Sutton is a suburb of South London. It is connected to London by a train company called Southern Railway. This is a ‘privatised’ railway company (they were all the rage a few years ago, like Rubik’s Cubes). For many years Southern Railway has been beset by strikes and union disagreements, hence the last train to arrive in Sutton was in July 1988.
It is still there, disintegrating in the station. As a result the population of Sutton has been living in isolation with no means of escape. Their diet has consisted of looted baked beans and enforced in-breeding has resulted in most of the population having at least twenty-seven fingers.
However, their plucky little non-league football club, Sutton United, have been able to escape for away matches by hot-air balloon. This is the same football club that once humbled the mighty Coventry City in the FA Cup. Coventry City were a ‘Premier’ league club back then, unfortunately these days Coventry languish in the third tier of English football. Which slightly takes the edge of Sutton’s achievement, a bit like having once paid a sizeable sum to have your portrait painted by Rolf Harris.
I have been watching them for many years and my support has only ever wavered once. This was when they made some changes to the ground.
It’s always been a bit of an awkward ground as it has a running track all around it. Although nobody has actually been seen running on it since the Olympics of 1924, which were held in Sutton. The track was the scene of the 100m Sack Race Final which was famously won by the very religious Eric Liddell, even though the final was held on a Sunday.
Apparently this was okay for Eric because in Leviticus Chapter 7 Verse 33 it says…’and lo, did Moses take up his sack and in it he did climb, and for forty days and nights did he sit there (which would have included at least a couple of Sundays) until the Lord spoke unto him and said ‘Moses, take thyself from thy soiled sack and now go sit in a tea-chest until I have decided what receptacle thou shall sit in next.’
Despite the distance to the pitch created by the running track, it was still quite possible to see the ball take a bobble off the knee and into the net from the far side of the ground. There were two dug-outs for the team managers to sit in, and these were sensibly positioned next to the crowd perimeter fence around the half way line. ‘Sensible’ in that they were at chest height and as a spectator you could rest your pie and lukewarm tea on their roof and see over them. I liked standing there, it was handy for reading the newspaper too.
I turned up for a new season to find that two new breeze-block dugouts had been built. Describing them as dug-outs is erroneous. A dug-out implies that something has been ‘dug-out’ of the ground. These hadn’t been ‘dug-out’, these had been ‘erected’ to structural standards that would protect observers at the Nevada Desert nuclear testing site. Indeed if Hitler’s bunker had been built to such a specification then we’d be queuing up for guided tours and not wondering which Berlin car park it was beneath, after Russian bulldozers flattened it.
Appearance aside, the worst thing about them was their new position. They have moved them forward some twenty feet, beyond the running track, and they now sat near the touchline. This afforded the managers of both teams a closer view of proceedings but totally obscured them for half of the spectators in the ground.
Sutton United’s excuse for building these unsightly behemoths was that the FA had a ruling that said that both dug-outs had to be equidistant from the half-way line. The old dugouts weren’t, as one was about five feet from the centre-line whilst the other was ten feet away. Perhaps someone should have told the FA that football is a game of two halves and that the teams change ends. Hence any ‘dug-out proximity advantage’ gained in the first-half will be lost in the second half.
Anyway I think this was a bit of a red-herring on Sutton United’s part. I’m sure that the FA had better things to worry about, such as the national team’s dull-witted performance in World Cups. Unless the position of dug-outs is the main thrust of their ‘root and branch’ review of the national sport.
The precise equidistance of the dug-outs aside, I’m fairly sure that there’s nothing in the rules that says they couldn’t have been made out of something transparent, that they didn’t need to be three stories high and they could sit a little way back from the touchline so that the paying punter could actually see the game. I am tempted to think that the job was done by a builder who could only be contacted around Derby Day by knocking on his caravan door. Presumably he had a skip-load of breeze-blocks he wanted to offload to some gullible football club.
As you can probably tell I wasn’t happy. It was enough to drive a man to Carshalton Athletic.
Anyway, they eventually saw the error of their ways and demolished them. Unfortunately they didn’t phone me to let me know and I missed three or four seasons whilst I was busy writing daily complaint letters to the FA.
More latterly Sutton United got promoted to the Football League. This sucked all the fun out of going there, so now I do indeed go and watch Carshalton Athletic. God forbid they ever have any success.
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