Martin Peters - The World Cup star who graced local football

Martin Peters

Martin Peters - Credit: Archant

The prisoners were on a run, the police copped it in a final, the Post Office stamped their authority on a season and there was Martin Peters who knew a thing or two about football... welcome to the wonderful world of the Thursday football league in Norfolk.

Sprowston Thursday’s' Tommy Taylor during the 1987 Norfolk Thursday Cup Final against British Rail.

Sprowston Thursday’s' Tommy Taylor during the 1987 Norfolk Thursday Cup Final against British Rail. - Credit: Archant

The prisoners were on a run, the police copped it in a final, the Post Office stamped their authority on a season and there was Martin Peters who knew a thing or two about football... welcome to the wonderful world of the Thursday football league in Norfolk.

Football on a Thursday! Even in the days before Sky!

Oh yes, you see Thursday was half day closing in Norwich, when men forgot about work for a few hours and went off to play football – thousands of them.

The first Thursday Football League was formed in the city in 1895 and a few years later the Norwich Mercury (now the Evening News) proclaimed: 'We can have too much of a good thing. One match a week is quite sufficient for amateurs.'

Norwich Union Fire Office Thursday Senior Cup finalists in 1922.

Norwich Union Fire Office Thursday Senior Cup finalists in 1922. - Credit: Archant


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Over the years the Norwich & District Thursday League was to evolve and to a degree its membership and history reflected the changing face of not only football, but Norwich and Norfolk in the 20th century,

Two wars, economic depression, the arrival and departure (almost) of the RAF, changing shift and work patterns and seven-day trading all combined to finish off the league ten years ago.

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But now the extraordinary and fascinating story of the league which lasted for 109 years has been told by 45-year-old Norwich accountant Paul Oxbury, who was taken to watch football on Mousehold by his dad on a Thursday... and he loved it.

These men were not professional footballers but people from all walks of life: shop-workers, office workers, hairdressers, law clerks, hospital workers, servicemen, church members, postmen, policemen, even prisoners. Old and young, small or tall, thin or perhaps a touch tubby.

The Norwich Post Office team from 1971.

The Norwich Post Office team from 1971. - Credit: Archant

All brought together for Thursday footy. It was the highlight of a tough week at work. Paul - this is his first book - has done them all proud and has spent a long time doing his homework and researching the league. It is a wonderful offering.

His words along with archive photographs, league tables and newspaper articles paint a vivid picture of life with the Thursday boys and how the league changed over a century.

The icing on the cake is the foreword to the book written by World Cup and Norwich hero Martin Peters MBE, who was only too pleased to help Paul whom he met briefly many years ago.

Martin writes: 'As a boy growing up I had a pair of football boots and a dream. I loved football and would play anywhere, anytime, with anyone.

The Corinthians, pictured at Carrow Road in 1976.

The Corinthians, pictured at Carrow Road in 1976. - Credit: Archant

'At Wembley on July 30, 1966 I was fortunate enough to be able to realise the dream and my life was to change forever.

'What did not change, however, was my unconditional passion for football. As such, many years later, when work brought me to Gorleston I was only too pleased to turn out and play in the Norwich & District Thursday League,' he added.

He writes about his enjoyable times playing on Thursday afternoons and a nostalgic return to Carrow Road in the 1984 Norfolk Thursday Cup Final.

'What struck me most, though, was the fact that team mates and opponents all shared the desire to simply play football. Whether they were postmen, policemen or train drivers they would do whatever it took to ensure that on a Thursday at 3pm they were on the football field,' he added.

'Today a midweek afternoon adult football league seems unthinkable, but the exploits of the teams and characters which unfold on the pages reflect a league with a proud history which contributed much to Norfolk football,' writes one of the most talented players ever to represent his country... and Norwich.

Author Paul points out the league was a competition where players and officials all knew each other and a tremendous camaraderie existed: a league which produced intense rivalries, such as CEYMS v Norwich Rangers and Corinthians v Norwich Post Office, matches which became part of Norfolk football folklore and were not for the faint-hearted.

'A league in which service teams tried to stop an ex-England international and where prisoners were able to rub shoulders with a World Cup winner,' says Paul.

He has written a book which tells the story of how almost 200 different clubs battled it out on Thursday afternoons over the course of 97 football seasons.

It was Harry Wright, vice-chairman of the Norfolk County Football Association, who said back in 1958 that the county body had taken on a new look and no longer were Thursday footballers looked on as 'the league of forgotten men'.

Paul Oxbury has now made sure these Thursday afternoon footballers will never be forgotten.

• The League of Forgotten Men. A History of the Norwich & District Thursday Football League by Paul Oxbury is on sale at Jarrold for £7.95. You can also order one from Paul at paul_oxbury@hotmail.com

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