Groundhop 1881 – Downham Town FC

FA Vase, 2nd Qualifying Round
Downham Town FC v Northampton Spencer FC
Saturday, 15th September 2012, 3pm
Memorial Field
Entrance £5, Programme free
Distance 88 miles, Attendance 62
Setting out in June I had no idea where this 1881 journey would lead me; ten games in its clear the learning curve has become an extraordinary one. Today as I drove alongside tree-lined canals – admiring the villages and cathedrals alike, whilst pondering what today’s evenly matched tie would bring – the furthest thing from my mind was a lesson in economics.
120915 FAVase 2QR Downham Town v Northampton Spencer (7)wIn the picturesque Norfolk town of Downham Market, the local team plays on a council owned pitch, where perimeter fences must be erected and taken down every single game. The club shares these facilities with the local cricket and running clubs, and has no paid staff. To date only regional cups have provided success for Downham Town FC. They run successful youth teams from Under 7s upwards but once players reach a certain age, or ability, they unfortunately leave for higher education or even to local clubs who will pay them (at best) a nominal wage. Given the work being put in by many volunteers – including Watford fan and Vice Chair David Green – it’s a great shame.
120915 FAVase 2QR Downham Town v Northampton Spencer (44)w“If only they could stay together for five years.” President John Fysh reflected as we took in the latter stages of the game. Looking out on the pitch where the youngest was sixteen, it was easy to understand his sentiment. There was clearly huge potential in many of them.

120915 FAVase 2QR Downham Town v Northampton Spencer (59)w

Town had started on the back foot, losing the toss and being forced to play into the setting sun. They had struggled to find their rhythm on the hard undulating surface, whilst Northampton Spencer harried and capitalised on mistakes. Eight minutes in visiting forward Luke Batley – pursued by his marker – bore down on goal as a long ball sailed overhead. Aaron Connor ran from his goalmouth to intercept it as all three flung in feet and hands for the vital touch. The subsequent heavy collision left the defence injured and prone whilst gifting Batley to opportunity to just walk the ball into the net.
120915 FAVase 2QR Downham Town v Northampton Spencer (145)wWith appeals waved away, nearby the encouraged Millers’ contingent urged their team to test the clearly injured keeper far more. This was made easier as – leaving holes at the back – Downham were pushing for an equaliser.
Including an Ashley Page free kick and a couple of close shots from Matt Bussens, up front Town had some chances but very few really tested the visiting stopper. Meanwhile in midfield, late challenges had started to test the officials’ judgement and both teams’ legs.
120915 FAVase 2QR Downham Town v Northampton Spencer (120)Though mercifully the visitors couldn’t initially find the target – after the inevitable substitution of Connor for Quintin Young – a rather generous free kick was neatly curled into the top corner by Liam Tuck. Again Town pushed forward, and whilst the game evened out greatly thereon in, the youthful home team just couldn’t make any impact on the score line.
After the match – before the officials joined us in amiable discussion – sitting in “the boardroom” with John Fysh and club secretary George Dickson as they completed the post-match paper work, the reality of the day would become totally apparent.
Reaching the FA Vase 1st Round is worth £700 to the lucky teams. If however, like Downham Town you lose at home, you must also consider gate receipts, officials’ expenses, the away team’s travel, guest hospitality, and the entrance fee for the competition. As the total was rung up they were over £300 out of pocket. Of course it would have been better if they’d won, but extraordinarily if instead they’d lost away they would still be in profit.
Thinking back to Downham’s determined young players, the entertaining game, and the truly welcoming and hard working volunteers, I asked John if it had been worth it. Without much hesitation the answer was affirmative, and with that I was certain that if the many Norfolk Hornets are ever at a loose end, they could do a far lot worse than pop over and enjoy the hospitality at fellow 1881 club, Downham Town FC.

120915 FAVase 2QR Downham Town v Northampton Spencer (22)w

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Initially appearing in this season’s Watford FC matchday programmes, consequently Groundhop 1881 reports will appear late on here. At the end of the journey, a book will be published telling the full story.
This entry was posted in 2012-2013, FA Vase, Groundhop 1881 and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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