Boss Adam Norton looks back on golden memories of Linton Granta side who won three straight titles in Kershaw League from 2009/10
Back-to-back promotions are rare, but three consecutive titles at different levels is almost unheard of.
For Linton Granta’s locally-sourced team, though, it became a glorious reality as Adam Norton’s side lifted the Kershaw Cambridgeshire County League Premier Division aloft in 2011/12 to complete a fairy-tale rise.
But the start of that golden period started a decade ago when the village side conquered Senior B, 12 months on from a ninth-placed finish in the same division.
Norton, in his second season as a 26-year-old player-manager back in 2010, had been able to bring the remaining players over from his spell in charge Babraham, having integrated some in his first campaign.
It was full of familiar faces from the Linton Colts and Abington Aztecs youth sides, some of whom had left the former for senior football.
But coming back together they were to prove formidable opposition to their Cambridgeshire neighbours.
Luke Stanley, who would go on to have a successful spell up the leagues with Soham Town Rangers, topped the scoring charts with 37 in 32 appearances. Andrew Palmer, who went on to play for St Neots Town,was not far behind with 30 in 32. There was also 18 in 23 for Dale Archer and 14 in 28 for player-coach and captain during that season, Matt Crawley.
Norton said: “We had a hell of a run. The start of that season we went unbeaten until the 17th of October against Haddenham (3-2) in the cup and then we drew away at Swavesey (0-0).
“I will never, ever forget that game because all they did was kick the ball in the river.
“They didn’t try and play football, try and score a goal, every time they got it they kicked it off the pitch into the hedges and into the river to try and stop us scoring a goal as we won so heavily against everyone else.”
The side who would go on to beat Soham United to the title by three points, losing four games and drawing two of their 24, had indeed looked uncatchable early on.
With the cricket, as usual, taking precedent early on at their Meadow Lane pitch, they made a mockery of a run of away fixtures.
The opening day had seen them fire a warning shot with a 7-0 win at West Wratting Reserves before showing it was no anomaly with an 8-1 victory at Ely City A, a 7-0 win at March Town United and a 6-0 win at Bluntisham Rangers all following.
But remarkably, it was a locally-sourced team of very talented players.
“If you look through the players’ list from that season everyone, bar one or two who didn’t really play any games, were from Linton, Abington or Balsham,” said Norton, whose largely teenage Babraham Sunday side had shown their capabilities before moving over, having achieved three straight promotions, albeit without winning a title.
“The De’ath brothers (Daniel & Ben), Nick Wilderspin and Luke Stanley all played for Balsham men’s team but they all played for me on Sundays at Babraham so they left Balsham to come and play for me at Linton,” he said. “That was a big thing.”
Norton himself was soon left to focus on things from the sidelines after breaking his leg nine games in.
Along with the time he dedicated to things, player-coach Crawley, now owner of a successful full-time multi-sport coaching company, was key in creating a professional set-up to give them a stark edge on their rivals.
“One of the biggest things in our success was Matthew Crawley because he did all my training,” said Norton.
“At that stage he was a young coach learning the ropes and he was brilliant.
“We were leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else in the league at that time.”
Working with the side to implement a then innovative 4-3-3 system at their level provided teams with problems they struggled to come up with answers to.
“You can tell from the first run of games that nobody could touch us as they couldn’t cope with the system we were playing,” said Norton.
“We had an extra man in midfield and they had no spare men anywhere because with Luke Stanley up front he was such a good player they had to put two on him with a man marker and a sweeper. If they went one-on-one on him he would destroy everybody at that level.”
Soham United were one team that seemed to have the measure of them that season, beating them 4-1 as the visiting team on April 7 before a 1-1 draw later that month, when they really they needed to win for their own title aspirations.
But it was a switch in system in the season-ending Percy Oldham Memorial Cup final which Norton credits with ensuring they completed the double, winning 3-1 at Histon’s Glassworld Stadium.
“I played 4-4-2 in the cup final and it completely threw them,” he said.
“We were 1-0 down at half-time but we shouldn’t have been; we were the better side for the whole of the 90 minutes and they ran out of puff.
“We had such a fit team. I will never forget we were 0-0 against Cottenham after 90 minutes that season and we ended up winning 3-0 because we were so fit.”
Though Stanley’s goalscoring exploits topped the charts, it was another player who Norton felt was just as worthy of being singled out for praise in that side.
“Andy Palmer was the most gifted footballer I have ever seen at that level of football. He is just on a different level to everybody else and just has so much time on the ball,” he said. “He was part of my front three with Luke Stanley and Dale Archer but the year we won the Premier he played central midfield.”
Norton ended up resigning in the 2013/14 season when the club were second from bottom of the Kershaw Premier.
Nigel De’ath and Norton’s assistant Guy Ennew took over and managed to keep them up.
But there is no doubt Norton’s run of success, kick-started a decade ago, will be hard for any future Linton side to come close to. And for Norton himself, the memories remain golden.
“I still think about my time as Linton manager every day. I absolutely loved it,” he said.
More by this authorRussell Claydon
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