Reepham Town Football Club was formed in 1931 and were given the nickname ‘The Robins’ to reflect the red ‘breast’ or colour of the shirts they played in. Prior to this football in the Town was played under the auspices of Reepham Band and Hope (the Salvation Army band team) and Reepham United.
Records are patchy in the ensuing years but the first mention of success is catalogued in the minutes of the club in 1935. Herein, Reepham are recorded as beating Hevingham in the ‘Reepham Nursing Charity Cup’. Over the next thirty years or so the Robins featured in the Reepham and District league, The Norwich and District league and then from 1957 the Norfolk and Suffolk league. In 1964 an amalgamation of county wide local football structures was implemented and over the next two seasons saw the birth of the Anglian Combination Football League. In the inaugural season of the competition, Reepham took their place in division one and finished 13th out of 16. It was eight seasons (1972/73) before success came to the club. The first team under the guidance of Colin ‘Revie’ Reeve won division one and were promoted to the Premier. Thereafter the Robins bobbed around in the top division for seven seasons making little or no impact and were relegated in 1980. Not surprisingly that slump saw another relegation the following year and Reepham found themselves in junior football for the first time.
With a Reserve team and a newly formed youth section the early eighties seemed like it could be the beginnings of a new era for the club. Firstly in 1983/84 the first team won promotion back into senior football finishing runners up to Swaffham Town. However at the end of season finale the Robins thwarted Swaffham’s ‘double’ and beat the ‘Pedlars’ 1-0 in the Junior Knockout cup final at Beccles. The goal from Wayne Rutland, sealed Reepham’s first county wide cup competition success. With youth Football at the rec and a Reserve team being supplemented by Mike Rowson’s (Head of PE at the local school) army of school boys the future for the club looked rosy. In 1985/6 a good County cup run saw Norwich City send a strong side to ‘Stimpson’s Piece’ and despite a flattering scoreline of 4-0 to the ‘Canaries’, the 600 strong crowd saw a really competitive match with current club treasurer Barry Haggerty picking up the man of the match award for his efforts between the posts.
As the nineties approached the lack of progress on the field, the inability to keep young players and attract fresh blood of the highest quality meant the clock was ticking at the club and the inevitable fall into junior Football was surely about to happen. The club despite having a pitch of the highest quality and a strong core committee, struggled to get community support from all quarters and their efforts to try and emulate many of their neighbours of similar stature fell on deaf ears. It is fair to say at the time many in the town outside the club did not take the efforts and passion of football club seriously and were often swayed by local politics and vested interests. One last swansong that demonstrated local people were interested in the club came in the 1992/3 season. Despite having avoided relegation for the previous two seasons by goal difference and one point respectively this year the management team of Dave Watson and Graham Richardson managed to cobble together a side that progressed through the early rounds of the Norfolk Senior Cup. Their reward was a home tie in the last 16 against Diss Town of the Eastern Counties league who were on the morning of the match 66 places above the Robins in the local league ladders. The game was played in front of a 500 plus crowd and was an enthralling encounter where Reepham ran out 2-1 winners with goals from the Pauls’ Carman and Reeve. The next year Diss won the FA Vase at Wembley, Reepham were sadly relegated into Junior Football and then again into division three the year after.
Through the late nineties, Changes off the field saw the movement of the pitch and the construction of the new community club house. It was a building that was badly needed, yet in some people’s view lacked in thought and consultation when it came to planning and placement. On the upside it meant that the club had decent changing facilities, but no real leadership or community support as a club that could sustain its future. The Cricket club through similar problems folded and if it wasn’t for the efforts of Messrs Rowson, Norris, Haggerty et al the Football club could have gone the same way. On the field a new influx of youngsters and players from outside the area saw some on the pitch success return with a promotion back into division two in 1997 and two near misses on returns to Senior Football in ’98 and ’99. It is fair to say the spirit of the players was high, but it was apparent that the club was moving away from a ‘Town’ team to a ‘Village’ set up with a brittle and uncertain future.
Through the next few years, flirtations with club development, talk of an organised youth set up and varying moments of success hid the fact the hard working but dwindling committee were in reality operating from week to week. The club was for all intents and purposes struggling to survive and at a meeting prior to the last game of the 2005/06 season it was discussed whether the club should fold. The match at Champions elect Mundford was one that Reepham had not to lose. The club needed one point to stay in the division and avoid not only another relegation but the prospect of the end of the club. By luck or skill or just damn bloody mindedness, Reepham put in the performance of the season. Led by Ian Pratt his side took the lead early on and outplayed the hosts. It was a nervous ninety minutes and despite the inevitable late equaliser the team held on and gave what many at the club perceived to be a last lifeline.
Reepham Town Football club had a small core of time honoured and dedicated committee members and a nucleus of loyal and hard working players. This however was no longer was enough, what the club needed was leadership, drive and ambition but also an influx of new blood and energy to revive fortunes on and off the field. The community had practically forgotten the club and many in positions of influence around the town had little reason or inclination to support, some cynics suggested that their apathy had grown into an appetite to push or force the Football club out of existence. Whether that was wholly true something was going to change- one way or the other.
