Tim Vine’s verdict on the match

Bowmer’s Blog bumped into Sutton United fan Tim Vine at Gander Green Lane after his side were defeated 2-0 by Arsenal in the FA Cup.

The comedian and pun extraordinaire, who has been a vocal supporter of the club and a visible presence throughout their improbable Cup journey, was magnanimous in defeat and felt that Arsenal deserved the victory.

“I think we did very well, but you’re left thinking that if we’d just put a couple of those chances away obviously it would have been different, but that’s what the great sides do, they always do enough each time. So I think if we’d put those two chances in, we probably would have lost 4-2. I think Arsenal would always have done enough to beat us, because they are just a better side.”

House of Commons speaker John Bercow was also at the match, although he supports Arsenal.

Alex Bowmer

Featured image: BBC

Exclusive: Sutton defender believes Lincoln can upset Arsenal

Sutton full-back Dan Spence believes Lincoln could upset the applecart in the next round of the FA Cup when they face Arsenal at the Emirates next month.

Speaking exclusively to Bowmer’s Blog after his side’s match with the Gunners, Spence believes that the Imps will be confident going into their clash with Arsene Wenger’s men.

When asked if Lincoln have a chance in the next round, his response was emphatic. “Of course. Obviously, Arsenal are going to be odds-on favourites, but, like Lincoln, have already showed, this season they’re doing really well in the league and they’ve taken those performances into the Cup. They’ve already had two or three big upsets so you can’t ever write them off. I think they’ll do themselves proud.”

The game was the biggest in the club’s history, but the 27-year-old felt that neither he nor any of his team-mates were distracted or overawed by the occasion. “Although this is the 5th round of the FA Cup, we’ve all played in big games – maybe not as big as this – but in big games before and as a footballer you’ve got to be prepared for that. Concentration is one of the main things you have to keep up in any game.”

Despite not managing to get on the scoresheet, the National League outfit went very close on a number of occasions, most notably when  former Arsenal academy graduate Roarie Deacon saw his shot thunder off the bar and Spence felt that they could have got back in the game. “There was a really good chance, we hit the bar. I think we had a Jamie Collins header from a corner which was close. If we had managed to take one of those chance with twenty minutes to go, you never know what could have happened.”

The former Eastleigh player, an Arsenal fan himself, came on as a second-half substitute and enjoyed pitting his wits against his boyhood club.

“Yeah, it was really good to come up against players of their calibre. You obviously don’t get to do it very often if at all, so when the opportunity comes around, you’ve just got to take it and I think we’ve done ourselves proud today.

“Obviously, the flair players are good players to play against because you don’t get to play against these types of players ever. They’re in national teams, they’ve played at World Cups and European Championships. They are all big players, so to play against any of them was a privilege.

“I came on for the last 20 minutes or so, so I didn’t get a full taste of what they offered, but, yeah of course, they’re really sharp, they’re obviously really fit and quick so it was tough, but I think the boys who started the game did really well and obviously keeping it down to 2-0 in the end was probably a decent result.”

Sutton return to normality next Saturday when they face Torquay at Plainmoor in the National League.

Alex Bowmer

Featured image: Getty Images

 

 

Sutton v Arsenal – the alternative picture

It was an absolute privilege to be at Gander Green Lane last night. Although the game finished 2-o to the Gunners, this did not dampen the spirits of the home supporters, many of whom may never witness an occasion like this again. Here are some photos that I took using my phone on what was a momentous day for Sutton United Football Club.

 

The skyline looked incredible – a sign of things to come….

Image may contain: sky, tree, plant, night, outdoor and nature

The ‘half-and-half’ scarf sellers were out in force….

Image may contain: people standing, night, sky, shoes, outdoor and indoor

The fans were in high spirits….

Image may contain: one or more people, night and outdoor

The stage was set….

Image may contain: sky, night and outdoor

Sutton v BBC floodlights (which one’s which?)….

Image may contain: night, sky and outdoor

The home fans were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the superstars (and Arsenal)….

Image may contain: 1 person, stadium

Hang on, this isn’t the National League….

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor

It’s Dan Walker! Meanwhile, Gary Lineker and Co. were in the TV-shaped MOTD studio (far left)….

Image may contain: outdoor

The views (and pictures) weren’t always the best….

Image may contain: stadium and outdoor

At least the cameraman had a great vantage point….

