SIL's best all set to reunite

SIL SOCCER: The best club ever to play in the Metaltec SIL. It is an accolade Nicholians fully deserve after a glorious decade of footballing success in the 1970s.

By Elvin King


THE best club ever to play in the Metaltec SIL. It is an accolade Nicholians fully deserve after a glorious decade of footballing success in the 1970s.

The Ipswich-based club, now defunct, became the first side to win the SIL and Suffolk Senior Cup double, and they won four Senior Divisions championships.

Well run, well organised and well managed, Nicholians at their peak had a side many believe would have been good enough to topple the current top sides in the Premier Division of the Jewson League.

There was also a special camaraderie about a club that originated from an undistinguished area around Station Street, Ipswich. This special 'feel' meant that many of the most talented players of the time remained loyal and turned down offers to move up the football ladder.

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After years of domination they were finally beaten by two opponents – the ageing of its better players and also the lack of wherewithal within Ipswich to sustain independent football clubs.

There is news this week that a reunion is being organised at Gainsborough Labour Club, Ipswich on Friday April 25 – and it should turn out to be one of the biggest gatherings in Suffolk local football for many a long day.

When the SIL celebrated its centenary in 1996 Nicholians were voted senior club of the century, and at the end of the Double year in 1980 Nicholians were awarded team of the year award at the Evening Star-sponsored Borough Council Sports Personality Awards at the Corn Exchange.

"We were in the same ceremony as professional sports stars Frans Thijssen, John Wark, Billy Sanders and Bob Spalding," recalls former team stalwart Allen Harris.

It all began 75 years ago from rather humble surroundings in Station Street. Stoke Institute, founded by Mary Everitt, entered a team in Division Three of the SIL forerunner, the Ipswich and District League in 1927.

They won divisions 3C, 2B and one in successive seasons from 1928-29. During the late '30s, a group led by Bill Parsons, Don Haynes and Percy Howell broke away from the St Nicholas Church Youth Club and formed the Nicholians Youth Club.

This used the same Station Street building as Stoke Institute. Nicholians YC joined the IDL Division Three – the same year Stoke Institute withdrew.

After a break during the war, Nicholians continued to function with Joe Bennet secretary. Fred Jacobs, uncle of latter day club stalwart Doug Winney, succeeded Bennet when he returned from war duty.

The first success came when the IDL Minor Division was won in 1950-51. The majority of that team came from families housed in the recently built Maidenhall estate. The senior side finished a respectable third place in Division Three.

Nichs spent the next years in the IDL Divisions Two, Sections A and B before winning Section A in 1959-60 and gaining Division One status for the first time.

They languished in Division One without too much distinction until 1963-4 before withdrawing. At this time only the Minor Division team survived and they finished rock bottom conceding 123 goals in just 19 games!

The gloom and doom was not to last for long and a new era dawned in1964-65 when Nichs rejoined IDL Division Four, winning the section by 13 points from Felixstowe Town 'A'.

The march to glory had begun and the next five seasons saw continued success with the championship of Division One won in 1969-70, only dropping three points.

The next obstacle Nicholians had to overcome was to find a new ground because Bourne Park was not up senior standard. The withdrawal of Christchurch Athletic from the Premier Division meant that a pitch at Churchman's Sports Ground, Bourne End became available. Nicholians were duly elected to the Premier Division for the 1970-71 term.

"The '70s were certainly the glory years," added Harris. "We won the Premier Division four times and were runners-up three times."

Remarkably, Ransomes repeated Nichs 1979/80 double feat the following year. Nichs also won the Senior Cup in 1977 and were runners up in 1975. Their lowest position in this decade was fifth.

Harris, one of the best players the SIL has seen and one of the organisers of the reunion said: "The '80s started with a bang for Nichs but the rest of the decade saw a gradual decline in fortunes.

"It was an era that witnessed many good players reaching the end of their careers. A procession of managers tried to revive the spirit of the club but most reigns were short lived despite ex-players and outside agents trying their best to keep things going.

"It was getting increasingly difficult for independent clubs to survive. Expenses for pitch hire, match officials, affiliation, insurance etc., caused many Ipswich based teams to go through a torrid time. And Nichs were no exception."

It was in 1984/5 that one of the most remarkable reigns in senior football came to an end with relegation to Division One. For a few seasons they maintained a respectable position but Division Two football returned in 1988/9.

By this time Nicholians had had to relinquish their excellent facilities at John Player's Sports Ground purely because of cost. They then played their football in Rushmere at the YM ground.

Against all the odds manager Andy Yellop – aided by Ray Storey the then Nicholians' chairman – hauled the club back into respectability.

Harris continued: "They gained promotion to Division One and then gained access back to the hallowed territory of the Senior Division. Although performances back among the elite were not electric it was certainly commendable and for several seasons against all odds the club survived."

Financial and administrative problems meant that a respected and highly successful football club was forced to disband.

This devastating situation ironically happened shortly after they received the ultimate accolade of being recognised by the SIL as being club of the century in 1995.

"Sadly Nicholians FC is now an historical artefact along with many others such as Stoke United, Stoke Institute and Churchmans," added Harris.

"The memory of the club will be celebrated at the reunion next April when it is hoped many ex-players and officials will meet and recall fond times of this glorious football club."

For more information on the reunion contact Harris on Ipswich 311729 or Tony Loveday on Ipswich 682029.