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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