Grassroots football - how Heacham are picking up the pieces

Heacham v Mundford

Heacham FC line up before their return to action against Mundford - Credit: Darren Bailey

Grassroots football returned, albeit without fans, at the weekend - CHRIS LAKEY reports on one team’s efforts to end a difficult season with something to show for their efforts


It’s been a tough season for non-league football clubs, and Heacham are no exception. 

No longer a ‘village pub’ team, the Magpies take their football very seriously these days. A smart £50,000 3G facility sits adjacent to an equally smart building housing the dressing rooms. Three pitches mean the youth section can continue to grow, reflecting the success on the pitch - which, come next season, may well have new floodlights. 

Heacham have enjoyed four promotions in a row since joining the Anglian Combination in 2016 from the North-West Norfolk League. When football was finally suspended in December, theywere top of Anglian Combination Division One, looking for yet another promotion. That’s not going to happen now, but Heacham are still in the Norfolk Senior Cup and on Saturday, opened their Offside Trust Premier Cup campaign with a 4-3 home win over Mundford. 

Heacham v Mundford

A post-match huddle for the Heacham players - Credit: Chris Lakey

Silverware would be some consolation, particularly at a club which has lost two stalwart members this season - Nigel Askew, founder of the supporters club and treasurer, died in November and then, just last week, Harry Hornsby, who held every position on the club’s committee. 

“He was always there on match day,” said chairman David Page, pointing to the wooden hut which every visitor passes but which will remain closed until it is safe to let fans back in. “He was Mr Heacham.” 

Page himself is no new boy - his involvement stretches back 60 years, starting as a player. He’s proud of the set-up: a guided tour end with a walk down a corridor outside the dressing rooms, the walls crammed with framed photographs of past players and past achievements - he lingers a little linger to point to the one of young Joe Gascoigne, one of the emerging talents up the road at King’s Lynn Town. 

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It’s not the only Linnets link - assistant manager Ross McNeill is an ex-Linnet, centre-forward Jack Defty is a legend at The Walks, midfielder Alex Clunan’s brother Michael is current club captain at Lynn. All a reflection of the changes that occurred around five years ago. 

“We were a pub team, a village team,” said Page. “We wanted to be a bit better so we advertised for a manager. We have players from outside of Heacham but we have had to do that to be successful. We think it’s the right way of doing it - and it’s worked.” 

Heacham v Mundford

Empty seats at Heacham FC - a sign of the times - Credit: Chris Lakey

The minute’s silence on Saturday was as good a tribute to Harry Hornsby as the football that followed it. 

Grassroots football has all sorts of facets - good, bad and indifferent. The goals and the action are among the good, the bad was the sight of Ben Oliver being taken to hospital after the game with a suspected broken leg.  

Jon Flanagan put the hosts ahead with an excellent shot on five minutes but it was all square on 17. Defty missed a sitter before skipper Ed Tann put the hosts ahead from Clunan’s free-kick. Tann then headed Clunan’s corner in off the underside of the bar to give Heacham a 3-1 lead, which was wiped out within 20 minutes of the second half, before Flanagan’s second, 15 minutes from time, sealed the win. 

Defty, now 39, will be the first to admit he never had much in the way of pace but there is still clear evidence of how he put 200-plus non league goals on his CV. 

“See that touch? He’s still got it,” he shouted McNeill midway through the first half to no one in particular.  

“He’s an absolute class act on and off the pitch,” said McNeill after the game. “The lads love him, he’s a gentle giant on the pitch – some of his flicks and touches and the way he uses his body are first class still.” 

“Fat Boy (Flanagan) is a hell of a talent and he has got better over the seasons and I’m really, really pleased for Ed as well – he’s our leader and the lads look up to him. 

“It was great entertainment, really happy with the lads’ attitude. They have had a lomg break but it was evident how keen they were to start the game.  

“3-1 at half-time we were more than happy with that. We made three changes, all pre-planned. It was important everyone got 45 minutes under their belts. 

“We have goals in us and I knew we’d score again in the second half. So, entertaining - defensively probably a few things to work on.” 

This end-of-season competition and the Senior Cup are short-term targets. Long-term it is another promotion, some consolidation, and then a crack at the Thurlow Nunn League. 

“We used the disappointment of earlier in the season as motivation,” adds McNeill. “To better ourselves and go again. We want to be going through the leagues - the club is geared up for this this. We are setting a standard off the pitch thanks to the hard work of a lot of people. That is what football is about for me – that’s a big reason I love coming here.” 

Results 

Offside Trust Premier Cup Prem East: Acle United 1 Norwich United U21 5, Caister 4 Blofield United 1. 

Offside Trust Premier Cup Prem South: Easton 2 Yelverton 0, Scole United 0 Harleston Town 2. 

Offside Trust Premier Cup Prem West: Heacham 4 Mundford 3. 

Offside Trust Premier Cup Prem Central: Dussindale & Hellesdon Rovers 1 Sprowston Athletic 3, Stalham Town 1 Thorpe St Andrew 0. 

Offside Trust Intermediate Cup Inter North: Martham 4 Buxton 0, North Walsham Town 3 South Walsham 1. 

Offside Trust Intermediate Cup Inter East: AC Mill Lane 5 Belton 1, Gt Yarmouth Town Res 1 Hemsby 1. 

Offside Trust Intermediate Cup Inter South: Attleborough Town Res 3 Earsham 0, Poringland Wands 1 Long Stratton Res 0. 

Offside Trust Intermediate Cup Inter West: Swaffham Town Res 1 Castle Acre Swifts 5, Wells Town 1 Holt United 1. 

Offside Trust Intermediate Cup Inter Central: Norwich Ceyms Res 4 Costessey Sports 0, Thorpe St Andrew Res v Dussindale & Hellesdon Rovers Res - away win. 

Offside Trust Minor Cup Minor East: Celt Rangers 4 Martham Res 2, Shrublands 5 AC Mill Lane Res 2. 

Offside Trust Minor Cup Minor South: Harleston Town Res 4 Mulbarton Wands Res 2, Tacolneston 4 Mundford Res 1, Yelverton Res 2 Poringland Wands Res 1. 

Offside Trust Minor Cup Minor West: Holt United Res 2 Briston 6, Necton 4 Wells Town Res 6. 

Offside Trust Minor Cup Minor Central: Blofield United Res 2 Acle United Res 3, Dussindale & Hellesdon Rovers A 0 Easton Res 4, Norwich Eagles 3 Stalham Town Res 3. 

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