UNTITLED GANDER GAME: MOORS v SUTTON UTD

04/04/2021

Sutton United have always been a club we hold in high regard. A proper elite non-league club, Sutton were Solihull Moors' first ever opponents at National League level, and set about outclassing us for 40 minutes before going on to lose the battle of North & South champions on a warm August day at Gander Green Lane. PsychoMouse drove like Lewis Hamilton to arrive in time to see most of the first half, M00R5 failed to get a then-recent colleague who was living across the road from GGL to come to the game, a sweaty, topless man hugged young boys... It was a great day out all round.

Sutton Sal has been a great friend of the fanzine, and our connection with her goes back to the old Tinpot Terrace forum days, probably since lost to the mists of time. Through her, we have come to discover Gandermonium, kindred spirits of ours, perhaps (if not birds of a feather, though it's probably not the best idea to overdo the goose puns). With Sutton looking shoo-ins for a shock promotion to League Two this season, we decided now was as much a honking good a time as ever to corner them for a chat. If this feathers your fancy in any way at all, you can also find their excellent blog here.

Explain yourselves. 

We didn’t do it, no one saw us do it. You can’t prove anything. 

 

Apart from that, we are Gandermonium, undoubtedly the finest unofficial online matchday/ drunkenness publication stroke blog thing covering the subject of Sutton United FC. It’s a title we’re understandably quite proud of given it’s such a crowded market. 

 

Sutton United are having an incredible season. What does that feel like? 

Bit weird. Don’t get us wrong, we’ve been around the block a few times and we’ve been lucky enough to see a couple of leagues won over the years we’ve been doing this, but this season is a little bit different. I mean, us? In the football league? Erm. Really? Ok, we got reasonably close a couple of seasons back battling with Macc at the top, but we all kinda knew it probably wouldn’t pan out favourably and no one was too shocked when we fell on our faces about 6 games from the line. We had a very capable side that year, but it just lacked a couple of little elements you need to see through successful league title challenges at this sort of level. This current lot are a little bit different.  

 

We can remember the euphoric ride of a shock run at the league title and a huge, unexpected advantage over other sides from 2015/16. The recent fantastic run to 2nd place and the playoff semi-final is also still quite fresh in our minds. Suffice to say we're quite jealous it isn't us again this year. What do you think has been behind Sutton's great form? 

It's a mix of things really. First continuity. Matt kept the spine of the side from last season that once we finally got rolling shortly before Xmas after a poor start would have finished comfortably mid-table before Coronabollocks arrived, we were one of the better sides in the division from December onwards. He then added a couple of half decent recruits to a solid base this summer. Key to this is that Matt wants lads who’ll fit in, be part of a team and who can hopefully play two positions to make up for not having a massive squad. There’s no egos or superstars in this team. Plus all the lads seem to get on brilliantly and everyone’s got everyone else’s back. We’re a tight knit bunch. 

 

We’re also don’t fuck around with trying to be Barcelona or playing with trequartistas or ‘false nines’ or any of that stuff. We play 4-4-2 with wingers, work hard as a unit, defend solidly (12 clean sheets in the league this season), give as little away as possible and put the oppo under pressure at the other end. 

 

This season, we've paid the price for ripping up our non-league foundations and bringing in a model more reminiscent of something two or three levels up the pyramid. It hasn't worked despite what's surely a title-challenging budget, especially factoring in investment in facilities. Sutton seem to be steadily evolving a side based around youth and quick, direct, attacking football. Is that really the case, and do you think that might have given your team a big advantage in a time of such upheaval, especially with most other promotion hopefuls making big changes? 

I think the COVID stuff has definitely played a part for us. Bit of uncertainty in general, schedules being disrupted etc. Also the gaffer’s viewpoint has always been “If I can’t effect it, I can’t worry about it” so all the money side, COVID, income for the club etc, as that’s not his job, he doesn’t let it affect his thinking. He just works on preparing & setting the side up the best he can to go out & play football. And if he’s told to stop, that’s that. I’m not sure a lot of clubs have such an uncomplicated take on things. I mean, if you’re one of the big BELT sides for example, getting back to the FL is everything. There is no other end goal and anything but is abject failure, so it’s a lot of pressure to be under. We don’t have that at GGL. There’s no pressure on us. We’re just enjoying the ride and if it happens it happens. We’ve been a non-league side for 123 years. If we’re still a non-league side after 124 years, oh well. Shame, but at least we had a go. 

