SIL to lighten Gorham's load

LOCAL SOCCER: Despite the heartbreak of going out of the Suffolk Senior Cup 6-5 on penalties to Cornard United, the future for Whitton United looks bright.

By Elvin King


DESPITE the heartbreak of going out of the Suffolk Senior Cup 6-5 on penalties to Cornard United, the future for Whitton United looks bright.

And no one is more pleased about this than the man who saved them from almost certain extinction 25 years ago.

Bob Sharman describes himself as a Whitton man through and through. He played for them and after his illustrious refereeing days came to an end answered an SOS from another club stalwart, the late Frank Pryke.

"I was 45 and had just finished refereeing in the Southern League," recalled the man who went on to manage Suffolk sides for 20 years.

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"Frank was chairman and we had played football and cricket together for Whitton. He wanted me to be vice chairman, which I was happy to do.

"When I came out of the annual general meeting I was manager and secretary as well. The club had no money and struggled for players and the first team was relegated from the Premier Division of the Border League.

"The easy way out would have been to wind the club up. There was little interest and a far cry from the days when Bob Field turned Whitton into one of the most successful clubs in Suffolk with huge crowds for FA Amateur Cup matches.

"Both Frank and myself dug our heels in and said that there was no way we would let the club die.

"It was my decision to open a bar at King George V to provide much-needed revenue and we arranged loans with among others Greene King brewery."

The bar at Whitton has turned into one of the most used at a football club in this region, generating an enormous amount of income over the years.

However, the strength of the squad remained a problem and Bob and Frank decided to apply for a place back in the Suffolk and Ipswich League.

"We were just not good enough for the Border League," added Bob. "The SIL, because of some earlier problems, were rather reluctant to have us back.

"Eventually we were accepted and started a new life in Division Two. Managers of the calibre of Dennis Thrower, Jimmy Fitzgerald and Bill Wilkie had periods in charge with the former getting Whitton back into senior football."

With current manager Kevin Cunningham and his assistants Mark Manning and Paul Skingley assembling a capable young squad, Whitton are now in a position to compete for promotion from the First Division of the Jewson League.

Bob walks from his home to watch Crane Sports' home SIL games at King George V Field, and when that early kick-off match ends he takes a look at Whitton.

Last season he helped run one of Ipswich Wanderers sides and following the switch of the PASE scheme from that club to Whitton has been asked into talks about a possible return by Wanderers official Roger Wosahlo.

"Whitton is my club and I am proud of the part I played in its hour of need, but I also like the people at Wanderers," he added.

On his 70th birthday last summer Bob raised £400 in the memory of Suffolk coach and manager Conrad Henry, with whom he worked for 12 years.

"Conrad was a Suffolk stalwart and I still miss him a lot. We were good for each other. The money went to

purchase an armchair in Conrad's memory at Somersham ward in Ipswich Hospital."

Conrad died in February 2001 and between them Bob and Conrad won everything Suffolk had to win at youth and adult level, apart from the FA County Youth Cup.

"Conrad picked out current Under-16 and Under-18 manager Danny Laws to take over the Suffolk reins and one of my greatest wishes is that he will win the Youth Cup one day," added Bob. "Danny is the right man for the job."