Sutton enjoying their season in the sun
By Charlie Stong at the VBS Community Stadium
They are probably best remembered for one of the greatest FA Cup shocks there has ever been, but this season is far more important to one of South London’s most friendly clubs.
Sutton United hit the national headlines and stole the hearts of a nation – well, everyone outside Coventry, that is, when they defeated the Sky Blues in the Third Round of the FA Cup back in January 1989.
Coventry had won the world’s oldest cup competition themselves just 18 months or so previously when they beat Tottenham Hotspur 3-2 in the final, thanks to Keith Houchen’s memorable diving header and Gary Mabbutt’s knee.
The Midlanders arrived at Gander Green Lane that day with all the pomp and ceremony of the top tier club they were.
They left with their tails between their legs, bundled out of the cup by Tony Rains and Matthew Hanlon.
But if that day 32 years ago may be the most romantic in the club’s history, this year is, without a doubt, the one where the spotlight will shine brightest.
It is their first in the Football League in their 123-year history – and they’ve more than held their own so far, sitting in mid-table with four wins from their 11 games going into today’s fixture against a famous old name of the game in Port Vale.
Sutton’s pitch looked immaculate as the teams strode out – and so it should have - the plastic one of last season which the Football League would not allow was replaced by grass in the summer to the tune of around half a million pounds – no small sum for a club this size.
It’s a very friendly club, is Sutton. Lads from the youth teams man the turnstiles, while the official website points out all the decent local boozers to the away fans while asking them to “bear with us” while the small ground – the VBS Community Stadium for the purposes of a few quid to help pay for that pitch - begins to adapt to the big time.
Sutton started life in the early 1900s playing in the local South London and Surrey leagues, only progressing to the Isthmian League in the 1960s – and on to the Conference in 1986, three years before their win over Coventry.
They won the National League South in 2016, before their National League championship-winning season last year.
They’ve played in two finals – the FA Amateur Cup and FA Trophy – although lost them both.
And if the Coventry game was maybe their biggest single day, they reached the Fifth Round in 2016-17, beating Cheltenham, Wimbledon and Leeds along the way, before bowing out to Arsenal.
And like that Coventry game all those years ago, today's fixture will live long in the memory of the natives.
Sutton showed they belong in their big time. They fought back from 2-0 and 3-2 down to snatch a raucous victory 4-3 in the dying seconds thanks to Coby Rowe's right boot.
And whatever happens between now and May, the locals will be telling the story of their 2021-22 fairytale for many a year.