Football: Redknapp opens new facilities

FORMER England midfielder Jamie Redknapp has said he is bowled over by AFC Sudbury's new £2.1 million stadium upgrade and believes the facilities can help unearth the stars of the future.

The ex-Liverpool captain and now Sky Sports football pundit was the guest of honour on an historic day for the club as they opened their new facilities, renamed the stadium and a stand, and honoured club stalwarts.

Redknapp, who cut the ribbon to officially open the new clubhouse and grassroots football and education centre, said the facilities were the best he had ever come across in the non-League world.

After filming a video message to the AFC youth team players three years ago saying he would like to be at their big day when it was completed, Redknapp fulfilled their dreams on Sunday, and was impressed with what he saw.

"I have played at non-League clubs in pre-season games and this is as good as I have ever seen," he said.

"Someone said it used to be a shed here and now look at it. It is great for the first team and the grassroots.

"This is a real nice, warm environment to work in. It is great for the community, as well as bringing people through the doors."

He added the new setup could help nurture a new generation of talent from the area.

"You want to give kids opportunities and the right coaches, who will bring on the next Gerrards and Rooneys.

"To have these facilities is absolutely wonderful," he said.

As well as the grand opening, which saw Redknapp don an AFC scarf and accept a club shirt with his name on, it was also announced King's Marsh Stadium will now be known as The MEL Group Stadium. It came after Sudbury-based Mel Aviation, co-owned by former AFC boss Gary Harvey, extended their kit sponsorship and took on stadium naming rights for the next five years.

Capped 13 times by his country, Redknapp, whose career was dogged by injury, also helped induct Colin Rimmer, Tony Eaves, Eric Wilson, Geoff Parmenter, George Nunn, Brian Golding, Mick Mills, John Smith and Brian Tatum into the new AFC Vice President's Club for their services to local football.

More than 50 years of tireless dedication to grassroots football by former AFC treasurer Tatum, who has just retired from the post, was further celebrated by renaming the seated stand at the club The Brian Tatum Stand.

Addressing a crowd of more than 300, AFC Sudbury chief executive Mark Pearman said: "It is indeed a very special day for our club, our community, as we celebrate the opening of these outstanding facilities."

Redknapp was then the toast of Sudbury as he gave up his time to sign countless autographs and pose for pictures with all of the AFC Sudbury youth teams on Father's Day.

Organisations The Football Foundation; Sudbury Town Council; The Suffolk Environmental Trust; West Suffolk Local Strategic Partnership; The Sudbury Foundation; Activities Unlimited; Sudbury Freemen's Trust and The Mel Group were thanked for their support in making the stadium plans a reality, as well as being listed on a plaque inside the clubhouse entrance.

A letter was also read out at the ceremony from the Suffolk Football Association congratulating AFC on being awarded Suffolk County Football Association Club of The Year 2009-10 and a second honour across the entire eastern region. The club will now go forward to be considered for the national awards.