Gt Yarmouth Town FC 2008-2009

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THE BLOATERS STORY

Great Yarmouth Town Football Club was born at a meeting in the Town Hall on July 20th 1897 with all but one of the playing members having previously belonged to the two strongest teams in the borough at that time, Great Yarmouth Fearnoughts and Great Yarmouth Royal Artillery; these teams had between them won the Norfolk Senior Cup, the premier competition of the time, on four occasions in the preceding five years. The new Town club kept up the tradition by winning the Cup in its very first season, defeating Lynn Town in a replayed final. Gt Yarmouth then went on to repeat this win four times in succession between 1902-03 and 1905-06. In all, the club has won the Cup 12 times and been runners-up on another 14 occasions.

The founding of the club coincided with the formation of the Norfolk & Suffolk League of which Gt Yarmouth became members, winning the championship three times, in 1913-14, 1926-27 and 1927-28. This would have been four times as despite finishing clear leaders of the 1912-13 season the Norfolk County FA expunged Gt Yarmouth's whole record because of a technicality concerning one of their players.

ENTHUSIASM

These early years were heady ones for the towns "footy" followers (the term soccer had not yet been invented): enthusiasm was immense and it was not uncommon for the club to attract gates of 5000 for the local derby with deadly rivals Gorleston. Some of the leading professional clubs of the day sent teams to friendly matches: Gt Yarmouth's amateurs did well to hold Millwall to a 0-0 draw in 1899 but were overwhelmed 6-0 by Aston Villa in the following year and 7-2 by Sunderland in 1901. Then came a win when Sheffield FC were beaten 4-2, but Derby County restored the old order with an 8-2 win though Fulham were held 3-3.

Some strangely-named visitors of the time for friendly matches were "Old Crocks XI", "Aquarius" and "Bedouins"!

PROGRAMMES

After the First World War, a Supporters Club was started up in 1922, and in season 1924-1925 the first match programmes were issued: unfortunately, none of these appear to have survived. The custom arose of the Town Mayor being invited to be the clubs President and in 1925-26 this happened to be a lady, the only time the club has had a female in this honorary position.

1926-27 saw the players set up a record that will take some beating - having lost the first league game of the season, they then went on to be undefeated in the remaining 23, a record which becomes even more impressive when the eight unbeaten games from the beginning of the next season are added!

The stature of the club within the town and county - and further afield - was growing. In 1925 Tom Swift, described as a "walking football mascot", attended a match at the Wellesley but before that he paraded the streets and ground dressed in the Town colours. Since 1920 he had visited nearly every major ground in England, walking a total of some 10,000 miles; in April 1926 he walked from Sheffield to Wembley for the FA Cup Final, a distance of 168 miles, in six days and nights!

In 1927 an end of season whist drive attracted 308 participants (with gold wristwatches as prizes!), the team were invited by the Vicar of Yarmouth to steward at a service and the players were also invited to attend a performance at Yarmouth's Theatre Royal. There was even some discussion about the town council sponsoring the club, as had recently happened at Third Division Torquay.

SUCCESS

Season 1928-29 was one of tremendous success. Despite suffering only two league defeats, the Bloaters ended up in third place, one point behind both Lowestoft and Gorleston who both tied on 38 points. The first team topped 100 goals for the fifth consecutive season and nine of the players represented the County, including Owen Beevor who captained the Norfolk XI. The Reserves won all their sixteen league games and captured the Norfolk Junior Cup for the first time: they were also undefeated in all their 32 games during which they scored 172 goals. In all, the club won seven cups including the Norfolk Senior. The season was also notable for the debut of Gordon South who would go on to be one of the club's greatest servants and all-time top scorer.

The following season saw the Senior Cup retained thanks to a 2-1 win over Gorleston at The Nest, Norwich City's old ground, in front of a massive crowd numbering 10,267, the largest single crowd ever to have watched the Bloaters perform, either before or since! To add to their seniors' success, the Reserves also retained the Junior Cup.

