Friday, 9 December 2011

Sutton United blog: Leroy Griffiths, Sylvester Stallone and Ballyregan Bob

Take that! A tree, a wall, two floodlights and
the BBAYIFF giving a two-fingered gesture
to the gods of football.
I knew Sutton were going to struggle against Notts County when the big blue and yellow inflatable football fan (BBAYIFF) started to lose his enthusiasm for waving as soon as the referee blew his whistle to start the match.

The longer the game went on the less enthusiasm the BBAYIFF demonstrated. However, he found a second wind when Sutton were awarded a penalty with half-time approaching.

Unfortunately, Leroy Griffiths saw his tame penalty saved by Stuart Nelson prompting the BBAYIFF to give a two-fingered salute towards the footballing gods in retaliation for the misfortune they'd just bestowed upon us.

I was having a wee at the time Sutton were awarded that penalty. When I heard the cheer go up from the crowd, I bolted out of the portaloo faster than Ballyregan Bob at the old Wembley dog track.

Griffiths has my sympathy. I too would have felt the pressure of the crowd, the TV cameras, Tim Vine, the BIBYFF and assembled mascots all casting their eyes in my direction.

People are always going to talk about the 'missed penalty', but in my opinion it wasn't a miss, the goalkeeper saved it. Of course, it was a poorly struck penalty which made it easy for Nelson to make the save, but the save still had to be made. Credit must go to the County keeper for guessing correctly which side Griffiths would strike his kick.

I, like many people at the game, thought that if I'd stepped up to take the penalty then I'd have leathered it into the top corner of the net, giving Nelson no chance. But we can all be expert penalty takers from the safety of the stands.

Any rate, who am I to talk about penalty taking?

Back in 1982 I was a promising striker plying my trade in West Sutton Little League's reserve pool. At that stage of my career I wasn't even good enough to play for a team in the league's Intermediate Division but I had lofty ambitions. I had dreams of making my mark in the Premier Division before being snapped up by Barrie Williams to play for my beloved Sutton United.

West Sutton Little League's Premier Division had some pretty decent sides such as Viron Aces, B&T Wanderers, National Nippers and Leyswood Athletic. I wanted a taste of the big time, so I set about terrorising defenders in the reserve pool. Well, we all have to start somewhere.

It was early on in the season on a blistering hot day when the Bibs versus Skins match entered it's final throws with the scores locked at 8-8.

I had already scored twice when I received a needle-threading pass to put me through on goal. As I ran towards the Bibs' goalkeeper I had my heel clipped by a desperate defender and the referee awarded a penalty. It was just like the pass from Paul Gasgoine to Gary Lineker which led to England's third and winning goal against Cameroon in the 1990 World Cup quarter-final.

Once I'd got up off the ground I had a grin on my face like a Cheshire cat.

There were high-pitched shrieks of unbridled joy from my Skins team-mates who couldn't contain their delight at the thought of winning by the odd goal in 17. In my mind's eye I envisaged being carried off the pitch on the shoulders of my team-mates, rather like Bobby Moore after the 1966 World Cup Final.

All I had to do was score the penalty.

I placed the red and white-panelled leather football carefully down where the referee had paced out the position of an imaginary penalty spot. I stared at the goalkeeper with sweat dripping down my face. I took five paces back and prepared to take the most important penalty of my life.

I ran up and smashed it with my right Dunlop boot with moulded studs. The goalkeeper flung himself to his left and pushed the ball onto the traffic cone which acted as his left-hand post. The cone went tumbling away, the ball rolled off and nestled by someone's garden fence and the referee deemed the ball hadn't crossed the imaginary goal line by shouting 'NO GOAL!'

With those words ringing in my ears, I sank to my knees and my bottom lip started to quiver.

I was then acutely aware of the high-pitched shrieks from the Bibs boys who all ran to congratulate their heroic goalkeeper. It was just like that scene from Escape to Victory where Sylvester Stallone saves a late penalty from that nasty German man.

What I am trying to say is that, unlike many of those Chelsea fans who surrounded me last Sunday, I don't feel I am in a position to tell Leroy Griffiths how to take a penalty. Sadly, two goals from Jeff Hughes were enough to send County through to a Third Round tie at Doncaster Rovers.

The life of a football mascot isn't easy you know. Take Sutton's very own Jenny the Giraffe for example. On her big day poor old Jen had her hoofs stepped on by chart-topper Bob the Builder, a cheerleading troupe, Tim Vine and, of course, the BBAYIFF. But, just like the Sutton team, I thought the old girl put in an excellent shift. I also think those Sutton fans who worked tirelessly behind the scenes for our big date with the TV cameras deserve a pat on the back too.
Poor show: I ordered Lucky Morph to down a
pint of  Young's Special in one after the game,
but he failed, he did it in two before bolting
off to the loo faster than Ballyregan Bob.

I'll be honest, my own mascot, Lucky Morph, proved a bit of a let down on Sutton's big day and was severely reprimanded in the boozer after the game.

At the final whistle I stood and applauded Paul Doswell and the boys with my hands high above my head and, with tears welling up in my eyes, I sung 'We're Proud of You, We're Proud of You, We're Proud of You, We're Proud...' to the tune of Old Lang Syne, all by myself. Many of the Chelsea fans who were leaving in their droves just looked at me in bemusement.

The drinking session which followed was made all the better when the chaps from the Real FA Cup showed up. However, the resulting hangover has to be up there in my list of Top Ten Worst Monday Morning Hangovers in History.

I knew I had recovered from that post-match Sunday sozzle session when, while walking through Carshalton Beeches on Tuesday morning, I found myself whistling the theme tune to Rugby Special, the much-loved BBC rugby show which used to be presented by Nigel Starmer-Smith.

If I whistle that tune then I know that everything is tickety-boo and I am back on track. If you are ever feeling a bit under the weather then just think of this clip, which comes courtesy of Brixham Rugby Club. The theme tune, entitled Holy Mackerell, is just so uplifting.

So, our defeat to Notts County means we are now left to concentrate on the Blue Square South and the Surrey Senior Cup.

On Tuesday night the Amber and Chocolates excelled themselves by beating not one, but two towns in one game when they edged past Epsom and Ewell in the Surrey Senior Cup 1-0. Kyle Vassell got the late goal to set up a home tie with Godalming Town.

