Chapter Eight - More Family Years, Village Life and Sporting Challenges
The heart of a village such as Hethersett is its people - they make it what it is.
Hethersett is looked upon by many as a dormitory village for commuters to Norwich, but this is ignoring the fact that at its heart it is still a village with a village mentality and outlook. It may have grown to a population of virtually 6,000 and there may have been significant building on the Steepletower development opposite the church, but this cannot take away the rural nature of the place.
It's close enough to Norwich and the market town of Wymondham but has a green belt between both. A few years ago I was in the garden when I was approached by a man with a clip board from South Norfolk District Council's Environmental Health Department.
"We have had a complaint about the noise made by a cockerel in this neighbourhood. Do you hear it in the early morning and does the noise bother you?" I was asked.
Now I thought this to be a ridiculous question.
"But this is the country. I live here so that I can hear the cockerel in the early mornings, so that I can hear birdsong at dawn, so that I can smell the manure on the fields and the freshly cut grass. If somebody has complained about the cockerel I would like to make a counter complaint against them. This is the country," I replied.
It strikes me as strange when people complain about things they know are likely to happen. If you move to a rural area you expect rural sounds. If you don't want them live in the concrete urbanity of the city. It's like the people who live around the Memorial Playing Field in the village and complain when balls go into their gardens or when there's too much noise from the organised football on a Sunday. What do they expect? Nobody made them live where they do.
But still the heart of a village is all those people who work selflessly organising events, sitting on committees. Hethersett has always had a very strong community spirit - occasionally this has been misplaced, but it has always been there.
From our early days in the village Anne was very involved in church life being Chair of the fund-raising committee when the Methodist Church wanted to expand. She has also been a Methodist Church steward and chair of the Hethersett Churches Together group.
Much of our early social life in the village was based around the church. There was the young wives group and then the young mothers' group and we even started a social group which was called Candlelight purely and simply because the inaugural meeting was subjected to a power cut and had to use candles.
The massive extension to the Methodist Church cost a considerable amount of money and transformed the building from an ancient chapel into a vibrant modern building.
One thing that stands out in my mind from the church is the names of the Ministers since we have lived here. This started with the quiet confidence of Brian Dann who was a great comfort to me when my mother died in 1981. Brian was followed by John Dean who we are still in touch with and then came William Booker who was quite a character and very youthful at the time. William returned to the church a couple of years ago and could still remember everybody's name. He was followed by the immensely likeable Gerald Cole who had come out of semi-retirement to take on the post. Gerald was just a wonderfully warm human being with a wicked sense of humour. Sadly he died a few years ago whilst playing golf (an irony he would have made a joke about). When Gerald left his place was taken by David Hart who moved on promotion and gave way to the present incumbent Derek Grimshaw.
Many of the people of the church have enriched our lives over the years. Sadly many have passed on as we take their places as something of the elder statesmen - tempus fugit as they say. I well remember such luminaries as Bob Richardson, Donald and Reenie Boore, Marjorie and Tom Lord and many more who are no longer with us.
But back to the family. The boys continued to grow and thrive as boys do. They passed through the first school and onto Hethersett Middle School. Chris would have started there in about 1990 and Matt in 1992. They both went through Beavers, Cubs and Scouts and Matt won the scout of the year award.
It was whilst in Hethersett Cubs that both had their first taste of competitive football and I got involved in coaching. The cubs team was organised by Mel Perkins and he was looking for somebody to help with a view o taking over when his sons moved on. I didn't volunteer immediately and have only a sketchy memory of how my involvement started. I do remember Chris first match. He came on as a second half substitute and in a typical goalmouth scramble which seems to be beloved by eight year olds who all chase the ball, managed to score with the ball going in off his knee. His first goal and a proud moment for us all.
The years spent at the bottom of Buckingham Drive kicking a ball back and forth had begun to pay off. My boys were going to be champion goalscorers. Both had the pace and skill to score again and again. Well that was the plan and for a time it worked with them hitting the back of the net regularly. In one particular season Matt hit 47 for the cubs. But then various coaches decided enough was enough and they were both turned into central defenders. I don't know who saw their potential in that role but suspect it was the tough talking Graham Wren when they went to the Hewett Secondary School in Norwich.
As I say I cannot remember how or when I got involved in organising the Cubs but I believe it was in conjunction with two other coaches - Andy Newstead and Ian Harrison - who both had sons playing for the team.
