Win it for our dad!

By James Mortlock"WIN it for dad" – that is the moving message for FA Vase finallists AFC Sudbury from the three daughters of Aaron Gardiner, their former player who collapsed and died aged only 33.

By James Mortlock

"WIN it for dad" - that is the moving message for FA Vase finallists AFC Sudbury from the three daughters of Aaron Gardiner, their former player who collapsed and died aged only 33.

The three girls - Georgia, 11, eight-year-old Charleigh and Genna, six - have been chosen as AFC Sudbury's main mascots for the FA Vase final against Didcot Town at Tottenham Hotspur's White Hart Lane stadium on May 14.

They are convinced that their beloved father, who played in AFC Sudbury's unsuccessful 2003 FA Vase final with Brigg Town, will be watching over his former team-mates and guiding them to victory this time.

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Georgia said: "It's going to be really exciting and we can't wait. We're representing our dad and I think we're going to win as it's what our dad wanted. We want the team to win it for dad and we know our dad is going to help them score."

The Ridgeons League team have won a place in their third consecutive FA Vase final and are desperately hoping for glory after enduring the bitter taste of defeat for the past two years.

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Gary Harvey, AFC Sudbury manager, said Mr Gardiner, a popular player during his time at the club, would be at the forefront of everyone's minds on May 14.

He added the final was sure to be an emotional occasion and the biggest tribute the club could make to Mr Gardiner was to have his three daughters as mascots.

"Hopefully, he will be looking down on us on the big day. Aaron was such a big character in the dressing room and not a week goes by without his name being mentioned," said Mr Harvey.

Mr Gardiner's father, Rob, from Sudbury said his son - who died of heart failure in July last year at the Ipswich home he shared with his fiancée Jo Andrews - would have been delighted by the club's latest honour to him.

"I think Aaron will be looking down now and will feel so proud at this gesture. He is being honoured by the club through the girls he adored," he added.

"It's also lovely for them to be mascots and it is a very emotional time for me. I still go to watch the league and the Vase games and it can be very hard.

"But when I went into the dressing room at the beginning of the season to speak to the lads, who were all very down, I told them that the one thing they could do was to get to the FA Vase final for Aaron because he loved his football and he loved AFC Sudbury.

"I know he is looking down and would rather be playing - he dreamed of playing in a FA Vase winning team - but I'm sure he would be telling them they're in the final, it's the last step, go out and win it for me."

As well as AFC Sudbury, Mr Gardiner also played for Diss Town, Cornard United, Braintree Town and Halstead Town during his football career. He had just signed for Clacton Town, but never got the chance to play for his new side before he died.

n For this year only, the FA has lifted its strict rule of only one mascot per side and has allowed both AFC Sudbury and their opponents to select a team of 11 mascots.

The East Anglian Daily Times has teamed up with AFC Sudbury to offer one young fan the special opportunity to be one of those mascots.

To have a chance to run out with the team, complete this entry form and describe in no more than 100 words why the person nominated deserves to be an AFC Sudbury mascot.

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