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How the league was born

 

It was in December 1958 that the Norwich Sunday League was formed by a group of very young men (the “& District” was added later). It was not the first time that a Sunday League had been formed in Norwich, but these had quickly folded. To most it seemed probable that the new competition would have little more success than its predecessors.

The Football Association had shown few signs that they were prepared to recognise Sunday football. Pitches were only available on a week –to-week basis- which meant club secretaries had to be quick off the mark to ‘phone the Parks Department to obtain one of the few pitches available.

The new League’s officials had little experience of administration and the competition could not call on any affiliated referees. Clubs had to rely on unpaid and usually unthanked volunteers to referee. One of those early unofficial referees was the former League Chairman Jimmy Gee, who refereed in jacket and trousers and usually wearing a cap.

Despite these handicaps, the League managed to struggle on, often in the red. In 1960 the FA, suddenly learned the lesson given 1000 years earlier by King Canute, and decided to offer Sunday clubs and Leagues the opportunity to affiliate.

At first, the Norwich Sunday League rejected the Norfolk County FA’s advances. However, after a meeting with the then assistant County FA secretary, Ben Smith and Bert Westwood (who later became the first league president) representatives changed their mind. In return the League were told that there would be a Norfolk Sunday Cup, that official referee’s would become available, and that the league would be protected from Saturday/Thursday teams wanting to play on Sundays. Additionally we were invited to elect a representative to the Council of the NCFA, so Ray Kiddell, at the age of 23 became the youngest ever member of the County FA. In 1961 ray succeeded the first honorary league secretary Terry Thompson.

Three of the founder members are still connected with the League: Ray Kiddell (President and life member), long serving honorary secretary Alan Williams (who has been honorary secretary since January 1981 and honorary treasurer since 1983) and Roy Tacon (the first honorary treasurer and now a vice president).

For some time the League continued to have its critics, but this only served to stimulate the League’s officials to greater efforts. Even the most severe critics recognised that the League Management Committee were efficient and responsible. From those early days, the League has never looked back.

A severe test came in the winter of 1962/3 when no matches were played from before Christmas until mid March 1963 because of snow and severe frosts. Nevertheless the season was completed and even our severest critics recognised that great achievement. There has been other seasons when the weather caused problems- including drought, snow and rain- but 1962/3 was the biggest test of survival.

The League quickly increased its membership from the initial 8 teams to 113. During that period the League had a number of chairmen: Mike Capes, Bill Lewis and Jack Grint, until Jimmy Gee took over the chair in 1965. Jimmy’s great service was recognised when he retired as chairman in 2005, by being elected a life member as well as retaining his vice presidency. Jimmy handed over the chair to Brian Burrell, who had been an excellent honorary assistant secretary for 40 years and vice chairman from 1990.

Brian had succeeded as vice chairman, his friend Gerry Holmes, who took over the vice chairman’s position from another great stalwart of the League, John Snelling. John had himself taken over from the popular Ron Wright. Paul Ballard, who was elected chairman after the death of that great stalwart Brian Burrell, had served the committee as vice chairman since 2005.

In 1967, the League formed a link with a French club in Rouen, Union Sportive des Sapins. For many years there were regular exchanges. At that time Ray Kiddell introduced a monthly magazine “Norwich Sunday Soccer Times” and the League became the first to give referee’s a representative on the committee.

1969 saw Loke United reach the final of The Football Association Cup Sunday Cup, but they lost 3-1 to Leigh Park at Romford. In 1981 Mackintosh FC came even closer before losing 1-0 to Fantail at the home of Tranmere Rovers. Four years later, in 1985, Hobbies United captured the prestigious trophy in beating Avenue 2-1 at the third attempt after thrilling draws at Carrow Road and Tranmere Rovers. 

In the summer of 1970 Ray Kiddell was elected honorary assistant secretary to the Norfolk County FA and handed over the reigns of the now well established league to Brian Ward. Ray’s service was recognised by making him senior vice president and a life member of the league.

Brian Ward concentrated on his duties as honorary general secretary and Bernie Hardiman was appointed honorary fixtures secretary, a position he still holds.

In 1975 the League’s representation on the County FA was increased and the following season, the clubs in the top divisions were given Senior status by the County FA.

Ray Kiddell succeeded Bert Westwood as League President in 1978

Brian Ward held the reigns until resigning in January 1981, when Alan Williams, who had done such sterling work as the Sunday referee’s appointment secretary, took over as honorary league secretary. Later, in 1983, Alan added to his duties by agreeing to also be honorary treasurer from Roy Tacon, who had held that position since the start of the league.

Alan’s successor as referee’s appointment secretary was Richard King, who held that position until becoming referee’s secretary to the Norfolk FA in 1992. John Elwin succeeded him until 2001. In 2001 a different system operated and Nigel Evans was appointed to cover a wider area by the County. This was a similar position held by David Wood for a short period after affiliation to the Norfolk County FA.

The League has been particularly fortunate in officers and committee members over the years, and one position that also brings regular contact with clubs is that of honorary registration secretary. The League has been well served in that position by Denis Daynes, Eddie Gardiner, Mike Mundey, Ray Watling, Will Jeffery and now Steve Brown

When Alan Williams relinquished the honorary secretary’s position, Ben Casey took over and has the added duties of running this website.

Over the past few years, the management committee decided not to add more divisions, believing that there was not enough referee’s or pitches to justify further expansion. Transient clubs has always been a problem and deeper club roots are needed, that is why the league now interviews every new club applicant.

The League has almost without exception, enjoyed a harmonious relationship with the Norfolk County FA. Other Sunday Leagues have been established in Norfolk but it is a great compliment that most have looked to Norwich for leadership. With due respect to other Norfolk Sunday Leagues, the Norwich Sunday League remains the premier Sunday league in the county.

Partly perhaps as a tribute to the league, together with their ability, a number of the League’s officers have held office in the Norfolk County FA and indeed the FA. Ray Kiddell was honorary secretary of the Norfolk County FA, and is now the County’s President. He was also Vice Chairman of the FA and is now a Life Vice President of the national body. Alan Williams was Chairman of the Norfolk County FA for three years and is now a Life Vice President of the County. Bernie Hardiman has been a commission secretary of the Norfolk County FA for many years.

The league is justifiably proud of its history, but above all there has always been a spirit of crusade about the League, and the management committee has strived for “entente” with clubs and referees.

RAY KIDDELL