Wallis, Mills, Bond, H. Stroud and P. Stroud. There was a smoking evening at The Fox P/H to celebrate the end of one of the finest seasons in the history of the club. Mr F.C. Peacock, of the FA, was there to present the trophies to the club captain, Frank Tricker.
During these times, crowds were frequently in excess of 1,000, particularly for the visits of Westbourne Mills, who often brought large numbers of their own fans to the Cricket Meadow. This was an occasion often liable to end in fighting, after lunchtime sessions in the nearby pubs. After the war, Stowmarket resumed in the IDL, which was now boosted to 58 teams, and continued their run of title wins in 1922. Lowestoft Town provided another disappointing defeat in the Senior Cup final, but perhaps to Stowmarket it was not so disappointing, as it meant the first appearance for Albert Crascall, who was to give over 50 years of devoted service to the club.
Another Stowmarket great of the time was John Newby, a Yorkshire man often described as ‘Mr Stowmarket’. John took the club to his heart, becoming the club’s secretary before making his mark as vice-chairman of the IDL for three seasons. It was his greatest wish to see Stowmarket win the Senior Cup and it is sad and very fitting that the club after many near misses, won it the year after John’s death.
In 1925, the club joined the Essex and Suffolk Border League, a huge gamble at the time with the extra costs incurred in travelling to new grounds in Essex. Unfortunately, the Border League’s records are hard to come by from the 1920s and 1930s, and the club’s achievements in the early years go mainly unrecorded. In the latter part of the 1920s, the club used the White Hart P/H, which stood on the site now occupied by Lacy Scott and Knight as their headquarters. This also provided the dressing rooms for the visiting team, who had to run the gauntlet of the crowd after the game.
The landlord at the White Hart was Syd Crosby, who after John Newby turned out to be an influential figure at the Cricket Meadow. These years were the adjustment to the higher standards of football and little of note occurred. The Amateur Cup provided a welcome diversion and in 1927 a good run was halted by Ipswich Town by two goals to nil.
This was the time when the depression was biting hard at the working man and, although unpaid, the players who were not in work were grateful for the meal provided for them on matchday, often their best of the week. Thus, with little else to occupy their time, the youngsters saw in football a means of enjoyment at little cost, and the area was rich in football talent. Stowmarket, being one of the top clubs, were able to attract fine players from Ipswich and by the late 1920s were beginning to assemble a formidable squad.
As is so often the case, the importing of players from outside the area was a move which was met with great disapproval among the regular supporters and many stayed away. Sadly, this meant that when the team stood on the brink of one of its finest eras, costs were spiralling and support was beginning to slacken off.
THE HALCYON DAYS OF THE 1930'S
The 1930s began with a bang and a trip to Portman Road for a second qualifying FA Cup match. Interest was such that British Rail organised a special train which took dozens of fans to the game at a cost of only 1/3d. With hooliganism being no problem in those days, it called at Claydon and Bramford to pick up Ipswich supporters too.
Defeat was not unexpected, as by this time Ipswich Town were only a few years away from joining the Football League, but there was the welcome share of the large gate. The real prize came later in the season when at long last the Senior Cup was brought home to the Cricket Meadow after a splendid 3-1 over old rivals Sudbury Town. Stowmarket’s first team were runners-up in the Essex and Suffolk Border League against opposition which included old friends like Sudbury, Harwich, Haverhill and – less familiarly – Wesleyans, Wimpole Road and Old Colonians.
Sadly, the following season despite reaching the final again, Lowestoft Town won the day, and as on many occasions in the future were to prove to be a thorn in the club’s side. Although the Senior Cup was beginning to lose its prestige, with the Suffolk Premier Cup taking over as the major county trophy, in the 1930s however it was an important day in the calendar for the family. Crowds of up to 10,000 would come to Stowmarket from all parts of the county for their traditional Easter Monday entertainment. Another big day in the year at this time was the ‘Annual Fete’ held on the Cricket Meadow. These were by all accounts grand occasions, with running races for cash prizes, which brought top competitors from all around, and grass track cycle racing on cane rimmed machines.
There were some interesting characters around at this time, none more so than Sam Bowman, who worked as a pig sticker in Ipswich, and Ted Jones, who was transferred to Ipswich Town and subsequently just missed out on selection for his country, Wales. In the 1932-33 season, there was an astounding result in the FA Amateur Cup as Stowmarket played hosts to an even more powerful Ipswich Town side, but this time Stowmarket were victorious by a 5-2 scoreline, which must rate as probably one of the finest results in the history of the club and set the stage for a visit from the powerful Bournemouth Gas Works in the next round. The South Coast side had been losing finalists two years previous, and it was with no little trepidation that Stowmarket took to the field against a side who had enjoyed the overnight stay at The Fox P/H. In the end the form book proved correct as Stowmarket lost 4-2, although not disgraced it certainly proved to be a good experience for the side which would stand them in good stead for the future.
And so it proved later in the season as the Senior Cup returned to the Cricket Meadow with a convincing 5-2 win over Lowestoft outfit Kirkley at Portman Road in front of 4,500 fans. The lethal partnership of Sam Bowman (three goals) and the bespectacled Taylor (two goals) sank the seasiders without trace. Double success came in this season with victory in the Suffolk Charity Cup final against Bury Town in front of the largest crowd then seen at Kings Road, Bury’s former home. Bury had taken a two goal lead early on in the match, but had reckoned without Stowmarket’s goal hungry attack who in the second half had Bury reeling, as goals from Bowman, Hastings, Taylor and Dakin put yet more silverware on the club’s trophy shelf. The team who contested both finals was: Crascall, Wright, Summers, Thurlow, Dorling, Burch, Skinner, Dakin, Taylor, Bowman and Hastings.