 

Is what's good for the goose really good for the gander? 

We’re an open minded bunch and find it best these days to live and let live. If that’s what they want and are comfortable/happy with, who cares? We’re not Daily Mail readers or owt you know. 

 

How do you see the rest of the season panning out? Surely, it's yours to lose now? 

We’re definitely in the box seat currently. But we’ve still got 12 games to play. That’s a quarter of the season basically, so a lot of football to get through. I think if we can take 6-7 points from the 3 games in hand we have, that should give us enough to settle it. Although we’ve been really lucky with injuries etc. this season. If we get a run of 3-4 regulars out, it might hurt us with our squad size. 

 

What challenges would promotion bring to Sutton United? The pitch is an obvious issue, but is it true that Sutton are still one of those 'hybrid' sides who aren't fully professional? 

What challenges? Oh god, how long have you got? We’re still a proper old style non-league club and reliant almost totally on volunteers off the field. The only full time staff the club has are the clubhouse/bar manager & the two lads that run the Academy. On the pitch isn’t a concern, off it however we’d be entering a whole new world. However, the little challenge we had at the top 3 seasons back at least got the club more prepared for what awaits. So we’re at least a little better prepared/aware of what awaits if things pan out as they might.  

 

As for the team, no, we’re not full time. We train 3 mornings a week and whilst some of our lads do earn just from football, a fair few do still have jobs too. I think calling us ‘Semi-Professional’ is probably the most accurate description for our setup. 

 

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Sutton United in action against Solihull Moors on Saturday 5th December 2020. Ridiculously, London was in Tier 2 at the time despite being a plague capital, so the game was played in front of a very happy home crowd. Image © Gandermonium, 2020.

On the subject of the pitch, we've ironically found ourselves in a position this season of having ruined the drainage on our pitch by paving the car park and adding an all-weather pitch behind the ground. Would you agree that the EFL's 3G ban is ridiculous, and Northern European clubs should be encouraged to keep games on, support community teams, and raise extra cash by investing in artificial surfaces?  

Fact is, they work. We’ve lost ONE game to the weather in 5 years. One. And that was a freak as we had a bit of snow, it started to thaw and then the temperature plummeted again freezing it solid. Nowt we could do. We train on it, as do the academy, women's, and disabled sides, Sutton Common Rovers (Step 5) share GGL as well (playing & training). When it was laid, it saved our juniors setup a five figure sum that year in training venue fees alone, we run our academy out of GGL (three sides), local schools use it, the list goes on. And it generated about £125k for us according to our last published accounts. Some people even think that’s ‘unfair’, FFS. Financial doping, etc. Yeah, sorry we’ve not got one bloke covering our 6 figure losses every year lads like you’re supposed to. Sake. 

 

Plus despite all the bollocks spouted by the ignorant, the surface has to be rigorously tested every year to ensure it meets the FIFA standards the FA adheres to. If it doesn’t, we can’t use it. At all. Now look at some other clubs in the top two tiers who’ve been playing on cabbage patches for years (hi Eastleigh!). There’s a few in L2 and L1 too. Where’s the stringent standards they have to meet for their fucking garbage playing surfaces? All they’ve actually done is grow some fucking grass and mow it occasionally. Even my dad managed that over lockdown and he’s about as green fingered as he is Elon Musk. 

 

Bottom line is, they should definitely be allowed in L2 at the very least. As for above that, I dunno, maybe L1 for two seasons but then you have to change perhaps? There does seem to be a strange issue that football in the country has with them though. The last FL vote on the subject was properly ‘No’, yet the one not long before that was actually a dead heat, with apparently every L2 side saying yes. So what changed? Same attitude in Scotland, the SPFA polled its members on their use in the SPFL. All except for the lads at clubs like Kilmarnock that have one (same as ours in fact). So players who use them every single week were excluded. It’s just odd, but not that surprising really given how utterly backward the game can be here sometimes. 

