England, Felixstowe and Walton, Football, groundhopping, Harleston Town, Leisure Centre, Non League, Recreation Ground
Saturday 24th November 2018 ko 13.30
Eastern Counties League- Division One North
HARLESTON TOWN 4 (Roberts 3 Stone 21 Imrie 69 Delaney 88)
FELIXSTOWE & WALTON UNITED RESERVES 2 (Lee 27 Hillyard 27)
Entry & Programme £5
We turned right in to Harleston’s leisure centre car park from Wilderness Lane, and spotted two sets of players warming up on an unrailed pitch. Our collective hearts sank a little, I do like going back to basics every so often, try Headington Butchers for example, but I couldn’t even see a set of goals! Harleston are new to Step 6 for this season having won the Anglian Combination. With the Eastern Counties League expanding into 3 divisions for this year new clubs have been given 3 years to bring their grounds up to standard, but this looked extreme!
We’d been looking the wrong way, Harleston play on the pitch to the left of the leisure centre, and once we’d worked that bit out we had the most wonderful afternoon. Just about the only bit of our first impression was correct – the club does have much to do, there are no floodlights, no seats and the ground isn’t really enclosed.
But to look at this trip as being about facilities is to miss what makes this little gem of a club special. Mind you, chairman Adam Mullin owns a building firm so expect the improvements to be carried out apace! And when the ground is up to Step 6 standards, please Adam make sure nothing happens to the tea hut.
Put simply that tea hut and the ladies who work there are the beating heart of Harleston Town’s matchday- just about everyone gravitates there for a homemade sausage roll, a tea and a chat. If five minutes earlier I’d wondered what on earth I’d driven 3 hours to find, if all it had been was that hut that would have been more than enough.
The irony of the creation of the Eastern Senior League in the south is that it’s reduced travelling times in the north of the ECL’s footprint. That has made it easier for Anglian Combination clubs in the future to consider promotion, but in Harleston’s case I do wonder what will happen if they finish in a promotion place this season. The 3 years grace no longer applies if the club accepts promotion. The obvious solution would be a groundshare (would Bungay Town’s Maltings Meadow be suitable, it is nearby?) but even with Harleston top I may be getting ahead of myself.
The team are good, even if they did huff and puff a little to dispatch a struggling Felixstowe second string but this really wasn’t a visit to consider the finer points of ground grading. Just enjoy that lovely little stand for what it is, who cares that technically it isn’t enclosed, why stop the ducks going for a walk anyway?
Because when it was all over and we bought the the last 3 sausage rolls and watched the metal fence panels be removed ready to return this part of Harleston Rec’ to public use it became clear what we’d seen. If you remember a couple of years ago the Swedish Hop discovered a little club GoIF Kåre, they charmed us in a similar way as Harleston did, and their motto could easily apply here. The motto?
“The little club with the big heart”
For this is a club utterly at ease with itself, embarking on the greatest adventure in their history. They’ll have to square the circle of an excellent team with the realities of their home, but I hope that in doing so they won’t lose any of what makes them special.