Anglian Combination side St Johns FC forced to fold after 76 years

One of Norfolk’s oldest football clubs has folded just weeks after enjoying the most successful season in their 76-year history.

Norwich St Johns, stalwarts of the junior football scene since the 1930s, finally broke through to senior level three years ago with RAF man Gary Howes at the helm.

Last season the Saints finished 5th in the Anglian Combination Premier Division and won their first ever senior trophy when they beat Blofield in the final of the Mummery Cup.

But with Howes unable to continue because of his work commitments and no suitable replacement stepping forward it was decided to bow out, marking the end of an era in Norfolk football.

“Mr St Johns” Tony Franklin, 91, the club’s president and chairman, said: “Gary, who was secretary/manager is in the RAF and when he took over he was based at Marham but he is now in Lincolnshire. We just couldn’t find anyone to take it over. It’s because of a lack of personnel to take over. It’s not really for financial reasons.We did lose two sponsors but we could have overcome that.”

Franklin has been involved with the club since it began in the 1930s and has also served as a player and manager as well as holding all the key posts.

He admitted: “It’s very sad. I can’t deny that fact. Most of the old players have said how sorry they are to see it go but we all feel that we have finished on a high. We have not been relegated or misbehaved or anything like that.”

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Saints’ early years were spent in the Catton and District and Norwich and District Leagues before they joined the Business Houses League. They were among the first teams to join the Anglian Combination in 1966.

The team, based at Cringleford Oakfield’s ground, scaled a new peak this season when they reached the Norfolk Senior Cup semi-final, eventually losing heavily to Thetford Town. But they had some consolation in the Mummery Cup final last month, with hotshot Luke Tuttle scoring four times in a 6-3 win over Blofield which proved to be the club’s penultimate game.

Although it’s the end of the road for now, Franklin remains hopeful that the Saints will march on again. “I am hoping that someone will get it going again one day by starting up a young team. I would certainly like to see the name remain,” he said.

Meanwhile Anglian Combiation secretary Keith Johnson has described St Johns’ demise as “a great shame.”

He added: “It’s always disappointing to lose any team out of the league.

“They had passed the criteria for Step Seven and won the Senior KO Cup. It came as a big shock.” St Johns’ decision to pull out of the Anglian Combination has led to a relegation reprieve for Hempnall. Only one team has been relegated from the Premier Division, with Wells Town making the drop.

Dersingham Rovers and Reepham Town were promoted from Division One after their facilities met the Step Seven requirements.

Any team seeking promotion from Division One in future will have to meet the standards.