King’s Lynn Stars team boss Dale Allitt is still clearly cut up about his side’s play-off final defeat to Poole Pirates. Picture: IAN BURT.

2018 provided so many highs – especially for King’s Lynn’s two biggest sporting institutions. But it was a case of so near, yet so far, as Gavin Caney looks back at the hope, ecstasy and eventual agony that made it a year to remember, and forget, for the Linnets and Stars…

It’s a time for reflection.

With Christmas over and the New Year just around Caney’s Corner, the tendency is to look back just as much as we gaze forward. When it comes to the town’s senior football and speedway sides it’s hard to imagine the next 12 months could provide equal amounts of drama as the last. Yet there’s never a dull moment at The Walks or the Adrian Flux Arena so there’s every chance we could be in another rollercoaster ride.

The year started on a slight dip with a 1-0 home defeat to Kettering, dropping King’s Lynn Town to second in the Southern League Premier table.

The highest high arrived at the end of the month with the most stupendous of comebacks against runaway leaders Hereford – who had the luxury of a host of games in hand.

Staring down the barrel of another big-game Walks reverse in front of more than 1,000 fans, Lynn rallied from 2-0 down to triumph 3-2 and spark wild scenes of celebrations. 

The great times continued but the ride threatened to come careering off the rails when manager Ian Culverhouse shockingly announced he was going to quit Lynn, regardless of if they got promoted. It was hardly ideal preparation for the play-offs.

A 3-0 semi-final victory over Weymouth, courtesy of a trio of breathtaking goals, set up a National League North/South shoot-out with Slough. Yet a 2-1 Walks loss in front of almost 3,000 supporters saw Town fall at the final hurdle as their promotion party came to a juddering halt. 

Culverhouse’s departure, Simon Clark’s failed, and ultimately short, reign and the upturn under Robbie Back and Neil Fryatt ensured an up and down start to the current term. Yet the most unexpected in a crazy year of twists and turns culminated in the shock return of Culverhouse as Lynn manager with the Linnets eyeing a push to go one step further in the coming months and secure elevation to Step Two of the non-League pyramid.

‘The great times continued but the ride threatened to come off the rails when manager Ian Culverhouse shockingly announced he was going to quit Lynn’

It may have been less chaotic down the road in the Speedway Great Britain Premiership for King’s Lynn Stars. But the heartbreak was perhaps even greater. Boss Dale Allitt remained in charge, after a hugely difficult 2017, and inspired the greatest year in Lynn’s proud history. 

Overcoming every injury problem or dip in form that arose, Allitt steered his heroes to a
first-ever top-flight finish as the Stars’ dedicated followers eyed an end to their 50-plus-year wait for winning Britain’s top league.

Ending up on top of the pile saw Lynn pick the Belle Vue Aces in the play-off semi finals. A stunning 49-41 success in Manchester saw Lynn put one foot in the Grand Final with a leg to go.

A comfortable 54-36 win got the job done and those who fill the Saddlebow Road stands and terraces had their biggest nights of all time to look forward to.

‘Overcoming every injury problem or dip in form that arose, Allitt steered his heroes to a first-ever top-flight finish as the Stars’ dedicated followers eyed an end to their 50-plus-year wait’

Poole Pirates stood in Lynn’s way, and unfortunately so did referee Craig Ackroyd. He made a string of hugely contentious decisions – none of which went the Stars’ way – as the Pirates opened up a 16-point advantage ahead of the return.

Pain is etched across Craig Parker’s face as he reflects on Lynn’s missed opportunity.

Thousands turned up, perhaps more in hope than expectation, and Lynn and Allitt did them proud by roaring to a victory that at one point threatened to be larger than it was. But ultimately it was too little, too late as the Stars went down by four points on aggregate and missed out on the prized silverware.

A visibly distraught Allitt’s heartache didn’t ease when Lynn also lost the two-legged Knockout Cup final against Somerset. 

The Stars, especially, and the Linnets were unfortunately 2018’s nearly men. You better strap yourself in to see if they can put that right in 2019.