AFC Sudbury 0 Brightlingsea Regent 1 (26th December 2014)
A year ago, doing another Boxing Day double-header, I’d pondered the wisdom of my choices as I sat in the club bar at Bromsgrove, tucking into a Boxing Day lunch of a packet of ready salted crisps. The two-hour gap between games here and, previously, in Haverhill offered the chance to put that right; to nip into the well-preserved streets of Sudbury and find a pub doing a pub lunch. With a half-eaten packet of Haribo already starting to drain all the moisture from my body, I needed something a bit more healthy.
I’d even taken the effort of looking for pubs on google streetview the previous day, but hadn’t spotted the one way system, and ended up in a different part of the town centre. I found a pub which I swear bore a sign saying it did food, but I was given the bad news that they didn’t just after I’d ordered the drinks. I scanned the less than extensive range of bar snacks on offer, and realised that yet again a bag of merry ready salted crisps would be my festive Boxing Day lunch. Next year, I’m booking a table somewhere in advance.
A lack of any road traffic allowed a few dodgy in-car photographs of some of Sudbury’s older buildings en route to Sudbury’s ground, hidden down a narrow lane just outside the town.
The original plan had been to take in two games in the West Midlands, but forecasts of very poor weather (one of the games was, I later found out, abandoned), and a lack of cover at those venues had me seeking alternatives. Sudbury’s King’s Marsh ground, with cover on all four sides, fitted the bill nicely.
Sudbury used to have two clubs, Sudbury Town and Sudbury Wanderers, but they merged in 1999 to form AFC Sudbury. The “AFC” even stands for “amalgamated football club”, which is at least a twist on all the newer AFC clubs that have sprung up in more recent years.
The merged club sold Sudbury Town’s old ground and moved into the home of Sudbury Wanderers. Some of the proceeds, I’d guess, went into improving the King’s Marsh ground. Perhaps most impressive is the large clubhouse, with large plate-glass windows allowing a view of the game from two levels. Next to that was the customary cheap seated stand for 200.
Opposite, about the same size, was a covered terrace, with proper chunky steps and enough of a capacity to require a handful of crush barriers.
Both ends were probably original, being the full-length bike shed type of covered ends found at many non-league venues. A corner conservatory made do as a disabled enclosure.
All in all, not the most exciting ground in the world, but there are plenty worse, and it did at least offer four covered sides. If the weather forecast was to believed (not quite as it turns out) that cover would be very useful after about 4 pm.
The visitors this afternoon were another club formed through a merger, as recently as 2005. Brightlingsea United were themselves the result of a merger (a rare example of a club naming itself United upon merging) between Brightlingsea Athletic and Brightlingsea Town in 1928, and they merged with Regent Park Rangers to form the new club which delights in the name of Brightlingsea Regent. As memorable as the name is, the Sudbury match programme, which contained the season’s results twice (and an advert for the Boux Avenue chain of lingerie shops, who must think non-league fans are a niche market for basques and frilly bras, so common are their adverts in non-league programmes) managed to spell them Brighlingsea on the back page.
Both teams served up a good first half full of attacking intent, but surprisingly no goals. Brightlingsea, in purple shirts which just screamed “away kit”, probably had the edge, but it was Sudbury who definitely had the best shot – a 35 yard volley that was arrowing into the top corner, but for a fine flying save from the visitors’ keeper.
The second half, with the temperature dipping to levels where buying a cup of coffee just to have something warm to hold seemed tempting, was not so good. In fact it wasn’t long before the game began to take on the unpleasant odour of a 0-0, with both teams seemingly limiting their ambitions to avoiding hypothermia.
It was Brightlingsea who made the breakthrough though. Backed by a noisy away following, with drums and cowbells making it sound more like Chinese New Year than a week away from ours, they struck a winner they just about deserved with just two minutes left. A free kick was flicked on and the loose ball was fired through the throng of players for a dramatic winner.
Brightlingsea were clearly delighted, and I, with a two-hour drive through wind and rain to look forward to, was very pleased with something to warm my evening too.