Image may contain: outdoor

Arsenal certainly were rapid at times….

Image may contain: 1 person, crowd and outdoor

A masked man was arrested after invading the pitch and gesticulating at Nacho Monreal. You don’t get that in the Copa del Rey….

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor

Before soaking up the adulation of the adoring home crowd….

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor

People were making use of every vantage point they could find ….

Image may contain: one or more people, crowd, sky and outdoor

Arsenal opted for a luxury coach on this occasion….

No automatic alt text available.

The visitors were certainly pestered by Sutton for large swathes of the match….

No automatic alt text available.

The gates were completely unnecessary (look at those hooligans)….

Image may contain: 1 person

Those watching for free were soon interrupted by the Met Police (see hi-vis jackets)….

Image may contain: one or more people, people on stage and outdoor

There was a bit of a flare-up in the second period….

Image may contain: one or more people, stadium and outdoor

There was a pitch invasion at full-time….

Image may contain: one or more people, people on stage and crowd

Wenger sought sanctuary in the tunnel….

Image may contain: outdoor

Before being mobbed….

No automatic alt text available.

The calm after the storm….

Image may contain: outdoor

Loitering near the home dressing room for an interview (which I got – watch this space)….

No automatic alt text available.

Sutton boss Paul Doswell has time for some solitude….

Image may contain: stadium and outdoor

90 extra seats had been installed to accommodate Arsenal fans….

Image may contain: outdoor

The home manager is then interviewed by the club’s in-house TV station….

Image may contain: outdoor

The clear-up had well and truly begun, with the club volunteers helped by a red fox….

Image may contain: night, tree, plant and outdoor

 

Alex Bowmer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sustainability the key for Sutton to thrive

Amid all the drama of the build-up to the biggest game in Sutton United’s history, manager Paul Doswell was a picture of serenity as he took his seat in front of the massed ranks of journalists.

It is difficult to overstate the achievements of this friendly, family club situated on the outer fringes of south London. Their improbable run began in the fourth qualifying round with a 2-1 home win against fellow National League outfit Forest Green Rovers. That was followed by a 6-3 demolition of Dartford, before slaying EFL opponents Cheltenham Town, AFC Wimbledon and Leeds United to get to this point.

Doswell has admitted that the “media circus” has at times been difficult to deal with, but he is not one to get carried away and is certainly not likely to be angling for a move to a professional club.

He has been at Gander Green Lane for nine years following eight years at Eastleigh. Despite the temptation to spend the revenue generated from this glorious Cup run on players, Doswell has a far more long-term, sustainable vision which involves the whole community, particularly the children in the local area.

The money “won’t go into buying players – our wage budget is very, very strict – but we need four new dressing rooms for the younger ones. We can announce that the ground will be renamed the Knights Community Stadium. The Knights Community Stadium runs academies and we’ve got 100 16-year-olds starting in September for the new school term. So we’re looking hopefully to buy four dressing rooms, four shower rooms and place them round the ground. And we’ve got a roof leak; everyone knows about the roof.”

Doswell is head of a property development company and it is this business acumen that shines through when he speaks. He is also an avid Southampton fan and was a regular attendee at their Europa League matches and made trips to both Prague and Milan. Despite the vast disparity in resources between the clubs, the boss can see some obvious parallels.

“We would have played Southampton if they’d bother to beat Arsenal,” he joked. “I had a lovely text from Les Reed as well after we got the draw, just saying that ‘I’m sorry we couldn’t have done better against Arsenal’. I sort of model myself a little bit on what Southampton have done, because I think the model here, which is to bring young players in, improve them and let them move on is not a lot different to what Southampton have done. Our budget in the National League is comparative to Southampton’s in the Premier League, relatively speaking, so naturally I take a lot of references from the club.”

The rehabilitating role that clubs like Sutton play cannot be underestimated. Many aspiring footballers enter top Premier League academies from a very young age hoping that they have got what it takes, but very few eventually make the grade.

“When you’re released by Arsenal and Palace and all the rest of it, your life changes very quickly,” Doswell remarked. “Jeffrey Monakana is a prime example, and Jack Jebb actually. Both at Arsenal – one was going to be the new Jack Wilshere and one was going to be the new winger on the block and they both ended up here. What we try to do is rehabilitate these players in a positive way and if another club in the football chain wants to take them, then we welcome that. It’s an unusual thing that a manager wants his players to progress, but that’s the situation here.”