To celebrate their success, the club treated the players to a brand new set of Arsenal-style red and white shirts for the new season, but behind the scenes the financial storm clouds were gathering. There was an increasing shortage of money in the town as the depression had spread to the rural areas, and despite the club’s outstanding record, gates steadily fell. In those days, clubs paid their bills using gate takings, and the all-important social clubs of today did not exist. The following season the Cricket Meadow was beginning to get in a poor state as money became shorter, but there was still some good times left before the crisis became serious. Favourites again in the Senior Cup, Stowmarket cruised into the semi-finals following wins over Orwell Works and RAF Martlesham. Old enemy Lowestoft Town met us there and following a 2-2 draw, Stowmarket managed to hammer home five goals without reply in the replay. So, it was back to Portman Road again for another Bank Holiday celebration as once again Bury Town were beaten, this time 3-0. Appearing for Stowmarket in the final was Jackie Little who signed from Needham Market, and his name is one that would appear on more than one occasion in the years to come.
In the 1934-35 season, the first team made a rare attempt at the East Anglian Cup, but Cambridge United put paid to any hopes of glory with a 5-2 success at the Abbey Stadium. Dorling managed to score seven goals in a 15-2 Amateur Cup thrashing of Brantham, but little else of interest was to happen this year and the following season was one that would prove to be more interesting for events away from the Cricket Meadow rather than on it. The 1935-36 season was the year that Stowupland Corinthians reformed under John Scarfe, the man who in a few years would be mainly instrumental in saving the club. The second notable happening this year was the formation of the Eastern Counties League, and the twelve founder members were: Bury Town, Chelmsford, Clacton, Colchester Town, Crittall Athletic, Gorleston, Yarmouth, Harwich, Ipswich Town, Kings Lynn, Lowestoft and Thetford.
1936-37 saw the club in a desperate situation, and was forced to seek players from local leagues to cut costs. The first team struggled to carry on in the Border League, and one of the few bright spots in this season was a club outing to Stamford Bridge. The club also made one of its last visits to Portman Road to play Ipswich Town in an FA Cup preliminary round match. Predictably, the side were beaten 4-0 in front of 7,500 spectators. The following season was one of despair for the club and its few remaining followers. The team struggled on until the season’s end, then without further ado, was forced to disband. The end of the reds! Meanwhile, a few miles away at Stowupland, the Corinthians were on their way towards winning the Woolpit Nursing Cup, a modest enough achievement by Stowmarket’s standards, but one which provided a glimmer of hope for the future.
Closure and the new beginnings
During the period that Stowmarket Football Club had ceased to exist, some interesting facts emerged. In the 1938-39 season following closure, the Cricket Meadow was taken over by Nobels FC (later named ICI). The owners at the time, Stowmarket Sports Ltd, offered Nobels FC the opportunity to buy the ground for £800. The chance was passed up by Nobels however, who decided to rent it instead, at a cost of £30 per season. During this time the Cricket Meadow was also used by Stowmarket United so presumably there was a ground sharing arrangement.
Meanwhile, Stowupland man John Scarfe, a longstanding supporter of Stowmarket Football Club, had taken over as secretary of Stowupland Corinthians in 1935 and was joined by several ex Reds who were looking for a new club. The importance of the Corinthians club and particularly certain members will become apparent in the next chapter of the club’s history.
During the war there was no football of course. If however, the US Army had their way, we would have lost the familiar slope and dip on the Cricket Meadow, as they had offered to bring in equipment to level the surface of the pitch free of charge. This was seen firstly as an exercise in public relations, but secondly no doubt in exchange for use of the ground to stage baseball or American football. The powers-that-were would not allow such drastic action to be taken and so the Cricket Meadow retained its traditional contours, at least until the coming of another American giant, The Dee Corporation, some forty years later.
After the hostilities, John Scarfe was approached by several ex-Stowmarket players who wanted to reform the club. So it was that many of the old players came to join him with the Stowupland Corinthians, and as things turned out this was to be the embryo of the future Stowmarket Football Club. Civilian football had been non-existent during the war years and in these early days of reformation the Corinthians were one of only four teams operating in the region, the others being Whitton United, Achilles and Bury Town. Towards the end of the 1944-45 season, Stowupland Corinthians were one of only a handful of Senior Cup entrants, and home matches were being played on Carters Meadow, in Stowupland.
1946-47 saw the reformation of the Essex and Suffolk Border League, with the Corinthians in membership. The identity of Stowupland Corinthians was maintained at this stage although their home matches were played on the Cricket Meadow from now on. Many well known local names such as Frank Firman, Ron and Ken Laflin, Dixie Dykes, Don Steggall, ‘Chuckie’ Haggar, ‘Tishy’ Brett, Frank Skinner and ‘Sticker’ Bridges were playing members, and a second team had now been formed and were playing in the Ipswich and District League (IDL).
The season was followed by a flurry of name changes. A big attendance at the club’s AGM in the summer of 1947 decided to change the name to Stowmarket Corinthians, a decision which caused much heated debate and discussion within the town. In the August it was changed again to Stowmarket Town. On legal advice however and after much controversy, the club’s name reverted to plain Stowmarket, which was a decision made to cement relationships in the town. It should be said though that the name ‘Corinthians’ still stuck with many people, and even some match records refer to ‘Stowmarket Corinthians’ up until 1949. Having settled the question of the club’s title, the stage was set for the ‘Golden Years’ that were to follow. Appropriately too, the new club adopted gold and black as their colours, which has stood the test of time until the present day.
