Needham Market FC
Ground Number: 610
Friday 26th August 2016
Needham Market 5-1 Leiston
Eastern Counties D1
NEEDHAM MARKET FC - A BRIEF HISTORY
NEEDHAM MARKET were formed in 1919, although there has been evidence of a previous club in the town. They've played in local leagues for much of their history and it was from their last, the Suffolk & Ipswich League, that they moved into semi-professional football. It was from there that they joined the Eastern Counties League, starting in its second tier in the 1996/97 season. They started well, finishing 4th or 5th in their first 6 seasons. Although they tailed off to 2 lower-half finishes in 2003 and 2004, the 2004/05 season saw them finish runners-up to Ipswich Wanderers to earn promotion to the Premier Division. The success continued and they spent 5 successful seasons here. 2009/10 saw them beat Cambridge Regional College to the Eastern Counties Premier by a single point, and therefore promotion to the Isthmian League. Starting in Division 1 North, 5 seasons were spent here, including 2 playoff failures until they were champions in 2015. Last season saw a downturn in results, but they still survived a relegation spot by 11 points, thanks to Farnborough's demotion.
In the FA Cup, the club's best season came in 2013/14. They beat Haverhill Rovers, Brantham Athletic, Dunstable Town & AFC Sudbury before facing football league-bound Cambridge United. They ran them close, losing 1-0 in the 4th Qualifying Round tie, though they did have the consolation of garnering their highest-ever attendance of 1,784. Little success has been had in the FA Trophy but they did reach the FA Vase semi-final in 2007/08, losing to Kirkham & Wesham (now called AFC Fylde) They would gain revenge on the newly named club the following season, beating them in the 4th Round before losing out to Chalfont St Peter in the Quarter Final after a replay.
In terms of local cups. there have been wins aplenty in recent times, with the Eastern Counties League Cup, Suffolk Premier Cup, Suffolk Senior Cup and East Anglian Cup all won since the turn of the century. Their reserves joined the Eastern Counties Division 1 in 2013 and have found things tough, finishing bottom of the league last time out, and shipping 120 goals in the process. A number of ex-professionals have played for the club, including former Wycombe man Ian Westlake and Kemi Izzett whose brother Muzzy starred in the Premiership for Leicester City. As for the town of Needham Market itself, the most famous person to hail from there is June Brown, who plays Dot Cotton in Eastenders.
I'd been wanting to visit the Museum for Computing History in Cambridge for a while now but had struggled to tie it in with a game. The opportunity came on this Friday night when Needham Market were at home, so I decided to do it, even though it was only the reserves. I figured that a visit to the Museum was worth about £20 all in, so with the entry fee being £8, I could dock £12 of the petrol off my football costs. On the day of the game, I was working until 12 and so after finishing, I grabbed some chicken for lunch before getting on my way. Due to 30 minutes delay on the A414 at Hatfield due to some malfunctioning traffic lights, I didn't get to Cambridge until 3. I went round the museum, and although it wasn't as big as I expected, it was still worth a visit. I still wish I'd gone via Braintree to pick up mates instead, but what's done is done.
I still had plenty of time to kill after leaving at 3.40, so I stopped at Stowmarket Town FC to get pictures before making my way to the town's Wetherspoons. The Willow Tree was pretty average, but I enjoyed my Vindaloo and chips for £2.99, plus a pint of Mr Whitehead's Midnight Special Perry for £2.85. I'd initially planned to indulge in Fish Friday but as ever changed my mind when I saw the specials on offer. It was still only 5.40 when I left to make the short trip to Needham Market. After making a brief stop at Tesco for petrol I got to Needham Market at 6.10. With still over 90 minutes to go until kick-off I walked into town and went to what looked like the best pub, The Rampant Horse. There I had a pint of Aspalls and caught up online. I've had the cider many times before, and it's a halfway house between the dross like Strongbow and Magners and the premium real cider. At least it was locally produced, being a Suffolk cider. I looked around the town, which was very pretty but there was not a huge amount to do.
From there I walked back to the ground, paying £5 entry plus £1 for a programme. After taking some pictures of the ground I stood between the the two dugouts for the game. Both teams came into this game in the lower reaches of the table, with the hosts especially disappointing with only 1 win from 7, ironically against today's opponents who they defeated 6-4 in the second game of the season. The goals had certainly been flying in, mainly at the wrong end as they had suffered 6-3, 8-2 and 12-2 defeats in the last 3 games. Visitors Leiston were similarly porous in defence with the second-worst goal difference in the league of -14. Back to tonight, I was glad when the floodlights came on OK - during Tuesday's game against Canvey Island in the Ryman League, one side of the ground was left in darkness, and the referee, not happy with the reduced light, abandoned the game with the visitors leading 2-1 at the break.
Those defensive frailties did not translate into the first half of the game, with both sides struggling to create any quality in the final third. Needham Market had 2 goals ruled out by the linesman's flag as Leiston played the offside trap well. Though the hosts started well on top, Leiston soon had a spell where they were dominant, during which they took the lead. On 24 minutes Ryan Sharman was fed a good pass and his deflected shot ended up in the back of the net. This was in the midst of their best spell and they will regret not capitalising on their chances. Just befor half time Needham Market were level when James Carragher finished from Tobie Stoller's excellent cross. The second half was a different story as Needham Market found their scoring boots.
It wasn't until the 67th minute that they did score though - Ben Frost's great run set up Santo Sarro-Haire and he showed ice-cool composure to round the keeper and slot into an empty net. A minute later, the scorer turned provider as he squared the ball to Max Booth who had an easy finish to make it 3-1. Leiston had a brief rally, racing up the other end and hitting the bar, but it was all to no avail. Needham Market broke, and the ball fell to Max Booth who got his second when he shot inside the keeper's near post. They rounded things off in the 83rd minute when a penalty was awarded for a trip in the area and Booth stepped up to complete his hat-trick. The linesman jokingly asked the home manager how many it was now as they had been having banter all night with the man in the dugout questioning several decisions without being abusive and the official taking it in good spirits.
It had been a good contest and the vast majority of the 129 crowd went home happy. I'm not a huge fan of reserve sides at step 6 and above but this showed that it could work with it providing a platform for youngsters to make the step up to the first team. The young sides do tend to struggle though as they don't have the experience and composure of the wily old pros, but they don't lack talent. I made my way home, listening to Absolute 80s on the way and getting in at 11.45. I watched TV for a while, eventually getting to sleep around 1.30am.
BLOOMFIELDS is a pleasant and well-kept non-league ground with cover on all 4 sides. There are 2 seated areas - one which appears to be the original main stand and another arena-type stand behind the goal which is named after a supporter and board member. There are 2 covered standing sides too - 2 areas of flat standing along the side and a newly erected terrace behind the goal. The ground is surrounded by trees, which make a good-looking and aromatic backdrop.
Food and drink wise, the tea bar looked promising but was closed on my visit. The bar was OK, offering mainly bottled drinks. The town is less than 10 minutes away with a few pubs and takeaways and is fairly sedate and pleasant to visit. The programme for the reserve games is decent, quite thin, but well presented and with all the facts you need to know.