This weekend’s football schedule sees a Sunday fixture list featuring key matches between the Premier League’s big hitters. It is also the weekend where the FA Cup 1st Round matches are played, a time where Non League part timers get to have a crack at professional clubs from the Football League.
In the past many Non League teams have built a reputation as ‘Giant Killers’, teams like Enfield, Yeovil, Blyth Spartans, Woking and most recently Lincoln City reaching the Quarter Finals last year. One name missing from that list is our local club Sutton United FC, who since the mid 1980’s have been a thorn in the side of many League clubs.
My first memory of their giant killing antics, came in January 1988 when Sutton took on top quality opposition in Middlesbrough. The usually quiet Gander Green Lane crammed nearly 6,000 people though the gates and Boro sent down a very strong starting XI featuring some great players of the day – defenders Gary Pallister and Tony Mowbray, the winger Stuart Ripley and the great Bernie Slaven up front. Gary Pallister headed Middlesbrough in front before Sutton equalised sending both teams back to Ayresome Park for a replay.
One bizarre memory of that game is that Sutton actually spelt Middlesbrough’s name wrong on the tickets – adding an extra O! I remember some Sutton fans playfully singing ‘Well be there at Ayresome Park’, then one Boro wag retorted ‘You can’t even spell Middlesbrough, how are you going to find it!!’. Sutton battled valiantly in the replay, but eventually lost 1-0.
Having discovered the taste for the FA Cup, the following season they were to produce one of the Cups greatest ever shocks. Coventry City, one of the leading lights from the then 1st Division, todays Premier League, arrived at Gander Green Lane having won the FA Cup two seasons earlier. A typically boggy Non League January pitch was a great leveller and Sutton chalked up a historic victory when Matt Hanlan scored the winner in the second half, giving Sutton a 2-1 win. Sutton were firmly in the limelight for the next 3 weeks, before they came down to earth with a bump with a chastening defeat away at Norwich.
Sutton then waited a while before taking centre stage in the competition, but last season’s FA Cup saw them making headlines again. They plotted their way through the early rounds before getting drawn against local professional rivals AFC Wimbledon. Sutton saw them off after a replay at Kingsmeadow and that then brought Leeds United to Sutton and a date with their artificial pitch. Sutton produced a great display in front of a packed house and ran out 1-0 winners. This victory gave them a dream draw against Arsenal at home in the 5th Round. They had their moments in the game, but in the end were a tad unlucky in losing 2-0. Arsenal then went on to lift the trophy at Wembley in May.
This afternoon Sutton start away to Cambridge United from League 2. A tough task no doubt, but can Sutton United set off on yet another FA Cup glory trail. We’ll see