After the austere war years there was a mass desire for entertainment and football filled the bill, resulting in a great surge of interest in the game generally. The Supporters Club was a well-run organisation which had 1,000 members. They supported the club in the true sense of the word, raising money by running regular dances in the Constitutional Hall, as well as staging various other activities. The club was active for many years and members proudly wore their club badges with ‘year bars’ attached, showing their length of membership. Match programmes were now issued, advertisers were then charged thirty shillings a season. The club’s headquarters was at The White Hart P/H in Crowe Street, and the teams operated in the Essex and Suffolk Border League and the IDL Division Two.
The next three seasons, albeit highly successful, were ones without any silverware coming to the Cricket Meadow. During the 1947-48 season, Vic Buck chipped in with a grand total of 43 goals for the season. The club did enjoy some good cup runs during this period, and in the 1949-50 season finished runners-up to Sudbury in the Border League. So, the stage was now set for the club to enter one of the most memorable seasons in the club’s history.
The golden years
In August 1950, there dawned one of the most memorable seasons in the club’s history. Jackie Little came back to the Cricket Meadow after an absence of 15 years, including the war years. During this time, he had made over 200 appearances for Ipswich Town. With Jackie returning as player-coach the team swept the board, winning the Border League championship and the League Knockout Cup with a 3-2 win over Clacton Reserves at Halstead. They rounded off a marvellous season by beating Sudbury 2-0 to take the Suffolk Senior Cup, before a record post-war crowd of 10,867 at Portman Road. Just for good measure, the Brantham Charity Cup and the Battle of Britain Cup were also added to the record.
The usual team of the time was: Crascall, Ashford, Moore, Nelson, Blemmings, Burman, Smith, Dykes, Bishop, Little and James. One man, Vic Blemmings, appeared in every one of the 52 games in which the senior team was engaged during the momentous season. Eight members of the team were Stowmarket boys, or at least from the surrounding area. Many of them played for the county, and indeed seven of them played for Suffolk in one match. This all-conquering side is believed by many older supporters to have been the best that the club ever fielded.
After the Border Cup win at Halstead, the team coach was met at Combs by Combs Silver Band and a procession proceeded to the Market Place, where a crowd of well over 3,000 was waiting to greet the all-conquering team. Success had brought the club a handsome profit of £3,700 (a considerable sum in those days). At that time, the secretary was Ken Wright who was one of the hardest working secretaries the club ever had, and he also held the post of chairman for a while, before he left the town for other parts.
The following season the club were fortunate to secure the services of Barry Bishop who came to the town to teach at Stowmarket Modern School from Sheffield, where he had been on the books of Sheffield United. In his first season he contributed 53 goals to create a club record, and this season will be fondly remembered by long standing supporters, as their team fought their way into the first round of the FA Amateur Cup to confront the mighty Romford, an Isthmian League side. The match created such interest that extra vantage points had to be created in the form of 11 lorry trailers from OG Barnards placed along the Finborough Road side of the pitch. A record attendance of 3,338 watched as Stowmarket lost unluckily to the Essex side, and it was at this time that the club purchased from Ipswich Town for £175, the wooden terracing that was to serve for so long at the Cricket Meadow, and for a certain time at Greens Meadow too.
Although the side suffered a 3-0 defeat to Bury Town in the FA Cup, Stowmarket got the revenge they deserved by retaining the Suffolk Senior Cup at Portman Road having beaten the West Suffolk side 4-1 in a replay following a 2-2 draw. Stowmarket bowed out of the Border League with a 3-0 League Cup final win over Maldon Town, as at this time the club had made an application to join the Eastern Counties League, which was accepted ahead of Sudbury.
ENTRY INTO THE EASTERN COUNTIES LEAGUE
So it was that Stowmarket embarked upon the 1952-53 season in the powerful Eastern Counties League. The going was somewhat tougher, as expected, in the higher grade, but the crowds continued to come and enjoyed the opportunity to watch a better class of football. Much interest was created with the visits of Reserve and A teams of Football League clubs such as Arsenal, Chelsea, Colchester United, Gillingham, Norwich City, Tottenham and West Ham United. The five A teams would play all their games away from home, and special financial arrangements were made to ensure their travelling expenses were covered.
Although the side finished third from bottom, the club’s higher status reflected in the fact that the Reserves promptly won promotion as champions of the Border League Division One to the Premier Division, thus attaining the same level that the senior team had held before their election into the Eastern Counties League the year before. Because the team had struggled a bit during the first season, the club circulated all the Football League’s elite members offering ‘the chance of a lifetime’ to professionals nearing the twilight of their league playing career, to come to Stowmarket to bolster the playing staff. Financial inducement was offered and indeed the club at this stage turned professional. Sadly, there was no major improvement however, as the team even made a Senior Cup exit at the hands of Border League Long Melford.
During the 1954-55 season a notable occurrence was the signing of Cliff Whitelum, a seasoned professional from Kings Lynn. Cliff was a centre forward in the old mould who was to go on and score 250 goals during his five seasons with Stowmarket. Other big signings during the following two years were to influence a gradual improvement in the league showing. The following season despite the 8-1 away thumping of Chelmsford City Reserves and the double over Spurs A, a 13th out of 20 league position did not satisfy those in control of the club, so player manager Jack Thomas parted company and Jackie Little took over the reins again.
