'We can't really lose' - Sudbury chairman on FA Cup clash with U's

Andrew Long is pictured being interviewed by ITV Anglia Sports Correspondent Donovan Blake at AFC Sudbury.

Andrew Long is pictured being interviewed by ITV Anglia Sports Correspondent Donovan Blake at Tuesday night’s training session at AFC Sudbury. - Credit: Steve Screech

Nick Garnham catches up with AFC Sudbury chairman Andrew Long ahead of his club's huge FA Cup First Round clash with Colchester United tomorrow night....

AFC Sudbury chairman Andrew Long will breathe a sigh of relief at 7.55pm tomorrow night.

That will be when the referee’s whistle blows to start the biggest game that the club has hosted in its history – the Emirates FA Cup First Round Proper tie versus their Sky Bet League Two opponents Colchester United.

Formed following the merger of Sudbury Town and Sudbury Wanderers in 1999, the club reached this stage of the competition in the 2000-01 season before they lost 6-1 away to Darlington.

This is the first time since that they have reached the main draw and interest in the match is such that Long said the club “could have sold it out three times over in the first few days” following the draw.

The tie immediately caught the imagination of supporters and, not surprisingly, has been chosen for live screening, with the match being broadcast on BBC2.

AFC Sudbury, who play in the North Division of the Isthmian League, will receive a £50,000 fee in return for the tie being shown live on the BBC, but they have had to incur various extra costs to stage it.

The AFC Sudbury players and management after beating Dartford to reach the First Round of the FA Cup.

The AFC Sudbury players and management acknowledge their fans at the end of the game after beating Dartford to reach the First Round of the FA Cup. - Credit: Paul Voller

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Although AFC Sudbury’s official capacity is 2,500, the crowd limit has been set at 2,000 because of accommodating the media, representatives from The FA and sponsors.

Long said: “For a game of this magnitude we have to give 15% of the ticket allocation to Colchester United.

“For the first time ever in the club’s history we are having to segregate supporters, so we have allocated 375 to Colchester and the remainder have gone to our own fans.

“Five hundred of these were sold on a first-come, first served basis at our recent home game versus Felixstowe & Walton United.

“After allocating tickets for The FA and sponsors, the rest of the tickets have gone to our volunteers, players and parents because they are part of the club.

“We could have made more money by selling them at full price to adults, rather than for instance to our under-12 players, but we felt it important that our young players had the opportunity to attend.

“We will have hundreds of youngsters wearing yellow Sudbury shirts around the ground making a lot of noise which should create a great atmosphere.”

The club have had to take into account all sorts of logistical demands that they had not foreseen since the draw was made, holding meetings with local authorities and various safety advisory groups.

Long said: “We have never hosted an FA Cup First Round tie before, so there is no manual to fall back on and even if there was, it would be outdated with rules changing so quickly as we become more safety conscious.

“Our primary objective is to ensure people arrive in a safe manner, enjoy the game in a safe manner and hopefully leave with a smile on their faces.”

Brundon Lane, the approach road to the ground, has had to be widened to twice its original width to accommodate the BBC outside broadcast vehicles as well as spectators, with floodlighting also installed to make it safe.

The lane will actually be closed from 6pm onwards and cars will need to park at businesses in the town centre.

The club have had to seek permission from local authorities to increase the brightness of the floodlights from 200 lux to 600 lux to be able to broadcast on national TV, meaning the sky across the town will be lit up on Bonfire night.

Dartford can't believe it as young keeper Josh Blunkell makes another save for AFC Sudbury

Dartford are denied in their cup upset at Sudbury in the last round - Credit: Paul Voller

The club have also had Covid protocols to follow which are different for Football League clubs to Non-League clubs, including a Red Zone only certain people will be allowed into.

Portable toilets, catering facilities and an outside bar have had to be erected and extra bins brought in, while perimeter fencing has had to be made more secure.

AFC Sudbury are also paying for 13 stewards from Cambridge United FC to be on duty on the night.

“On top of that we have pressure washed the clubhouse and the car park has been levelled so the club looks at its very best.

“This is our opportunity to showcase our club on national television and show it off in the best possible light,” added Long.

The BBC will be using 20 cameras and 70 technicians to cover the game, while BBC Radio Suffolk and BBC Radio Essex plus TalkSPORT are all doing live commentary as well as local and national newspapers attending.

“We have had to think about ensuring the radio commentators are set far enough apart so they are not overheard by each other and had to ensure there is enough bandwidth to accommodate everyone’s requirements,” added Long.

The opportunity to be associated with such a high-profile fixture has seen some of the club’s sponsors return after withdrawing their support because of safeguarding their own businesses during Covid, but this in itself has caused some angst.

Even manager AFC Sudbury boss Rick Andrews joins the celebrations for Lewis O'Malley's match-clinching goal against Dartford

Even manager AFC Sudbury boss Rick Andrews joins the celebrations for Lewis O'Malley's match-clinching goal against Dartford - Credit: Paul Voller

Long continued: “We had sold advertising space in front of the clubhouse, but then found out this was required by The FA for their own sponsors as it is directly opposite the TV gantry erected above the stand on the other side of the ground.”

For all the hard work involved, the club have been enjoying the chance to be in the national spotlight, with both BBC and ITV visiting the MEL Group Stadium to film during Tuesday night’s training session, while Lewis O’Malley, the club’s 19-year-old captain who is a personal trainer, has been filmed at work.

The match has also captured the imagination of the local community, with The Horse & Groom, the largest pub in Sudbury, producing an AFC Sudbury cocktail specially for the occasion and two local schools asking students to wear something yellow on the day of the game.

The night before the club are also staging an FA Youth Cup First Round Proper tie versus Chelmsford City (kick-off 8pm) with the chance to advance and draw a Football League club in the next round.

Alan Judge in action at Colchester United

Alan Judge could be among the U's who face AFC Sudbury, if he's recovered from a calf injury - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Long, who has been involved with the club for four years, the last two as chairman since taking over from Phil Turner, said: “People involved with the club still talk about the FA Vase Finals (2003, 2004 and 2005) but we want people to remember this night for years to come.

“Whatever the result on the night we are in a situation where we can’t really lose, although I am more confident than when we played Dartford in the previous round. They were unbeaten and had only conceded three goals all season and yet we won quite comfortably.

“We had 820 fans in the ground against Dartford, but this is another level altogether. We just hope it will be alright on the night.

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