Archive | October, 2011

Sutton United

3 Oct

1 October 2011

FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round

Sutton United 05 v Dulwich Hamlet 01 (att. 494)

The Borough Sports Ground/Gander Green Lane, Sutton SM1

Team Talk. On FA Cup Saturday, certain words come to mind, “Romance of the Cup”, “Giant Killing”, “A team of (insert 3 to 5 different non-sporting professions) taking on the might of…”, the list is endless.

Sutton United are possibly the most famous giant killers of the last 25 years, having beaten Coventry City in the third round of the 1989 FA Cup. This momentous game remains the last time that a team from outside of the football league beat a top division side in the cup and so the opportunity to visit them for a cup game was always going to be inviting.

Sutton’s rich history runs much deeper than a single high-ish profile victory. Having been established in 1898, Sutton claimed their first senior title, the Athenian League in 1928, a title they won twice more including a victory in the first season of competition after the Second World War. Unlike so many of South London’s clubs whose primary exploits have taken place in the pre-war years, it’s Sutton’s more recent history that contains many of their biggest achievements, with 4 of their 5 Isthmian League titles having been won in the past 25 years.

As well as league success, the U’s (sic) are famed cup specialists (although they’re certainly not heading towards the Champions League of Grammar (although SUFC believe they’d just scrape into the group stages)). As well as domestic trophies, they hold the honour of being the only team to play in three Anglo-Italian Cup finals, winning it once (in 1979) and in the process, joining Newcastle, Notts County, Blackpool and Swindon as the only English victors.

But it’s the FA Cup which has shone most favourably on Sutton. The club first made it big in 1970 when they reached the 4th Round where they faced Don Revie’s Leeds United. Hunter, Bremner, Charlton, Lorimer at al all graced the Gander Green Lane pitch that afternoon as 14,000 fans watched on as Sutton were shown the pimp-hand and took a 6-0 beating as Leeds marched on to the Final of that year’s competition.

Lorimer makes it five for Leeds. (c)

Briefly deterred from domestic cup action, Sutton waited another 11 years before their next taste of success, an appearance in the final of the 1981 FA trophy final, a game they would lose to Bishop’s Stortford.

Sutton made it back to FA Cup 3rd round on a further three occasions, firstly in 1988 when they hosted Middlesbrough and took them to a replay at Ayresome Park, only to lose 1-0. Most recently, in 1993 they lost to Notts County, who the following year added insult to injury by taking Sutton’s crown of being the last English side to win the Anglo-Italian Cup.

Sandwiched between these two fine cup displays is the historic 3rd round win versus Cov which can’t go without a little bit more of a mention. On January 7th 1989, nearly 8,000 fans crammed into the Borough Sports Ground to witness history as Matt Hanlan scored the winner in a 2-1 victory. The likes of Steve Sedgely, Davie Speedie and  Steve “Oggy” Ogrizovich were humbled and frustrated by the U’s mighty efforts and poor Cyrille Regis found the Sutton net even more elusive than his own Panini sticker from the 92-93 season (not that I’m still bitter or anything).

During this time Sutton were a high-flying Step 1 Conference outfit, however, over the course of the past two decades, they have slipped down the Pyramid, although promotion last season and a very positive start to the 2011-12 campaign suggest that Sutton are hunting down those glory days.

Speaking of glory days, Sutton’s opponents in this 2nd qualifying round tie were Dulwich Hamlet who find themselves atop the Isthmian League Division 1 South for the first time in years. This meant that some of us entered the Borough Sports Ground with the hope of seeing yet another giant killing, this time for the away side. Being somewhat of a lucky mascot for cup underdogs (witnessing both Wrexham v Arsenal in 1992 and Crawley v Derby last year), I was optimistic to say the least. I shouldn’t have been.

I also have to mention the odd and slightly irregular link between Sutton and Gambia. One day a few years ago a holidaymaker known only as ‘Walter’ struck up a friendship with the then Sanchaba United faithful/players, gave them a load of kit and suggested they change their name to Sutton United (Gambia). Mental. Nevertheless, the two sides have become close allies with the London U’s providing mentoring and guidance to their Gambian counterparts. Impressively Sutton Utd (Gambia) often get bigger gates than their mentors. Surely a two-legged pre-season friendly between the two sides can’t be far away?

Down in front! Sutton United (Gambia) prepare for war...hopefully not civil

Park the Bus. The Borough Sports Ground is located less than 5 minutes from West Sutton railway station and around a 20 minute walk from Sutton station. A trip from London Bridge will take you about 45 minutes.

Home-field Advantage. The Borough Sports Ground also known as Gander Green Lane has been home to Sutton United since 1912 and by looks of it little has been done to improve it in this time. In many ways this is a good thing, it’s a charming wee ground with lots of character. Although unpopular with many – me included – is the remnants of the running track which originally surrounded the pitch. Despite the track since been removed, the rails, and therefore the support, remain some distance from the pitch.

Renovations are due in the near future as Sutton continue their quest to return to Step 1. It’s about time too, as the remnants of earlier works are starting to look a bit worn themselves. The bright blue seats in the main stand, a donation from Chelsea following the refurbishment of part of Stanford Bridge, are somewhat of an anomaly for a team playing in yellow but are a telling reminder of the influence of London’s bigger sides, it’s nice that for once, this isn’t a negative influence. Nevertheless, they’ve come to the end of their natural life and I’m sure the Sutton faithful would welcome some shiny new yellow seats…or at least a nice hand-me-down from Carrow Road.