Our next two league games are going to be as tough as they come, Woking and Welling United. It's obviously important to regain our focus on the league now that all the hullabaloo surrounding the Notts County game has died down. Yep, that's the last we'll see of Tony Rains and Matthew Hanlan for another year.

Whether we win or lose at Woking, me and Lucky Morph will be on the booze as we aim to add a new entry to my list of Top Ten Worst Sunday Morning Hangovers in History.


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Friday, 2 December 2011

Sutton United blog: John Chiedozie, Morph and Baldrick

Thirty-year-old Sutton scarf: CHECK
Replica shirt (circa 1992): CHECK
Yellow and brown hat from the Coventry Cup run: CHECK
'Hello mum' banner for TV: CHECK
Matchday ticket: CHECK
Lucky Morph mascot: CHECK

Ladies and gentlemen, I am all set for the big match.

For a fan of a non-league football team there can be few more pleasing sights to the eye than a television gantry consisting of wooden planks and scaffolding being erected at your club's hotch-potch of a ground. We've even upgraded the floodlights for the Cup clash against Notts County too. Amazing.

All this of course, means we're getting a taste of the big time and for once, the Whyteleafe fan who refered to me as Billy Big B*ll*cks, is right.

Like an excited schoolboy, I skipped down to Sutton's Gander Green Lane home last week to pick up my ticket for the game.

I may not have had to queue for an hour or so like I did for my tickets to the Cup clashes with Middlesbrough (1988) and Coventry (1989) but I felt a real buzz about the place as the ticket office did steady trade.

It's amazing how five people can create a buzz, but create a buzz they did. Imagine the atmosphere a few thousand down the Lane will create on Sunday.

Since conquering Kettering on November 12 in the First Round of the Cup, Sutton god Paul Doswell has hatched a cunning plan, in true Baldrick from Blackadder style.

Having previously embarked on an excellent 15-game unbeaten run which saw Sutton play some fine football, Doswell has attempted to lull County into a false sense of security with our last three matches seeing us lose two, draw one, concede three and score one... well, we didn't score it, Basingstoke kindly scored it for us.

With a recent record like that, surely Notts County will win, won't they? It's cunning, but we just might pull it off. In Dos we trust.

Ah, Notts County, the memories come flooding back; Panini sticker albums of the early 1980s featuring John Chiedozie and Jimmy Sirrell, a building behind one of the goals at County's Meadow Lane home which looked a bit like a sports hall or warehouse, a trip to Wembley in 1991 and of course, our Cup clashes of 1994 and 2008.

I find it a bit difficult to describe that sports hall/wareshouse-looking building but it's featured in the 1983/84 Goal of the Season competition when Nigel Callaghan scored for Watford to the backrop of a Ford Cortina Estate, a green Mini Clubman, a mound of sand, a skip and a white garden shed. It makes even the Collingwood Road end of our place look good. Any rate, Callaghan's goal is Goal F, check it out here...

F was also on the lips of some Notts County fans I has the misfortune of bumping into after getting lost near Wembley prior to their clash with Brighton and Hove Albion in the 1991 Second Division Play-Off Final.

I attended the match as a neutral, but without really thinking about it, I decided to wear a blue and white striped shirt (Brighton's home colours) and was told in no uncertain terms to F-off by the four County fans who I'd approached to ask the way to the stadium.

You could say I was asking for trouble, not directions.

Time is a healer though, and I'm over it now. I just hope I don't get lost near Gander Green Lane on Sunday. Only kidding County fans, I know you're a decent bunch really.

There's no doubt about it, Sutton are going to have to win this match. If we don't then there is every chance the nation will be subjected to yet more appearances by Tony Rains and Matthew Hanlan over the next 20 years. Besides, can we really lose for a third time against a side whose fans sing about wheelbarrows? (Google Wheelbarrow song).
I didn't go to our last meeting with County.

Instead, while the Amber and Chocolates were putting in a plucky performance against the Magpies, I was on a plane to Canada.

Once I'd touched down, I switched my phone on and received a message from my mate Mog which read: 'Lost 1-0. Late goal.' 

Yes, my recollections of our last Cup duel consists entirely of a four word text message which I greeted with the four-letter word I'd been tormented with by those County fans I'd met outside Wembley 17 years previously.

However, I was at Meadow Lane in 1994 for our Third Round tie. Considering what happened outside Wembley I somewhat tentatively wore my amber and brown scarf, hoping beyond hope I wouldn't get lost near Meadow Lane.

Sutton, under the stewardship of Alan Gane, went 2-0 down inside ten minutes through Mark Draper and Tony Agana, then battled back to 2-2 with goals from Paul Barrowcliffe and Steve Smart, before succumbing to a controversial Paul Devlin strike with 12 minutes left.

Sutton had Simon Quail sent-off in the 11th minute after a flare-up with Michael Johnson who also saw red. Being a four-time Olympic gold medallist, Johnson won the race to the dressing room with ease.

When a County fan came up to me after the game I feared the worst. But this kindly soul, shook my hand and said what a great effort the Amber and Chocolates had put in and that we had an excellent goalkeeper in Fitzroy McCaulsky.

I proudly caught the footage of that game on VHS cassette, but sadly my old video recorder chewed it up a year or so later.

Our two previous meetings with County have seen us lose by the odd goal each time. On this occasion we have an excellent squad consisting of very talented and experienced players, so there's absolutely no reason why the Amber and Chocolates can't get something out of this game. Besides, it's just 11 versus 11 and my Lucky Morph...

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Friday, 18 November 2011

Sutton United blog: Notts County, Misery Bear and Ronnie Radford

When I was a kid I used to love going to friends' birthday parties.

The things I enjoyed the most were fairy cakes, pass the parcel, stick the tail on the donkey, a game of Twister, kiss chase (with any luck) and getting giddy on copious amounts of pop.

Somebody would generally always end up in tears while someone else would always get a good telling off for being naughty. I used to love it.

...until it came to my turn in the spotlight.

From the moment people started singing happy birthday to me my top lip started to quivver, the tears started welling up in my eyes before I couldn't stand it any more and I'd dash off upstairs faster than 100-metre Olympic Gold Medallist Alan Wells and hide my face in a pillow.

I would be miserable for the rest of the party and would listen out rather sheepishly from behind the bannisters as mum bade farewell to my friends and their parents.