DEPRESSION

The annual meeting that year raised the question of a league for the Eastern Counties but it was to be another five years before that dream came about, though not before the club's fortunes took a nosedive: season 1931-32 was described at the AGM as the club's "worst ever" - the club won nothing and had debts totalling 250, a princely sum in those days. The economic depression was taking its toll even in this small part of the country.

The dream of an Eastern Counties League was eventually realised in 1935, but just before it did an unsavoury incident at the Wellesley highlights the fact that football violence is no new thing. An East Anglian Cup semi-final replay with Lowestoft Town was taking place on April 16th 1934: Yarmouth had been making strenuous efforts to save the game having gone behind but five minutes after the goal "all hell" broke loose. The Yarmouth Mercury takes up the story: "The incident which led to the crowd invading the pitch must surely be unique in the long and stormy history of the ground. Two opposing players got at loggerheads near the touch line in front of the stand. In an amazing spectacle, the players were rolling over and over on the ground, punching fiercely at each other. The crowd swarmed on to the field, the officials and players being quickly surrounded."

The crowd itself had no intention of violence, merely wishing to get a better view but the referee had no option but to abandon the game and the players were then shepherded into the dressing rooms by officials and plain-clothed policemen who happened to be watching the game. A third game finally took place at Gorleston, Yarmouth winning 2-1 with a Lowestoft man being sent of for a bad foul on Gordon South. The final was played against Harwich at Portman Road, the Shrimpers beating the Bloaters 3-1.

OPTIMISM

Economic conditions had improved countrywide and in Bloaterland increased gate receipts enabled the club to pay off some of its debts. At the end of the 1934-35 season, Mr J L Gage, the new Eastern Counties League's first Secretary, attended the clubs first-ever public dinner and spoke of a new air of optimism amongst senior East Anglian clubs. Yarmouth's last season in the Norfolk & Suffolk League (where, incidentally, they finished fourth behind Gorleston, Lowestoft and Norwich City A), was not a resounding success though they did have the satisfaction of recording their biggest ever NSL win, 13-2 at Bury Town (and later also defeating the hapless Blues 6-2 in the home fixture to contribute mightily to the exact ton of goals conceded by the Suffolk club).

The curtain came down on the Norfolk & Suffolk League with a less-than-convincing 2-1 success over bottom club Cromer Town on 27th April 1935: "The final game of the season," reported the Yarmouth Mercury, "was not an inspiring end to the Town's association with the two counties league and the smallest crowd of the season had little cause to regret the final whistle."

One game played at the Wellesley, between the famous Corinthians and a Norfolk XI, gave the local press cause to reflect on the values of the amateur game just as the Bloaters were about to take their first faltering steps into the professional world (they appointed a paid "trainer-coach" to take them into the new era): "Bickering on the field, foolish disputes over throws-in, appeals to the referee, questioning of decisions and paltry retaliatory fouls were all absent and the referee had the easiest task imaginable. The Corinthians gave a splendid exhibition of how players should conduct themselves and their Norfolk counterparts backed them up worthily."

With the local football world about to enter a new era it was a fitting reminder of the ideals of those who founded the game - would the new league set-up see such devotion to the sportsmanship ideal?

EASTERN COUNTIES LEAGUE

August 31st 1935, the first day of the new Eastern Counties League, saw Yarmouth defeated 3-5 by the Amateur Cup holders of Harwich & Parkeston. The club had employed the services of J S Macconochie, the former Everton captain as a paid "Trainer-coach" and he instituted a new training regime - three nights a week! The first home ECL match on September 14th was a less hectic affair with the Bloaters triumphing 2-0 against new opponents Chelmsford City in front of an 1800 gate.

