Non League Club


Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on February 13, 2011

On Saturday 7th January 1989 the world of Sutton United changed forever. On that historic day at 5pm over 8,000 fans celebrated the fact that they had just beaten Coventry City, playing in the top level of English football in the FA Cup. The same Coventry City who just 600 days before had held aloft the FA Cup at Wembley Stadium.

Whilst everyone remembers Sutton from this game, they also had their day in the FA Cup sun back in 1970 when the club made it through to the Fourth round, having beaten Dagenham (before they found Redbridge down the back of the sofa), Barnet and Hillingdon Borough in the previous rounds.  They were then drawn against the mighty Leeds United, League champions and on their way to the FA Cup final.  Under Don Revie there was no way that they would come unstuck against a Non League team (12 months later they lost THAT game to Colchester United though), and a 6-0 victory in front of 14,000, still a record attendance for the club.

Not that their cup exploits have all been in the premier competition.  The Amateur Cup Final, the FA Trophy Final, the Surrey Senior Cup and the Hitachi Cup Final no less but perhaps their best honour was winning the 1979 Anglo-Italian cup aka The Alitalia Cup when they beat Chieti in the final becoming the only non league cup to win the much derided trophy.

Today Sutton United are a fish out of water. They are undoubtably the biggest team in the Ryman Leagues. Regularly getting attendances of over 500 and in recent years somehow failing to take advantage of their first half form in the league by falling away at the business end.  Last season for long periods they ran Dartford close, only to resign themselves to a second place finish.  However, they were stunned by Kingstonian in the semi-final at Gander Green Lane when their local rivals ran out 4-2 winners, denying Sutton a place back in the Conference South where they were up until 2007.

This season, with two-thirds of the season completed they still sit on top of the Ryman Premier. Perhaps this season would see them move back up into the Conference South, a table they deserve to be playing at, based on their support base, and history in the non leagues.

We were long overdue a visit to Gander Lane. Just 11 miles from TBIR towers and sitting in the magic triangle including Carshalton Athletic and Tooting & Mitcham United, it was unbelievable that we had not visited the club before.  But once we had decided to pop on down we were welcomed with open arms by the club.

And what better game could we have chosen. Visitors Lowestoft Town were on a bit of a run themselves. Last seasons Ryman League One North champions they had carried on their exceptional form based on some great attacking play to challenge for the top spot this season. Sitting in fifth place with four games in hand on Sutton and 14 points behind, this was certain to be a battle of the big two in the division, with Lowestoft having one of the biggest away followings in the league.

Sutton United  2 Lowestoft Town 1 – Gander Lane – Saturday 12th February 2011
Games like these sometimes decide outcomes more than you could imagine.  The two one win for Sutton United not only extended their unbeaten run, but also pushed Lowestoft out of the play off places.  Did they deserve it?  On the pitch it was an even match up but for off the pitch activities I would say Sutton deserved the win.  But more of that later.

The game kicked off with the rare red ball being used.  With the BBC in attendance for a programme on Red Nose Day it was decided that all Ryman games would use the red ball.  However, after twenty minutes, for some strange reason the referee decided to bring back the traditional white one.  Not that it was the only strange decision that the referee Rubery made all afternoon.  I rarely criticise officials as they have a difficult enough job but today Mr Spain was awful.

First up he decided that Jenny the Giraffe was “interferring” with play by standing on the sideline, confusing the poor linesman and had her moved by the fourth official.  I can see where the confusion may lay – She is 9ft tall and made of foam after all.  Then with his first big decision of the day he failed to send off Lowestoft keeper Andy Reynolds when he brought down Craig Dundas as he tried to go around him on the edge of the box.  Not content with that he then booked Sutton scorer Adrian Forbes high fived a supporter after scoring a goal and as he had already been cautioned he was off.  And those were just a few of the many of screw ups during the ninety minutes.