In November 1955, Ted Phillips, later to gain national fame for his prolific goalscoring feats, came to the Cricket Meadow. He was soon to be joined by ex-Ipswich Town inside forward Alec Crowe, and for a while these two, together with Whitelum, were to terrorise Eastern Counties’ defences. At this time some of the members of the team were being paid £6 a match plus expenses, quite a handout in those days! As ever RAF Wattisham was a rich source of recruitment. National servicemen like Billy Fargher and Jimmy Sharp, who still live in Stowmarket to this day, came to the Cricket Meadow via the aerodrome.
In the 1956-57 season the team finished in a respectable mid-table position, but in the cup competitions there was little joy. There was however a 2-1 win over Cambridge United at the Abbey Stadium in the East Anglian Cup to savour. The legendary Wilf Mannion made an appearance for Cambridge United at the Cricket Meadow helping his team to a 4-1 victory. In the corresponding away fixture he apparently left the field in disgust as Stowmarket gained sweet revenge, winning the match 2-0. Leading scorer for the first team was Cliff Whitelum, while Danny Warner was leading scorer for the Reserves who finished as runners-up to Long Melford in the Border League.
The Eastern Counties League was reduced to 16 teams at the beginning of the 1958-59 season following the departure of Cambridge United, Clacton Town and Norwich City A. This season was of no particular note for the club, apart from the signing of a 16-year-old destined to carve his name in the club’s history. Local boy Don James made his debut away against Eynesbury Rovers at the tender age of sixteen and a half. This season also saw the introduction of the Suffolk Premier Cup.
1959-60 was the first time Stowmarket had finished in the top half of the table, and Sudbury must have been one of the team’s favourite opponents during this season, as the two teams met on no less that six occasions! The old enemy governed matters though, winning both league games and knocking Stowmarket out of the FA Cup, the East Anglian Cup and after a replay, the Suffolk Premier Cup. The club had five professionals on its books, but this state of affairs was soon to change with the departure of Jackie Little. He was given a testimonial match on his farewell against Ipswich Town who ran out 4-1 winners thanks to goals from Millward (two), Curtis and Leadbetter. Stowmarket’s team in that match was: Walton, Mean, Andrews, Fletcher, Baker, Fargher, Gardiner, Stannard, Borrowdale, L. Macrow and Sharp. A point of interest is at that time the team possessed a Turkish International, Ertugral Ineckara, who was a student at the Suffolk Agricultural College.
The 1950s, according to all accounts, were memorable for the happy atmosphere at the club. Away matchdays meant a good day out with the wives, girlfriends and families making the trip, while meals were provided following home matches. There were also monthly social evenings in the club room at the back of the Kings Head, with everyone joining in. All this was possible of course because of the marvellous support that the club enjoyed. But there was a wind of change as the 1960s approached.
After several years devoid of cup glory, a very welcome Senior Cup inal win was achieved in 1957-58, beating Newmarket 2-0 at Portman Road. The team that day was: Crascall, Gardiner, Ashford, Green, Fargher, Burgin, Kynaston, Stannard, Theobold, Ostler and Parkse. The path to the final included two excellent 6-0 victories over Beccles and Lowestoft, the final league placing however showed a slip to 15th out of 19 clubs. Ron Crascall passed the 500 appearances mark for the first team, while Lou Ashford, whom many regard as one of the greatest servants to the club, passed the 400 milestone.
THE REVERSION TO AMATEUR STATUS
In 1960, the Kings Head P/H was demolished to make way for a supermarket, and this season also saw a change of management at the club and with it came a change of policy. Derek Parker took over as manager and Stowmarket reverted to amateur status. The club had been very cramped financially and many people believed in retrospect that it had been a mistake to turn professional in the first place.
The policy was to be a great success in the years that followed, as many of the best young amateurs in the area came to Stowmarket and a breath of fresh air swept into the Cricket Meadow. 1960-61 saw the team finish in 13th which was a modest achievement for a transitional season, but during the years to come, Stowmarket were to become a side respected in the highest amateur circles. 1961-62 saw the club finish seventh which at the time was the highest position the club had attained. The Suffolk Senior Cup was brought back to the Cricket Meadow again following a 2-0 win over Brantham Athletic at Portman Road.
The following season, 1962-63, was even better. The side finished fourth in the league and recorded an amazing 11-0 home victory over Biggleswade Town with Micky Calver bagging six goals on the day. This season also saw a return to the Premier Cup, and as if to prove a point, the team won that trophy by beating Lowestoft Town 2-0 at Portman Road with the goals being scored by Micky Calver and Barry Ball. To further erase the connection with the earlier days of professionalism, the club sold the flats that it owned in Milton Road. Having previously been used as enticement to bring available professionals to Stowmarket, the club now needed the extra money to boost its depleted coffers, so the flats went.
There was great optimism in the Stowmarket camp at the beginning of the 1963-64 campaign as player-manager Derek Parker had assembled a squad, which on its day was more than a match for most. Parker was an ex-professional who had played over 300 games for West Ham and Colchester as a wing half, but was now playing full back for Stowmarket. The season also saw the side face Isthmian League Kingstonian in the Amateur Cup, and despite a brave display away from home, Kingstonian scored a very late winner to progress to the next round. The team that faced Kingstonian was: Brian Smart, Don James, Dave Andrews, Len Brown, Ray Baker, Lew Ashford, Jack Denny, Micky Calver, Derek Bloomfield, Booby Coppin and Paddy Stones.