The club's home record that season was quite remarkable, ten wins and only one defeat in the eleven games, the defeat being against old foes Harwich who thus completed a double on their way to a share in the league's first championship (with Lowestoft). Two wins (one ECL, one FA Cup) were recorded over Ipswich Town before the Blues turned professional and joined the Southern League the following season. The Bloaters finished fourth in the inaugural ECL season; however, the effort had proved expensive and economies had to be made, including the non-retention of Mr Macconochie.

DISASTER

The following season was a disaster, culminating in an 11-0 defeat by bogey team Harwich and a run of eleven games without a win to conclude the campaign. Off the field, matters were no better: the team from a certain city, some 20 miles distant, was attracting support away from local football. The opinion was expressed that Yarmouth "had now missed the professional boat", and for the first time ever there were not enough nominees to fill the vacant committee places at the AGM!

Season 1937-38 was notable in that not a single match resulted in a draw, a unique statistic for the club. The next season, the last before war rolled out over Europe once again, also proved memorable, but for the wrong reasons: the club finished bottom of its league for the first time since its formation.

SEMI-PROFESSIONALISM

After the War, Great Yarmouth Town FC enjoyed a period of ascendency and increasing success for ten years or so. Semi-Professionalism was taken on board, at first under the leadership of former Tottenham and Arsenal player Cliff Fairchild and then, most notably, with former Chelsea, Southampton, Bolton Wanderers and Norwich City star Jack Bradley; at its peak the club signed 14 players "on terms".

The club received national press coverage for its exploits in the FA Cup. The Bloaters celebrated their jubilee year (1947-48) by reaching the First Round proper of the FA Cup for the first time, though losing 1-4 to the outstanding non-league team of the day, Shrewsbury Town who were hoping for elevation to the Football League. The fourth qualifying round that season saw probably the quickest goal ever at the Wellesley - only two players touched the ball, Hollis who took the kick-off and Daynes who took the pass and went on to score! Hollis was later to transfer to Norwich City and then move on to Tottenham.

HEADLINES

The best was yet to come under Bradley: in season 1953-54 the Bloaters defeated Football League side Crystal Palace 1-0 in the 1st Round Proper in November with the goal being scored by Derrick Rackham in the sixth minute. "PALACE LEFT TO CRYSTAL GAZE" and "PALACE FALL FOR THE BAIT" were just two of the headlines that recorded the Bloaters' Finest Hour which was watched by a record Wellesley crowd of 8944, many of them accommodated on a temporary stand constructed of fishboxes!

League clubs were to provide the opposition for the Beevor Cup once again in the early years after the War: Walsall (twice), Plymouth Argyle and Fulham visiting the Wellesley; Yarmouth were successful on only one occasion, defeating Walsall 2-0 in September 1950.

SPENDING

Attendances reached their peak in season 1953-54 with an average of 2352 and, indeed, following the post-war resumption of football the seasonal average reached four figures for thirteen seasons. However, the big spending days were numbered and the late fifties saw the club in financial crisis. There was much speculation about an amalgamation with Gorleston, who were themselves in trouble and forced to drop out of the ECL for financial reasons. The solution arrived at was to dispense with professional players and revert to total amateur status, a move which resulted in the club finishing bottom of the ECL in season 1958-59 but which also turned a 1400 deficit into a 300 surplus the following year.

The club's finances made significant improvement over the next few years and a return to paid players commenced with the appointment of Tom Savage, a former Lowestoft winger, in November 1962; the following season he served as Player/Manager before the role was taken by Derrick Rackham, he who had scored the winning goal against Crystal Palace and who had since spent time at Cambridge United. Season 1964-65 saw the club employ seven professionals.