I absolutely hated it when people started singing happy birthday to me.

These days I just go down the pub on the big day, on my own of course, get smashed and generally try and forget all about it, but back then I could be a real party pooper.

Tonbridge Angels are party poopers. There we were, on a fine 15-game unbeaten run when Frannie Collin struck with 14 minutes left to put a dampner on the feelgood factor at Gander Green Lane and earn his side the three points.

I thought Tonbridge looked a lively and dangerous side but Sutton let them off the hook to some extent by missing some excellent chances and hitting the metalwork twice. But let's not dwell on that when there's so much positivity around our old athletics track at the moment.

At the start of Sutton's annual quest to win the FA Cup, which this season began against Dulwich Hamlet, my mate Yorkie said: 'If you make it through the qualifying rounds then I'd put money on your lot getting either Hereford or Notts County.'

I was pleased he was wrong when we got Kettering in the First Round.

On Sunday he sent his post-draw response via text which read: 'There was something crushingly inevitable about that, man...'

Well, since the draw for the Second Round was made I have been tucked away in my bedroom designing a special 'Hello Mum' banner in readiness for our debut on live TV.

It looks really good too. It has an amber background with my heartfelt message written in big brown letters. Underneath I have written the rather catchy name of my blog, there's nothing wrong with a bit of self-publicity you know.

I'm sure mum will appreciate it and hopefully it'll go some way to repairing the damage done at bygone birthday bashes.

At the risk of sounding arrogant, or as the Whyteleafe fan once called me Billy Big B*ll*cks, I knew we'd be on TV. One look at the draw told me only a handful of ties have that air of romance that makes the Cup so special.

At this stage of the competition the recipe for a classic giantkilling is that a non-league club hosts a League side at a pokey little ground, preferably with a slope. The under-16s in the crowd are required by law to wear either a green parka or duffle coat and run onto the pitch should the home side score.

Setting the benchmark for such celebrations of course, are the good folk of our old Cup foes Hereford. The parka count is very high in this famous clip...

So, why was I so confident that we'd get a live game on the box?

Well, of the non-league sides with a home draw Salisbury City have to wait to see if Port Vale can beat Grimsby for the romance to exist in that tie. So, sorry Salisbury, no TV for you yet.

Stourbridge can relax safe in the knowledge that their First Round replay with Plymouth Argyle will be screened on ESPN next week, so there's no need to see them again in the Second Round.

Likewise, Bath City are having their replay with Dagenham and Redbridge televised anyway by ESPN.

Chelmsford v Macclesfied, Luton v Cheltenham and Gateshead v Hinckley or Tamworth don't really fit the criteria.

The Lonsdale tracksuit and Burberry cap-wearing crowds at Chelmsford and Luton just don't cut the mustard when it comes to the romance of the Cup. I am sure there'll be the odd green parka at Gateshead but, sadly for them, they were drawn at home against non-league opposition.

With the big fish of this stage of the competition, Charlton, Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United all being drawn at home, that leaves Fleetwood, Totton and Sutton to have their moment in front of the live television cameras. Woohoo!

Some of the ties for the Second Round, such as Colchester versus Swindon and Shrewsbury against Rotherham, have less romance than Misery Bear's ill-fated 'wedding' to Maisy. If you haven't got a clue what I'm on about then check this out...

I know some folk weren't too pleased with the draw but I have to say that from the moment we were paired with County for the third time in recent Cup history I was very happy with the outcome.

The only excuse people can have for disappointment is that we didn't pull someone new out of the hat, after all, Charlton, Preston and Carlise were still awaiting their fate.

Well, a high-flying League One side at home will do nicely for me. It could have been much worse, AFC Totton away anyone?

All this malarkey came about courtesy of a 1-0 home victory over Kettering Town last Saturday where three pints of beer before kick-off helped calm my nerves ahead of the big game.

The lure of the big game proved too big for my old pal Tennis to turn down. This is the chap who used to follow Sutton home and away years ago but now prefers to watch the likes of Wigan versus Bolton from the comfort of the boozer rather than nip down to Gander Green Lane every once in a while. Yorkie once described Tennis as: 'The pin-up boy for the Sky Sports generation.'

After an edgey first-half performance Sutton stepped it up a gear in the second period and by the time Craig Watkins pounced on a blocked Fola Orilonishe shot to put the Amber and Chocolates ahead I was building up a thirst for more booze.

Sutton fluffed chances to increase the advantage while Kettering missed a couple of decent opportunities to force a replay. The final whistle came as a huge relief and so I skipped off to the pub to start a rapid descent into a drunken oblivion.

On Sunday morning I awoke to find a half-eaten box of delights from Dallas Fried Chicken in the corner of my room. Next to it was a half-consumed bottle of Old Speckled Hen and the piece of cardboard which was soon to become my 'Hello Mum' banner. The television was on and I was fully clothed. All of which tells me that I had a bloody good Saturday night out.

Tomorrow the Amber and Chocolates face a trip mid-table Dorchester Town for a Blue Square South game. With all the hullabaloo going on about the Cup run it is vitally important that the boys keep their run in the League going too.

Any rate, I've run out of puff today...


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Friday, 11 November 2011

Sutton United Blog: Kettering Town, Noel Edmonds and Gollum

Picture the scene. I’m sat in the hot seat in the middle of the Deal or No Deal studio for my chance to win some life-changing money in an FA Cup special edition of the show hosted by the ever-popular Noel Edmonds.

My game is at an advanced stage and unfortunately I’ve seen some of the big money go already in the form of Charlton Athletic, Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United. However, there’s still some decent money left on the board in Plymouth Argyle, Leyton Orient and Wimbledon as well as some smaller sums such as AFC Totton, Bradford Park Avenue and Arlesey Town.

I am sat there sweating like a kipper, mainly because Edmonds’ colourful flowery shirt is about to trigger a migraine, when my game reaches its crux.
‘Noel,’ I say, ‘I am ready for the question.’
Edmonds looks me in the eye, pauses, and then says: ‘Amber Rambler, Kettering Town at home, deal or no deal?’
I reply: ‘That’s a very kind offer Mr Banker. I have to respect it. Deal.’
Then, at that point, the crowd go wild and I let out a whoop of delight.
Personally, I always thought Noel was better in Multi-Coloured Swap Shop. If I am honest, I only mentioned that so I can pop this video in...