1964-65 saw standards maintained at the club as the team reached the first round of the Amateur Cup which brought Isthmian League St. Albans City to the Cricket Meadow. Hopes of progressing were high, but Stowmarket didn’t play very well and were beaten by a single goal in front of an also disappointing attendance of 638, which was heavily affected by the Ipswich v Norwich Second Division derby at Portman Road on the same day. The season was still a good one as the team made it through to the Senior Cup final at Portman Road and beat Orwell Works 4-0 to lift the trophy for the eighth time. Stowmarket also reached the Eastern Counties League Cup final for the first time which at the time was a two-legged affair. Haverhill established a 4-1 lead in the first leg, and took the lead early at the Cricket Meadow, only for Stowmarket to storm back with goals from Alan Byford (two), Bobby Vandermark and Derek Bloomfield to tie matters at 5-5 on aggregate. In the replay Haverhill won 3-0, so Stowmarket’s great fightback was in vain.
In 1965-66 the club further enhanced it’s growing reputation as cup fighters. In the first round proper of the Amateur Cup Isthmian League side Woking travelled to the Cricket Meadow and probably wished they hadn’t, as Stowmarket rattled in three goals in thirty minutes. The Surrey side fought back with two second half goals, but Stowmarket held on for a 3-2 victory, and put the club into the second round proper for the first time in its history. Fellow ‘giant killers’ Alvechurch of the Worcestershire Combination were to be the visitors to the Cricket Meadow, and what a tremendous encounter it was. A crowd of over 2,000 saw Stowmarket twice take the lead, only to be pegged back twice, eventually having to settle for a 2-2 draw. In an equally exciting replay in the Midlands, Alvechurch squeezed through to the third round 3-2. The Stowmarket side for the Woking and Alvechurch games are pictured below, and the team was: Geoff Gillingham, Don James, Dave Andrews, Len Brown, Ray Baker, Bobby Coppin, Jack Denny, Bobby Vandermark, Alan Byford, Richard Easlea and Les Wright.
Perhaps the best win of the season for Stowmarket was a 2-1 victory over Ipswich Town Reserves in the first round of the Suffolk Premier Cup. Ipswich fielded a side with several players who had first team experience, not to mention a young Mick Mills. Sadly, Stowmarket lost in the next round to Bury Town, and the team went on to equal their best finish at the time of fourth, while the Reserves finished ninth in the Border League.
The following season proved to be another eventful campaign with Stowmarket being drawn to play away at Wealdstone in the Amateur Cup. A good defensive display from Stowmarket earned the side a 1-1 draw, and in the replay at the Cricket Meadow some 2,000 supporters saw Stowmarket score a last minute equaliser from Alan Byford to earn another 1-1 draw. A second replay at Layer Road also resulted in a 1-1 draw at 90 minutes, but Wealdstone finally overcame their gallant opponents 5-2 in extra time. Stowmarket went onto finish the season in fourth (third time in five seasons) and went back to Portman Road again to meet Lowestoft Town in the final of the Premier Cup, but a very good Lowestoft side beat Stowmarket 3-0 to lift the trophy.
The club was run on a purely amateur basis at this time, although the side did contain several ex-professionals. During this time the club had a fine squad of players, and certainly contenders for the best team ever to have represented Stowmarket Football Club. In many ways the Premier Cup defeat by Lowestoft marked the end of Stowmarket’s most successful period as an Eastern Counties League club. However, for the next six seasons the club still fielded useful teams and more games were won than lost.
In 1968-69, Stowmarket beat Whitton, Thetford and Histon to earn a trip to Isthmian League Hitchin Town in the Amateur Cup. Hitchin, one of the oldest clubs in the country, were given a fright of mammoth proportions by Stowmarket before two goals in the last twelve minutes saw Hitchin through before a crowd of over 1,000. The Stowmarket team that day was: Maurice Hurry, Don James, Dave Pearson, Graham Davies, Ray Barker, Derek Bloomfield, Dave Cocksedge, Brian Hart, Peter Woollard, Robin Bunn and Bernie Rudland.
Two seasons later, in 1970-71, Stowmarket were on the Amateur Cup trail again and beat United Counties League side Irthlingborough Diamonds in a fourth qualifying round replay before going on to hold powerful Athenian League side Leatherhead to two 2-2 draws, before losing the second replay 3-2 at Enfield. Stowmarket’s final appearance in the first round proper of the Amateur Cup came in the competitions final season in 1972-73, when old rivals Kingstonian came to the Cricket Meadow and won convincingly 2-0. Stowmarket’s team that day was: Peter Harding, Dave Pearson, Johnny Everett, Graham Davies, Barry Tooke, Graham Abbott, John McLaughlin, Keith Kidby, Barry Dean, Robin Bunn, Paul Jordan and sub Rick Robinson.
In the Border League, the Reserves comfortably kept their place in the Premier Division without ever challenging for the championship, although one trophy which did find its way to the Cricket Meadow was the Border League Cup in 1970-71. The Reserves convincingly beat Waterside Works 3-0 to win the cup which 20 years previously, had been won by the first team. There were many changes in personnel at Stowmarket between 1967 and 1973, both managerial and amongst the playing staff.
