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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Wisbech Town

12-09-2009: Wisbech Town 2 Norwich United 2
(Ridgeons League Premier Division)

Wisbech Town

Today a trip to Wisbech Town - in the Cambridgeshire Fens - on the very extremities of the Ridgeons League. I think that only Godmanchester Rovers are further away from the HQ of the Eastern Counties Football League in Ipswich and, of course, the home of ExtremeGroundhopping.

OK, strictly speaking this was not a trip to Wisbech itself but the temporary home of the football club in the village of Outwell three miles to the south of Wisbech proper. The club moved to Outwell twelve months ago while a new stadium is built for them, although various planning hold ups have meant that the actual construction of the Fenmen’s new home didn’t begin until last week. All that appears to be outstanding now is approval of a grant by the Football Foundation, and so Wisbech Town will continue at Outwell (ground sharing with Cambridgeshire County League side the Outwell Swifts') until work is completed.

Wisbech Town               Wisbech Town

This temporary home (known as “The Nest” for reasons I’ve not been able to fathom) is essentially the village playing field (entrance for spectators is via the village hall) with various add-ons to bring it up to the required standard. A 118-seater stand of metal construction has been installed along one touchline, on the opposite touchline is small and low wooden stand (the dugouts sit either side of this) while three tent-like structures have also been added at various points around the pitch to provide shelter to those that prefer to watch their football in a fully upright position.

Floodlights have also been installed which, from what I gather, will remain in Outwell when the club move to their new home. The metal stand will however move with them. Record attendance at “The Nest” is 160, with just over 100 turning out to watch today’s game.

Wisbech Town

David Bauckham’s excellent Pyramid Passion has a number of pictures of the Fenmen’s old home here, which looked like a real gem of a place. It was sold for £1.4 million to a property developer to, ostensibly, clear the clubs debts. So another classic non-league ground lost forever. Their new home will be less than a mile away but I suspect it will struggle to come close to matching the character of it’s forerunner.

Away from football for a minute. Ipswich and Wisbech have one historical link in anti-slavery campaigner Thomas Clarkson. Clarkson (a bit of hero of mine which is why is getting a mention here) started his life in Wisbech and spent the later years of it in the small village of Playford a few miles to north-east of Ipswich. In between time he played a major role in the passage through parliament of the Slave Trade Act of 1807, which ended the British slave trade. There is a large memorial (with statue) in Wisbech and a smaller scale memorial close to his final resting place in Playford Church yard. Streets in Wisbech and Ipswich also bear his name.

Wisbech Town

Despite this Wisbech is quite an interesting place and here are some interesting (really) facts:

  • Two of the main participants in the Gunpowder Plot, Robert Catesby and Francis Tresham, were both held at Wisbech castle, a notorious prison in Tudor times.
  • Rev. W. Awdrey, the creator of Thomas the Tank Engine, was Vicar of nearby Emneth from 1953 to 1965.
  • The farm of Tony Martin, who gained notoriety for shooting and killing one of two men caught burgaling his home, is just outside the town.
  • Peckover House in the center of town (built in 1722 and acquired by the Peckover family in the late 18th century) is now owned by the National Trust, and as luck would have it was offering free admission today keeping Mrs Extreme Groundhopping entertained while I was at the football.
  • The local inhabitants became known as the "Fen Tigers" during their resistance to the draining of the fens in the 17th century.

Ironically it was the draining of the Fens that brought prosperity to Wisbech. The draining left behind a rich landscape perfect for agriculture. Landowners and merchants grew wealthy and built rows of elegant homes along the banks of the River Nene in the centre of the town. Facing each other across the river they are considered to be, my guide book tells me, some of the finest examples of Georgian streets in the country, regularly featuring in costume dramas on TV and film.

Wisbech Town

Back to the football and Wisbech Town have enjoyed some success in the FA Cup, counting Ipswich Town, Colchester United, Reading, Newport County, Wycombe Wanderers, Brentford, Brighton & Hove Albion and Bristol Rovers amongst their opponents in that competition, although their 1-10 loss to the Brighton in 1965 remains the clubs record reverse. They’ve enjoyed some decent runs in the FA Vase too, reaching the semi’s two years in a row, the first in 1985 and again in 1986.

Two times winners of the United Counties League, and three times winners of the Eastern Counties League (most recently in 1991), they also spent twelve years in the Southern League finishing as Champions in 1962.

More pictures here.

Addendum:

Click on the thumbnail below for a panorama of "The Nest".

Click for a larger image

posted by chevblue at 5:08 pm






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extreme groundhopping

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