A useful source of income was found in the playing of matches against teams drawn from the show artistes appearing in their summer seasons: in 1965 a youthful Jimmy Tarbuck scored a hat-trick in one such match at the Wellesley (watched by a crowd of some 8000) and Cup Final referee Norman Burtenshaw, in charge of the game, instituted probably the world's first Golden Goal with the score at 6-6 after the 90 minutes were up! In 1966, following in the footsteps of Geoff Hurst, Dickie Henderson performed the same feat as the World Cup star in a match which also starred Terry Scott. Amongst other stars to "grace" the Wellesley with their football and fun were Mike and Bernie Winters, the Barron Knights, and Gerry Marsden. These matches started out as serious affairs but degenerated into mere tomfoolery before they were abandoned altogether a few years later.

CHAMPIONSHIP

Meanwhile, Eastern Counties League matters took a turn for the better as Yarmouth steadily improved and finished second to Lowestoft in 1968. Wily Scot Jimmy Moran, formerly of Leicester City, Northampton Town and Norwich City, took over team affairs that summer, having been a player the previous season, and led the club to its only ECL championship, thus interrupting Lowestoft's run of six championships in seven years. The feat was achieved without the benefit of the recently-disbanded reserve side and thirteen players completed the bulk of the matches.

How to follow that? With Moran back at Lowestoft, the club committee thought big and appointed another Scot, 33-year old Bill Punton, into the hot seat. Former Newcastle United, Sheffield United, Scunthorpe United and Norwich City player Punton (once a team-mate of Moran at Norwich) inherited the backbone of the championship winning side, nine of them professionals, but commenced his Yarmouth career with defeat at all-professional Haverhill Rovers and struggled to get the best out of his side; a disappointing season ended, however, on a positive note, with a 5-0 win, ironically over the seasons first opponents, Haverhill.

FA VASE

Punton had come into the club with little knowledge of local players but over the course of the next few seasons he dispensed with the services of professionals and concentrated on unearthing good local amateurs. From season 1974-75 until Punton left for Diss Town in 1990 Yarmouth rarely finished outside the top six in the ECL, being runners-up twice and third-placed three times, though never, to Punton's eternal regret, attaining top spot. Perhaps his finest achievement was taking the club to the semi-finals of the FA Vase in 1982-83, the first ECL team to get that far: the home leg was watched by 4552 but a 1-1 draw enabled eventual winners VS Rugby to go to Wembley on a 3-2 aggregate.

A difficult rebuilding period followed Punton's departure and a number of ex-players all tried their hand at management but it was not until Paul Chick arrived in 1995 that progress back up the league was made. When Chick followed the Punton way and became next manager at Diss, Yarmouth appointed Paul Tong (a former Norwich City keeper and one time assistant to Punton at Yarmouth and Diss) and with limited resources third spot was attained in season 1998-99.

MILESTONE

Long-serving club captain Mark Vincent was honoured in the summer of 1999 with two testimonial games against Rushden & Diamonds and Peterborough Utd; Mark later set a new appearances record for the club when he reached the 500 game milestone.

As the club entered the third millenium, a new youth set-up was forged using the U16 side of local boys club, Caister Roma, with their manager Derek Bevan.  Following Derek's elevation to club coach, Trevor Harrison was brought in to manager the Under 18s and he marked his first season in charge with the Authentic Football Youth League Cup when Lowestoft Town Youth were beaten in a remarkable final at Emerald Park, Gorleston: a 1-1 draw after extra time was followed by a sensational penalty shoot-out which took 28 attempts to separate the teams, Yarmouth winning 9-8 in a sudden-death finale!

The first three seasons of the new millennium saw the first team complete an unwanted hat-trick of consecutive Norfolk Senior Cup final defeats when they were beaten 4-1 by Diss Town following defeats firstly by arch-enemies Gorleston (0-4) and then Wroxham (1-2). However, thankfully the Bloaters did finally get their hands on some silverware when they won the Millennium Trophy, defeating relegated Harwich & Parkeston 4-2, after a 0-3 final defeat to Tiptree United the season before.