In 1969 Derek Parker left for Coggeshall Town in the Border League, and was succeeded by centre half Ray Baker who held the reins until the end of the 1972-73 season. It then came as no surprise to Stowmarket fans when the club chose Don James as player-manager in succession to Ray Baker. It was very much a ‘middle of the table’ side that Don inherited and with money in short supply, improving the club’s league position was to prove very difficult. In the five seasons from 1973-74 the club was usually to be found in the middle of the league, 10th in 1975-76 being the club’s highest final placing.
After the Amateur Cup came to an end, Stowmarket in common with almost all of their Eastern Counties League counterparts entered the FA Trophy. The FA Trophy, the country’s premier cup competition for non-league clubs, was inaugurated in 1970 and at the time featured the likes of Wimbledon, Wigan Athletic and Altrincham to name a few. As such it was always going to be difficult for local clubs to make an impression, and so it proved for Stowmarket. The best performance came in August 1977 against Isthmian League Letchworth with a 4-2 victory before going out in the next round to Harlow.
The highlight of Don James’s first spell as manager, and indeed the whole of the 1970s for Stowmarket, was the club’s second Suffolk Premier Cup triumph in 1976-77. To win the cup was enjoyable enough, but to beat old rivals Sudbury in the final was particularly satisfying. By the mid 1970s Sudbury had become the dominant team in the Eastern Counties League, and the final which was played over two legs in May 1977 was a very exciting affair. Sudbury got off to the perfect start by winning the first leg at the Priory Stadium 3-1, Kelvin Ratcliffe scoring the Stowmarket goal. Stowmarket fought back strongly in the second leg at the Cricket Meadow, and goals from Robin Bunn and Kelvin Ratcliffe gave Stowmarket a 2-0 win to level the aggregate score at 3-3. Following the toss of a coin, the replay was to be at the Cricket Meadow with over 400 people witnessed a very determined Stowmarket performance. Two goals before the interval from Bobby Frankiss put Stowmarket in a strong position, although Sudbury as expected, fought back hard in the second half but only managed a late consolation from Roy Buckle. So, a fine 2-1 win for Stowmarket saw skipper Fred Hucker duly receive the cup from the president of the Suffolk Football Association. Stowmarket used 13 players for the three games, and they were: Malcolm Cobbold, Don James, Glen Appleby, John Everett, Frank Hucker, Wally Mayhew, Graham Harrison, Kelvin Ratcliffe, Michael Rivers, Robin Bunn, Bobby Frankiss, Terry Pearce and Paul Browes. Many of these players are still familiar names around the town today, and after the Premier Cup success, player-manager Don James was to spend only one more season in charge of the team. At the end of April 1978, the club finished 14th in the league and Don was dismissed.
Tough times and a change of meadows
In May 1978, Don James was succeeded as manager by Ben Abbott, who had been managing the club’s reserve team for two seasons. Ben from Ipswich, was a tall, commanding centre half with Border League Waterside Works during his playing days. The best of Ben’s four seasons was 1980-81 when the club won the pre-season Sudbury Carpets Cup tournament, beating Braintree 3-2 in the final at Sudbury. The side then remained unbeaten at home in the league until the end of February, and eventually finished in 12th position. Things looked quite promising for Stowmarket at this point.
The following season however was somewhat disastrous, both on and off the field. The club’s chairman Cecil ‘Buzzer’ Rivers unfortunately passed away in July 1981, and there was also rumours about the possible sale of the Cricket Meadow which were rife in the town, which lead to a lot of uncertainty about the future of the club. On the field Stowmarket had a tough time, struggling for most of the season. The team finished bottom of the league and had to apply for re-election, the first time since joining in 1952. This led to Ben’s dismissal in May 1982, although it was not all doom and gloom during this period.
Several good players signed for the club, including Nigel Barton, Robin Chaplin, Michael Pleasance and Dave Hoggett. Wally Hayward and former player Richard Easlea also helped Ben to run the teams, and John Bultitude, who joined in 1981, had a successful spell as manager of the reserves.
In 1978 the club decided to regularly enter the FA Vase instead of the FA Trophy, thus giving themselves a much better chance of a successful cup run. One highlight of this period was the visit of Ipswich Town to the Cricket Meadow in April 1980. Bobby Robson brought his entire first team along to play a testimonial match for Michael Rivers and Robin Bunn, Stowmarket’s longest serving players. Ipswich, third in the First Division at the time, not surprisingly won the match 15-0, and the teams were: Stowmarket – Gary Nunn, Ian Sutton, Barry Turner, John Everett, Robin Bunn, Paul Smythe, Paul Jordan, Paul Browes, Dave Root, Robin Chaplin and Michael Rivers; Ipswich Town – Paul Cooper, George Burley, Mick Mills, Frans Thijssen, Allan Hunter, Kevin Beattie, John Wark, Arnold Muhren, Paul Mariner, Alan Brazil and Eric Gates.
It was a pleasant and successful occasion, enjoyed by a crowd of over 2,000. There were also presentations to two more stalwarts of the club. John Scarfe received an award from the Football Association, presented by the Duke of Edinburgh, to mark 50 years of service to football in general and to Stowmarket in particular. Albert Crascall was presented with a gold watch by the club in recognition of his involvement as a player and manager for over 50 years. Well deserved awards for two great servants of Stowmarket Football Club.
It was to former manager Don James that the club turned when they appointed a successor to Ben Abbott in the close of the 1981-82 season. For the start of the 1983-84 season, Stowmarket Football Club became known as Stowmarket Town Football Club, and during 1983, the rumours about the sale of the Cricket Meadow became a reality, and so the club played its last game on the old ground on May 17, 1984, beating Gorleston 4-1.
