A Vet’s life – Huckerby and Co are all in it for the love of the game

Cringleford Veterans lift the Norfolk Veterans Cup. Picture: Norfolk FA

Cringleford Veterans lift the Norfolk Veterans Cup. Picture: Norfolk FA - Credit: Archant

Spud’s teaser: Who is the oldest player to play for Norwich City?

Matt Gill takes Norwich City Under-23s to Bournemouth on Wednesday. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus I

Matt Gill takes Norwich City Under-23s to Bournemouth on Wednesday. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Back in 2000, a league for footballers over the age of 35 was set up in Norfolk & Suffolk. It started with six teams and has grown to an average of 45-55 teams.

Ten years after its formation, Norfolk FA set up their own Veterans League which, after a successful seven seasons, has grown to four divisions, with 31 teams.

Cringleford Vets was formed in 2007 by Erwann Limon, better known as Ecky. The Frenchman is a restaurateur who owns three bars in Norwich. As a youngster, Ecky was with Norwich Boys before playing in the Anglian Combination League with CNS Old Boys.

Shortly after the team was formed they joined the Norfolk & Suffolk Veterans League. Over the years the club grew and in 2010/11 Ecky persuaded friends and ex-Canaries Iwan Roberts and Darren Eadie to play for Cringleford. Another ex-Canary Adrian Forbes was also on the books as were ex-Norwich coaches Graham Murty and Jerry Gill. Then there’s former Norwich keeper Scott Howie, who also had spells at Scottish clubs Clyde and Motherwell before playing at Bristol Rovers, Coventry, Shrewsbury and Cambridge.

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Over time, Ecky has signed other players who have played for senior teams in the Eastern Counties League and Anglian Combination.

Arguably his biggest signing came in the 2014/15 season when Darren Huckerby signed – Hucks is a City Hall of Fame winner, two-time Player of the Season and includes on his CV Manchester City, Newcastle, Leeds as well as Coventry, Millwall and Nottingham Forest.

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Huckerby’s fellow coach at Norwich, Matt Gill, also joined the club. Gill, who spent his youth living in Fakenham, played for numerous clubs in the English game such as Peterborough, Notts County, Exeter, Walsall, Bristol Rovers and Tranmere before becoming Norwich’s current U23 manager.

Ecky said it has been an absolute pleasure to manage these ex-pros, who just want to be one of the lads and have made it easy for him. The team spirit at the club is huge on and off the pitch. Hucks has played a big part in that. In the past, Iwan Roberts’ contract was a bottle of Peroni on a per goal basis – but Ecky doesn’t feel he can afford to offer that contract to Hucks.

Ecky told me he had spoken to Russell Martin who has said once he retires he would like to put on Cringleford’s yellow shirt. And it’s not just Russ – Grant Holt is another possibility.

A couple of weeks ago I watched Cringleford take on the last season’s Vets’ champions Quebec Tavern at Cringleford’s home ground at Easton College. Even this early on in the season it was classed as a six-pointer.

Quebec took an early lead and it appeared Cringleford were in for a tough afternoon, but they suddenly took control and Huckerby turned the clock back, and the magic on.

In the 16th minute, he went on one of his mazy runs which ended with him being fouled in the area. Huckerby put the ball on the spot – and skied it over the bar... before quickly turning on the magic again.

By half-time Huckerby had equalised before Cringleford’s Martyn Allen poked the ball home from close range.

You could see why both teams were going to be the leading sides this season: the football was of a high standard. I believe a lot of the younger sides wouldn’t be able to keep up with either side.

Quebec equalised soon after the break – but then it was the Darren Huckerby show as he scored another three goals, the final one a stunner as he received the ball on the left, cut inside before curling it into the top right-hand corner. Just like the old days...

Then, from a direct free-kick just outside the area, Huckerby found the back of the net. Two more Cringleford goals, from Matthew Metcalf and Paul Watt and a final goal from Quebec made for a 7-3 win for Cringleford – a great advert for the league.

After the game, I spoke to the man of the match Huckerby, who said he joined Cringleford after hearing that Iwan was enjoying playing in the Veterans’ League. Hucks felt he could still play and took up Ecky’s offer. Being with good friends is clearly a big attraction.

Cringleford’s next game is two weeks tomorrow when they travel to face Watton Vets. If you’re free that Sunday afternoon, it may be an idea to go and watch – entertainment guaranteed!

Teaser answer: Albert Sturgess 42yrs 116 days (v Millwall, February 14, 1925.)

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