Sutton started on top and created the better of the opening exchanges with Forbes and Dundas coming close on a number of occasions so it was no surprise that it was the home side who took the lead.  Dundas took advantage of hesitation between the two Lowestoft centre backs and went to round the on rushing Reynolds who tripped him deliberately.  A cut and dried professional foul surely?  Not according to Mr Rubery who only issued a yellow.  From the resulting penalty Forbes made it one nil.

The Lowestoft fans took it in good heart as they did with every decision that went against them.  I have been to enough football games in my time to have heard abusive language but a small section of their vocal support frequently took it too far.  This was Gander Green Lane in front of 800 people, not Boca Juniors v River Plate in front of 60,000.

The rest of the half was dominated by Mr Rubery.  Play was allowed to continue when it should have been stopped and vice versa.  Sutton did nearly extend their lead when a header from Griffiths struck the bar.  Lowestoft were pegged back for most of the first period, unable to get the ball to the feet of the dangerous Forbes.

Half time approached so we headed for the bar.  However, the entrance to the bar is shared with the tunnel here at Sutton, and so dozens of thirsty fans had to wait until the players had gone back to the dressing room.  Priorities right? And then when we eventually got into the bar it was packed.  I saw a sign pointing us in the direction of a second bar, the Time Square bar, which bizarrely was closed so we had to go thirsty.  Non League football and beer should go together like strawberries and cream at Wimbledon but not for us today.

Lowestoft came out for the second half much stronger.  They took the game to Sutton, knowing that a win here would close the gap between the two clubs to almost striking distance.  The Lowestoft “minority” took the opportunity to start abusing everyone around them.  Players, officials, fans and even a certain fictional BBC soap opera!  The irony of it all was that the main “singer” was wearing a Russian winter hat, made famous more recently by West Ham’s owner David Sullivan, who is a, er Cockney.

On fifty three minutes Sutton made it two nil as Forbes tapped in after great work by the impressive Dundas.  He celebrated by running behind the goal and high fiving a home fan.  Forbes had been booked moments before and so the referee deemed his action “inflamatory” and issued a second yellow card.  Apparently.  You see I didn’t actually see that bit.  I saw him pull out a yellow, but never saw a red, nor did I see Forbes leave the pitch.  In a trueChris Kamara moment I did not find out about this until some hours later when I read the official report.

Lowestoft saw this as their moment (it explains a lot now)  and pushed forward in greater numbers and got a goal back when Mitchell’s shot from 20 yards got a big slice of luck with a deflection and the ball was in the back of the Sutton net.  They then put the Sutton goal under siege for the rest of the game, and should have got an equaliser when they appeared to have scored, only for the linesman to flag for offside.  These incidents happen all over the country every week, and whatever the rights and wrongs of the decision did it really require three or four of the Lowestoft fans to run, and I mean run, from one side of the ground to the other, just so they could launch some sustained verbal abuse at the linesman.  The frustration got to the players as well with one Lowestoft player aiming abuse at a ball boy of no more than 10 years old for failing to retrieve the ball quick enough.  I assume that he has yet to sign up to the new FA-Based initiative Respect FC.

Time ran out for the visitors and at the end of the game the players surrounded the officials to try and understand the bizarre decisions.  It was a shame as this was a great game of football, played out in front of a passionate crowd, yet was spoilt by an official who really didn’t want anyone else to be the main attraction apart from himself.  For Sutton it was another win against one of their rivals, whilst for Lowestoft they showed that they have enough about them to compete in the higher levels of the league.  And for me?  A lift home thanks to the wonderful CMF who was waiting outside.

For more pictures from the day click here to see our Flickr feed.


For he’s a Jolly good fellow

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on January 24, 2011

Over Christmas we finally managed to get a game in after the weather decimated the fixture programme.  The one game we managed to get to was the local derby between Carshalton Athletic and Sutton United.  This wasn’t just a game of local pride, nor was it the chance for the home team to get one over on the league leaders, but it was also the first return to Colston Avenue for a previous legend for the Robins – striker Richard Jolly.

