Stowmarket’s James Graham has eyes on Portman Road

STOWMARKET skipper James Graham has an extra incentive to reach this season’s Suffolk Senior Cup final at Portman Road.

The 22-year-old, who can play centre half, centre midfield or centre forward but prefers playing in the middle of the park, was not even in the squad when Stowmarket defeated Grundisburgh 2-1 in the 2007 final at Portman Road despite playing regularly in the build-up.

He said: “I played in the previous seven games leading up to the final and was then left out for someone who had been injured and wanted to be in the party and be involved on the day.

“I was the youngest member of the squad and I suppose it was therefore easy to leave me out.”

Ridgeons League Division One side Stowmarket’s interest in this season’s competition was almost over before it had started as they had to come from behind to beat SIL Senior Division side Stanton 4-3 away in the first round, before a 3-1 win at home to Haughley United from the same division in round two.

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Ironically, it is more SIL opposition in the form of Grundisburgh who stand between Stowmarket and a place in the semi-finals when they visit the village side on January 7.

“We have got a good chance to get through to the final this year,” said Graham, an Ipswich Town fan who admitted he has always dreamt of playing at Portman Road.

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He has been with the Greens Meadow club from the age of nine except for one season with Stonham Aspal in Division One of the SIL.

“I was 16 or 17 at the time and was still playing for Stowmarket Under-18s, but I spent a season with Stonham to get used to the physical side of the game.

A cup final appearance at Portman Road would be a fitting reward for the loyalty shown to Stowmarket by Graham, who has knocked back overtures from Ridgeons League Premier Division sides Diss Town, Hadleigh United and Mildenhall Town to remain at Greens Meadow.

Graham, who is due to make his 200th first-team appearance, fitness and the weather permitting, for Stowmarket at home to Team Bury on Monday, said: “I have never missed a game through injury, and only missed three games since I made my debut. I hate missing games!”

Now in his third season as skipper, Graham is as baffled by anyone as to Stowmarket’s poor form so far in the current campaign, after looking likely promotion candidates for much of last season before falling away.

“I can’t put my finger on it, although we haven’t had much luck.”

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