 

If we get promotion, it’s coming up. And that’ll be a big shame, as it’s not only played a big part in our stability as a club, it’s genuinely made us much more of a part of the sporting landscape in the area compared to before. Probably as much as things like getting to play Arsenal have.  

 

Poo thrust unravelled Lancs town. 

Well, as insults go it’s certainly different, we’ll give you that. But we’re from South London lads. Should probably have saved that for the Alty lot or something…. 

 

Why are we meeting on Easter Monday? Thanks to the performance levels of our West Midlands neighbours having tanked in recent years, we don't have any obvious derbies in this league, but surely Sutton could have been sent to Bromley or somewhere like that? 

No idea! National League gonna National League innit. If we’d been allowed to go, having you Friday & Wood on the Monday would have been more preferable for us as there’s far more drinking to be done on a proper away day where somewhere like Brum is involved. Hopping on the Thameslink to Elstree ain’t the same. It’s like commuting to work for a lot of us. 

 

Who would you prefer to see resurrected over Easter? Christian Lord and Saviour, Jesus of Nazareth, or radical poet and badass librarian, Audre Lorde? 

I’ll plump for the feminist lesbian poet, as believe it or not, the missus actually has one (maybe two?) of her books, so I’m sure she would quite like to have the opportunity to meet her and have a chat. If that doesn’t score me brownie points, fuck all will. That and you have to ask yourself, would even JC himself want to come back at Easter these days? Talk about not getting a moments peace. That and explaining the bunny/chocolate egg stuff to him would get old really quickly. 

 

If you could change one thing about Gander Green Lane, what would it be? 

Not much if I’m honest. It’s an old dump but it’s our old dump. Maybe extend the main stand a touch (we’d need the seats for the FL after all)? That or make the Rec End a bit bigger (deeper/taller) with something like Maidstone’s big terrace. Apart from that, I don’t really mind the old girl as she is. 

 

If you were visiting Damson Park in person this Easter weekend, what would your plan of attack for the day look like? 

Train to New Street, arrive around 11ish, hit the pubs in Brum. Including the Post Office Vaults for at least a couple and some bar billiards, then whatever else we’ve spied beforehand that’s walkable. Depending on how hard we hit it, train back out to Solihull or Uber straight to the ground. Quick one before KO if poss, game, couple in Spoons back in Solihull, then back to Brum, couple more pubs there and finally a KFC bucket for the train home about 9. Die.  

 

They play with giant melon. 

Is this another of those weird 3G pitch rumours?

 

What are your expectations from the game on Monday? 

We’ve looked a bit tired last couple of games, unsurprising really given we’ve usually used 8-9 of the same lads from game to game this season with such a relentless schedule, so hopefully we can show a bit more of our previous spark, get at it and make it a half decent watch. A win would be nice! 

 

What are your expectations from Solihull Moors TV? 

For it to work. Most of the streams so far this season have been fine TBH (Aldershot’s was hilariously shit early doors with those ball tracking cameras. Thank god pretty much everyone’s binned that nonsense off now. And Borehamwood’s almost pitch level angle on Friday was crap too, although it did give us a little pang of nostalgia for the early days of match highlights on YouTube, etc.) and the reliability of what we’ve seen has pleasantly surprised us and made what is, let’s face it, a properly crap way of watching your football team a touch less crap than it could have been. So we’re genuinely grateful for that. 

 

Did you know that one of the Bandwagon Two™ spent two years undercover as an erotic writer, and that Switch Radio and Moors TV pundit Ben McPhillips is less commonly known for his roles in Japanese pornography? 

No, we were not aware of these facts. Although it does go to show that there’s definitely some right characters & oddballs in Non-League (we do include ourselves in this obviously). Shame we can’t attend the match in person as both of these sound like they’d be right up our very own grot specialist Dirty Barry’s alley. If you’ll pardon the pun.  

 

Score prediction? 

Tough one. Not expecting to give you a going over like we did at GGL what with the managerial change recently, so I think it’ll be tight. I’ll be positive and go for a 2-1 Sutton win. Keep the unbeaten run going and those chasing BELTs sweating bullets a bit longer. 

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Many thanks to the gents from Gandermonium for chatting with us ahead of what might be the last meeting between our two sides for at least 16 months. If you enjoy their Sutton United stylings, you can follow them on the various medias here:

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