AFC Sudbury supporters will be looking forward to the new season with optimism, and back with affection on Saturday.
The visit of Bury Town to the Wardale Williams Stadium (3pm) will see most of the club’s new signings in action, and set thoughts turning to a promotion challenge.
But it will also be a day for remembering a much-loved AFC player, Aaron Gardiner, who died tragically 10 years ago.
The Yellows play their third pre-season game when Colchester United are the visitors tonight (7.45pm).
AFC drew 0-0 at Diss on Saturday, and beat Hadleigh United 3-1 on Tuesday (Jordan Blackwell (two), Jake Reed), with Batch ringing the changes at half-time in both games.
“Right now it’s purely about getting 45 minutes into everybody’s legs,” said Batch. “What was pleasing was the intensity they all showed.”
Colchester, he feels, will provide both a stern test and an opportunity to learn.
“We will have to do a lot more running and work without possession, and the players will probably learn a lot in 45 minutes against a League side,” he said.
Batch expects the game to highlight areas he and the coaching staff need to look at.
“My job now is to make sure that we are not overloaded but have enough of the right people in the right areas,” he said. “I may have to trim a position or two that we are rich in. But we are probably a little short of cover in one position.”
Prior to Saturday’s game the club is staging a memorial dinner, organised by former teammate Chris Howlett.
The profits, together with the proceeds from an auction for a signed Manchester City shirt, will be given to Gardiner’s three daughters — Georgia, Charleigh and Genna.
Gardiner, an AFC player for five years, collapsed and died after a pre-season training run, aged 33, in 2004.
AFC manager David Batch was at Diss with Gardiner.
“It is nice that the football club and former team-mates are still thinking of him,” he said.
Batch is using the pre-season games to give some of the younger players the opportunity to experience the first team atmosphere.
Batch is committed to a youth policy which will bring young local players through. Stefan Mallardo and Kyran Clements, both 16, featured in the first two pre-season games.
“Now is a great time to look at them,” said Batch, “and with Danny Laws running the under-21s I know I can send them there and they will learn the right things.”
Brothers Scott and Tyler Kemp, who both figured in the first team last season, have signed a one-year contract with AFC. “Both have impressed,” said Batch, “and this makes it a more permanent relationship.”
First team assistant manager Ian Brown has left the club for “personal reasons”. Batch will not be replacing a man he describes as “probably the nicest guy I have met in football”.
Ryan Maxwell, signed during the summer after leaving Heybridge Swifts, joins the backroom staff as a player/strength and conditioning coach.
But for one player the season may already be over. Josh Turner, who has battled for two years to get back after cruciate ligament damage while a player at Wroxham, suffered a knee injury playing for AFC Reserves against Sporting 87 on Friday.
Turner, 23, had been playing five-a-side during the summer, as well as taking part in pre-season training at AFC. He has a scan on Monday. “I feel for him,” said Batch.
nThe week 11 winners of the AFC Gold fundraiser are: £100 Mrs R Felton, Butt Rd, Gt Cornard (140); £10 A Simpson, Lombardy Rd, Sudbury (166); £10 Mrs B Iddiol, Constable Rd, Sudbury (245).