Memories of what could have been – Sutton United 1 v 0 Kettering Town
When I started this blog I said that I wasn’t going to do match reports or tactical analysis. This is something that has often been difficult to avoid at the start of this season, but after a 1-0 loss to Blue Square South, Sutton United I am going to actively ignore it. The end of our FA Cup run and the vital income that it brings speaks for itself. Everyone saw how Saturday played out, and those who didn’t will get a pretty universal view of the game from reading the various match reports.
Sutton away was always going to be a difficult tie. They are a good side, but if we had performed to the level we can, then we should have won. But we didn’t. We didn’t even get close. I have no idea what went wrong, and there is plenty of blame to be dished out. I doesn’t really matter. The upshot was that we had no craft or intelligence. Almost every ball was sent long. At no point did we put Sutton under any sustained pressure. In the end we were lucky to only concede one.
No, what took place on the pitch can be forgotten. At least as far as this post is concerned. If it wasn’t for the 90 minutes of football, or what Kettering tried to pass off as football, then our trip to Sutton was a classic FA Cup away day.
As someone who spends a lot of their life in North London, any trip south of the river is a bit of a holiday. It has always struck me that as you travel on the train past Clapham Junction, South London is less a city and more a series of small towns, connected by endless, grinding suburbs. I imagine that in a council office somewhere, a deranged town planner fantasises about the day when Kettering, Corby and Wellingborough exist as something similar.
Although I only had to travel 16 miles to Gander Green Lane, the fact that it took well over an hour and a half made it feel like a proper trip. A stop-off in the friendly, if slightly horse racing obsessed Robin Hood, for a couple of beers and a sausage sandwich about a foot thick got me overly optimistic. By the time I reached the ground I felt that a draw was a realistic dream.
Stepping into the ground reminded me of what a non-league ground should be like. It didn’t matter that the crowd weren’t segregated, and that we were all able to switch ends at half time. In fact, it was a good lesson for those people who are convinced that football fans will tear each other limb from limb if they get within 50 yards of each other.
It reminded me of what we have given up. Dilapidated stands, a tea shed that looked like it had been there forever and whose luck changed when a football ground was built around it, and advertising hoardings that recall companies that have long since disappeared.
During some of the more depressing moments it was fun to imagine working on the Sutton Comet Sports Desk. Sat in a smoke-filled office, hammering away on an old typewriter, waiting for the Bakelite phone to ring with news of the latest signing. Hoping that your rival at the Sutton Independent didn’t get the scoop on you.
At half time I was paying the price for having had a second pint before the game, so went to find the toilet. In the week when it was announced that voting in the Worst Toilets in Football competition had to be suspended because of voting irregularities, I can only hope that Sutton’s entry form was lost in the post. A single female/disabled toilet – the men’s being padlocked shut – appeared to serve all 1,500 spectators. In the end, the toilets became a scrap of wasteland covered in burnt-out bins behind the terrace. It may not have been glamourous, but it did come with a lovely view over the park.
This may all sound patronising, it isn’t meant to be. Yesterday was a reminder of what going to football should be about. Sutton have shown that you don’t need great facilities, or a Chinese take-away to have a good footballing team.
Sutton’s ground may have not been the best, but it is their ground, with their history. It is probably impossible for us to go back now, and if we did, then that may be the end of us. But there are times when you feel that the end may not be too far away at Nene Park either.