...I defy any of you to watch that without jigging around in your seat...
Any rate, all that was my round about way of saying that I was happy with the draw for the First Round of the FA Cup. We're at home against a team from a higher division and that'll do for me.
So, Kettering come to town tomorrow for an intriguing Cup clash which pits a club on the up versus a club in transition.

Sutton are obviously going well in the Blue Square South this season while Kettering, who have a new manager in Mark Stimson and a new ground in Nene Park, are not doing so well in the Blue Square Premier.
I have a mixed bag of memories from bygone battles with the Poppies, most notably our 8-0 victory from 1986, our 4-1 triumph at Rockingham Road in 1987 and a 4-2 defeat which, I think, condemned us to relegation in 1991.
From what I can recall, our 8-0 success prompted then Poppies boss, former Nottingham Forest defender Dave Needham, to resign. Not long after that crushing victory the Amber and Chocolates battered Bath 7-2 at Gander Green Lane as they adjusted well to life in the newly-named GM Vauxhall Conference.
The 4-1 win at Rockingham Road came towards the end of the 1986/87 season and I just about managed to drag myself away from the treasure trove that was the Kettering club shop to witness Francis Awaritefe setting off on a run from the halfway line, fending off four or five challenges before firing the ball over the goalkeeper and into the net.
The goal sparked wild celebrations amongst the Sutton supporters and generous applause from the Kettering faithful.
Four years later Sutton’s trip to Rockingham Road wasn’t so fruitful.

Under the stubborn leadership of Keith Blunt, I think I'm right in saying Sutton were clinging onto their Conference existence by a thread and needed a win from their clash with Kettering.
I didn’t go to the game but I did watch it live on television with a small group of pals at the Morden Tavern in, er, Morden.
A small cable channel called SportsCast were covering Conference games that season, and on this occasion it was Sutton’s chance to shine in front of the TV cameras.
Except they didn’t. The Amber and Chocolates were stuffed 5-2 and relegation was accepted.
Both sides will see tomorrow's game as a chance to progress further in the competition, so let battle commence.

Whether Sutton win or lose this tie I look forward to renewing aquaintances with Ketting in the top flight of non-league football next season.
Before I go, there’s an issue surrounding this game, and any other Sutton home game come to think of it, which requires me to adopt a no-nonsense approach. So, here goes…

If you happen to be a Kettering fan or a neutral making your way to the big FA Cup clash at Sutton this Saturday and are thinking of having a pre-match beer in The Plough, opposite Sutton’s ground, then don’t.
It may be a watering hole, there’s no escaping that, but it’s a hole of another kind too, one that rhymes with pit.
However, if you want to stand should-to-shoulder with punters who’ll make you feel like you’ve stumbled into a meeting of the Phil and Grant Mitchell Appreciation Society, then by all means go for it.
Failing that, you could always get chatting to some broken-toothed little creatures who wouldn’t look out of place at a convention of Gollum look-a-likes.

Unfortunately the boozers near the football ground, with the exception of the Robin Hood, are naffer than naff. If you do go to a local boozer then head to the Hood.

Good Lord: Go boozing with Gollum and friends in Sutton, if you dare.
Your best option for a pint is the clubhouse where you can marvel at pictures of Sutton legend John Rains’ moustache while enjoying the banter with the Sutton faithful. One thing is for sure, the welcome at the clubhouse will be a lot warmer than at some of the pubs.
Like I say, it’s up to you...anyway, must dash, Deal or No Deal is on now...


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Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Sutton United blog: Fear and self-loathing in Leatherhead

I went for a nice walk over at Beddington Park on Sunday.

While I was strolling along, listening to Birdhouse in Your Soul by They Might Be Giants, I noticed a young black labrador wouldn't leave me alone. The little fella was proudly showing off his brightly coloured squeaky toy and, quite understandably, was dribbling with all the excitement.

The look in his little eyes was basically saying to me: 'Look at me man, this is my toy. Just look, don't touch. I am having a great time. See ya.'

Life, for that dog at least, doesn't get much better than that and I know how he feels. I'm a bit like that when it comes to Kevin Scriven.

Given half a chance, I will talk to my pals about Scrivs all night long over a few pints. Well, not quite all night long, but you know what I mean. If I went to a pet shop to buy a squeaky toy, then I'd have one I could show off and be proud of, so I'll have one of those squeaky Kevin Scrivens, please.

I need a dog first though.

Believe it or not, I wasn't in the Robin Hood pub back in 1898 when the town's squires put quill to paper to seal the formation of Sutton United, so it's difficult to say who the best ever Sutton goalkeeper has been. Popular opinion says that Dave Collyer and Ron Fearon were the best.

Well, I am going to say this; I think we are lucky enough to be watching the best ever Sutton goalkeeper right now. If he isn't the best then I don't know what he has to do to become the number one Number One of all time. Score a goal perhaps?

Scrivs is my squeaky toy and I am showing him off to you all right now.

The Sutton custodian made a wonder save at Leatherhead last Tuesday night at a crucial stage of the match.

The Amber and Chocolates had forged into a 3-2 extra-time lead when a 30-yard shot from Greg Andrews arrowed towards the top corner of the Sutton net when, just as I was about to shout the F-word, Scriven tipped it over the crossbar.

With both sides flippin' knackered from a bruising encounter, it was a match-winning save and spared us all from a dreaded penalty shoot-out.

Leatherhead fans might argue that Scriven was lucky to stay on the field having pulled down Kev Terry to give the Tanners a 37th-minute penalty. But, thank crikey the referee only brandished a yellow card in the Sutton keeper's direction.

The Amber and Chocolates had taken a second minute lead when Craig Watkins headed the ball home but the Leatherhead penalty, which was converted, set the nerves jangling once again as the sides went in all square at half-time.

To take my mind off the Cup clash during the interval I decided to play a game of stick cricket on my iPhone. However, when my team of World All-Stars, which included Sunil Gavaskar, Ian Botham, Adam Gilchrist, Brian Lara and Abdul Qadir, were bowled out for a miserly 49 against minnows Kenya, I wondered if this was a sign of things to come.

I almost had a panic attack actually. Perhaps my palm-top game of cricket held the key to the rest of this tense FA Cup tie, and perhaps my team's inept performance meant that the Amber and Chocolates would come a cropper at Fetcham Grove.