Jolly is a bit of a superstar in the non-leagues and few people who I have spoken to have a bad word against him.  Wherever he has gone, he has been prolific in terms of his scoring.  He won the golden boot (for the second time in just three seasons) with Carshalton Athletic just two seasons ago, and openly said he wanted to move on in the summer to try and win the league with Sutton United.  As 2010 became 2011 his decision looked vindicated as his goals had helped Sutton open up a decent lead in the Ryman Premier League. However, a week is a long time in football, let alone the three it was between seeing Mr Jolly and then catching up with him as in mid-January he rejoined Ryman League rivals Wealdstone on loan.  We caught up with him on the trip across town to his new club.

Do you class yourself as a Professional footballer?  What else do you do?
No I don’t. I work in the Pensions Industry for the Local Government Pension Scheme. Very far removed from being a pro footballer!

It is rare to see such a prolific striker in the non-leagues who is not built like a brick shithouse.  What is the secret to your success?
A good meal and a bottle or two of wine on a Friday night! I think I score a lot of my goals from being one step ahead of the defenders in and around the box and always being on the move. I enjoy playing football and being relaxed plays a big part. Sometimes you can try too hard and you don’t do the things that come naturally.

31 goals in 2008/09 won you the Ryman Golden Boot.  Did you think some bigger clubs may have come sniffing around Colston Avenue?
There were a few clubs who contacted me but the money that was on offer wasn’t enough to be worthwhile and to give up my day job. Some pro clubs feel they can offer a low package because they are giving you a chance of becoming a pro. I wasn’t willing to give up the career I had created for myself just for the off chance of a few years of being a pro footballer.

Any particular teams that you always struggle against?
Not really. I never really look at who I score or don’t score against.

Having seen certain Football manager’s siblings be given chance after chance to make it without success at Football League (and Premier League) level, ever wish you would have been born Richard Wenger?
No. I wouldn’t want to people to think I was only there because of my Dad, Uncle or Brother. I wouldn’t feel comfortable knowing it was my Dad and not my ability that gave me the opportunity. But I’m sure I’d cope if they was offering me thousands of pounds a week!!

Sutton United look good this year but how far in reality can they go with teams like Crawley Town ready (and able?) to spend £300k to bring in a non league player?
There will always be one or two clubs who have limitless pits of money & it makes the game exciting. Money buys good players but it can’t always get you that team spirit. There is a good group at Sutton with a lot of potential & spirit so who knows how far the team can go.

Without agents at the level you are at, how do transfers materialize?
A cheeky phone call from a manager or over a beer in the bar after a game!

Ever fancied taking the route of other ex-step 3 non league players such as Martyn Lancaster (ex-Northwich Victoria, Leigh RMI and Southport) who is now at Miami FC, and Kenny Pavey (ex-Sittingbourne United) now with AIK Solna in Sweden in playing abroad?
I had the possibility of going to America and doing a football scholarship there when I was 16 but in all honesty I was scared to leave home and live in another country at such a young age on my own.

When you first started playing, what level did you think you could reach?
I thought I had something when I was younger but I was never the best player in any team I played for. I thought if I could nick a professional contract at any club then I would have been happy.

How do you motivate yourself to play on a wet winter’s night at Horsham?
Strangely I like playing in the cold. It makes me run around more to stay warm. Also I prefer midweek games to Saturday games. There’s something about playing under floodlights that makes a game seem more special and professional.

Who would play Richard Jolly in a film about your career?
I’d play myself and demand a huge multi million pound pay check from 20th Century Fox so I can buy an island and retire!

Every played in front of one man and his dog and thought “What am I doing here?”
Yep. One game that sticks in my mind was a Tuesday night game for Heybridge Swifts at home. I scored in the first minute and they played a crowd cheering on the tannoy as there were only about 10 people in the ground by then!

