Ridgeons club defies the odds

ONE of the wonders of the East Anglian football world is the ability of Walsham-le-Willows to hold their own in the Premier Division of the Ridgeons League.

Elvin King

ONE of the wonders of the East Anglian football world is the ability of Walsham-le-Willows to hold their own in the Premier Division of the Ridgeons League.

Situated in rural west Suffolk on a road to nowhere in particular, the village has a population of 1,185.

Yet they are competing on a level footing with clubs based in Cambridge (over 100,000 people), Felixstowe (30,000), Haverhill (25,000) and Ely, Harwich, Kirkley and Newmarket all with populations over 15,000.

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And Clacton Town, who play one division below Walsham in Division One, have a population over 53,000.

It is a remarkable achievement by a club based in a village that hit the headlines once before.

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Thankfully things are much healthier now but Walsham became famous for keeping accurate records of the Black Death in the 14th century.

The plague wiped out over half the village within two months in 1349, and at its height the death rate was 50 a day.

Most local footballers need a sat-nav to find their way to the village, but chairman Mike Powles certainly knows the best route to the Summer Road ground.

Although not one to covet praise for his efforts, Mike deserves to take the lion's share of credit for turning Walsham into a major football source.

Most villages of Walsham's size struggle to put out a team these days, and those that do are participating in the lower reaches of the Saturday or Sunday game.

Mike has been involved at the club for 16 years and chairman for 11. During that time he has overseen huge improvements to facilities that now match the best in the area.

He is not taking anything for granted, and remains philosophical about his club's future.

“I'm not kidding myself that this will go on for ever,” he said. “But I intend to enjoy it while I can.

“Everything goes round in circles and it doesn't seem that long ago we were watching Diss Town play at our level and playing at Wembley.

“Now they are below us, but it can all change.”

Mike was astute enough to grasp the nettle when the opportunity to progress presented itself.

Paul Smith is now in his tenth season as manager, and it was while he was winning two SIL titles that major decisions were made.

“At that time our facilities were not up to SIL senior standard and if we had been relegated we would not have regained senior status again,” explained Mike.

“It has been hard work and it's been important to have as good a team off the field as the one on it.

“But we have also enjoyed some good fortune with things coming together at the right time and giving us the opportunity to obtain financial grants.

“Like our neighbours Debenham Leisure Centre we are punching above our weight, but with everything paid for I can look back with pride on what we have achieved.”

And so he can - a remarkable story achieved with the help of a sensible budget and help from the local community.

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