In May 2006, preliminary discussions over a pint at the Kings Arms were had with Marcus Wilkinson. Marcus a Reepham resident, local businessman, former player at the club and probably more relevantly a founding member and driving force of Horsford Cricket Club’s youth development initiative ‘Horsford 2000’ was the perfect man to take the helm of the club. The club was in need of help and Marcus was very keen to get involved and as he said recently ‘put something back into the community’. It was obvious that when all discussions were had and he was duly voted in as Chairman at the Club’s AGM things were going to change.
If we fast forward to May 2013 – the club could not be in better shape. The first team is now a competitive force in the Premier Division and is looking to build on the club’s best ever position in the league of 7th place in the top flight. Great cup runs, A strong reserve team, a thriving youth set up and a robust and experienced committee has set the platform for a lasting legacy for years to come. Years of fostering relationships with the community and its committees has meant a growing political support in the town and the enthusiasm and hard work ethic injected by Marcus and his family back in 2006 is paying dividends. These successes have not come easily but clearly the experience Marcus has gained being at the centre of the Horsford Cricket Club transformation from a minor cog in Norfolk Cricket’s wheel to one of the top clubs in East Anglia has benefited Reepham.
In 2006/07 the club driven by Marcus looked to improve every aspect of the organisation. Marcus used his personality and influence to encourage players and officials around the county to sit up and look at Reepham. From the outside experienced administrators, managers and players were recruited; on the inside a new yard brush was wielded. The stalwarts of Haggerty, Jay and Norris were supported by the likes of Reeve, Dewson, Chipperfield, Lutkin, Belton, Briggs, Bird, Easton and Gale to name but a few. In fact the recruitment and eventual amalgamation of the Cawston Youth team by encouraging the young and highly driven Andy Gale was a big moment in the club’s turn around. The men’s teams were doing fine and the introduction of a Sunday team and the relationship it fostered with local players and the Crown pub was a masterpiece of public relations. But it was the realisation that the key to the future was formulating a youth set up that could thrive on its own but could offer opportunity to the boys and girls of Reepham. These children may ultimately become the custodians of the club and without them there would be no future.
Andy Gale’s team developed into a decent side but their ultimate successes were really only a small part of the growing jigsaw. In short Reepham Town Youth Football was formed and there was no looking back. This vital part of the club is thriving under the Chairmanship of Mike Graver, who with his dedicated team of adults, helpers and managers turns out five teams each week from under 9’s upwards.
Through 2007/08/09 personnel may have changed but the drive and impetus to improve was still strong. A negotiated agreement with the Trustees of Stimpson’s Piece was eventually made to allow the club to run a bar and plough the money back into the facilities and ultimately the club. Marcus and the committee were now at last working with the backing of the local ‘politicians’ and as a result were motivated to put even more time and effort into improving the club. For instance, The pitch was rotated to the orientation it is now and has had so much care and attention that it is now widely recognised as one of the best amateur playing surfaces in Norfolk. The local community leaders saw or by luck fell upon the notion that in order to allow something to grow they needed to foster a sense of ownership of those running the club and support their energy and drive. Marcus and his team challenged their ‘can’t do’ mentality and prevailed.
The Sunday team progressed through the leagues and eventually got back into Senior Football in 2011. The First team, which quite rightly is the pinnacle and focus of the club won the Junior Knockout Cup 25 years after the club’s only other honour. The match in April 2009 was played at Wroxham FC and was won 3-2 against Norwich CEYMS. That year and somewhat ironically, both finalists were promoted and it was the ‘Church Men’ who pipped the ‘Robins to the league. The next year more honours followed with the third team on Saturday’s picking up the league cup and the throughout the youth set up their have been many other successes to catalogue.
At its peak, The Robins have fielded four adult teams, (Three Saturday and one Sunday) and up to six boys and girls teams. Next season though, will not see as many as this, mainly due to the cyclical nature of availability and player resource. The club will no doubt at some stage return to this many opportunities for those wanting to play local Football, but the importance of developing the club and not risking its reputation or future far outweighs the ‘vanity’ of putting out more teams than can be sustained.
This sensible and pragmatic view taken by the club and driven by Marcus is yet another reason for the success to date. There is no chance of ‘laurel resting’, the first team who under the guidance of professional FA coach Pawel Guziejko was taken the team from mid table Division One to the top half of the Premier. The team who still has a number of the loyal players mentioned earlier featuring regularly, play an entertaining and attractive style of Football and their reputation is growing throughout the county. At the end of 2012/13 season Pawel was enticed by an opportunity to Join Wroxham FC. However the core of the club leadership remains and the managers role has been taken on by the very popular and long serving player Leon Huckle.
The future is bright but nobody at the club thinks the job is anywhere near complete. Marcus who has no plans on retiring, will no doubt want when that time comes, to leave the club in the best possible state he can and knowing him he still has plans afoot for taking Reepham Town Football Club to the next level.
Up the Robins !