Clive Hayward – @ByeHorse
Gander Green Lane. It gives you goose-bumps just thinking about it doesn’t it? 1989, and the plucky non-leaguers knocked cup holders Coventry out of the FA Cup. Small boys, isn’t it? Jumpers for goalposts, pipe smoking manager, you know, hmm?
(Fast Show kids: Paul Whitehouse as Ron Manager).
The following season, back home after uni, I boarded the supporters’ bus to watch Torquay play there in the first round. A long range strike from John Uzzell rescued a replay – which we managed to win at Plainmoor the following week.
Until Saturday, that was my only trip to Sutton United. I won’t be desperately disappointed if it is another 31 years before my next visit.
I am, of course, viewing this through my “lost two-nil” spectacles. They are far from rose-tinted. More a yucky chocolate & yellow.
Of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ that had journeyed to Birmingham, three had sensibly decided they had somewhere else to be. This left a quartet of the tax man, the hoolie, Chelsea Youth & me. Two oldsters and two young-uns. One way to look at this would be that it was a squad blending youth and experience. Another would be that it resembled a cricket club third XI, with half the players being over the hill and the other half very inexperienced.
The journey to Sutton was pleasant and uneventful. Little to report except that we had a table together on the train (very welcome) and that there was a hotly disputed Marcus Rashford sighting on the tube. We had been joined at Paddington by a couple of other Gulls. One of them (otherwise a sound chap with impeccable anti-racist views) said: “That’s so Devon, that is. Just because he’s black”. He was of course wrong about this – the beautiful, angular featured young man sitting across the carriage from us was the spit of the injured Man U hero.
I sincerely hope that nobody reading this has lost anybody to the coronavirus. If so, my heart goes out to you. I’ve not yet met anyone who’s had it, but I can tell you for a few minutes on the train down from Farringdon I was having serious doubts…
Our sixth traveller was a nice lad who slipped into the train toilet just after Blackfriars. Before I go on with this bit of the story, I would implore anyone with an interest in modern architecture and/or panoramic views to go to Blackfriars Station because the view from there, from the bridge looking down the Thames, is breath-taking: gherkin, shard, all that jazz. Very impressive. I digress.
The young lad (Tom, I think) has a fairly pale complexion. Slightly straggly beard. A hint, perhaps, of Kane Williamson. He didn’t emerge from the toilet for what seemed like hours. A couple of knocks on the door elicited no response but eventually he phoned his friend and said he wasn’t feeling well. The door opened, and what I can only describe as a zombie emerged. He was paler than a very light coloured bucket. He was sweating like Alex Salmond in a warm interview room. He rallied later, once we had got some food into him, but he certainly had us worried for a bit!
The ground is virtually next door to West Sutton station. It doesn’t look to have changed a lot since 1989. It’s mainly low terracing in various states of disrepair. I am not going to dwell on the game. You’ll be well familiar now with our capitulation in the face of a mediocre, mid-table Sutton side quicker to everything.
Half-time was a welcome respite. We wandered up a little tunnel in the main stand and emerged, unexpectedly, into 1973! The venue for our half-time pint appeared to be Sutton’s “Members Bar”. Thankfully un-stewarded, it featured several older gentlemen in blazers sipping tea from cups and saucers and chatting happily in Monty Python-type suburban accents. If Margot & Jerry from the Good Life were football fans, I reckon they would have been Suttonians. Somehow, we dragged ourselves out to watch most of the second half.
I’m not going to dwell on the brief, thuggish & racist flare up behind the goal but I will say this: I would far rather a few enthusiastic youngsters let off pyro than have to listen to bone-headed blokes my age who should no better trying to justify abusing someone because he has a Polish name…and then denying it when they get called out.
The CONIFA World Football Cup:
There wasn’t a huge amount of enjoyment to be had on Saturday. To be honest I wish I’d followed my instincts and given it a miss. I’ll tell you what though, if I had stayed at home I wouldn’t have met an old school-mate, we wouldn’t have spoken about how Sutton’s pitch is slightly better than it was on his last visit in 2018 and he wouldn’t have been able to tell me about the game he had watched that time. It was Northern Cyprus 8, Barawa 0.
It’s a small part of Somalia. There are quite a few people from that region living in the UK, and bizarrely enough its football team “hosted” the 2018 CONIFA World Cup. Mark did his best to explain it to me, but it didn’t make a lot of sense until I started researching it after I got home.
Conifa http://www.conifa.org/en/ is, by a distance, the quirkiest concept I have come across this season. Essentially, it’s an international confederation of Billy No Mates. It was set up to facilitate football played between: “states, minorities, stateless people and regions unaffiliated with FIFA”.
Barawa won the right to host the 2018 jamboree https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2018_CONIFA_World_Football_Cup , and – why wouldn’t they – they chose to play the games at various venues in and around London, including Sutton, Enfield, Carshalton and- most excitingly of all – Bracknell.
Mark reckoned that Barawa were undone by a horribly bouncy Gander Green Lane pitch. Although they probably weren’t great. It sounds like a bit of a mismatch, especially when you consider that Northern Cyprus were also able to field a lad who had previously played for St Mirren!
You will never guess in a million years who won the tournament (unless you happen to have heard of Karpatalya, which is a small Hungarian enclave in Ukraine). I know!! They will be doing it all over again later this year, in Skopje, North Macedonia. Skopje will be hosting on behalf of that other powerhouse of Horn of African football, Somaliland!
I cannot think of an obvious reason why South Devon shouldn’t enter a team, and I’m thinking about having a wander out there anyway… who knows, they may even play it on grass?