The AFC Sudbury Academy Presentation Day for our U13-U18 age groups went down a storm as players, parents, coaches and supporters came together to celebrate yet another historic season for the club.
The day kicked off at 2pm with the arrival of players and guests, who immediately began to sample the bar and BBQ while admiring the impressive haul of trophies on display and enjoying a video of great moments from throughout the season.
At 2:30pm, all players and the entire coaching staff assembled in the main stand for a full Academy team photo.
With the encouragement of the irrepressible Gavin Peters, players from all age groups were mixed into eight teams to go head to head in a series of fun games, ranging from walking football to tug of war - the latter providing great entertainment for the crowd as the coaches got involved. It was great to see older and younger players getting on so well and contributing to a lively party atmosphere.
It was then time for the main event of the day - the awards ceremony. Guests, players and coaches assembled in the grand marquee and Academy Director Danny Laws wasted no time in kicking off proceedings.
First up were the U13 EJA, coached by Jack Harrod and Geoff Godwin this season. As with each of our EJA sides, the U13s won their respective league and reached the final of the Suffolk Cup, where they emerged victorious. The team travelled well on tour to Wales and went unbeaten, picking up two wins and a draw. The lads will certainly be keen to get their teeth into U14 football next season.
Next were the U14 EJA, coached by Jamie Souza and Jonny Klug this season. They had some players move on to pastures new but then some fresh faces joined with Kelly, Harry, Colby, Harvey R, Harvey U and Thom which has really reinvigorated the squad. The season ebbed and flowed with them starting strongly, going on a long unbeaten run with some really pleasing performances from individuals and as a team. A lengthy Christmas break then hit them and they stalled for a short period, but the lads soon dusted themselves down and got back to some really pleasing performances, a testament to their character and belief. The group then managed to secure the EJA U14 Green Division leaving Stanway Rovers in the dust with 9 points and a goal difference of plus 45 over them in second place. Ultimately the team fell short of retaining the Suffolk Cup this year after a sucker punch second half goal but overall a positive season where they have seen enormous strides in players developing as footballers and as young men.
Then came the U15 EJA, who were taken by Sam Warnes and Matt Norman this season. Their success has come from the whole squad being open in their approach to training and games. Having had a few weeks at a time without games, the players managed to maintain momentum and kept their competitiveness and standards high. Asking how the players responded when the ‘going got tough’ was a big theme throughout. The best example of this was shown in both the semi-final and final of the County Cup, which posed the challenge of winning from a losing position. A positive season of challenges and experiences that the players should use as a platform to continue their hard work for next year and beyond.
Next were the U16 EJA, who were coached by management trio Craig Power, Alan Penn and Kevin Oxborrow this season. They started the season with a 2-0 win away at Wisbech St Mary on 9th September. The theme of clean sheets carried on throughout the league season which saw the team keep 13 clean sheets from 26 games. The volume of clean sheets was a major factor on the team winning the EJA league with an unbeaten record and progressing to the Suffolk Cup final, where unfortunately they came runners up after a spirited display that saw them lose by the odd goal. Several of the players have experienced football at Thurlow Nunn Div 1 (Step 6), Playing in the ESBL for the highly successful A Team and playing in the Championship winning U18 side. Overall, a highly successful season of player development that has seen them exposed to numerous different challenges.
Next it was the turn of the full-time Academy First Year students - most of whom play in the legendary AFC Sudbury A Team led by Craig Power and Jamie Souza. Ethan Mayhew was the recipient of Player's Player of the Season, while skipper Lewis O'Malley walked away with the Outstanding Achievement Award.
The next item on the agenda was a bittersweet one as it was time to bid farewell to the graduating Academy Second Year players and salute their legacy one final time. They took to the floor to rapturous applause from the assembled masses.
There was a touching moment as age group skipper Adam Hanson took over the mic and the lads personally thanked the coaching staff for everything they had done - before handing over a few tokens of their esteem.
Then it was onto the penultimate section - a passionate speech by David Cannon on the many trophy-winning performances of the second years. Player's Player of the Season went to Joe Grimwood, while the Outstanding Achivement award went to his centre half partner Baris Alintop.
That just left one final thing on the agenda - the biggest award of them all. AFC Sudbury Young Player of the Season went to a very talented young man and natural born goalscorer, Freddie King.
With the applause still ringing around the Mel Group Stadium, proceedings were drawn to a close and guests and players began to filter away into the evening, each reflecting on another fantastic season with the AFC Sudbury Academy.