Tuesday 14th December 2021 – 7:45pm – Green Meadow, Stowmarket
I’m sure in the run up to Christmas some people have better things to do that make a 180-mile round trip to watch a Step 4 game on a Tuesday night where you have no vested interest into the teams, but then until you have tried it, don’t knock it. Truth be told I was meeting up with a good friend, who despite living just a few miles away, had never experienced the glamour of any Non-League game, let alone one almost on his doorstep.
Stowmarket Town were promoted to the Isthmian League North last season after winning the Eastern Counties League, based on the decision by the FA to create some upward movement in the pyramid after two curtailed seasons. They have a tough act to follow with local(ish) sides Lowestoft Town, Leiston and Needham Market all have trodden a similar route in the last decade or so and now playing at Step 3 but based on the momentum they have on and off the pitch, the signs are good so far.
The East Anglian region only has three professional clubs (Norwich City, Ipswich Town and Colchester City, who are technically in Essex but are close enough to be a pull), whilst at Step 1 Kings Lynn Town fly the flag for the area. Compare that to some other areas and you can perhaps understand why clubs have been successful up to a point as there is a glut of good Step 3 and 4 players, who eventually get picked up by Step 2 and above. The challenges of public transport and relatively long distances also make player mobility a challenge, reducing the club hopping that we see, for instance, down in Sussex or South London.
An impressive win at league leaders Canvey Island on Saturday meant that Stowmarket could top the table for the first time with at least a draw from the visit of near-ish neighbours AFC Sudbury and the promise of a decent crowd, if not to see the football but to also take in the Christmas Lights show from some of the houses opposite Green Meadow.
One of the beauties of clubs at this level is the unique features within the grounds, unfettered by heavy restrictions (yet). An impressively large club house, with big screens showing the pain and misery being inflicted on Norwich City in their Premier League game against Aston Villa may not have been too comforting, but the freshly cooked chicken burger and chicken salt chips certainly hit the mark, with the outdoor seating in the corner of the ground providing a unique perspective to watch the game from, albeit one that was still close enough to mean you had to watch your pints from wayward shooting.
Fortunately, there was little of that from the home side as they cruised to a 3-0 win in an often feisty affair thanks to a hat-trick from Luke Brown, who also picked up a sponsorship deal mid-match according to the match announcer. A tidy night’s work from the number 9. The visitors huffed and puffed but never really threatened the Stowmarket goal. Three goals, three points and top spot going into the last game before Christmas on Saturday.
Is the club ready for the next step? Facilities wise, Green Meadow is a good place to watch a game, even on a Tuesday in December, although in places you are a few metres away from the edge of the pitch. The challenge is in the additional costs they would incur – travel for instance with a 300-mile round trip to Bognor Regis Town if they went into the Isthmian Premier League or similar to the West Midlands based clubs such as Stourbridge in the Southern Premier. Players would need to take more time off work for mid-week trips, the competition from local clubs increases and slowly, some of that Non-League magic may fade.
But for now, Stowmarket Town can rightfully enjoy the ride they are on and be proud of what they have achieved.