Friday, 18 February 2011

Sutton United blog: Arthur Albiston, Telford United and Blyth Spartans

Since I started this blog I have made a couple of earth-shattering confessions.
The first was that I walked out of Gander Green Lane with Sutton losing 3-2 at home to Wealdstone with five minutes to go, only to get home and find they won 4-3. Tut, tut.
The second one was just a couple of weeks ago when I admitted to having a fling with Leatherhead.
My latest confession is, thankfully, much more innocent.
When I was a lad I had a soft spot for Telford United.
They seemed to be everything I wanted Sutton to be. They had FA Cup runs, FA Trophy successes, played in the Gola League, had some of the best players outside the Football League and a decent ground, the Buck’s Head.
When my mates and I went for a kick-about over the park, they used to pretend to be Arthur Albiston, Kevin Moran or Ray Clemence.
When I wasn’t pretending to be Sutton’s very own superstars Paul McKinnon, Mickey Stephens or Dave Collier then I used to imagine I was Telford’s Anton Joseph, Eddie Hogan or Kevin Charlton.
What a sad lad, I know.
Ok, I lied. Nobody pretended to be Kevin Moran, especially after he got sent-off in the Cup Final of ’85, and certainly nobody dared pretend to be Arthur Albiston, even if they secretly admired his dogged defensive capabilities. Albiston was substituted in the same game at half-time.
However, the reason why I bring all this up is that Telford are one of just a handful of non-league teams who have made it through to the FA Cup Fifth Round in the post-war years. Others which spring to mind are Blyth Spartans and Kidderminster Harriers and, now of course, Crawley Town.
The Spartans actually came within a dodgy last-minute corner kick against Wrexham of becoming the first non-leaguers to make it through to the Quarter-Finals.
Their team of bearded Bukta-kit wearing butchers, bakers and candlestick makers of 1978 is a far cry from Crawley’s crowd of full-time pros of today which has been assembled at huge cost and from far and wide.
Watch the first half of Blyth's big game here, or the second half here.
I remember Telford’s epic run of 1984/85. It was a time when I was finding out all about non-league football and I was hooked as their run gathered pace. They beat Lincoln City, Preston North End, Bradford City and Darlington before being rolled over by the might of Everton, 3-0 at Goodison Park.
The Merseysiders went on to reach the Final, losing to Manchester United 1-0, the goal being memorably curled into the net in extra-time by Norman Whiteside.
I secretly harboured a wish that Sutton would emulate Telford and go on an amazing Cup run. I didn't have to wait too long.
In 1986, when my boys finally made it to the top flight of non-league football, the GM Vauxhall Conference (formerly Gola League), I almost wet myself when I found out that Sutton’s first game was at home to, who else, but Telford United.
When the Bucks took a two-goal lead the writing was on the wall, but little Paul Thornton and big Paul Rogers had other ideas and earned Sutton a point.
Any rate, Telford had some excellent Cup runs in the 1980s but their Fifth Round adventure was the best of the bunch. In the 2003/4 season they enjoyed a run to the Third Round before losing to eventual finalists Millwall.
So what do Millwall and Crawley have in common?
Well, Crawley are probably the least popular underdogs since Millwall got to that Cup Final. There’ll be plenty of people happy to see them come unstuck on Saturday.
There’s no doubt about it, the Sussex side have worked hard to get to Old Trafford having overcome Newport County, Guiseley, Swindon Town, Derby County and Torquay United.
However, the fact that such an already wealthy club has hit the jackpot and landed a tie with Manchester United will not sit well with some non-league anoraks, I mean traditionalists.
Keep it under your hat, but some football forum folk are even suggesting that Crawley are a League One side in disguise.
Personally, I am think the tie lacks some of the romance attached to such David v Goliath games. Give me Blyth’s battered old butchers any day. That aside, I will be watching tomorrow evening. 
Any rate, regardless of who wins, one thing is for sure, the Red Devils will be going through.
Sutton’s victory over Lowestoft last weekend has been followed up by a 1-0 defeat at Hendon.
It’s so often the case when a team works hard to string some results together and beats a main rival in the process, that they kind of burn themselves out. Judging by some peoples’ reaction to the result on the fans’ forum, I think that was the case on Wednesday night.
I expect fans of other clubs to be getting their violins out now. 
Forget the Red Devils,Sutton have got a big game against the Angels on Saturday. 

