Players remember former colleague

TEAM-mates of semi-professional footballer Aaron Gardiner joined former Premiership stars to remember their colleague.And scores of well-wishers flooded through the turnstiles at the King's Marsh Stadium, home of the popular 33-year-old's former club AFC Sudbury, to watch the memorial match against an All Star team.

TEAM-mates of semi-professional footballer Aaron Gardiner joined former Premiership stars to remember their colleague.

And scores of well-wishers flooded through the turnstiles at the King's Marsh Stadium, home of the popular 33-year-old's former club AFC Sudbury, to watch the memorial match against an All Star team.

Yesterday's game was arranged following Mr Gardiner's sudden death on July 21, when he collapsed at his home in Ipswich following a pre-season training run.

Despite his fiancée Jo Andrews' desperate attempts to revive him, he could not be saved.

As a former Ipswich Town youth team player and a highly popular non-league star, the father-of-three's death sent shockwaves through the local football scene.

And many he had played alongside were keen to pay tribute to Mr Gardiner by taking part in yesterday's match, which raised more than £3,100 for the midfielder's three young daughters.

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Familiar faces, such as Ipswich legend John Wark, former England star Paul Parker and ex-Norwich teammates Bryan Gunn and Robert Fleck all donned the red and blue of AFC Sudbury's away strip to play with the All Stars.

Both teams were led onto the pitch by Mr Gardiner's daughters, Georgia, 10, Charleigh, eight and Genna, six, who wore the yellow and blue of the home team as nearly 500 spectators looked on.

A minute's silence was impeccably observed before kick-off, when Sudbury quickly began putting pressure on the opposition, rattling Gunn's crossbar twice before finally beating him with an opening goal after 25 minutes.

And the good-natured game ended with a victory for Mr Gardiner's former team, who beat the All Stars 4-3.

"This was the sort of day you do not want to have, but it was a fitting tribute to have the likes of Bryan Gunn and John Wark playing and showed how popular Aaron was," said David Webb, secretary of AFC Sudbury.

A message from the club to its fans in yesterday's match programme read: "This special match is held in memory of Aaron Gardiner.

"If there is such a thing, Aaron's funeral was cracking and a great send off, although we are sure that every one of the 600 plus people who were there could still not believe that he would not be seen again.

"Our thanks go to the players who were only too happy to participate on an occasion when the football fraternity is shown in a good light."

Mr Gardiner made more than 200 appearances for AFC Sudbury, and cited the 2003 FA Vase final against Brigg Town at West Ham's Upton Park as the highlight.

He also turned out for a host of the region's top non-league outfits, including Cornard United, Diss Town and Braintree Town, and had signed to play for Clacton Town this season.

*AFC Sudbury will be auctioning footballing memorabilia, including a signed Norwich City shirt and football, at a later date. Proceeds will go to Mr Gardiner's children.

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