Just as I became riddled with fear and self-loathing the greens of Leatherhead took to the field for the start of the second half. Kenya's stick cricketers played in green too. The omens didn't look good.

In the 77th minute Leatherhead shotstopper Chico Ramos got a hand to a shot from Craig Watkins and the ball trickled towards the goalline. As I held my breath and Ramos leapt toward the ball, the Sutton fans behind the goal just about managed to suck the ball over the line and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

However, Leatherhead still had more left in the tank...

Moments after a Leroy Griffiths shot went out for a throw-in - YES, A FLIPPIN' THROW-IN - Leatherhead broke forward for one desperate push and, in the 92nd minute, they levelled through Tommy Hutchings. I had no choice but to shout out the F-word in despair.

When Glenn McGrath hit his own wicket to condemn the World All-Stars to that humiliating defeat to Kenya on my iPhone, I had a feeling the drama from the pixellated cricket square would translate itself to the lush turf of the Fetcham Grove pitch, and so it turned out, my worst fears were actually happening. I was a broken man inside.

Quack quack: Glenn McGrath hides his face in shame having hit his own wicket for 0 condemning my World All-Stars stick cricket team to an embarrassing defeat against Kenya at half-time during the Leatherhead v Sutton FA Cup tie. Don't pay attention to the scoreboard, it's not Waugh, it's McGrath I tell you!

Thankfully, Fola Orilonishe put the disappointment of having his name abysmally read out by the matchday announcer behind him to put Sutton ahead before Super Scrivs made that super save to ensure Sutton's progression to the First Round of the Cup for the third time in four years.

It was hardly surprising that Paul Doswell gave the boys Thursday night off after such a tough encounter with the Tanners. Craig Dundas, in particular, threw himself around all over the place and probably had the bruises to show for it the following day.

As for me, I was pretty knackered too. The pounding from Kenya at half-time coupled with Leatherhead's never say die attitude made for a gripping, if uncomfortable night.

I wasn't at Staines on Saturday but from what I can gather my little squeaky toy played another blinder and made three stunning saves to help the Amber and Chocolates to a fine 4-1 success. Leroy Griffiths and Fola Orilonishe grabbed the goals for Sutton.

I won't be playing stick cricket at half-time against Kettering. No way. It's not worth the stress. Compared to Sutton They Might Be Giants, well in non-league terms at least, but the Poppies don't need any help from me and my inept cricketing 'All-Stars'.

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Friday, 28 October 2011

Sutton United blog: Franny Lee, Leroy Griffiths and Leatherhead FC

When I was at an impressionable age I bought a VHS video entitled 101 Great Goals from WH Smith.

I remember saying to my friend these very words: ‘We’ll never get bored ever again.’

What a berk. Of course, after we’d watched the video 101 times we were bored senseless and went back to playing Football Manager, Manic Miner and Horace Goes Skiing on our ZX Spectrums.

One of the highlights of the video was a goal scored by Franny Lee for Derby against Manchester City at Maine Road. You know the one, where Barry Davies’s voice actually breaks during all the excitement.

When Lee fires the ball high into the net, Davies shrieks: ‘Interesting, very interesting! Look at his face. Just look at his face!’  His voice breaks at the second mention of the word his.

It’s great. You must watch it...

Me and my mate literally wet ourselves laughing the first time we heard that. We liked it so much that I went over to the video recorder to rewind the footage so we could watch it four or five more times and we repeated the phrase thousands of times over the following weeks, months and years.

I saw five great goals on Tuesday night when Sutton thumped a pretty decent Salisbury City side 5-0.

They were five goals I definitely could watch over and over again. In fact, I could watch them so much that I have even packed away my ZX Spectrum for the time being. I’ve got SUFCTV now anyway.

Football Manager: A Mansfield striker just avoids the offside trap to put his side into a shock lead against Aston Villa. Just look at his face!

I have to agree with many folk on the fans’ forum; I would struggle to recall such a complete performance by the Amber and Chocolates, certainly in my 30-odd years supporting the club.

All the boys played well, there’s no doubt about that. But for me, the performance from Leroy Griffiths highlighted the work ethic the lads have at the moment.

Time and time again Griffiths would track back to defend, sometimes crucially, before racing back up the pitch like a gazelle to join the attack. Griffiths is 34 years young, that’s for sure.

If Griffiths is a gazelle then Paul Telfer is like a stubborn old stag in defence, patrolling his patch.

A few weeks ago I had a laugh at Telfer’s expense when I likened him to the old codger with a Zimmer frame from the BBC3 show Family Guy. Well, I owe him an apology, because he has still got a spring in his step and snuffed out a lot of the danger posed by Salisbury when they dared to enter his territory.

I am of a similar age to Telfer, yet the only animal I can really liken myself to might be a knackered old Peruvian mountain mule whose legs are about to give way.

I’ve noticed this lately, that as I go to sit down my knees give an almighty crack and, more often than not, I let out a gasp of ‘aaaahhhhhhh’ as I take a seat. Oh, and my gut is beginning to look a bit like Matt Lucas when he plays that character Dafydd Thomas, you know, the only gay in the village, or any other character come to think of it. Lucas is a big unit, that's for sure.

Any rate, I’ll have a few beers tonight and a kebab before deciding how I’m going to halt this rapid decline in my physical wellbeing. In the meantime, I’ve got my eye on a Zimmer frame on eBay.

I highlighted the performances of Griffiths and Telfer because they’re a couple of old timers who have certainly turned the clock back for Sutton’s cause. But, to be honest, I couldn’t pick a man of the match from Tuesday because the whole team clicked.

The way Sutton battled to regain the ball once they’d lost it and the way they defended was just as impressive as the five goals they scored. It was obvious by the goal celebrations that the boys are enjoying playing together and long may it continue.

We’ve been blessed with some good teams at Sutton over the years and this one is shaping up, dare I say it, to be one of the best.

On Tuesday night Craig Watkins put Sutton in control with two classy finishes before half-time; a lob and a header, the latter from a fine Harry Beautyman cross. The second half saw Sutton add three more goals courtesy of sublime chips from Craig Dundas, Beautyman and Tommy Kavanagh.

At the final whistle I headed to the boozer for a few post-match pints with a spring in my step and then bored the pants off my mates who subsequently wished they hadn’t agreed to meet me for a ‘quick drink’. I staggered home at closing time rather like a knackered old Peruvian mountain mule whose legs are about to give way.

