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Downham Market Town Football Club resolutely defends management of Memorial Field

A football club has resolutely defended itself after being accused of blocking off areas of a town field.

Downham Town FC, which plays its matches at the Memorial Playing Field, has faced criticism from some members of the public who feel the club is exercising a “controlling use of public facilities”.

One man, who wished to remain anonymous, alleged that the club’s committee members have been fencing off certain areas in and around the playing pitch, preventing access for residents.

Dale Stokes, left, has resolutely defended Downham Town FC’s role in the community
Dale Stokes, left, has resolutely defended Downham Town FC’s role in the community

However, these accusations have been strongly rebuked by these committee members, who say the only area which is ever cordoned off is the first team pitch.

This is because of regulations set by the Football Association relating to the league that the club has reached, the Eastern Counties League Premier Division.

The only time the public needs to pay to access the first team pitch area is for a three-hour period on match days, during which it needs to be closed off with people paying to enter.

This means there is a gate near the main stand which is locked in agreement with West Norfolk Council, which is the landlord of the ground.

Dale Stokes, who is the chairman and joint first team manager at Downham Town, said: “We completely appreciate that this is a public space and sometimes as a result of the level of football we are at, there may be the odd minor inconvenience to the public on a matchday. However, the majority have been extremely understanding.”

The concerned member of the public who contacted the Lynn News said that he admits “most of the public support the football club and wish them well in their pursuit of success”.

However, he said some people are “seriously concerned about the use of this field which was left for the use of the whole of the community”.

He said the club tried to stop the public using the concrete footpath at the north end of the field which links to the other two fields. However, as stated above, this is due to league regulations during matches.

Concerns were also raised about the club temporarily renaming the football pitch to give prominence to one of its sponsors, with this deemed “totally disrespectful to the people of Downham”.

Mr Stokes admitted this was down to “an element of naivety on our behalf” because “although it was done with good intentions, when brought to our attention it did come across as though we renamed the whole of the field”.

This ‘renaming’ was subsequently revoked.

The resident said he feels club committee members “think they can do just as they wish” with the field and that they are “not fit” to run it.

However, Pat Yates, the treasurer and secretary of the Downham Town Sports Federation, disagrees.

The federation is the tenant at the Memorial Field, with the borough council as the landlord. This has been the same for around 50 years.

The current lease extends the federation the rights to both the federation building at the memorial and use of the land for sport.

Mr Yates said: “Downham would be a poorer place without competitive sport and whilst we all know and love the fact the Memorial Ground is for public use, it makes our home unique, we have to recognise it’s the only place in Downham for sport and we have to protect that going forwards.”

Both Mr Yates and Mr Stokes made reference to the numerous positive impacts they feel the football club and the sport federation are having in Downham.

It currently caters for around 1,000 members across its clubs, also allowing them to take part in the likes of cricket, squash and athletics.

In recent years, attendances at the Memorial Field during first team football games have grown from around 40 people to roughly 160.

“We run events that are for the public,” Mr Stokes said.

“It has had such a positive response from the local community. We are extremely grateful for all the support we have had during this time as we look to carry on with the positivity and continue in our upward trajectory.”

A borough council spokesperson said: “We are aware that concerns about the Memorial Field have been raised.

“There are several interested parties and we are working with everyone involved to resolve matters.”

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