Tuesday 5th September 2017 ko 19.45
Eastern Counties League Division One
DOWNHAM TOWN 1 (Sykes 66) Bailey sent off 59 (2nd Booking)
NORWICH UNITED RESERVES 3 (Stewart 7 Will 21 Jackson 74p)
Entry & Programme £5
A fixture in the Norfolk town of Downham Market is just about as far as I can manage midweek, and it did help that was a slight delay to kick off for a rather unusual reason!
As we arrived it turned out that noone could find the keys to the floodlights control box, so I had a little time to contemplate my surroundings while a set of bolt-croppers was found!
I found myself comparing the Memorial Field to the likes of Somersham Town and Long Sutton Athletic; their facilities are fairly similar and all three graduated from the Peterborough & District League in 1988 when the Eastern Counties League expanded to two divisions. And therein may lie Downham’s problems.
As lovely as all 3 grounds are, none of the 3 grounds fulfills the FA’s Grade H grading, that required for the Step 6 Eastern Counties League’s First Division. The ground isn’t fully enclosed, as the cricket pitch makes doing so virtually impossible. It puts Downham in the unenviable position of being relegated as soon as another club with suitable facilities applies for the ECL.
The rub is that the ECL’s lower division is still 3 clubs short (21 from 24) of capacity even with 7 reserve, or quasi-reserve sides making up the numbers. It puts Downham, who’ve struggled for the vast majority of their time in the ECL on notice but without any hint of when that notice will be executed. Under those circumstances how can a club plan or recruit?
But to fret about ground gradings and the like is to miss the whole point of visiting here. Yes, I’m sure many like me will see coming here as part of an attempt to complete the league, but both literally and metaphorically take a step back. For this is a ground with character by the bucketload, just look at those trees, the stand, and that sunset. Why worry about what level it’s at? The better comparison is with dear maligned Chard Town who try as they might will never get Zembard Lane up to gradings.
So why make them try? Is the Memorial Field safe? Is it fit for purpose? Does it do everything Downham Town need it to? Of course it does so why put the Sword of Damocles over them? Let them succeed or otherwise according to their performances on the field. Yes, if they can find a better-appointed ground then aid them, but this unyielding attitude to ground grading by the FA is causing more problems than it solves.
On the pitch Downham have a new management team and the scale of the task in front of them was placed in stark focus. It is still odd seeing Norwich United’s reserves/Under-21’s/ Under 23’s depending where you look, in a league where recently their firsts inhabited. But nonetheless Downham struggled to make much impression against their young, but talented visitors. They looked frustrated and that proved too much for Alex Bailey whose two quick bookings made Downham’s difficult task impossible.
It was one of the better visits I’ve made to the ECL, perhaps the hint of melancholy gives Downham something extra for the casual visitor. But whatever the future holds for them and how they eventually manage to square the circle of their league and their facilities, you can only wish for only the very best for this friendly club.