Every game is important now as the Blue Square South table takes on a pleasing look. Not many of us would dare imagine that we’d be sitting second in the table at the end of October with a goal difference of +15 when we got hammered 5-0 at home by Woking on the opening day of the season.

If I asked if you remember Ernie Howe then you’d probably reply with ‘Ernie who’? Such is the brand of football Paul Doswell’s boys are playing at the moment that Howe’s ill-fated tenure in charge at Gander Green Lane has been confined to the history books. You'll find it under the heading Dark Ages.

Sutton fans could be forgiven for licking their lips at the prospect of facing Leatherhead in the Fourth Qualifying Round of the FA Cup on Saturday. But, the truth is, they’re not. If anything, they’re biting their lips rather nervously.

Saturday’s Cup clash, the final hurdle separating us from a potential big-money match with the likes of Charlton Athletic, Brentford and Hanworth Villa…well, maybe not Brentford…is of course, the perennial banana skin.

Everyone expects us to trounce the Tanners, but then everyone thought we’d ease past Alton Town last season, and we all know what happened there.

So, despite great form from their team and having beaten Dulwich Hamlet 5-1 and Bognor 4-0 on the Cup trail so far, Sutton fans still go into this Cup encounter rather cautiously.

The Tanners' own Cup journey has seen them overcome North Leigh (5-1), Biggleswade (2-1 in replay) and, most impressively, Billericay in their own back yard (3-0). They may be propping up the Ryman Premier League at the moment, but tomorrow's game is different, league status means sweet FA in the Cup.

I just hope that, at 5pm tomorrow, it'll be Paul Doswell who has a smile on his face just like Franny Lee.

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Friday, 30 September 2011

Sutton United blog: Brian Kilcline, Jocky Wilson and the FA Cup

We all have our FA Cup dreams, don’t we.
I had a dream once that we beat Coventry City 2-1 in the Third Round. 
Hold on. No, that one was actually real life. Wow, even better. We literally lived the dream that day.
Oh come on, give me a break. What’s the point in having a Sutton United blog if I can’t mention the Coventry game when the FA Cup comes around?
That was a day, I can tell you. 
The curly locks of Brian Kilcline, Steve Sedgely hitting the post and crossbar with a single shot, and of course, the flowing tears of Matthew Hanlan’s sister after her brother volleyed his name into FA Cup folklore. Ah yes, the memories come flooding back.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing though. Like most clubs, we’ve experienced the highs and the lows of the Cup.
In the 1986/87 season Sutton were enjoying their first foray into fifth-tier football and had only played a handful of games in the GM Vauxhall Conference.
In the FA Cup Second Qualifying Round of that season they were beaten 4-1 at The Warren, the home of emerging London Spartan League side Yeading.
It was a true FA Cup shock.
To see a goalkeeper the calibre of Ron Fearon picking the ball out of his net four times against such supposedly inferior opposition was a galling experience. But, after all, that is the magic of the Cup, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
For years after that defeat the name Yeading sent a shiver down the spines of Sutton fans the world over. 

Thank crikey Yeading are no more, after their merger with Hayes to form the super-club we know today as Hayes & Yeading United. I do, however, look forward to seeing my boys do battle with them next season in the Blue Square Bet Premier.
The FA Cup Final of the 86/87 season produced one of the all-time classic matches, Tottenham Hotspur 2 Coventry City 3.
I remember watching the game live on television with my dad and cheering for the Sky Blues.
I always cheered for the underdog in such encounters, unless they happened to be called Yeading, of course.  
Keith Houchen had already carved his name into the annals of Cup history when he scored a penalty for York City as they beat Arsenal in the Fourth Round of 1985. But two years later, and in the Final itself, he was leaping like a salmon to head Coventry’s second goal to earn his spot in the FA Cup Hall of Fame.
I remember the shear joy etched on Brian Kilcline’s face as he lifted the Cup for the first time in the club’s history. It was a truly great day for football, unless of course, you supported Spurs.
Twenty months later Kilcline was lifting himself off the floor at Gander Green Lane after the Amber and Chocolates landed the Sky Blues a knock-out blow in the Third Round.
Whenever I watch the Sutton/Coventry highlights - which isn't very often these days, perhaps just twice a week - I always have a rye smile on my face when City score their equaliser through David Phillips.
The camera pans to the City fans where a portly chap in a jumper, who looks a bit like darts legend Jocky Wilson, is caught sticking two fingers up at the Sutton supporters. 
When Hanlan popped in Sutton's second a few minutes later, that chap got his cummupance. 
Let’s not mention Sutton’s 8-0 drubbing at the hands of Norwich City in the Fourth Round. Where’s the fun in that, aye?
Any rate, no word of a lie, I literally had my FA Cup dream last night.
Out of the blue I was chosen to play for Wimbledon against Gillingham after the two teams were paired in the First Round.
I remember wearing a snazzy tracksuit while I did my warm-up exercises down Putney High Street of all places.  
I remember seeing my name up in lights as the scoreboard announced to the gathering masses that I was to play at centre-forward for the Dons.
Unfortunately, I could hear grumblings of discontent about my inclusion in the team as I bent over to touch my toes outside Halfords.
However, if only they’d realised that I had been such a prolific marksmen for my work’s five-a-side football team then they wouldn’t have been so worried.
Then I heard a high-pitched whistle, rather like the one a shepherd makes to issue instructions to his sheepdog. It was Dons' boss Terry Brown, telling me to get in the changing room for his pre-match briefing.
As I made my way back to the ground, passing Cash Converters and Clinton Cards on my way, I got lost in the crowd of Saturday afternoon shoppers.
As the clock ticked towards 2.55pm I broke into a cold sweat and blind panic. My FA Cup dream was literally turning into a nightmare.
Then, thank crikey, I woke up.
Thank God my dream didn’t involve me putting on the famous amber shirt of Sutton United. I don't think I could have lived with the disappointment of getting swallowed up by a sea of chavs on the High Street and not making it to Gander Green Lane after Paul Doswell summoned me to get ready for the big match.
Of course, Wimbledon host Gillingham tomorrow in a League Two tussle. I think what triggered the dream was an online article I’d read about Danny Kedwell’s return to Kingsmeadow.
Any rate, after a year in exile, the Amber and Chocolates hit the FA Cup trail once again tomorrow.
It’s a real banana skin they’re faced with too, Ryman League Division One South table-toppers Dulwich Hamlet.
It’s good to see Hamlet fighting back after years in the doldrums. There's no doubt about it, Sutton are going to have keep their focus or risk another embarrassing elimination like last year.
How can we forget last year?
After a fine start to the season, we took our eye off the ball and were dumped out of the competition by a side whose name sounds like a theme park, Wessex Leaguers Alton Town.
We must be even more wary tomorrow because our trusted leader, Paul Doswell, has just earned himself the Blue Square Bet South Manager of the Month accolade. It was truly well deserved after the Amber and Chocolates collected 13 out of a possible 15 points from September.
Sutton’s latest success was last Saturday’s 4-1 mauling of Maidenhead, which apart from face-painting and a game of tag, was the main attraction of the club’s family fun day initiative.
I think it’s fair to say that everyone, apart from poor old Maidenhead, enjoyed the experience.
The family fun day at Sutton is becoming so good that even that old curmudgeon Gordon Strachan couldn’t resist a visit to Gander Green Lane last Saturday. Yes, he really was there.
But, as exciting as it was to see the dour-faced former Coventry boss sitting in the VIP area of the main stand, some of Sutton’s townsfolk were lured to the Lane by the prospect of seeing a real star on show, and they weren’t disappointed.
Craig Watkins took centre stage by claiming a hat-trick which was witnessed by a crowd of 1,332. Oh, and TV funnyman Tim Vine was there too.
When Doswell walked through what was the managerial revolving door at Gander Green Lane in the summer of 2008, the voice of Sutton United, AKA matchday announcer Tony Dolbear, made an inspired choice when he played Bringing on Back the Good Times by Love Affair on his tannoy turntable, because that's exactly what Dos was determine to do.
Now, the last thing we need is for Dulwich to produce some Yeading-type heroics to spoil the feelgood factor.
So, I'll take a 1-0 win tomorrow as we looked to make it through to that magical First Round where we're bound to play either Hereford or Notts County, because we always get paired with one of them whenever we get that far in the Cup.
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Friday, 23 September 2011