In season 2003-2004, which was to prove Paul Tong's last at the club, the Bloaters narrowly avoided relegation, finishing in 16th place, but they did enjoy a run in the FA Vase which took them to the 3rd round and a narrow 3-2 defeat in extra time at Cray Wanderers. Remarkably, every match in the five-game run was away from home! A 1-0 defeat at Diss saw Yarmouth knocked out of the Norfolk Senior Cup at the semi-final stage. The FA Cup brought fame to Yarmouth's players as the match against Southall at the Wellesley was chosen by BBC TV as their featured match on Football Focus to open the season's FA Cup campaign. Paul Thompson realised his televised prediction of scoring the opening goal in the first half hour!

With Tong now back at Diss as joint manager with Robert Fleck - an arrangement, incidentally, that did not last too many weeks into the 2004-2005 season - a new era began at Yarmouth, with Tong’s assistant manager Alan Smith now in charge, while the club welcomed Katherine Self, manager of the town’s Racecourse, as its first-ever female chairperson. When Katherine resigned in March due to increasing pressures of work at the Racecourse, the club had no hesitation in inviting commercial officer Julia Banham to become its 22nd chairman. Julia is the wife of first team ‘keeper Nick and has hardly missed a game since becoming involved with the club in 1998.

Alan came to the club from Gorleston where he had been manager after moving to the area from Essex where he was well-known in football circles having played for, and managed, several clubs. He was immediately thrown into the deep end with organising a team to play the full Norwich City Premiership side in a prestige and money-generating pre-season friendly at the Wellesley, which City won 4-1 on a terrible night for football with torrential rain lashing down practically the whole match. Unfortunately, the changes at the top did not bring success on the playing field for the Bloaters who finished bottom of the Premier Division and were thus relegated (for the first time in the club’s history): it was ironic that Norwich City suffered the same fate from the Premiership, albeit not until the last day.

Alan readily accepted the challenge of getting the club back up but a disappointing series of results led to his resignation in November 2005. Mark Vincent and Nick Banham took on the task of running the side until Kevin Rowark was appointed in the following February. The new man was an instant success and the team won 12 of its last sixteen matches to move into a comfortable mid-table finishing spot.

The success did not continue, however, into the new 2006-2007 season and this and other considerations led the club committee to dispense with Mr Rowark's services in December 2006. Goalkeeper Nick Banham was then appointed to take the reigns in a caretaker capacity until the end of the season when he was confirmed as permanent manager, thus giving the club a unique double-header with a husband & wife manager & chairman partnership!

With many changes in playing personnel over the summer of 2007 coupled with early-season problems of player availability, successes were hard to come by and a Norfolk Senior Cup defeat at the first point of entry by a junior team proved a bitter pill to swallow. Mrs Banham resigned her position in October due to pressure of her business commitments.

With a warning that the club could fold within two years, the committee launched an appeal to find a wealthy backer to take the club into a more secure future, and on November 5th 2007 Mr Stephen Brierley, a local businessman, was appointed chairman to lead the club into a new era. Mr Brierley announced bold plans to take the club forward including the appointment of locally-born Dale Gordon, ex-Norwich City, Glasgow Rangers and West Ham star, as Director of Football.

Following the November resignation of manager Nick Banham, assistant manager Kevin Cruickshank accepted the task of first team boss, and in January 2008 Daryl Godbold, a former Norwich City player, took on the job of Reserves'manager.

Better results followed for the first team and a mid-table position was achieved by May. Former manager Paul Tong was then invited back to share first team duties with Cruickshank as Messrs Brierley and Gordon got down to serious work, starting with the clubhouse refurbishment after which The Bloater Bar became Legends Sports Bar.

Season 2008-08, Yarmouth's 100th of competitive action, opened with a prestigious friendly against Scottish Div. One Clyde at the Wellesley. Clyde won the match 4-0 but Yarmouth won many new friends for their successful organisation of the day which included an Under 9s tournament in which the Bloaters' new team came second to Norwich City Academy.

To be continued............

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