There’s also some less-than-Emirates-standard directors’ seating, which come in a fetching brown and are located in a rich mahogany box (possibly just varnished MDF) to keep the plebs away from the high-powered brokers of sport that frequent the Blue Square South.

On the other sideline is a covered terrace running about half the length of the pitch. This was home to the most vocal members of the Sutton support, they’re not the not the Curva Sud, but considering I’d heard they were a virtually silent support, they were louder than some had led me to believe.

One end has a small covered Pigeon Stand and the other is open, both feature around a dozen rows of shallow terracing. In spite of the rather pedestrian rake, the viewing angle is far better the top of the steps than being on the railings and because the old running track, you only feel negligibly further away from the action.

Prawn Sandwiches. Eateries are plentiful at the Borough Sports Ground. A tea hut on each sideline means that you never have to stray too far from the action for a brew. There’s sadly no drinking outside but a trip to the bar is highly recommended. Similar to Kingsmeadow, access to the bar is via the player’s tunnel. For big kids such as myself, this is still a massive thrill. One wrong turn and I could have been helping to dish out the pre-match speech. As it is, I had to make do with a quick pint.

The bar is not without its charms. It’s reminiscent of a campsite recreation room with a sort of medical green paint, clearly donated from the local hospital. There were plenty of photos of Sutton teams throughout the ages as well as a large charidee scarf marking up the donations to the local hospice (presumably in return for some more leftover paint) and impressively, a dart board. A rare find and almost worthy of a trip to Sutton in itself.

The notice-boards at these places are always worth a butcher’s, Sutton is no different. On sifting though the usual stuff about the under 12s team and pleas for matchday volunteers, my eye was drawn to a poster for Gentleman’s Evening. Sounds fun, eh? A swanky night on the tiles with some of Sutton’s leading lights. Now, throw into that a guest speaker? Maybe Mr Neil “Razor” Ruddock? Jackpot. Well worth the £40 admission charge, I’m sure you’d all agree. If they had only added a personal appearance from Barry Chuckle, you might just have the best night out ever.

…and the game. Without wanting to sound like a total knobber, I’d forgotten what defeat tasted like for Dulwich. At 5pm last Saturday, I remembered. It’s shit. Drunken discussions about how I though this current Hamlet side would give a League 2 side a good run for their money proved (as you might expect) to be the booze-addled ramblings of deluded man. Sutton looked like they played two divisions better and the scoreline didn’t really flatter them, in truth they could have happily put 7 or 8 past us. Right from kick-off, Sutton attacked with journeyman Leroy Griffiths richly deserving his hat-trick. Once ahead, Sutton relied on attacking Dulwich on the break, a tactic that’s served the Hamlet well over the past few weeks. The most exciting point in the game was just after the break when Sutton made it 2-0, only for Dulwich to score from the kick-off thanks to a defensive blunder (much to my joy) from ex-Celtic man Paul Telfer. With one eye on a reply at Champion Hill, Hamlet switched off and less than 2 minutes later, Sutton had restored their two goal lead. Thrilling stuff for those of us who drink our half time drinks swiftly but incredibly frustrating for those who don’t and consequently fell foul of Sutton’s pitchside booze embargo as they remained in the bar after the restart.

Man of the match. Easy one this week. Our award goes to Alison,the manager of Sutton’s Club Shop and her staff. I think it’s possibly the finest non-league shop I’ve visited. In fact, it probably rivals a lot of league grounds. Inauspicious from the outside, it contains an Aladdin’s Cave of Sutton-related merchandise: kits both old and new, books, TWO different rulers, pens, badges from around the world, even a collection of DVDs from some of Sutton’s glory days were all available alongside the usual selection of programmes, scarves and mugs. It felt like a real labour of love and was one of the few personal positives to come out of my afternoon.

Post-match rub down. Certainly, the huddled masses hadn’t turned out in 1970 numbers or even 1989 numbers. Sadly it’s hardly surprising that in places like Sutton, the draw to the likes of Chelsea (in particular), Palace, and Arsenal have an ever-tightening stranglehold. Still, on a baking hot afternoon, I was a tad disappointed to see that Sutton couldn’t pull in a bigger crowd, especially considering it’s been more than a decade since these two sides played competitively and this was once a fairly tasty rivalry. Maybe paying £11 was a step too far to watch Sutton play a team from two divisions below.

Sutton are decent enough side to watch who at the very least look like they’ll be competitive in the Blue Square South. I think their current position of 4th in the league is a tad false and I doubt they’ll be in the playoff picture come May but they look like a decent mid-table outfit. Their football might not be the most attractive (although in fairness, I don’t know if they got out of second gear), but it’s effective and ultimately, that’s what matters. Their support, at least those that were old enough to vote, seemed knowledgeable and reasonably hospitable. The younger ones, a tad less so, with the little toe-rags assuming that our dandy pink and blues were the colours of a paedophile and made us all look like ‘Pink Faggots’. Safe to assume that Jack Wills won’t be opening a branch on Sutton High Street any time soon.