BMX rider who became a top non-league defender

NO THRILLS, no fuss.

Brett Girling slipped quietly into retirement at the end of last season in much the same manner he displayed as one of the best non-league defenders in the Eastern Counties for nearly two decades.

Girling had a glittering non-league career which included playing for Braintree Town, Chelmsford City and spells at both Sudbury Town and AFC Sudbury when they were Suffolk’s leading side after Ipswich Town.

Yet it was on a BMX track and not a football pitch that he made his mark as a teenager.

“I played football for a couple of years with Woodbridge Bluebirds, before concentrating on BMX. I travelled all over the country taking part in regional and national competitions, once winning a regional championship over the course of a year.

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“I called it a day at the age of 16 or 17 and went back to football. It was Mick Banthorpe who took me over to Woodbridge, where I played in the under-18s and then got in the first team,” he said.

Girling played for Suffolk FA at youth level and was also in the Suffolk Schools’ side that reached the semi-finals of the national competition.

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“I had trials with Ipswich Town and Bristol City, where I was offered a six months contract, but I had already done one-and- a-half years as a student at Suffolk College so didn’t take it up.”

It was while playing for Woodbridge Town in a cup match against Sudbury Town that he caught the eye of opposing manager Ritchie Powling, who invited him to join them. Girling and Sudbury won promotion from the Southern League to the equivalent of what is now Blue Square Bet South, competing against teams like Cheltenham, Burton and Rushden & Diamonds, and he played alongside the likes of Dean Barker, Murray Osman, Paul Smith and Clive Stafford and then Ian Brown, Tony English and Nicky Smith.

He was a regular in his four-year spell at the club that included a never-to-be-forgotten FA Cup First Round Proper replay victory over Brighton at the old Goldstone Ground, and then facing Brentford in the next round at Colchester’s Layer Road, where Sudbury led 1-0 before losing 3-1.

When Sudbury dropped back down to the Ridgeons League Girling accepted the chance to join Chelmsford City, winning two promotions in four years, although the Clarets could not make the move up because their ground was not up to standard.

There was also an FA Cup First Round tie against Oldham Athletic at Boundary Park that ended in defeat.

Next stop was Braintree Town, who were then in the Ryman League Premier Division, for two years before joining AFC Sudbury for a four-year stint that included winning two Ridgeons League titles, the League Cup, Suffolk Premier Cup and two FA Vase final defeats as Sudbury reached three finals in a row.

“In my first year we were by far the better side in every round up until the final, where Winchester City deserved to win 2-0 on the day at St Andrews.

“The following season we were lucky to reach a third final in a row, where we played Didcot at White Hart Lane and lost 3-2. We had so many chances in the first half but it was just not our day.”

Girling, who was skipper in that 2005 final, reflected: “It would not have been so bad had either of the finals been played at Wembley, but it was being rebuilt at the time.”

Mark Morsley then took over as manager from Gary Harvey and Sudbury lost in both the Ryman League play-off final and semi-finals, before the club was switched to the Midlands-based Zamaretto League which involved more travelling.

Along with team-mates David Head and Shane Wardley, Girling decided to join Ridgeons League Premier Division side Leiston, where he spent two years , reaching the First Round Proper of the FA Cup in his first season, before losing to Fleetwood Town after a replay.

“We could have won the first game because they went down to 10 men. They have got a fantastic set up there and are now doing well in the Conference and pushing to get into the Football League.”

Girling, whose consistency has seen him collect several Player of the Year awards, ended his career at Hadleigh United last season, and even though he enjoyed his final season he has resisted approaches to come out of retirement to help the club during their current injury crisis.

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