(Photo: The FA)
By Matt Badcock
THE FA Cup has been a long time coming to Framlingham Town. One-hundred and thirty years to be precise.
Yesterday, the Suffolk club who were formed in 1887 made their bow in the most famous domestic football cup competition in the world.
They drew 0-0 against Essex Senior League outfit Wadham Lodge, a fellow cup debutant. But in many ways the result was secondary.
As Life President Syd Vince says, sitting in the visitors’ dressing room at their Badingham Road home, it’s been a story. “I never thought the FA Cup would come to Fram. I’ve been here a long, long time – 58 years,” he says. “We’ve gone through the junior leagues and now we’re in the FA Cup, which is marvelous. Marvelous for the players, marvelous for the town.”
In recent years the town has become best known for exporting pop sensation Ed Sheeran, with one of his latest hits – Castle on the Hill – about growing up in the area around Framlingham Castle.
The Castlemen had a different star in town on Wednesday afternoon. The FA Cup itself, with the local community and media all turning up to get a glimpse of the famous silverware.
“When the FA said they were going to bring the FA Cup down, we thought it was a bit of a wind-up at first,” boss Mel Aldis, whose two sons play for the team, laughs. “We’re a small club, it’s the first time we’ve been in the Cup. It’s been 130 years in the waiting.
“As a kid it’s the thing you always want to do – play in the FA Cup. We’ve got lads here who have been here since they were eight. Now they’re in their 20s and they’re playing in the FA Cup for the first time.”
Fram finished seventh in the Step 6 Thurlow Nunn Division One last season, to qualify for their place in the extra preliminary rounds. They were so happy they had a party.
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Away from the glitz and excessive, bloated spending of the Premier League, this is where the FA Cup really begins.
Vince is the perfect man to guide us through the long and winding history that started, as found in the Fram Weekly News copies housed in the castle’s museum, with a chap called LC Dickson as their first ever captain.
The site they now call home is owned by Framlingham Sports Club, which was formed after the war when returning soldiers purchased 16 acres of land.
Only ten acres was permitted to be developed for sports with the government insisting the remaining six was used for farming.
Vince recalls a trip to Holland that marked an important point in the club’s future.
“I hate to say this sometimes,” he says. “In 1987, the football club was 100 years old. We went across to play a match just outside Amsterdam. One of the players had a connection to this club and we got invited over.
“When we arrived at their premises – and they’d only been going about 40 years – they’d got everything. Floodlights, stand, training areas, hockey pitches, big clubhouse, dance hall.
“In 1987 we hadn’t got anything like that. We’d got three sets of goal posts and a mower to cut the cricket square. There was a small building with two dressing rooms and a kitchen in it. That was all we’d got. We’ve been here 100 years and we’ve got sod all. From then I spent all my time pushing and shoving in the right direction.”
Along with his committee, that has meant finding well over £200,000 through the years to unlock grants to have a suitable home to climb the ladder. In 1993 they were turned down by the Eastern Counties League because the changing rooms were too far from the pitch.
They settled into Ipswich & District Life – now the SIL – and slowly went about improvements.
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The floodlight pylons that stand around the wonderful playing surface today came from Sizewell – a nuclear power station nearby – when one of the two sports club committee members who worked there phoned Vince.
“He said, ‘Syd, they’re taking down the floodlight columns at Sizewell. What do you think?’” Vince recalls. “I said, ‘Don’t you sit here talking to me on the phone, get your backside outside, talk to the man, talk to the boss, tell him we’ve only got six columns up here, tell him we want ten. Ask him about the wiring, ask him about the starting motors. All you can get, ask whether we can have them.
“He came back and said, ‘Yes, they’ve agreed we can have them’. So the actual columns you see here came from Sizewell B. They were security columns.”
When they entered the Eastern Counties U18 League in 2003, the lights were upgraded. Today they have more than 20 teams that lead to a first team managed by Aldis. The former Debenham boss is in his third spell at Fram. His Debenham side played AFC Wimbledon in the FA Cup many years ago and he was part of the Stowmarket side that reached the fourth qualifying round.
But he says Framlingham is his club and he couldn’t be happier for all involved.
“I’m more pleased for the club than I am myself – the old boys who have been on the committee more than 50 years, some of them,” Aldis says.
“They’ve worked hard to get us out of junior football and into this position. Then there’s the youngsters who are in the team, who started out as U8s.
“We’ll have our current U8s here on Saturday as ball boys and mascots. They can now see they’ve got the chance of playing Framlingham in the FA Cup.”
Like so many Non-League clubs, Fram are run on goodwill. “Everything here is done by volunteers,” Vince says. “Whether it’s cutting the hedge or the grass. The grass on our main pitch sometimes gets cut three times a week. The same bloke comes and does it, he doesn’t moan, he gets on and cuts it.
“My wife started in the football club since 1962 and has been with us all the way as have lots of other people. It’s been a story.”
And one that got another chapter this weekend when they ticked the FA Cup off the bucket list.
“I just hope it’s not another 130 years before the next one,” smiles Aldis.
*This article originally featured in The NLP on Sunday, 6 August 2017. Subscribe: http://bit.ly/NLP-Sub