Sutton United blog: Tim Vine, Conrad Pugsley and Wayne Slob

Before I get started, promise me one thing; you'll click on the word wizards when you come across it. Many thanks... OK, now let's get cracking...

A pint of beer has rarely tasted as good as it did last Saturday night.

I popped into The Alexandra in Wimbledon to kick-start a celebratory sozzle session after Sutton trounced Truro 3-0. With that in mind, what better ale to get me started than Cornwall Coaster, it kind of summed up Sutton's afternoon.

I raised my pint glass to Paul Doswell, Alan Payne, Wayne Shaw and the boys before necking my beer in an act of unbridled joy.

I can hear Amber Aleman from the Sutton Fans' Forum tutting now, and I know you're meant to take your time and enjoy a good pint of real ale, but my Cornish Coaster, brewed by Rock-based Sharp's Brewery, didn't even touch the sides. I felt like Popeye downing a can of spinach.

I can assure you Mr Aleman, I took my time with my second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seveth pints, but I couldn't be totally be sure abouth the eighth.

Saturday's epic away day will live long in the memory for those 100 or so supporters who made the effort to go.

Sadly, I wasn't one of them.

Instead, I braved Sutton's chav-infested High Street to get a present for a party I was off to later that night, a party which I can remember very little about.

Crikey, have you been down the High Street lately? It seems Wayne and Waynetta Slob and their friends are taking over the asylum.

Fag-puffing, over-weight girls in sports gear pushing prams, talking to their chenille tracksuit-wearing friends about the latest X Factor auditions while simultaneously digesting the latest celebrity gossip from their mobile phones and a Greggs' sausage and bean melt, is a common sight.

The geezers, if they're not dressed as wizards, tend to wear bright white trainers, tracksuit trousers, a Chelsea shirt under a hoodie with a fag stuck behind one ear. They refer to each other as 'bruv' and walk with an exaggerated swagger while listening to Eminem on their mobile phones. Many of them push prams too.

These people tend to congregate outside Wilkinsons, Poundland, The 99p Store and H&T Pawnbrokers to discuss the big issues of the day, such as yesterday's edition of the Jeremy Kyle Show, which character in Shameless do they most resemble and which WAG do they aspire to be or take to bed.

If this is the future, then God help us all.

Welcome to Sutton: Wayne and Waynetta Slob, with their daughter Frogmella. We may have laughed at their fag-puffing antics in the 1990's but we're not laughing now.

If that video of the Sutton Wizardman (real name, Conrad Pugsley) freaked you out, then search for the Bearded Lady of Guildford on YouTube. I didn't want to post it on here, I feel a tad sorry for the dear old girl.

Any rate, never again will I make the mistake of 'nipping' into the High Street on a Saturday afternoon.

I have actually written a post-it note and placed it on my fridge to remind myself of the horrendous experience I put myself through. It simply reads 'NEVER AGAIN'.

So, thank crikey then for Sutton's football team, currently flying high in fourth place in the Blue Square South table.

The fans who spent time and money following the boys down to Cornwall were rewarded with goals by Harry Beautyman, Craig Watkins and Tommy Kavanagh, as well as a clean sheet from Kevin Scriven and his pals in defence.

If you haven't seen the excellent highlights of the match then click here.

The Amber and Chocolates are so good at the moment that the opposition is even willing to score for them, as was the case on Tuesday when an Eastleigh defender put Sutton ahead before Tony Taggart kept his cool to claim the second as the Spitfires were beaten 2-0 at Gander Green Lane.

I reckon if Sutton went head-to-head with Arsenal in this run of form then we'd win. Mind you, it doesn't appear to be that difficult.

Glaring misses are all the rage at the moment what with the Manchester United versus Chelsea clash producing two real classics - Wayne Rooney's abysmal penalty and a Fernando Torres howler which defies belief.

It was unusual to see a Sutton player drawing attention to himself in a similar fashion on Tuesday night. Sam Page missed a gaping goal from three yards out. But, unlike Rooney and Torres, at least Page could take consolation in the fact he didn't have the world's media capturing his appalling effort.

No, instead he just had club photographer Paul Loughlin in the right place at the right time to capture the moment. Sutton's club snapper puts his matchday pictures on the world wide web, which is as good as having the world's media at the match.