Snoods, gloves with short sleeve shirts, music when goals are scored – three things we would banish to Football room 101.  What would you put in there?
Ice baths. Pre season training. Injuries

What team do you support?  Ever had the chance to train or play for them?
I support Queens Park Rangers. I used to be a season ticket holder until I was 16 and started playing on Saturdays. I never wanted to play for them just in case it didn’t go as planned, got sacked and ended up hating the club.

Did you know that Caroline Barker from BBC’s Non League Show is a big fan of yours?  Anyone else well known in your phone book?
No I didn’t know she even knew of me! I don’t have any well known people in my phone book

Sum up Richard Jolly in a 140 character Tweet
A man of simple pleasures. Give me family, friends, food and an endless cellar of the worlds finest wines! And a few million quid!

And there we go. It’s not that glamorous being a Non League star on a Saturday and then having to go back to work on Monday morning.  But thousands of players like Richard do just that every week.  And without them the world would be a much duller place.  So for adding some enjoyment into our lives, Richard I thank you!


MR JOLLY MOVED NEXT DOOR – Carshalton United

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on December 28, 2010
another game off I guess?

I am not shy to admit that this game was not on my “games to do” over Christmas.  Why, you might ask when I have waxed lyrical in the past about Carshalton Athletic and that “proper” non league ground AND it being a fiercely contested local derby?  Well the simple reason is that this was a “free pass day”, a day where I could go to any game I wanted and as a seasoned non league (and European I hasten to add) traveller, I had planned to try something new – the first ever Canvey Island derby.  But of course the f*cking tw@ting weather put pay to that game, as with our option B (Billericay Town), C (Folkstone Invicta, D (Horsham) and E (Tooting & Mitcham United).  In fact after decimating the whole of the non league calendar on Boxing Day, it pretty much took out the whole of the Step 3 and 4 Non League games on the 27th as well with only a small handful surviving.

Random Carshalton Athletic fact #1 – Between 1974 and 1976 current Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson played for the club, and then went on to manage the club for one season.  After leaving them he joined Halmstad in Sweden and took them to the Swedish Championship in his first season.

One such ground where the supporters had worked tirelessly to get a game on was at Carshalton’s War Memorial Ground.  After all they had everything to lose if they couldn’t get the pitch playable.  This is the biggest date in their diary.  Just over 200 had been at their previous home gate, against Concord Rangers, but for this Bank Holiday fixture the crowd would be almost five times that.  Add the presence of a few Bare Naked Ladies in the bar (according to the website), the darts back on the big screen TV’s and their nearest and bitterest local rivals from just 2 miles down the A232 and you can see the need for preparation.

Random Carshalton Athletic fact #2 – Their game earlier this season against Tonbridge Angels was voted one of our top three in the annual 12 Days of Christmas awards.

This wasn’t just any old bitter local derby either.  Sutton United were having a marvellous campaign, living up to their pre-season billing as favourites in the Ryman Premier and coming into the game top of the league.  Last season they had finished runners up to Dartford in the league but then surprisingly lost at home to Kingstonian in the play offs.  And they also had three ex-Carshalton Athletic players in their squad, one of whom was bound to cause some acrimony when he crossed the white line.

Random Sutton United fact #1 – In 1979 The club won the Anglo-Italian Cup by beating Chieti, in the Abruzzo region of Italy in the final.  They went on to two more finals in the next few seasons losing them both to Triestina and Modena respectively.

Richard Jolly is a very well known name in the non leagues.  He was at AFC Wimbledon for a while before moving to Colston Avenue.  In 2008/09 he scored 31 goals for the Robins as they reached the play offs at the end of the season.  Last year, in a disappointing campaign on and off the pitch he still managed to score 19 goals.  However, in the Summer he decided to take the bus along the A232 to Sutton.

“Realistically, joining Sutton was a no-brainer. By just moving across the borough I knew a few people wouldn’t be happy but I wanted to join a team that’s going to win the league.”

