1,000 up for likeable 'Lurch'

NOW he might have driven centre forwards mad. He may even have driven the odd team-mate potty. But up until two years ago, Chris Tracey wouldn't actually have ever driven you anywhere.

NOW he might have driven centre forwards mad. He may even have driven the odd team-mate potty. But up until two years ago, Chris Tracey wouldn't actually have ever driven you anywhere.

The reason? Because captain colossus Chris Tracey ('Lurch' to the non-league community), hadn't passed his driving test. Strange don't you think, for a man who has travelled the length and breadth of the country playing football on some of the non-league game's biggest stages? OK, hardly the meat of this feature, but it does have a little relevance.

“I remember when I joined Ipswich Wanderers a few years ago, the subject of transport was a bit of an issue with me travelling to Ipswich,” Tracey admits.

“But buses, trains, boats, planes, I've managed to get around somehow,” he laughingly concludes.

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And got round he has, to making more than 1,000 senior appearances, spanning almost 20 years.

From an 18-year-old bright-eyed youngster at Harwich & Parkeston, to Villa Park and St Andrews, in FA Vase finals, Tracey has been fully committed, fully involved and fully dedicated during his near two-decade football career. So where did it all start?

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“There seems to be a bit of recurring theme to my early football years,” Tracey admits.

“My first two adult clubs were Lexden Wanderers and Colchester Casuals, now both defunct!

“But after playing for Stanway Rovers U18, I moved to Harwich & Parkeston in 1988 in the Eastern Counties League.”

And what a start it was for a young Tracey as, on debut, he was pitched up against Clive Death, March Town's leading striker, March themselves were at the time current champions.

“It was a baptism of fire, I admit that. I got a bit of a going over, but it was good experience.”

On the subject of experience, it was at Harwich, Tracey got his first experience of the FA Vase - a competition that was to dominate the latter stages of his career. “Harwich lost to Gresley Rovers 2-0 in the quarter-finals in 1991, and they went on to the final,” Tracey said.

“We'd beaten Sudbury Town and Cammell Laird on the way. It really whetted my appetite for the Vase.” The Royal Oak wasn't to be where Tracey made his non-league home, but in west Suffolk at Sudbury, firstly at Priory Stadium and then King's Marsh Stadium.

Former Arsenal star Richie Powling was manager at Harwich when teenager Tracey arrived.

But Powling's move to the Priory, saw Tracey get transferred out of Essex and into Suffolk. The Southern League beckoned and Tracey admits it was the start of a wonderful time in his career.

“I loved the Southern League and the Sudbury team in those days was superb,” he said.

“We beat Brighton at the Goldstone Ground in the FA Cup first round proper and lost to Brentford at Layer Road in the second round after being a goal up at half-time.

“I spent 13 years at Sudbury and then AFC Sudbury and it changed my life.

“I met my wife through football at Sudbury and it was simply one of the best times in my career. The level of football was high and with the likes of Tony English, Ian Brown, Steve Ball, Christian McClean and Michael Cheetham in the team, we were a fine side.”

The subsequent merger of Sudbury Town and Sudbury Wanderers didn't sit well with many at the time, including Tracey, and he admits it.

“I was anti-merger no doubt,” he said.

“But I spoke to Keith Martin on the eve of pre-season training and I went over and had a look.”

The rest of course is history, as AFC reached three Vase finals, with Tracey playing in two and being a non-playing squad member at White Hart Lane in the third.

That third final defeat and subsequent dropping from the squad saw the end of a 13-year stint with Sudbury for Tracey.

“To say I was distraught to be left out of that third final is an understatement,” Tracey admitted.

“I got a medal, sure, but I was distraught.”

A season with Ipswich Wanderers and another with Needham Market confirmed that the 13-year link between Tracey and Sudbury appeared over.

But not for long.

After Mark Morsley persuaded Tracey back to King's Marsh at the start of last season, 'Lurch' was back in the AFC Sudbury yellow and blue.

Incredibly however there was another twist to the story.

After taking over at Long Melford at Christmas (and securing one win in 10 - a victory at Diss which was Tracey's 1,000th appearance), he accepted the job as manager of Stanway Rovers.

But before a 't' had been crossed and an 'i' dotted, the shock announcement of Morsley's departure from King's Marsh, saw Nicky Smith installed as first-team boss at Sudbury.

Smith had been set to join Tracey at Stanway. But the roles were reversed and Smith's first port of call for an assistant . . . Chris Tracey.

'Lurch' was back home.

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