Monday, 14 February 2011

Sutton United blog: Timmy Mallet, Trumpton and the Trawlerboys

Stick with me here. I’ll get to the main event eventually...
According to Sunday's Non-League Paper (NLP) it was a clash of the titans. A quick glance at the league table and it’s easy to see why. A team top of the table against another which lay dangerously in the chasing pack. There was a large crowd, good atmosphere, late drama and plenty of other talking points.
Yes, you’ve guessed it, there would have been a few hazy heads in the Somerset town of Larkhall on Sunday morning after Gary Banks scored a last minute leveller for the Toolstation Western League leaders at high-flying Gloucestershire battlers, Bitton.

Larkhall looked as if they had Bitton off more than they could chew until Banks saved them with seconds remaining to send their fans in the league's second biggest crowd of the day, 135, off to the pub to sink six or seven celebratory ciders.
Read all about it: Forget the Manchester derby, or even Crawley v Wrexham, The Non-League Paper focuses on the other big match from last weekend.

Meanwhile, the Welsh version of the NLP, the Non-Lleague Paper, features Merthyr Town’s hammering of Shepton Mallet in the First Division of the Toolstation League.

The Martyrs brushed Timmy’s boys aside 4-0 to maintain their push for promotion at top of the table infront of the league’s biggest attendance of the day 244 – not at all bad for, I think I'm right in saying, the tenth tier of English football.

I remember Sutton having to travel to the Welsh valleys three times in about as many weeks back in the 1990/91 season to play the Martyrs. Not only did we face them in a Conference clash but we drew them out of the hat in the FA Cup and Bob Lord Trophy too.

Any rate, they’re a funny old bunch aren’t they, those West Country folk with their wacky teams name such as Oldland Abbotonians, Roman Glass St George, Odd Down and Bristol Manor Farm.
Personally, I keep an eye on Bishop Sutton’s results. For those who are interested, they walloped Welton Rovers on Saturday 3-0 to stay hot on the heels of Merthyr.

Stick with it... I didn't call the blog Amber Rambler without good reason...
If you go further down the football pyramid then, with the aid of a magnifying glass, you'll be able to read the results from the Devon and Exeter League. It's one step below West Sutton Little League’s Reserve Pool, and where you'll currently find Beer Albion occupying seventh spot. 
Beer are now the new entry into my list of teams I tend to look out for, purely because they satisfy my curiosity for all things beer and football. However, they lose brownie points for the blue writing on the blue background on the club’s website.
Colourful character: Merthyr Town hammered Timmy Mallet's men last Saturday 4-0. Good.

Beer play some oddly named opponents too. Budleigh Salterton could be the name of a washed-up blues guitarist gigging at the Boom Boom Club. Topsham Town, meanwhile, might represent the good folk of a neighbouring village to Trumpton, Camberwick Green or Chigley.
Talking of beer, I’ve kind of had enough of it for now. The weekend’s hangovers came courtesy of the Battersea Beer Festival and, of course, Sutton United’s excellent win over those tricky Trawlerboys from Lowestoft.
There’s a new craze in British football whereby teams are throwing away seemingly unassailable leads.
Arsenal are the chief culprits after tossing their 4-0 advantage into the Tyne, West Bromwich Albion handed the Hammers a point having had a 3-0 lead on Saturday and down by the Riverside Middlesbrough fed all three points to the Swans after going 3-1 up with 35 minutes to go.

Newport County deserve a mention too for going 3-0 up in 28 minutes at Mansfield at the weekend only to be all square by half-time. Now that's impressive. And Wrexham threw away a 2-0 lead at Crawley to leave the Broadfield Stadium empty handed after a Matt Tubbs hat-trick secured the points for the Red Devils.