The close season of 1984 was very hectic as the club’s members set about the daunting task of moving equipment large and small to the new premises which had been prepared for them by the council. Chairman of the time, Joe Sutton, played an integral part to ensure the move was completed in time for the big kick off in August, when a crowd of over 400 people gathered to see the first league game at Greens Meadow. Somewhat appropriately the match was against old rivals Sudbury Town, and the game ended with a 2-1 victory for Stowmarket. The ground and floodlights were officially opened by Sir Alf Ramsey on December 3, 1984, and the ceremony was followed by a match against Norwich City. The Norwich manager Ken Brown fielded a strong team, including Chris Woods, Steve Bruce, Peter Mendham and Mick Channon, but Stowmarket put up a creditable display, losing 6-4, in what was a well organised and enjoyable evening.
There is no doubt the move has been extremely beneficial to the club in many ways. The social club has a large membership and this has helped to generate the money required to run a team in the Eastern Counties League. At the time of the move attendances were very good, averaging over 200 for home league and cup games. Good players were also attracted and since the mid 1970s, the Eastern Counties League has become very strong, and gradually membership has increased.
1985-86 was Stowmarket Town’s best for several years with the first team going great guns the side finished the season in eighth, and the playing record was the best since 1969-70. The Reserves, under manager John Bultitude, finished the season as runners-up in the Premier Division of the Border League, and the icing on the cake this season was the winning of the Suffolk Premier Cup for the third time in the club’s history. On May 13, 1986, a large crowd journeyed from Stowmarket to Sudbury’s Priory Stadium for the final against Lowestoft Town. Stowmarket played extremely well on the night, with Gary Wilding scoring inside 10 minutes, and the defence gave a fine second half display as Lowestoft pushed for an equaliser. One goal proved to be enough and the delighted Stowmarket fans celebrated on the pitch as the cup was presented to skipper Bryan Klug. The Stowmarket team for the final was: Malcolm Cobbold, Adrian Hunt, Graham Pooley, Steve Buckle, Paul Mann, Andy Lawrence, Gary Wilding, Bryan Klug, Paul Grimsey, Nigel Barton and Dave Waugh. Sub: Steve Potter.
Over the course of the next few seasons, Stowmarket Town would experience a good deal of highs and lows, as the following season the side finished a respectable 10th. 1987-88 proved to be a very difficult one for the club with a 19th place finish, but the club bounced back again the following season in what was the first year of the Eastern Counties League Premier Division, by finishing eighth. At this time there was little cup success although the Reserves did manage to finish as runners-up in the Border League for the previous two seasons.
The following two seasons saw the club finish in 11th position, although season 1990-91 did see some silverware return to Greens Meadow as the Suffolk Premier Cup was won for the fourth time in the club’s history. Stowmarket again made the journey to Sudbury’s Priory Stadium, this time to face Haverhill Rovers, and the Gold and Blacks won the tie 3-2. Lifted by the Premier Cup success the club recorded its best ever finish in the Eastern Counties League the following season, finishing as runners-up under the guidance of manager Doug Wade.
For most of the 1990s Stowmarket Town found themselves predominantly around mid table, although season 1993-94 saw the side finish fifth and in 1995-96 the side finished fourth under Trevor Wardlaw having been top at Christmas. The Wardlaw years were good for the club both on and off the pitch, at a time when the Aldis brothers Roger and Mel, Dave ‘The Legend’ King, Nigel Vincent and Darren Scoulding were the stars of the Meadow, to name but a few.
As the club moved towards the new millennium the club was in a good state, although the last season of the century in 1999-2000 did see the club finish very close to the relegation zone, as the side finished 19th. Mel Aldis moved into the manager’s chair as we moved into a new millennium which would hopefully see vast improvements on the pitch, and it was hoped the club would finally get the necessary permissions to build a new brick clubhouse.
INTO A NEW MILLENIUM
For four seasons Mel steadily improved the Greens Meadow squad, with his team becoming a top half of the table team, a feat which we, as a club, had not achieved since 1995-96. In fact, season 2001-02 will be remembered for not only the top six finish, but the club also completed a hat-trick of successes in the local Churchman Cup, and enjoyed a very healthy run in the FA Cup. Therefore, it was something of a surprise when Aldis announced he was stepping down to take over the running of his local village side, Debenham, at the start of 2003-04.
Following the departure of Aldis, the club experienced several years of doom and gloom. Mark Barnard had a stint in the hot seat, and was followed by Colin Macrow, both resigned before Dave ‘Rocky’ Hubbick took over and led the Old Gold and Blacks to a Senior Cup win at Portman Road in season 2006-07 with a 2-1 victory over Grundisburgh from the SIL.
Halfway through 2007-08 Rocky resigned and was soon to be replaced at the helm by Louis Newman who straight away installed John Griffin, a man who was currently helping the Reserve side and with experience of coaching at several professional clubs, as his assistant manager. This new partnership steadied an ailing ship, and completed the 2008-09 season with the highest league points total for six seasons. Plus, the honour of knocking out Needham Market at their own ground from the cup they were holders of! Unfortunately Louis’ work commitments took over and in May 2009 he also resigned.
The club acted swiftly and appointed former player, Colchester and Cambridge academy coach Alan Johnson, who along with the retained services of John Griffin, began the 2009-10 campaign. AJ’s reign was very short lived as the realisation of the commitment needed at this level dawned on him and he resigned just two games into the season! John was quickly appointed as manager and brought in Christian Appleford to work alongside him. With the 2009-10 season a progressive one and with Christian moving on to Mildenhall Town in June 2010, John moved on to become general manager where he worked with the director of football to appoint Steve Jay as first team Manager.
