Caverners roll back years

One of the most feared Sunday football teams in Norfolk during their '70s heyday will be looking to roll back the years at their first ever reunion.

Some 35 seasons since their glorious double-winning days of yore the characters that made up the Lingwood Caverners are being urged to reunite for a night of heady nostalgia at the villlage hall in April.

The long, hot summer of 76 was one of the most memorable ever for those of a certain age –and the Lingwood Caverners were able to enjoy it more than most as they basked in the glory of winning two of the top trophies – the Norwich Sunday League Division One title and the League Cup. And that summer could have been even more memorable as they had only narrowly missed out on capturing the Holy Grail of Sunday football, losing 1-0 in the Norfolk Sunday Senior Cup final to Unity Emeralds at Carrow Road.

That season was the zenith of the side formed in 1964 as Lingwood Youth Club by local policeman Leslie Lovell and manager Frank Patterson, who was to kick off an involvement that was to last 28 years.

Having cut their teeth in youth football the fresh-faced side entered the Norwich Sunday League in 1966 and rose up the ranks, peaking with their one and only top flight title success in 1975-76 briefly grabbing the limelight during a golden era dominated by the legendary Loke United team. Most of the ensuing years were spent in the top fllight as the team built up a reputation as one of the toughest sides around. Win, lose or draw they would always give you a game. Shrinking violets they were not. 'Not many teams used to like coming to Lingwood,' recalled captain David Cox, one of the founder players and the team's inspiration for many years.

'Not because we were dirty but because we were a hard, physical, real old village club. We would get stuck in. Our ground was not the best of places to come to. There was not a lot of grass on the pitch and it used to get pretty muddy,' said Cox, 65.

With characters such as rugged centre half Stuart 'Hammer' Mallett and the vociferous Murphy brothers Paddy and Mick to contend with, visiting teams knew what to expect. And usually there was no quarter given.

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David La Motte, 55, a former goalkeeper with Five Star, another of the top teams of the time, still winces at the mere mention of the name 'Hammer Mallett'.

'You knew you were in for an aerial battering because the pitch was so small. It was not the ideal place to go on a cold, wet Sunday morning. It was like a bog with sand everywhere,' he said.

The Caverners Sunday team, who had been trained at one time by ex-Canary favourite Terry Anderson, eventually disappeared from the scene in the early 90s, although the name reappeared when a Saturday team, still going in the Norwich Business Houses League, was formed. 'The Sunday players got past their best. I think the interest and commitment just waned,' said Cox. The demise of the team, which attracted 300-plus crowds in its prime, was recalled with sadness by Mick Patterson, who as a boy was regular mascot when his father was manager, and went on to become one of the long-serving players. 'It was very disappointing.' said Mick, now 51. 'It seemed like the end of an era – it was all you used to live for on a Sunday. I used to play four games a weekend. Two on a Saturday and two on a Sunday.'

The Caverners reunion will be at a 60s evening with music at Lingwood Village Hall on Saturday, April 30 (8-12). Tickets costing �6 are available from David (01603 715726) or Mick (01493 754937). Anyone is invited to attend whether they were involved in the football club or not.