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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