Glory days of the beautiful game
PUBLISHED: 10:42 17 January 2014 | UPDATED: 10:42 17 January 2014
SO here we are, embarking on the second half of the 2013-14 football season and it seems that the so-called beautiful game is falling out of favour with many who play hereabouts.
It was found that an alarming five per cent of teams affiliated to Norfolk FA had hung up their collective boots. So a surprised county commissioned a survey to discover the cause of the decline and to try to entice clubs back.
Some 1400 grass-root players of the 9500 total responded to the fact-finding mission which revealed last month that the three main reasons were that costs were too high, participation was too time-consuming, and that match officials were of a poor standard.
None of these problems, I am confident, ever beset the local team which, although never winning any trophy and seldom having more than a small knot of spectators, would assuredly have earned any prize for the quirkiest name.
That team was Gutting Meadow Rovers, a Gorleston scratch XI (or XII or even XIII, when too many turned up but all got a game) who played on riverside land below Pier Plain between the wars, an area once known as Warner’s Meadow and long-since occupied by council houses.
They either had to take an enforced break, or seek temporary alternative land, during the autumn herring fishery when – as the name of the team implied – Scots lassies were there in force, working at the farlanes and packing endless barrels with fish for export. An occasional fair also meant a brief suspension of soccer.
Captain of one side was usually the chap with the football; their opponents were led by the player with a proper pair of boots, putting him on a higher plane than all the other players who wore their ordinary footwear. Shirts? Again, everyday wear, with pullovers and jumpers and even the occasional waistcoat or jacket.
One goal was marked on the end wall of a neighbouring house, while the other was a pair of short posts.
Years ago the late Frank Bell, a Gorleston historian and Post Office clerk who lived in Church Lane, told me about Gutting Meadow Rovers (really, a misnomer because they never roved elsewhere) and his many enjoyable games with them. “Whenever I stroll along Pier Plain now and look down the grassy slope, my mind always goes back many years to when the old gutting meadow used to be our football pitch,” he reminisced.
“Many exciting games were played. We were never chased off for trespassing, we never committed any vandalism. We had no strikers or sweepers: the only striker in our day was the blacksmith’s striker in the forge on Bells Marsh Road, and the only sweeper was a corporation roadman.
“One side of our pitch had a traffic hazard if an occasional motor car or horse-and-cart passed. Occasionally a game ended when the ball went under a passing tram on route to the beach and split, whereupon they players would berate the guilty player who kicked it on to the road, or the tram driver although in fairness, tram drivers usually tried to slow down if they saw a ball rolling towards the lines.”
Remarkably, one Gutting Meadows Rover progressed to Football League status – Frank Perfect, who was at Stradbroke Road School with Frank Bell. Mr Perfect went on to play for Norwich City and other clubs and obviously found their pitches a great improvement on the gutting meadow which was gritty, gravelly, cindery...and had no grass, other than weeds.
That surface did not deter the lads, and I doubt if it would have been deemed off-putting by one of the borough’s proper sides in the two decades between the wars. That team had already earned the nickname of “the iron men” when, in the 1923-24 season nine decades ago, they justified it by playing no fewer than three consecutive matches in the afternoon and evening of one day!
Yarmouth Post Office, enjoying a good season in the local Thursday League, were seeking points and were not simply fulfilling fixtures regardless of outcome. This was long before substitutes were allowed and the same 11 players competed in all three games at the same venue, possibly the Beaconsfield Road recreation ground.
Yarmouth Police were also active that particular day, playing twice...but two of those were against the doughty postmen. It was easy-peasy for Yarmouth Post Office who thrashed the boys in blue 9-2 and 7-1,
And despite the fact that the Post Office had already played three hours of near non-stop soccer, they still had plenty of “go” left in them, proving it by bringing Swifts down to earth with a 5-0 drubbing.
So that was 21 extra in the “goals for” column in the league table and a meagre three against. Then the super-victors probably got on their bikes, hot and sweaty and still wearing their dirty kit, and pedalled home as they had to prepare for work the next day, Friday.
One man who was probably even wearier than his Post Office colleagues was Charlie Moore, well-known in Norfolk soccer circles: on the eve of that three-match Thursday, he had played for Yarmouth Town against Cromer!
It was a good season for the postmen who won the Yarmouth and the Norfolk Thursday league championships and added the Eastern District Postmasters Shield to their haul. Sadly, they were denied one piece of coveted silverware, being beaten in the final of the Arnold Cup by a team named Nulothians.
The Swifts, humiliated 5-0 on that day of Yarmouth Post Office’s remarkable treble, were not always on the wrong end of a rout. In another between-wars season, they were high-flying, winning consistently.
Their superiority was never more evident that in a fixture against Yarmouth Police when Swifts goalkeeper, bored because all the play was in their opponents’ half, strolled to the half-way line and coolly browsed through a newspaper while keeping a sharp eye on the action up front.
I hope it was the Yarmouth Mercury he was reading...
Whatever publication it was, he threw it down quickly and scrambled back into his goal when the Police, having stoutly weathered the Swifts’ relentless onslaught without conceding a goal, raced upfield in their only breakaway into their opponents’ half in the match thus far - and hammered the ball past him to win 1-0.