Doswell’s shrewd transfer policy should be applauded, but for all his efforts, the club would not exist without an army of volunteers beavering away behind the scenes. Without them, there would be no Sutton United.

Their willingness to work for nothing has allowed the club to operate on a shoestring and the small size of the club means that every person’s contribution is recognised and appreciated, not least by the manager himself. “I have ended up, not realising it, putting the club under enormous pressure because of the media situation. We’ve had people like our press officer Tony Dolbear, who has actually had to take days off work just to become a press officer. That’s what you need to write about, it’s the volunteers here that genuinely take holiday days off. I take my hat off to them really.”

As a result of their Cup exploits, Sutton’s league form has nosedived and they currently sit 17th in the National League. However, the idea of being promoted does not hold much appeal for the club, mainly because it would mean having to get rid of the artificial pitch that has brought them so much success. The surface has made Gander Green Lane a fortress, but only grass pitches are permitted in EFL competition. The 3G pitch is used by local school children and Sutton’s junior sides, bringing much-needed revenue into the club, as well as a new generation of passionate followers and their parents, who will hopefully return in their droves long after the whistle has sounded on their FA Cup journey.

“The National League is the holy grail for us. If people can take anything from this Cup run, it’s the fact that we’ve gone from having zero children here, because they couldn’t play on the [old] pitch as it was so bad, to having hundreds, and I mean hundreds. That means that mums and dads come down and they’re engaged in the club and if League One and League Two had one club which would vote to allow this it would be unbelievable and it’s a brilliant pitch by the way. It’s been played in the SPL, it’s been played in the World Cup for the women in Canada and there’s nothing wrong with it.”

The attendance figures have risen notably since Sutton decided to slash ticket prices, with the long-term pay-off outweighing the short-term pain. “The best decision we ever made was making season tickets £5 for adults and free for children. As a father now, you can bring your two kids down here for five quid. Since that change, our crowds have gone from 700 to nearly 2,000 and we are definitely picking up people who are disenfranchised paying £100 for a ticket.”

Many managers often admit that their personal life takes a hit when they are immersed in such an all-consuming job. When things aren’t going well, this sacrifice must seem futile. However, times like these make all the toil seem worthwhile.

“My job, the family and football are the three things that keep me going. With all of us, we get it in the wrong order at times, it’s normally football, family and work. My wife and children have probably suffered at times because of my obsession with the game but then  you watch my kids run on the pitch after the Leeds game and for me, that’s priceless.”

Alex Bowmer

Featured image: SUFCTV

 

 

 

Sutton take Wimbledon to a replay

Sutton United 0-0 AFC Wimbledon

In the build-up to this clash, it was difficult to pinpoint the most interesting sub-plot. Is it the fact that the teams are 49 places apart in the English football pyramid? Or that they feature two of this country’s longest-serving managers? Is it the fact that Sutton have a rich heritage in this competition, knocking out top-flight Coventry City twenty-eight years to the day? Or that AFC Wimbledon played their first match as a ‘new’ club against today’s opponents in a friendly, before six promotions in thirteen seasons saw them rise from the Combined Counties League to their current status as a League One club?

Whatever the ‘correct’ answer, the sense of anticipation made for a febrile atmosphere at Gander Green Lane. While both clubs were disappointed that this fixture was not televised, it probably enticed more fans to the ground, with 5013 expectant fans pouring through the turnstiles, despite there being only 765 seats. The hosts had pulled out all the stops to accommodate the hordes of media representatives, and a certain Alan Pardew was also in attendance.

sutton-wimbledon2

The first-half began energetically, even though quality football was at a premium. Of those in Sutton’s starting line-up, the only player never to have played in the English Football League was Maxime Biamou. This level of experience meant that the gap between the two teams was minimal and indeed it was Sutton who enjoyed the better chances over the course of the match. The first of these came after five minutes following an interception from Bedsente Gomis. He slipped in a neat through-ball to Matt Tubbs. Tubbs, who enjoyed a productive spell at the Dons two seasons ago, got the ball out of his feet but hit his shot wide of James Shea’s left-hand post.

