New champions for Norfolk Christian League
The Norfolk Christian Football League has new champions for the first time since 2016 when the unbeaten top two teams – Eaton Eagles and St John’s - clashed in a final game decider on Saturday May 1. Jim Green reports.
Since 2016, Norwich Central Baptist Church has won every single league title but going into the final round of games on Saturday May 1, NCBC lost 3-1 to Heigham Park Rangers to leave themselves in third place.
The title would be decided in a clash of the top two with Eaton Eagles needing to win to overtake St John’s, with both teams undefeated in the truncated season.
After an even opening, midway into the first half St John’s were awarded a penalty, confidently dispatched by Ed Bailey. Shortly afterwards a foul in the St John’s area led to an Eagles penalty which Henry Aspin squeezed past the St John’s keeper's right hand and inside the post.
Shortly before the interval Ben Simon of St John’s latched on to a through ball to put a left footed shot past the Eaton keeper, to give St John’s a 2-1 lead, which is how it stayed till the interval despite Eaton hitting the post and crossbar. Eaton needing to find at least two goals in the second period.
The second half saw lots of pressure from Eaton, though St John’s held firm and clear cut chances were few and far between. With eight minutes left the league title seemed to belong to St John’s until a low shot from Dan Rust from the edge of the area put that in doubt and gave Eaton hope with an equaliser. Eagles piled on the pressure and were ecstatic when Sam Cox nodded in a close range header from a free kick with two minutes of normal time left to put them ahead.
But could Eaton see out the game to take the title. St John’s hit back, with a succession of free kicks on the edge of the area. Finally Calum Burke managed to squeeze one past the Eaton wall and left hand post to send St John’s into ecstasy and deflate Eaton's hopes.
At the full-time whistle, both sides acknowledged the other with a deep respect for having pushed each other to the limit to produce an amazing game. The game ended 3-3 to give St John’s a first-ever league title and leave both teams still undefeated.
Before St John’s took their medals and trophies in a covid secure manner, League chairman Jim Green thanked all the teams in the league for working together to find a way to finish the season. He also paid tribute to both teams on the day.
“This was an amazing game, played in a totally committed but friendly and sporting manner,” he said. “One team was going to be gutted at the end of this and the respect both teams showed to each other at the end was heart-warming.”
No fewer than eight of the St John’s squad have played for the team in all the age groups of the Norfolk Christian Youth League, moving onto the adult league and now taking the top title for the first time ever.
St John's player Calum Burke said: “St Johns Youth teams were incredibly successful over the 20-year period it operated within, which ended in 2019. This was celebrated in July 2019, with over 50 former players attending a five-a-aside tournament to remind us how fortunate we were and how much we all miss playing with friends on Saturday morning.
“Personally, I think it’s a testament to the Christian League; to have eight key players of the team who are former youth players shows the attractiveness of playing Saturday morning football with friends. The league’s morning prayer prior to kick off, remind us and our competitors that while we walk different paths we share the same Christian values.
“I must also say, Eaton Eagles are worthy adversaries and the team have an excellent temperament and integrity whenever we play them. Over the years, the Adult league has provided tough opposition and fantastic sporting opponents with the likes of NCBC, Heigham and UEA to name a few.”
Pictured top are the title-winning St John’s team and, above, the former St John’s youth players in the current adult team.