A look back on the best of 2018 in Norfolk sport – including some near misses
PUBLISHED: 14:46 31 December 2018 | UPDATED: 14:46 31 December 2018
Matthew Usher Photography
Head of sport Chris Lakey takes a look back at some of the highlights and near-misses of 2018
2018: The World Cup semi-finals, the Ryder Cup, Aussie ball-tampering or the second coming of Tyson Fury?
Take your pick among those and many more – on a national scale there were plenty of headlines being made.
Closer to home it wasn’t a bad year either…
Picking the best team or individual was a tough task – there were a few candidates.
As far as teams went, King’s Lynn, the town, arguably dominated locally, although its football and speedway teams were destined to be runners-up, despite finishing in ‘winning’ positions.
Let me explain...
The football team, under the expert guidance of former Norwich City defender Ian Culverhouse, finished second in the Southern League Premier to Hereford, who were automatically promoted. Lynn had to go into the play-offs to decide the second promotion spot. Unfair? Depends on your view of play-offs, but there were no complaints from Lynn, even though they lost at home to Slough Town in the final. Frankly, they just didn’t show up.
It was Culverhouse’s last game (for a little while anyway) – he had already handed in his notice having had a festering fall-out with owner Stephen Cleeve. Come the summer and Cleeve appointed Simon Clark, but it didn’t work out. He was sacked, Robbie Back and Neil Fryatt took over and then in November, after peace talks, back came Culverhouse. At the time of writing, he hadn’t lost a game.
The Stars speedway team had suffered even worse misfortune: they finished top of the Premiership, but bizarrely, that put them into play-off involving three other teams – there were only seven in the whole league for goodness sake. Anyway, they came up against Poole in the final and, having lost Niels-Kristian Iversen and Michael Palm Toft to injury , they were beaten. No hard feelings, no sour grapes.
A week later they contested the KO Cup final – and lost that too.
King’s Lynn Stars – probably the unluckiest team of the lot. And one of our best. A few days ago they announced that skipper Robert Lambert will be back as captain for the 2019 campaign. Now, if you want to see a future world champion from these parts, look no further than the boy from Foulsham. He’s British champion at senior and under-21 level and he’s the most exciting thing many have seen in domestic speedway for some time. And he’s one of our own.
Away from engines and King’s Lynn, Norfolk enjoyed boxing success last year: Sam Sexton may have lost his British heavyweight title to Hughie Fury up in Bolton in May, but the Norwich gym run by Graham Everett in league with Jon Thaxton goes from strength to strength.
Ryan Walsh got through two British featherweight title defences - a draw with Isaac Lowe (who later pulled out of a rematch to go Stateside with Tyson Fury) in Manchester 10 months ago followed by a good win over rising star Reece Bellotti at the 02 Arena last month.
Twin brother Liam didn’t return to the ring, which is a crying shame, but hopefully the many promoters and managers he has contacted trying to get a fight sorted will see sense: he is far too good not to be allowed to do his job.
Domestically, the production line goes on: Joe Steed, Liam Goddard and most recently Owen Blunden all made their debuts in 2018 – and good prospects they look too.
Big things are expected of cruiserweight Iain Martell, while hopefully Craig Poxton will return after injury in 2019.
The Formula One tracks of the world will have a Norfolk presence again in 2019 as King’s Lynn-born George Russell takes to the wheel of a Williams, having clinched the F2 title.
And in cricket, Norfolk has a new captain, with Ashley Watson leading the county in all formats of the game.
He succeeds Chris Brown, captain of Norfolk’s Minor Counties team since 2013, who stepped down at the end of last season to focus on a coaching job with the county and a number of other roles within the game.
Wheelchair tennis star Alfie Hewett won the singles title at the US Open as well as the doubles titles with Gordon Reid and as two-time defending champions the pair won the Wimbledon doubles title.
There are, always, sad losses, and perhaps no more so than angling’s John Wilson, who died in Thailand at the age of 75. The fishing legend was once voted the greatest angler of all time.
Norfolk sport continued to prosper and there were many more success stories – and there will be more to come.
Here’s wishing everyone a happy New Year.