The big kick-off for senior West Norfolk sides

Joint Downham Town manager Dale Stokes expects the Thurlow Nunn Premier Division to present his side with a huge challenge this season.

Newly-promoted Downham open their 2023/24 campaign at Hadleigh United tomorrow while Heacham begin their season at Woodbridge Town

Stokes, whose side won promotion through the play-offs last season, said: “Whilst it was good to win promotion, it has probably happened at the worst possible time and we’re expecting a tough season.

The joint Downham management team of Craig Dickson and Dale Stokes.
The joint Downham management team of Craig Dickson and Dale Stokes.

“You’ve got 10 to 12 teams at the level paying players between £150 and £200 a week and that’s something that we can’t compete with.

“But saying that, we’ve still got some really good players and on our day I think we can be dangerous opposition for most of the sides in the league.

“We know it’s going to be difficult so a mid-table finish has to be our target.”

Downham are unlikely to be without their strongest-available squad for the first few weeks of the season but with the likes of Eoin McQuaid and Matty Castellan arriving over the summer, they look well-equipped for the battles that are ahead.

Former Linnets defender Castellan was confirmed as the club’s latest arrival on Wednesday night.

Record-breaking First Division North champions Heacham are also under no illusions about the task ahead.

Assistant manager Ross McNeil said: “It is going to be a massive learning curve for the club this year.

“Staying in this league will be an even better achievement than winning eight successive promotions.

“We’re a little fish in a big pond now but we’ll give it our best shot and hopefully the group’s togetherness will see us through.”

The Magpies finished their close season outings with a 2-0 victory at Wells Town on Saturday, where Colby Wood, 16, was on target for the second successive game, along with Luke Gray.

On Tuesday night, they secured a 9-1 victory over North West Norfolk League side West Winch in a hastily-arranged friendly.

Fakenham Town are without a game on the opening day and open its campaign with a big derby trip to Heacham on Tuesday night.

In the First Division North, Swaffham Town starts out with a trip to Haverhill Borough.

The Pedlars have added some much-need firepower to their ranks with much-traveled frontman John Sands arriving at the club, while Dylan Edge has completed a month’s loan move from Spalding United.

Experienced goalkeeper Gary Doran and winger Joshua Doran have also linked up with the Pedlars, as have Gino Livoti and Ricky Goodale.

Manager Johnny Alflatt said: “I definitely think we have turned a corner and we should be looking at finishing in the top half of the table this season and perhaps even pushing for a place in the play-offs.”