History of the Norfolk Christian Football League
The Norfolk Christian Football League is one of the longest-standing church leagues in the whole country and can trace its history back almost 40 years. Alan Barnes reports.
One of the league’s founder members, Derek Cate, can recall playing in the first-ever recorded inter-church football match in Norwich on Boxing Day morning 1967 between Surrey Chapel and South Park Chapel.
This game started off the process towards the formation of a league proper in 1978 following friendly matches between half-a-dozen teams over the intervening ten years.
The early pioneer of the league was Don Wilson from Surrey Chapel, who continued to organise it for several years. In the early days all matches were played on the sloping pitches of Earlham Park. It was not until the late 1980s that teams started to have their own home pitches.
In 1980, Maurice Wood, Bishop of Norwich at the time, agreed to sponsor a cup competition. The final was played at Carrow Road in front of a small but enthusiastic crowd and saw Surrey Chapel narrowly beat Holy Trinity.
For the next two seasons, the final was played at Carrow Road, seeing Salvation Army and YMCA as winners.
By the early 1980s, the league had grown to 12 teams including, Assemblies of God, Norwich Christian Fellowship, Dereham Road Baptist Church and Mount Zion. Some churches joined together to form teams: Meadow Way Chapel joined with Oak Grove Chapel, Hillcrest Chapel joined with Belvoir Street.
From 1983, the finals have been played at different grounds including Norwich City’s former training ground at Trowse, Mulbarton FC, Dereham Town FC, Wroxham FC and, more recently, the FDC at Bowthorpe. More teams from outside the city joined over this period including teams from North Walsham, Aylsham, Great Yarmouth, Dereham and Stalham.
Wroxham Road Boys’ Brigade was one of the most successful teams of the 1990s and early 2000s, keeping their original squad together for many years. When they were no longer able to field a team, they donated a trophy, which became known as the Wroxham Road Shield, for the knock-out competition for clubs eliminated out in the first round of the Bishop’s Cup.
In the late 1990s, Tim Stapleford had a vision to extend the league to include youth football. Many children in churches found it difficult to play competitive football as it took place on a Sunday. The youth league, played on a Saturday morning, provided that opportunity.
As with the adult league, initially games took place at one venue, the Astroturf pitches of the UEA Sportspark at 9am on a Saturday morning. All six pitches were used and the league grew into four age-group sections from Under 10s to Under 16s. Cup finals were also played at the venue.
Into the new century and clubs began to make use of their home pitches. Clubs from outside the city also began to join the league including Broadland Lads from North Walsham, Brooke Adventurers, Lighthouse Church from Sheringham and teams from Happisburgh and Catfield.
Some teams have been part of the youth league almost from the very beginning. Brooke Adventurers are still going strong and each year field teams in most of the age categories.
Naturally, competitive football is very important to all the teams involved but, as a Christian league, the way that teams approach the matches and interact with each other is just as important. During the 1990s, the Fellowship Trophy was instigated and is presented to teams which, over the course of the season, have demonstrated that element of fair play. Teams are given a score by the opposition for each match and the winner presented with a trophy at the end of the season.
We pray that the league will remain strong over the coming years and that our aim of Linking Church to Community through Football will continue to influence all involved.
Pictured top is the Bishop Maurice Wood Cup and action from recent adult and youth finals.