Let's win it for Aaron
By Patrick LowmanA FORMER non-league soccer star who died aged just 33 is to be honoured at one of amateur football's most prestigious events.When AFC Sudbury run out for their third consecutive FA Vase final on May 14, the occasion will be dedicated to the memory of the club's former midfielder, Aaron Gardiner.
By Patrick Lowman
A FORMER non-league soccer star who died aged just 33 is to be honoured at one of amateur football's most prestigious events.
When AFC Sudbury run out for their third consecutive FA Vase final on May 14, the occasion will be dedicated to the memory of the club's former midfielder, Aaron Gardiner.
It is hoped that Mr Gardiner's three daughters Georgia, 11, Charleigh, eight, and Genna, six, will be made mascots to lead the team out at Tottenham Hotspurs' White Hart Lane ground on final day.
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Mr Gardiner's father Rob said: “It is going to be a very emotional day for Aaron's family and friends because Sudbury was his club and was where he heart was.
“I would like to think the club would make his daughter's mascots for the game because that would be a lovely tribute to Aaron.”
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Mr Gardiner was one of the most well-known and best-loved characters on the East Anglian amateur football scene prior to his death on July 21, 2004.
He had just completed a pre-season training run when he collapsed at the home in Blythe Close, Ipswich, that he shared with his wife-to-be Jo Andrews.
Mr Gardiner, who grew up in Sudbury, became an Ipswich Town youth team player after leaving school and later turned out for a host of the region's non-league football teams, including Diss Town, Braintree Town, Halstead Town and Cornard United.
But it was in his hometown where he became a fan's favourite after spells with Sudbury Town and Sudbury Wanderers.
The clubs merged to form AFC Sudbury in 1999 and Mr Gardiner became a key fixture, making 215 appearances for the team.
He was part of the AFC Sudbury team that played against Brigg Town for the 2003 FA Vase Final, which he described as one of his proudest moments in football.
AFC Sudbury made it through to this year's final after a dramatic penalty shoot-out against Bedlington Terriers at the weekend.
Players and staff at the club now hope Mr Gardiner's memory will spur them on to finally lift the trophy following two consecutive final defeats.
Gary Harvey, team manager, said: “It is very important that we dedicate the final to Aaron because he epitomised everything that this club is about.
“He always gave 110% and he never let us down. He run himself into the ground during last year's semi-final and I am sure he would have been delighted to see us reach the final again.
“Everybody at the club had known Aaron for a lot of years and we will definitely honour his memory at the final. The club officials will discuss exactly what we will do, but one idea that we are considering is making his daughter's mascots on the day.”
AFC Sudbury midfielder Lee Norfolk, who was Mr Gardiner's best friend, added: “All the boys would like to win for Aaron, he was such a good player and big character in the dressing room and he is still very much missed.
“Personally, although I will be delighted when I run out at White Hart Lane, I will also have a heavy heart because Aaron will not be here.
“I still think about Aaron during every game and I now wear his old number eight shirt, which is very special to me. Aaron's memory will give us extra motivation and we hope to bring the Vase back to Sudbury in his honour.”