Football fever grips Sudbury ahead of 'massive' FA Cup clash
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
FA Cup fever has gripped Sudbury as the town's football club prepares to face neighbours Colchester United in the team's biggest game for more than 20 years.
Non-league AFC Sudbury, who play in the eighth tier of the football pyramid, will face The U's, of League Two, at home in a mouth-watering clash tonight.
A crowd of 2,000 people will pack into the MEL Group Stadium for the historic match, which will also be screened live to millions on BBC Two.
The club has only previously been to the first round of the famous competition once in 2000 - which ended in a 6-1 defeat away at Darlington.
Around the attractive west Suffolk town, supportive flags, scarves, and banners adorned various pubs, shops and businesses.
While an AFC Sudbury scarf was even draped around the statue of one of the town's most famous sons - artist Thomas Gainsborough.
Elsewhere at St Peter's - a former church currently undergoing renovation for transformation into a cultural venue - an AFC Sudbury flag was raised atop the landmark building to mark the occasion.
Estate agents Fenn Wright were also sporting a shop window photograph of AFC Sudbury striker Romario Dunne - who works for the company.
Alan Williams, senior partner, said: "Our Sudbury office are getting behind their local team and we, at Fenn Wright, are all very excited that the game on Friday will be televised.
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"We would like to wish Romario Dunne and his teammates all the very best."
Another AFC Sudbury fan Jack Barclay, of Wayman and Long solicitors in the town, encouraged his bosses to decorate the shop front.
The business has also said that any AFC Sudbury fan who takes on any work with the company will receive a £25 voucher to spend at the town's High Street food establishments.
He said: "We wanted to support local businesses and create a community feel that the team has realistically been creating for us over the past few months."
Rachel Price, Sudbury Town Council's town centre manager, said the match has thrust the town into the spotlight.
She said: "It's such a positive thing for Sudbury. It's the first time since 2000 that the team have got this far and we're completely behind our boys 100%.
"We hope that people come and enjoy the town prior to the game and support local businesses, who have had it hard since Covid."
A host of town pubs, such as The Prince of Wales, The White Horse, The Weavers Tap, The Gainsborough, and the North Street Tavern, are showing the game, with punters hoping to witness a cup upset.
But special celebrations are taking place at the Horse and Groom pub on East Street, with a pre and after match party planned.
The pub has also devised an AFC Sudbury shot of the team's colours made of Blue Curacao, Advocaat, Malibu and whipped cream.
For joint pub landlord and Colchester United fan Kevin Hawkins, the night will hold special significance.
"I've been a Colchester fan all my life so it's a win-win for me really," he said.
"We're hoping to have around 80 to 100 people but you can never tell. We're having a big party beforehand and a big party afterwards.
"This is a community pub and there's 20 of us all walking down to the game tomorrow.
"Some of the Sudbury guys come in here and we have some really good times.
"It's massive for Sudbury, it really is. If they can get through to the second round, it would be astounding for them, and obviously the money's important to the club."
Ashley Webb, joint landlord, added: "It's massive for the town, massive for the community. It links everyone together. I'm going for 1-1 and then Sudbury to win the replay on penalties."
The match is live on BBC Two, with kick-off at 7.55pm. Presenter Mark Chapman will be joined by guests Leon Osman and Glen Murray, with Steve Bower and Rachel Brown-Finnis on commentary duties.
Live commentary of the game can also be heard on BBC Radio Suffolk, BBC Radio Essex and TalkSport.