Tubbs had made an encouraging start to the match and seemed intent on proving that he still belonged in Football League company. He won a free-kick a few minutes later, which Roarie Deacon took. The former Arsenal and Sunderland trainee floated an inch-perfect delivery into the box for Nicky Bailey to get his head on, but the former Charlton and Middlesbrough midfielder diverted his effort over the bar. The hosts were clearly relishing the opportunity to put one over their local rivals, but Wimbledon soon provided a reminder of their threat, with Lyle Taylor curling the ball over the bar, leaving keeper Ross Worner slightly concerned.

sutton-wimbledon4

Despite being on the back foot for much of the opening stages, Neal Ardley’s men had enough quality in their ranks to force the issue as the half wore on. Tom Elliott and Lyle Taylor have formed a strong partnership up front, and the former almost made a connection to the latter’s cross. The Dons had a bit of momentum now, with 37-year-old Dannie Bulman’s snapshot gathered in by Worner, before Andy Barcham almost ran clean through, only to be thwarted as he was bearing down on goal.

Dean Parrett was also growing into the encounter, demonstrating his prowess from free-kicks and giving the Sutton defence a few nervy moments. However, one of those deliveries ironically led to possibly the hosts’ best chance of the first half. Worner’s punch away found Deacon and the winger drifted forward before playing a sumptuous through-ball to Biamou, who sprinted clear. Just when it looked as if he would send the home fans into ecstasy, his effort with the outside of his right foot whistled over the bar. The groans from three sides of the ground and the delirium in the Wimbledon end gave you a sense of just how important that chance was. Minutes later, Deacon knocked the ball down to Gomis, who blazed over.

maxime-biamou

A nagging suspicion in a game of this sort is that an off-colour display from the league side in the opening period would pick up in the second half and this duly happened. At the forefront of this revival was the impressive Parrett. The tricky winger had come through the ranks at Tottenham but never really got the chance to demonstrate his potential at White Hart Lane. Following a three-year stint at Stevenage he moved to Kingsmeadow in the summer of 2016 and his ability was shining through in this match.

In charge of set-pieces, he whipped another free-kick delivery that was punched away, before sending in a cross that was gathered in by Worner. His partner in crime Barcham was also displaying quick feet of his own, evading a few challenges before flashing a shot across the face of the goal with Worner stranded. Wimbledon were now starting to look like the side who would take the game by the scruff of the neck. However, Deacon was always capable of turning the game in his side’s favour and another pinpoint pass set Biamou free. This time the Frenchman got his effort on target, but Shea got down smartly to palm the ball away from danger. Seemingly buoyed by that chance, the non-league outfit began to knock on the door again. However, Tubbs, despite his willingness, does not have the stature to hold the ball up and became an isolated figure, leading to his eventual replacement by Dan Fitchett. Neither team was content to sit back, but the end product was lacking.

sutton-wimbledon5

Then, five minutes from the end of normal time, the referee had a big decision to make. Dons captain Barry Fuller made his way into the box only to be taken by substitute Bradley Hudson-Odoi. The massed ranks of Wimbledon fans behind the goal howled for a penalty, but the man in the middle Keith Stroud waved away the protests. After watching the TV replays, it did appear that Hudson-Odoi took the ball although his trailing leg did catch Fuller from behind. Undeterred, Wimbledon kept pressing and after pinball in the box following a corner, Paul Robinson snatched at his shot, which flew just over the bar into the Sutton sky.

Hudson-Odoi aimed to atone for his risky challenge, giving his marker twisted blood before curling in a delicious ball that nobody gambled on. A lack of clinical finishing was both side’s undoing and this was typified when, in the dying embers of the game, Elliott failed to connect cleanly when close to goal, knocking his effort wide, which was quickly followed by another effort by Robinson, valiantly blocked by a member of the Sutton rearguard.

The Vanarama Conference side then had one last chance when they were awarded a free-kick. The anticipation had reached fever pitch, as the home fans dared to dream one last time. The ball was swung by Deacon and after an almighty scramble, Gomis leapt like a salmon, only to direct his acrobatic bicycle kick over the top.

sutton-wimbledon6

Given all the fanfare that had preceded the fixture, the outcome was underwhelming. However, there was plenty of endeavour on display, with both sides clearly going for the win. Both clubs would welcome the revenue boost that a cup run would bring (if not the added workload). The replay takes place on Tuesday 17 January and there is the significant carrot of a home tie against Leeds United for the victor. The prospect of a further Cup giant-killing awaits.

Alex Bowmer