For a moment on Saturday, I thought we might add our name to that sorry selection too.
When Andy Forbes scored his and Sutton’s second goal in the 53rd minute the Trawlerboys found themselves adrift in choppy waters while Paul Doswell’s buoys looked home and dry.
However, when Forbes got ridiculously sent-off for over celebrating seconds later, Lowestoft were handed a lifeline and the Us were forced to face what seemed to be wave after wave of attacks.
Thankfully, despite Lowestoft pulling a goal back, Sutton held on to secure three crucial points allowing Captain Doswell to tilt our own particular tiller towards the title. Well, here's hoping.

As you'd expect from a game where there's plenty at stake, passions were running high. With Valentine's Day rapidly approaching, a  rather desperate Jenny the Giraffe didn't help matters by flirting with a linesmen. Was I the only one who thought Wayne Shaw showed a jealous streak by getting involved?

Any rate, I think there's potential there to let Jenny loose on the officials at future matches. Not many men, or women if you include Sian Massey, would argue with a 9ft giraffe.

For those who haven't seen it yet, there's plenty of good words and pictures here about Saturday afternoon's events.

In other news, the goal machine that is Richard Jolly only managed two at the weekend for Wealdstone. I knew he'd go off the boil sooner or later.

That's 10 in four games now and the loan move seems to reignited his season. Am really pleased for the guy who worked flippin' hard for Sutton without much reward to show for his efforts.

Finally, thanks to Caroline Barker at The Non-League Show for the mention 26 minutes into Monday night's show. I knew the Valentine's Day card from my mum would come in handy for something...


Monday, 7 February 2011

Sutton United blog: The Leatherhead Lip, Super Ted and The Moomins

Forgive me for this, but I have a confession to make.
I watched another club on Saturday. You might say it was a one-afternoon stand.
Yes, I know, I know. It’s not you, it’s me. You must believe me. You're not to blame at all.
I had a few drinks and got carried away in the moment. It all seemed like a good idea at the time. Honestly, I feel like a tart.
I was led astray, if that’s any consolation.
Any rate, please, I beg you, let me explain...
I woke up on Sunday morning with a pounding headache, a foggy memory and my face stuck to an unfamiliar sofa by my own dribble – better that than someone else’s I guess. I'd had a big night on the booze at a house soiree in north-east Surrey’s party capital, Leatherhead.
My Gillingham-supporting pal Grundle has, not surprisingly, kept a low profile since his boys were dumped out of the FA Cup by Dover Athletic back in November, but he suggested we meet up early on Saturday afternoon, take in the Leatherhead v Chatham Town match and sink a few pre-party pints in the process, after all, the beer would give us the Dutch courage we’d need to chat-up the dollybirds later.
He’s a Chatham lad and cited a soft spot for the club as his reason for wanting to check them out at Leatherhead's home, Fetcham Grove. The last time he saw them play was in a Kent Senior Cup match eight or nine years ago, so I guess his soft spot had hardened over the years.
And so it was, that I passed up the chance to see my first love, Sutton United, take on Cray Wanderers in the Ryman Premier League in favour of watching a couple of clubs that mean nothing to me slug it out in the division below.

When I think of Leatherhead FC I think of Chris Kelly, a famous FA Cup run, the FA Trophy Final of 1978 and Sutton's 11-1 tonking of the Tanners back in 1982.
Ah, Chris Kelly, AKA The Leatherhead Lip. What a cheeky chimp he was back in the day. Tormenting Isthmian League defences as well as causing Colchester, Brighton and Leicester a few problems while making a name for himself along the way.
The Tanners made it to the FA Cup Fourth Round in 1975 and switched their tie with the then First Division Foxes to Filbert Street. Undeterred, they raced into a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from the crafty Kelly and the wondferfully named Peter McGillicuddy before succumbing to fatigue and three second half goals.
I have a dusty old brochure in the loft documenting Leatherhead’s fine run to the Trophy Final of ’78 which they lost to Altrincham, 3-1. Among their victims on the road to the Twin Towers were Wigan Athletic who were elected to the Football League at the end of that season.
Wigan, of course, went on to bigger and better things, while Leatherhead went on to win the Ryman League Cup in 2009/10.