In his Twitter updates Jolly said “I’m expecting some good old stick & banter from the Robins fans today. Good bunch. Too much tho & I’ll start throwing snow balls!! Haha!!”

He was also going to be joined by ex-Robins Craig Dundas and Karl Murray to add some more spice to the occasion as if it needed to.

Random Sutton United fact #2 – Their mascot Jenny The Giraffe is apparently the only football mascot with her own Twitter account (We know this is untrue as we are aware of at least three others, but Wikipedia says its true so we must be lying).

With Northern Steve down for his annual search of southern chips with gravy we headed off from TBIR towers, taking a route that did not involve going anywhere near any shoppers who seemed to have descended on every shopping centre in England on the same day.  At 2.30pm, with some constant checking just to make sure the game was on we parked up and was in the very pleasant Robins bar enjoying a pint of Bare Naked Lady (anyone expecting any porn can navigate away now) and watching the darts on TV.

Random Sutton United fact #3 – Since the club beat Coventry City in the FA Cup 3rd round in 1989 no other Non League team has beaten a top flight side in the competition.

There was hardly a trace of snow on the ground, testament to the fantastic job the groundstaff had done.  The bars and food queues were packed, the terraces behind each goal were rammed full of fans – all we now needed was some football.

Carshalton Athletic 0 Sutton United 2 – War Memorial Ground – Monday 27th December 2010
This wasn’t the prettiest of games, nor was it one that was settled by great goals but at this time of the year we would take a Blackburn Rovers v Stoke City nil nil just to see a game!  Whilst Sutton United came into the game on top of the league it was the home side who made all of the early running, playing the ball to feet and quickly moving off the ball whilst Sutton seemed content to play the ball long to Jolly as and when they could.

Unfortunately, the two Carshalton centre backs had this plan easily covered, and a few little digs here and there just to remind the striker what he had been missing saw him dropping deeper to get the ball.  The home side had the best of the opening exchanges and should have been ahead when Paul Johnson found himself one on one with Sutton keeper Kevin Scriven but could not finish.

The Richard Jolly chants went up before we had even had a chance to tuck into our second Naked Lady.  “You only went for the money” was the chant from one end, retorted by “You only came to see the Jolly” from the other.

Sutton’s first chance came in the 18th minute when a free kick from 25 yards caused the snood wearing Ross to spill the ball in the Carshalton area but no one was on hand to capitalise.  We had to wait until the 37th minute for the first corner, an effort that was eventually volleyed over the bar from Gary Noel.

Northern Steve went off to do his pie research and as he was queuing up inevitably he missed the opening goal.  Carshalton’s Michael Boetang had seen yellow for one too many challenges on Jolly, and whilst the first cross into the area was cleared, the subsequent ball in found the unmarked head of Andy Forbes and he made no mistake.

Not only did he come back disappointed about missing the goal, he was also mardy (a northern word borrowed for the occasion) that they “‘ad no fookin’ gravy”…and instead had a sweet chilli jam.  What a continental treat for him.  He loved it and immediately awarded the Carshalton Athletic effort FIFA 5 stars!

The first three minutes of the second half were a carbon copy of the last three in the first.  Robins defender was yellow carded for flattering Jolly, earning himself a yellow card.  The ball came in, was headed back across by Dundas and there was Bradley Woods-Garness to head home.

That was essentially game over.  Sutton took off a battered Jolly on the seventy minutes mark and effectively killed the game off.  There was the odd Carshalton foray into the Sutton area in the last ten minutes, and you got the sense that a goal would have made the last few minutes interesting.  But with the temperature falling, and the bar looking more welcoming, we headed inside to see if anymore Naked Ladies wanted to join us and watch the darts.

“Mr Jolly moved next door
But he came back to say hello.
When he left he took three points
Wearing a shirt of not red, but yellow”

I thank you.  Goodnight.

More pictures from the game can be found at our Flickr stream here.