There were a lot of talented players in those early sides. Most went on to play for the Middle School and when Matt became old enough he played for the cubs as well. I remember his first ever competitive game. Hethersett Cubs were playing another pack in Norwich and the opposition were a player short. He volunteered to play for them just to get a game and, despite losing something like 8-0, smiled his way through the whole match and also nearly scored against a team that included his brother. He still plays the game with a smile and has th wonderful record of being booked just once in almost 600 games and then he claims with some justification that the player dived. Chris is a different kettle of fish. Gentle off the pitch, he can sometimes snap on it and has been booked for kicking the ball away. Both share a love of the game and both are born leaders with Chris captaining a number of teams as will be mentioned later.
In 1991 Mel Perkins founded Hethersett Athletic Football Club. At the time it was part of the Jubilee Youth Club set up and so the team was known as Hethersett Jubilee. It had very humble beginnings. One of Mel's sons wanted to play competitive football. He and a number of his mates got together and Mel formed them into a team. Success was not a word in their vocabulary. They simply played for the enjoyment and didn't worry about the results - and there were some heavy defeats!
But a start had been made. Meanwhile Andy Newstead and Ian Harrison were taking the older players who had grown out of cubs and turned them into a very successful Hethersett Youth side that won a number of trophies over the next few years.
Alongside the Cubs team I decided to run an Under-10s side and we joined forces as part of the Hethersett Jubilee Club and began playing in the Sculthorpe and District League which meant long journeys around Norfolk and even into North Suffolk.
Eventually Hethersett broke away from the youth club set-up and the current Hethersett Athletic Club was born. It has grown and prospered ever since. When Andy and Ian decided to call a halt to Hethersett Youth, many of the players along with Ian joined Hethersett Athletic. Gradually club sides became competitive whilst still keeping the ethos of providing football for local youngsters irrespective of their ability.
Today the club continues to thrive and in the current season has provided football for 15 teams including women, girls, men and youths from the age of eight to adult. I became club chairman many years ago and am proud of what we have been able to achieve. Hethersett Athletic teams have picked up numerous trophies over the years and the men's side have reached the final of the Norfolk Senior Sunday Cup when Matt and Chris both had the distinction of playing on Norwich City's ground at Carrow Road.
The day didn't quite go as planned as we lost 5-0 to a team from King's Lynn and Chris had to be carried off with a leg injury. My overriding memory of the game came in the last few minutes when Matt hit a rising left foot shot from 25 yards which was arrowing its way into the top corner of the net. He had already turned round with his arms in the air to celebrate a goal at Carrow Road. When he turned round to accept the congratulations of his team-mates he was confused to see one of them taking the ball to the corner flag. Somehow the goalkeeper, who had been limping for most of the match, threw himself at the ball and managed to tip it over the bar. And to add insult to injury Matt's header from the corner hit the post! It was just one of those days.
I coached youth teams from Under-10 level through to Under-16s and then took the side into adult soccer before stepping down to take a more administrative role for the club, although by 2004 I was back in a tracksuit on Sunday morning helping out with our very successful men's first team. Helping out usually means clearing the dog mess off the pitch, opening up the changing rooms, cleaning them out at the end of the match and helping with physio duties during the game. I used to put the nets up as well but, due to my lack of inches, found this to be a difficult task. On occasions I even have to run the line or referee a match if the nominated official fails to turn up - that's what local football is all about. I may be club chairman but on Sunday mornings I am crap collector as well.
I have a wealth of memories from my years of coaching. I saw the players grow and blossom, reaching cup finals, challenging for league titles and turning into good members of society. That's why I believe in organised football. It teaches discipline (if done in the right way) and team spirit. The boys I coached are all a credit to the club and many are still playing for the adult sides. Above all, however, I remember the freezing cold Sunday mornings changing in old prefabs and having to clear the cow pats off the pitch before play can start. The long journeys and the returns after being soundly beaten and the match inquests that follow.
I could write a book on the fun and the heartache enjoyed, suffered and endured over the years in our great sport. Two incidents spring readily to mind.
