In a former life I once described a football club as perennial strugglers .
Those words, written while working as a full-time journalist in 2014, certainly caused a stir at the aforementioned outfit.
I stood by them then but now I feel I need to apologise.
Now is the time to say sorry to Downham Town.
After five consecutive bottom-three finishes from 2010 in the Thurlow Nunn (Eastern Counties, EC) League First Division – the highest level Town have ever played at – Downham have turned things around and this season could be heading for their finest campaign for more than 10 years.
A finish of 10th or above, given the numbers in the EC’s second tier, would surpass the superb 2014/15 campaign, which had been their best finish for seven years. And when you throw into the mix that a semi-final win against Anglian Combination side Wymondham on February 27 could take the Reds to their first Norfolk Senior Cup final since 1969, it’s only appropriate for me to devour a large slice of humble pie.
Downham may never get promoted to Step Five of the non-League pyramid. But what they continue to achieve with no budget, while many teams around them chuck money at their problems, at a ground they share with the town’s cricket club is, in truth, remarkable.
Arguably the best youth set-up in the area continues to produce a conveyor belt of talent even though the brightest lights are regularly tempted away.
Paul Neary, the fifth permanent manager in just four years, has more than stabilised what could have become a rocky ship. A lack of people through the gate never seems to hold them back either.
With everything they’re up against, Downham should be perennial strugglers – or even playing in the Ang Com. But they’re not. They’re more than holding their own and continue to punch above their weight.
A lot of people owe so much to Town in local football because it’s where they started.
Town are no longer a soft touch. ‘Little Downham’ just keep proving people wrong.
For a while, my words were stuck up on their dressing room wall for inspiration. They may still be there for all I know. But if they are, while I’m sorry for using them, I’m happy they’re still getting rammed down my throat.
Downham are one win away from reaching their first Norfolk Senior Cup final since 1969. But how will their memorable run end?
Beaten semi-finalists: 35%
Losing finalists: 45%
Cup winners: 20%
Peterborough League champions – 1963, 74, 79, 87, 88.
Peterborough Senior Cup – 1962, 63, 67, 72, 87.
Norfolk Senior Cup winners – 1964, 66
Eastern Counties League best position: Division One, 3rd, 1999.
FA Vase: 3rd round, 1987.
Record attendance: 1,500, v Norwich C, friendly, 1949.
Route to their last Norfolk Senior Cup final: 1968/69
1: Diss Town W 2-1 Osborne, Greenhalgh
2: Horsford Utd W 2-1 English, Thompson
SF: Dereham Tn W 3-2 English, Greenhalgh, Osborne
F: Gorleston L 1-2
Route to this season’s semi-final:
2: Swaffham Tn W* 4-4
Baxter-Hunt 3, Bussens
(* on pens)
3: Norwich CEYMS W 3-0
Calvert 2, Baxter-Hunt
4: Gt Yarmouth Tn W 3-2
Bussens, Cross, Oughton
SF: Wymondham ?
Downham’s EC League positions since 2007/8.
2016/17: 14th out of 21
2015/16: 16th out of 19
2014/15: 9th out of 19
2013/14: 17th out of 19
2012/13: 16th out of 18
2011/12: 14th out of 16
2010/11: 16th out of 17
2009/10: 18th out of 19
2008/09: 15th out of 20
2007/08: 12th out of 19
Community spirit can still reach greater heights
Come and help us with a shovel and cement I was asked not long after dropping the ‘PS’ bomb on Downham.
Fearing I may be buried at the aptly-named Memorial Ground for my choice of perennial strugglers phrase, I decided to take up the offer when Town needed help to complete improvements to their stadium so they could retain their Step Six status.
Dodging the expected banter quicker than I could push a wheelbarrow, I quickly saw why the club continue to succeed against all the odds.
Players, yes – players, were there mucking in alongside committee members and local businesses to get the work done. It was great to see that level of community spirit come together.
It’s clearly what keeps Town going at a senior level and with an absolute plethora of youth sides there’s no shortage of bodies about to back Downham.
But imagine what they could achieve if even a tiny fraction of the town got behind the club every now and then?
If you’re into football and live in and around the town, call in every now and then. I’m sure the young lads who play would appreciate it and you’d quickly feel part of something special.