At the end of the 2009-10 season some aggressive objectives were set by the general manager. A top 6 for the first team was the goal and by the end of the season they had not only managed that but had also reached the League Cup semi finals, beating three Premier Division teams along the way, and demolished Cornard at their own ground 13-0 to break not only a club record but the Eastern Counties League’s all time away team league record in the process. Top goal scorer Wayne Proctor ended with 31 goals!
2011-12 started with the signing of a new assistant manager Glenn Read joining the team and a league structure change with only the top two eligible for promotion. Despite no players exiting the club they failed to continue their form from the previous year and did not manage a league win in the first seven games. Wins over Hadleigh and Stanton in the Vase and Suffolk Senior Cup were sprinkled in-between the poor league run and were not enough to save Steve Jay from his job and by mutual consent he left his post in October. Chairman Neil Sharp appointed John Griffin as caretaker and he quickly got the team up and running with two back to back wins, nine goals scored and none against. Before the month was out, new manager Shane Austin was brought on board to stabilise and push on for the remainder of the campaign.
Austin’s reign did not go according to plan and despite trying to push through some talented young players, Shane could not stabilise the squad and results suffered. With a finishing league position of one off the foot of the league when he resigned in March 2013, Stowmarket once again were looking for a new manager.
To stabilise until the end of the season, Rick Andrews, ex-youth manager, and Ricky Licence, ex player, came in and managed to orchestrate a few good results but much better performances. Seeing this dramatic change on and specifically off the pitch, the committee appointed them on a permanent basis in May 2013
The new era
Rick Andrews took up the permanent role as first team manager ahead of the 2013-14 season, with Ricky Licence as his assistant. After starting the season with a confident 1-0 win against Great Yarmouth Town, Stow went on an unwanted run of 14 games with one solitary victory before handing eventual champions Whitton United their first league defeat of the season in October. The mid-season revival continued as Stow secured back-to-back wins for the first-time in two years after away day success at Long Melford and Downham Town before the end of 2013. A raft of new players over the festive period yielded a much-improved second-half of the season at Greens Meadow, which included a quarter-final appearance in the First Division Knockout Cup. Stow secured five league wins in a row to record their best league form over 12 years as the season came to a close, finishing in 14th and with 15 more points from the previous campaign.
A busy post-season saw most of the playing squad that finished the season with Stow stay at the club, while new signings brought in to continue the progress on the pitch. After starting the season with two defeats, Andrews’ men went on a seven match unbeaten run to climb into third place in the First Division table. However, Stow’s progress was halted as they went nine games without a win, which included early exits in all four cup competitions. At the start of 2015, reserves and under-18s manager Shane Coldron stepped up to be Andrews’ assistant.
The 2016-17 season for Stowmarket was a defining moment in the history of the club. The first team not only won its first title in 66 years, but its first promotion in its 134 year history. Not to be out done, Terry Hovell’s reserve side achieved what was thought impossible by beating Woodbridge Town Reserves 2-0 in the Suffolk Senior Reserve Cup final, held at Colchester United’s ground.
Stowmarket Town enter the new 2017-18 season with new floodlights and back into the Premier Division of the Thurlow Nunn League, back to where they belong and with some very impressive signings set their sights set on going further up the football pyramid! After struggling at first to adapt back into the Premier Division, Rick’s men went on an astonishing run, ending up with 103 points. However, in a high-quality division, it was not enough to overhaul the top two, champions Coggeshall Town and runners-up Felixstowe & Walton United, who took the two promotion places. Summer signing Josh Mayhew, from Bury Town, had a debut season to remember, scoring an incredible 56 goals, a club record and the landmark 50th coming from the penalty spot in a 1-0 win away at Great Yarmouth Town.
Optimism was high heading into the 2018-19 campaign, and a 4-0 win at Great Yarmouth sent Stow to the top of the Premier Division in early September. Unfortunately, injuries to key players, coupled with a dip in form, saw Stow finish in fourth place, way off the pace of runaway champions Histon. Despite missing out on promotion, it was still a successful season for the club, with wins over Harpenden Town, Baldock Town and Swaffham Town seeing Stow equal their best-ever run in the FA Vase. A last 32 trip to Biggleswade saw Stow fans travel in their numbers, with more than 300 travelling to Biggleswade on a Sunday afternoon for the tie, which they lost 1-0 due to a late goal. The Reserves, under new management in Craig Brown and James Graham, along with assistant Jake Taylor, had a season to remember also, winning the Thurlow Nunn Reserve League.
The summer of 2019 saw Rick bolster his squad again, with several players joining from higher league Leiston, and Stow looked on course for the best season in the club’s long history. First, wins over Colney Heath, Stansted and Glebe secured a first-ever appearance in the last 16 of the FA Vase, where in front of a 1,000 plus crowd, league rivals Wroxham prevailed 2-0 at Trafford Park. In the league, Stow went unbeaten with 23 wins and five draws from 28 games, before the Coronavirus pandemic led to the season being declared null and void. Stow finished with a strong lead at the top of the table, and had also reached two cup semi-finals, the League Challenge Cup and Suffolk Premier Cup, but all football was put on hold and now we wait for news on when we can get back playing again.
With thanks to ‘The First Hundred Years’ book by Graham Hughes, Bill Dixon and Paddy Lillistone for some of the information on this page