One of the Evening News Copy IT Norwich Sunday League’s leading teams in recent seasons has been forced to fold because of a player crisis.

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And the Grove manager Steve Greening has bemoaned the loss of a community club after pulling the team out of the league after a series of blows left him unable to field a side for a recent game.

“I just lost too many players in one go from the end of last season,” said Greening, who during three full seasons at the helm steered the side to two third place finishes in the Premier Division and two Pink Un League Cup final appearances, one of them victorious.

Already hit by the loss of defender Luke Jones, unable to play after breaking his arm in the League Cup final defeat by Marlborough last season, Greening then lost inspirational captain and centre half John Blake who decide to devote time to his son’s youth football career. Centre half Dale Wilcox was then ruled out by a serious knee injury and long-serving midfielder Gary Bee, a key figure with the Grove from the outset, was hit by a serious ankle injury.

“We just didn’t have the quality of players to replace them,” said Greening, who realised the end was nigh when he was unable to muster a team for a recent trip to Aylsham. When I took the decision it was a relief at the time because of what was happening. It was a sad loss because it brought together people from Earlham and the Larkman and was very much a community team.”

The Grove were based at the Gurney Centre up until this season when they had to move to new pitches at the Earlham Academy in Bluebell Road, a move which didn’t prove too popular with some of the players who felt the pitches were inferior. The move and also had a negative impact on the level of local support, said Greening.

The Grove joined the Norwich Sunday League in the 1990s and enjoyed considerable success as they quickly rose up the ranks, with Glen Saffer a key figure. Greening took over after Saffer had left to concentrate on his boxing training commitments.

Greening said he felt disappointed for the core of remaining players such as Danny Blake, Lloyd Greening, Arran James and Sam Mallett.

The Grove finished third in the top flight last season and were beaten 3-0 by treble-winners Marlborough in the Pink Un League Cup final. The Grove won the trophy in 2009-10 by beating Acle Rangers, and had a reputation as a fiercely-competitive team that could beat anyone on their day. “We had some massive games. I would always maintain that Grove never had superstars but we just had boys who worked well as a team. There were a lot of people who were phoning me up who were disappointed when they heard the news,” said Greening. He added: “I have had a couple of offers to run a Sunday team but I am not sure if I am going to do it yet.”

League secretary Ben Casey said he was disappointed to hear that the Grove had called it a day.

“Steve Greening had done a tremendous job in turning them around from a club with a bit of a reputation, to a well-respected and reasonably successful side.

“I had spoken to Steve recently and he told me it was becoming harder and harder, as he was being continually let down by players.

“That was a real shame as Steve is an excellent football person in the time that I have known him (including when our paths used to cross in youth football) and we can only hope he regains his enthusiasm and pops up at another club as local football needs people like him.”

Revealing that River Garden had withdrawn from Division 3a, Casey added: “That too was disapointing, but we knew that they had been struggling to field a side every week.”

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