I have mentioned in a previous post about that never to be forgotten night in 1982 when Mickey Joyce scored NINE of Sutton's 11 goals against the Tanners. Richard Jolly take note, two hat-tricks in two games is simply not good enough.
When I think of Chatham I think of tracksuit-wearing, gum-chewing chavs with attitude...oh, and the historic dockyards.
With a nickname like The Tanners you’d expect Leatherhead to play in tangerine and be sponsored by Tantilising Tanya's Tanning Emporium, but they’re not, they’re known as the Tanners, they play in green and white and are sponsored by Milners, a flooring company.
The Fetcham Grove pitch itself is an example of fine flooring - lush and as green as the Tanners' shirts, which suits their expansive style of play under boss Mick Sullivan. Meanwhile, the clubhouse, which has been revamped in recent years, satisfied our thirst for Guiness, the first two pints of which went down a treat.
But for some excellent goalkeeping by the tall James Tedder, whose nickname should surely be Super Ted, Leatherhead would have been out of sight by half-time. As it was, they only had a slender 1-0 lead to show for their efforts thanks to a strike by Greg Andrews.
The Tanners had one of Finnish author’s Tove Jansson’s loveable creations in their line up. I remember fondly watching The Mu Mann’s when I was a kid, however, it was obvious he was struggling to keep up with the pace the longer the game went on and Sullivan brought his participation in the match to a premature end.

Off the pace: Leatherhead's Mu Maan found the going tough against Chatham Town on Saturday and was substituted in the second half.

I kept tabs on my first love’s progress at Cray via Twitter and was getting twitchy after finding out it was 0-0 at half-time. I had a feeling Cray would be difficult to break down.
Grundle was twitchy too, although regular Twitter updates told him that he wasn't missing much either, the Gills were being held 0-0 by Oxford at the Priestfield Stadium.

Another pint of Guiness at the interval helped to settle the nerves.
The second half saw Chatham defend stubbornly and, judging by the lack of Tweets from Sutton's HonSec, I was guessing Cray were doing a similar job on Paul Doswell's men.
The all-important breakthrough came with 20 minutes left when Crocodile Craig Dundas pounced to put the Giraffes ahead.
With nine minutes remaining at Fetcham Grove, the Chavs were undone by a slick Andrews’ pass to Jack MacLeod who kept his cool to fire into the corner of the net and send all but six of the 203 people in attendance into raptures. They were me, Grundle and four Chavs, in case you were wondering.
Meanwhile, back at Cray's Hayes Lane base, Bradley Woods-Garness put the Gooseys further ahead and me in party mood. I was ready to bust some moves at the house party, I can tell you.
Judging by the views on the message board from those who remained loyal to Sutton on Saturday the boys played well and worked hard for the points. That’s three much-needed wins in a row, one more against Hornchurch on Tuesday night and we’ll face our title rivals Lowestoft on Saturday brimming with confidence.
In a week where the non-league world has lost Windsor & Eton, and Kidderminster Harriers made the front page of the Non-League Paper with their financial troubles, it was pleasing to see a well run community club like Leatherhead battling back from the brink.
Ten years ago or so the Tanners were in financial dire straits and the future looked bleak. But thanks to the hard work of their supporters and committee they've made great strides and have a tidy little ground and facilities to show for it.
Good luck to them in their bid to get in the Ryman Premier Division. 
There you go. I’ve said it all now.
I can’t believe I was so stupid. Thirty-one mostly happy years together put on the line by a silly Saturday afternoon fling...and with Leatherhead too.
I know what you’re thinking. I could have done so much better for myself. Rest assured I’ll be back on the terraces at Gander Green Lane on Tuesday night.

Leatherhead may have a pitch to be proud of, but the grass is definitely greener at Sutton United.
Come on you Amber and Chocolates!