Now I'm going to make somebody blush if they ever read this. Step forward Chris Colwell. Chris is one of my favourite players. He had no great outstanding football ability, but he gave 100% plus in every match. Chris needed encouragement and could only play in one position -left back. Anywhere else he panicked. On a number of occasions I had to substitute Chris for his own good as he had given so much that he was utterly exhausted. He was the kind of guy you wish you had 11 of. What he lacked in skill he more than made up for in ability, even when he had to do a little circular dance around the ball to get it on his left foot.
One of the standing jokes with Chris was that he had never scored a goal for the club. In fact he held the record for the most number of games without scoring by a player other than a goalkeeper. Indeed some of the keepers often played outside and many had scored.
We encouraged Chris to go forward and, being a big lad, he had the power to go on surging runs. We also encouraged him to shoot if he got the opportunity. In training he had more than a decent shot. So there was no reason that he shouldn't score. But the barren run went on and on and on and on.
One day we travelled to Wells and played on their pitch overlooking the sea. It was bitterly cold and we were cruising to victory - 4-0 up with about five minutes to play. One of our strikers was taken out in the penalty area. The referee had no option but to award a penalty. Sometimes in youth football is a team is winning comfortably the referee (usually one of the dads of the opposing team) will turn down appeals. On other occasions they will give the team that's losing a "dubious" penalty near the end just to encourage them.
On this occasion the foul was so obvious, the situation couldn't possibly be played on. So a penalty it was and what a chance. There was no way we were going to draw or lose the game so I told Chris to take it. Here was his first ever goal for the club. He placed the ball, took a massive run up and promptly smacked it wide.
Then came the day of triumph. I can't remember at what age level we were playing but I do remember the game was against Brandon. Brandon had tried to call the game off as they only had eight players but we had insisted on playing it and, to their credit, they turned up. It was a very sporting match and we soon got the scoreline into double figures.
I think we were about 15-0 up when Chris picked up the ball around the halfway line, drove forward against eight very tired players and let forth a veritable ripper from the edge of the penalty area. The ball hit the back of the net before anybody could move (sorry about the cliches).
Now bearing in mind that made the score 16-0 the opposition probably expected the same muted celebrations that had met every goal from about six onwards - the quick clap and touch of the hand for the scorer. But no this was Chris with his first ever goal after a number of appearances that was well into three figures. This was Chris "they won't be able to take the piss out of me anymore" Colwell. So he promptly took over his shirt and did a lap of honour around the next pitch accompanied by much whooping and hollering.
We had to apologise to the opposition manager and explain that this was one of our players rites of passage. Thankfully he understood and realised we weren't merely rubbing things in.
The second memorable match took place on my birthday and featured I believe an Under-12s match between Hethersett Athletic and Bircham Newton. Bircham Newton is a long way from Hethersett for youngsters to travel (over 40 miles). Some youngsters don't travel well, but on this day we started like an express train.
In the first half everything we touched turned to gold and by half-time we were 6-0 up and I was looking to bring on substitutes to give them a game but decided to wait a while. Straight from the kick off we attacked again and scored to make it 7-0. Athalf time the boys had talked about a double figure score and I had warned them not to be "too cocky."
Now they say that football is a strange game and being young players this game would probably have lasted for 70 minutes rather than the usual 90. For some unknown reason things started to go wrong - 7-0 became 7-1 and then 7-2, 7-3, 7-4, 7-5 and panic began setting in. From a bright attacking force we had been turned into a stuttering wreck of a side.
I took two attackers off and replaced them with two defenders in an attempt to shore things up. But Bircham continued to attack and with two minutes left made it 7-6. Somehow, and I don't know how, we managed to hold on although I can't remember us having a single attack after we scored our seventh goal.
Days like that are the joys of local youth soccer, however, because they give you the anecdotes of the future and things like that still happen. In the current season for when this is being written, the men's team are challenging for the Norwich Sunday League Premier Division title. We are also still in the League Cup, so have the chance of "doing the double". This is a top standard of local football and we have some very talented players including former Norwich Academy of Excellence players. So how can you explain a 7-1 league defeat at the hands of the league's bottom club, particularly when a few weeks later we beat them 7-0 in the league? One of life's great mysteries.
So Hethersett Athletic set me on a long journey of football coaching and administration and the boys on their sporting journey. I will take up that part of the story in a later chapter.
Back to the "people making a village what it is" scenario. I have often contemplated making a list of the people I have known in the village over the years. It would run into hundreds but would certainly bring the memories back.