The man who united Sudbury’s football rivals

OF all the managerial positions Keith Martin took on in non-league football, he always told me the job at AFC Sudbury was one of the most demanding he endured.

OF all the managerial positions Keith Martin took on in non-league football, he always told me the job at AFC Sudbury was one of the most demanding he endured.

Not because he wasn't successful - far from it - but, back in 1999, it was Keith (then Sudbury Wanderers boss), who was charged with pulling together what was, at the time, a big upheaval, when the two clubs, Town and Wanderers amalgamated.

Town had the history, including a Wembley appearance in an FA Vase final, while Wanderers were set to be home for the new team at their larger surroundings at King's Marsh Stadium.

Feelings in the town ran high as the Priory Stadium was put up for sale and the clubs, who had been rivals, became one.

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It wasn't easy for Keith to pull the teams, players and fans together, but it will always be to his credit he managed it, as AFC have since gone from strength to strength.

A non-league man through and through, Keith was a no-nonsense character, who I enjoyed dealing with many times over the years.

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I must admit when I first got involved in reporting on the local football scene, I was warned not to be “too smart” with Keith.

He doesn't suffer fools gladly, was the general tone of my warning.

But I need not have worried.

Keith was always courteous, always happy to talk and always gave me the time of day, whatever result his team had endured.

I liked him a lot and I know, for he often told me, what a difficult, but rewarding job he had undertaken with AFC in 1999.

Indeed in the early days of AFC, if Keith substituted a former Sudbury Town player, some fans would accuse him of bias. It used to get under his skin no end, for that was never the way he operated.

But he turned many of those fans' feelings round when it took just one season for him to pull things together at King's Marsh, as the yellow and blues won successive Eastern Counties league titles in 2000/01 and 01/02.

Not reaching the FA Vase final in 2002 was probably his most disappointing moment with the club, after they were beaten by unfancied Tiptree in a two-legged semi-final.

But 12 months later Keith and AFC Sudbury were all smiles as they reached their first-ever final, at Upton Park, although it finished in disappointment as Brigg Town beat them. He left the club after that game.

In December 2003 Keith joined Wroxham as joint manager and in May 2004 was appointed manager of Heybridge. In May a year later it was announced that he was returning to Halstead as their assistant manager but in September 2005 he left and his non-league football career was no more.

I saw more of him at Foxhall Stadium, Ipswich after that, where he and the young family he so treasured, enjoyed many happy hours watching the Ipswich Witches speedway team.

A successful businessman, Keith wore his heart on his sleeve, and was a non-league man I greatly admired. I was not alone.

He leaves many friends in the non-league game.

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