The games can't come quick enough at the moment and the high-flying Magpies of Maidenhead provide are out next opponents.

Saturday, of course, is going to be a very special occasion as it's the club's first family fun day of the season and my old pal Tim Vine is going to be there.

Vine once hosted a night of comedy at the Secombe Theatre in Sutton which included Harry Hill on the bill. Unfortunately for me, my seat was slap-bang in the middle of the front row.

Within seconds of taking to the stage Vine picked on me, and so began a night of torture. Every one of the next five or six acts, including Hill, used me in their act is one way or another.

Of course, I hated it at the time, especially as I had to go for a wee halfway through one of the acts and, in doing so, drawing even more attention to myself. But I couldn't possibly hold a grudge against the 'man with the golden puns' who just happens to be a Sutton United fan.

A Tweet on Tuesday from Tim's brother, the broadcaster Jeremy Vine, read:
Just asked my bro, @realtimvine, if he wants to come to Chelsea with me on Saturday. Answer: 'No thanks, I'm watching Sutton United.'
Well, with a response like that he's definitely off the hook as far as I'm concerned.

Now, if only the Sutton Slobs wore the famous amber shirt under their hoodies then I might be more tolerant towards them.

Right, I'm all rambled-out now...

EMAIL ME: FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER: #itsamberrambler

Friday, 16 September 2011

Sutton United blog: Nicky Forster, Guernsey FC and Fola Orilonishe

Call me sad, call me what you like, but I spent a large part of last Saturday afternoon stuck at the back of a coffee shop in Banstead glued to Twitter.

I blame Tony Taggart for that.

He scored Sutton's first goal after 51 minutes at Havant and Waterlooville last week which laid the foundations for our fightback from 0-2 down at half-time. So, I headed off to find somewhere to sit and send positive thoughts to Paul Doswell and the boys for the remainder of the match...and, it worked.

There I was, nervously sipping my latte, when news came through on the wires that Sam Page levelled the scores in the 80th minute. I instinctively shouted out 'GET IN!' and banged my fist on the table when I read the Tweet announcing the good news from Westleigh Park.

Such was the impact of my jubilation that the two old dears on the table next to me even stopped comparing their blue rinses for a few seconds. Well, one of them was a purple rinse actually.

Had they been even the slightest bit interested in football, then the two old timers would have been proud of Sutton's own golden oldie, Paul Telfer, who lasted 73 minutes of last Saturday's match before being helped off the pitch by assistant boss Alan Payne and goalkeeper extraordinaire Wayne Shaw.

I had to wait for what seemd like ages for that all-important Tweet though.

Twitter is a frenzy of activity at the best of times and, on Saturday afternoons when the football is on, it goes into overdrive.

Tweets come from far and wide, from Cumbria to the Channel Islands.

I had to put up with lots of updates from other clubs, such as Northwich Victoria's see-saw encounter at Stocksbridge Park Steels (4-3), Barrow's win over Blue Square Premier table-toppers Wrexham (3-1) and Combined Counties League Division One leaders Guernsey’s triumph over CB Hounslow United (4-0). Just these three matches alone produced 15 goals and countless excited Tweets.

Guernsey, under the leadership of manager Tony Vance, have made an instant impact in their first season in that league. There may have only been 90 hardy souls at last week’s match, but the previous week 1,604 turned up to see their 5-0 thrashing of one of our neighbours and reigning Division One champions, Worcester Park.

The Green Lions are three points clear of Bedfont Sports and five clear of Hartley Wintney, the latter I always felt, sounded like an author of history books.

I can imagine Hartley Wintney sharing a whiskey with Eric Hobsbawm, Niall Ferguson and Dr David Starkey while discussing the demise of  the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Any rate, there were also some enthusiastic Twitter updates last Saturday from Kingsmeadow, where Richard Jolly and his Wealdstone chums enjoyed the generosity of their hosts, Kingstonian, who let the Stones roll all over them on their way to a 3-0 victory.

As fascinating as all that was, I was only interested in one match and despite having what would have been a late Craig Watkins winner ruled out, the Amber and Chocolates must be proud of the way they battled back.

I'd have bitten your hand off if you'd said at half-time we'd take a point. It keeps us ticking along and sitting pretty in seventh spot in the league heading into our much-anticipated clash at Truro.

Ah, Truro. It was the one away day we all looked out for when the fixture list was released.

Some lucky swines are going to this match by plane. I'm not going at all. Bugger. I hope you have a very nice time.

Instead, it'll be another misspent Saturday afternoon looking at Twitter and sending positivity to Paul Doswell.

I might change my venue for this act of mindpower and head to the pub instead of the coffee shop. Beer puts me in a happy place, whereas coffee does not, it’s as simple as that.

While some Fancy Dans will be letting the plane take the strain to Cornwall, a few hardy souls will face a test of endurance by taking the supporters coach from the ground at 6.30am.

I will allow myself a little chuckle tomorrow morning when I turn over in bed for another two or three hours kip while dreaming of Wayne Shaw coming off the bench to head the winner from a last-minute corner to secure another Sutton success.

Apparently, the Green Lions of Guernsey had to set off to for last week’s clash with CB Hounslow at 5.30am. So, if you are going to Truro on the coach, then just be thankful it’s a 6.30am start and enjoy the lay-in.  

Of course, while Sutton do battle with Truro many clubs will be competing in the FA Cup First Qualifying Round. Thank crikey we got promoted last season, it means that we’ve already gone further in this year’s competition than our last appearance. In that sense, our Cup campaign can be seen as a qualified success.

So, who have our conquerers from last season, Alton Town, got in tomorrow’s Cup tie? Er, well, actually they’re already out. They lost to Fleet Town in the Preliminary Round.

While I was looking for the Alton Cup score on the FA website I came across this interesting interview with Nicky Forster who last season led Brentford out at Wembley in the final of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy.

These days Forster plays for Surrey-based Sussex League side Lingfield as does another former Blackburn and West Ham defender Ian Pearce.

Any rate, I had best be off. As sad as it may be, I've got a life to live, you know. 

Before I go, you have to feel for Sutton's Fola Orilonishe who, facing a seven hour coach journey with his team-mates, loaded up his iPhone with banging tunes but forgot to charge it up. There's always one, isn't there...

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