Thursday, 3 February 2011

Sutton United Blog: Fernando Torres, Leroy Griffiths and AFC Wimbledon hit the road

I don’t know about you, but I was getting a bit concerned when Aveley went in at half-time on Saturday a goal ahead.
I could see all our hard work against Croydon Athletic being undone by a cocky crowd of Essex boys who had barely recovered from the previous nights escapades at Southend’s Mayhem nightclub.
I need not have worried. Not for the first time, the boys rolled up their sleeves, dug deep and, to use a term from the Ian Dowie coaching manual, showed great bouncebackability to win 2-1 thanks largely to goals from Craig Dundas and Sam Page.
I had a feeling my spell check would have something to say about bouncebackability.
Any rate, once again the performance wasn’t inspired but if we keep winning then it’s hard to argue the toss.
The big news to have come out of a hectic end to the transfer window was obviously Chelsea’s capture of Fernando Torres from Liverpool for £50million, Andy Carroll’s switch from Newcastle to Liverpool for £35million and the transfer of Leroy Griffiths from Staines to Sutton for next to nothing.
The latter, of course, went under the radar of Sky Sports News, but Paul Doswell’s move for the 34-year-old striker shows that the Us/Ewes/Raffs/Gooseys/Ganders/Yellows/Ambers (delete as appropriate) are gearing up for the final push for the league title.

Money talks: Chelsea paid £50million for Fernando Torres while Sutton got Leroy Griffiths on the cheap. I kid you not, there's a woman who gets on my bus in Sutton every morning who is the spitting image of Torres.

Young, he may not be, but Griffiths signed off his time at the Staines Massive in style last weekend with a goal at Chelmsford City and he could be the experienced striker we need to see us to the finishing line.
It’s amazing what a change of scenery can do for a player. Richard Jolly, despite working his little socks off for Sutton, couldn’t even buy himself a goal. His temporary move back to Wealdstone seems to have worked a treat, he bagged FOUR for the Stones last Saturday against Concord and I, for one, am looking forward to seeing him revitalised and back in our colours soon.
That means we’ll have Andy Forbes, Griffiths and Jolly in our ranks for the last few months, a mouth-watering prospect indeed.
Billericay’s Phil Anderson did us a favour on Tuesday night by denying Lowestoft an important victory with a last-gasp equaliser. The Trawlerboys – there you see, that’s a good nickname – are eight points behind with four games in hand at present but I am from the school of thought which says it’s better to have points in the bag than games in hand.
Harrow Borough helped us out on Tuesday too by burying Bury 5-2 in their own back yard and they didn’t need the help of Brookside's Beth and Mandy Jordache to do it either.
For years and years I have been putting up with cheap jibes from school 'friends' and colleagues about Sutton United being a joke club. There was a brief declaration of peace agreed after we beat Coventry in the FA Cup in 1989, but this was soon forgotten once Norwich City beat us 8-0 in the next round. The fact that Trevor Putney scored for the Canaries didn’t help my cause.
However, it appears that, after all the mickey taking, we ARE a Joke Klub. From late March a comedy club is being hosted at our beloved Gander Green Lane home and long may it continue. Perhaps, along with the Boom Boom Club, this is just the tip of the iceberg of our facilities being used for more than just football. I am sure it will go some way to fill the void being left by West Sutton’s other favourite venues, The Plough and The Sydney Arms.
Football, music, gentlemens’ evenings, whatever next, the British Gurning Championships? We’d have to let Big Wayne Shaw have a crack at that.
Before I go, I must mention two groups of fine footballing fellows who have gone above and beyond the call of duty over the last week or so.
Firstly, the Wimbledon fans who went to Bath (last Tuesday 2-2), Gateshead (last Friday 2-0) and York (Tuesday 1-4). Crikey, it’s hardly surprising they got hammered at York. Three away games in a week is a tall order and having them so spread so far apart can’t have helped.
I remember in 1987 the Us/Ewes/Raffs/Gooseys/Ganders/Yellows/Ambers played away at Weymouth on a Monday and then Cheltenham on a Wednesday, but I think that was as bad as it got. I am sure our club historian, Frakey, might be able to tell me otherwise.
I have a feeling the Crawley juggernaut will pip them to the post this time around but I have my fingers crossed for that the Dons/Wombles/Crazy Gang might reward their fans' hard work and make it to League Two via the play-offs.
Secondly, to Gateshead, who had to endure the Tuesday night trek to Eastbourne Borough and came away with a 3-0 victory to show for their efforts.
I have always had a soft spot for the Tynesiders. They invented the term bouncebackability. Not only did they come back from 3-0 down to draw with Sutton at Gander Green Lane in 1990 but they did so just weeks after we won 9-0 at their place. Now, that’s bouncebackability in anyone’s coaching manuel.