Fingers crossed this will be the last one for a while. But given that Maidenhead reckon our game there on Tuesday is already at risk, I'm not holding my breath.
To lift the slightly depressing air, I've gone for the report of what is probably my favourite Sutton cup tie in recent memory. The rather exciting 4-3 win away at Eastbourne Borough in 2004. You know the one. 'Taff' Martin & Craig Watkins on fire and us with a fan in goal.......
|Some are drunk, some aren't.......|
Eastbourne Borough 3 Sutton United 4
FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round - 2nd October 2004
Now, if you’re a regular visitor in these here parts, you may have worked out fairly well what keeps our little hearts full of joy. A good game of footy and plenty of beer. Now, combine these two simple factors and make it by the seaside and we get almost as excited as a 5 year old on their way to Disneyland after too many E-numbers.
With that in mind, you can imagine our giddy delight at hearing, that finally, the FA had decided to give us something other than a boring or crap tie in the FA Cup. We're away to Eastbourne!
What made this even better was our per-season visit there last year that got really rather messy. Because now we knew the town and it’s drinking holes, this would mean super efficient boozing. Plus, it would be an unexpected opportunity to get round two of our new 'weekends away by the sea' mini-golf tourney on. So with bags packed, B&B’s booked and tickets bought, the U’s invasion force assembled at East Croydon early on the saturday morning. At pretty much full strength, there would no doubt be much rowdiness during the course of the afternoon. And into the evening. And then the small hours of the following day. On parade the usual characters of myself, Windy, Greek, Chalmers and Mrs Chalmers, Oscar, Bob, Jules and a Shoebox weekender debutant, Millsy.
The journey down is uneventful and understandably full of beer. Greek even coaxing some other U’s fans from further down the train to join the party. Most of the vaguely serious discussion turns to JR’s one big worry for this afternoons game. The lack of a goalkeeper. As with both Phil Wilson & now Andy Iga on the injured list, the manager has 2 simple choices. Either throw in the very inexperienced Mohammed Mann from the ressies, or sign a replacement. We're told JR has elected for the latter, but it’s not an easy fix when you find out you’re custodian-less on the thursday night and the you've got until noon the following day to get a signature on the required forms.
Thankfully, we've heard the U’s extensive contacts have apparently yielded a stand in, but as of yet we’ve been unable to find out who it is so we spend a good while mulling over who it could be. The even money seems to be on it being Andy Pape. But we’d have to wait and see.
We arrive in Eastbourne just before opening and head for our digs. Bags dumped, we open the days refreshments with a quick pint at the pub next door before heading into town and catching up with Jules & Bob at the ‘Terminus’ in the centre. Here, phone calls warn us of a possible delayed start to the match as the team are stuck in bad traffic on the way down. Ho hum. D'you mind, we're boozing!
More beer and a quick spot of lunch later, cabs are grabbed and we head for the ground in time for a cheeky snifter before the game. On arrival, it’s confirmed the kick off will indeed be delayed 30 minutes as the team have had to sit and wait for an accident near Crawley to be cleared on the way down. Oh. Well better make that 2 drinks then. Be rude not to.
In the bar, we set about trying to answer the days big question. “Who’s this new ‘keeper then???”
Almost immediately, the answer is provided. Between the sticks today would be 41 year old Chris Vagg. What? Vaggy? As in Vaggy who stands with Frakey & Kiddo at home games? Wow. That's one from left field. Wish I'd have had a tenner on that, I'd have been able to pay off my mortgage!
Now, we know Vaggy. Pretty well in fact. He's a U's fan and has been for donkeys. And we also know that has a pretty handy stopper back in the day. But, really? Further investigation (in other words we talk to Frakey!) reveals that he’s actually a lot more experienced than we'd realised, having appeared regularly for Hampton and Wealdstone amongst others at first team level. The down side is Chris hasn’t played senior football for nearly 10 years, with only appearances for East Cheam Vets continuing his footballing ‘career’. And that's mainly been as a striker.
Hmmmm. This could be an interesting afternoon!
Despite our minor misgivings over our new signing's rustiness, we’re made up that it'll be a U's fan between the sticks and we resolve to give everything to ensure we roar the lads into the next round. And when the game eventually gets underway after that delay, being properly rowdy seems to get the team settled quickly and we make a really bright start. Just 4 minutes played and Quinton guides a header narrowly high of the mark following a cross from the left. The home side struggle to match our early burst of life and especially the pace and directness of Craig Watkins who’s looking rather lively today.
|Don't just stand there watching! DO somethi....oh never mind.|
He’s already worried Boro with a couple of piercing runs when on 16 minutes, he breaks the deadlock. A free-kick is won in a fairly central position and Fear launches it into the box. The first effort isn’t great and is cleared straight back to the ex-Wimbledon man. His second ball in is much better picking out Watkins to the right of the area and his looping header drops over the stranded keeper and into the far corner. Of course the largely inebriated and noisy away support obviously greets this moment rather joyously.
Sutton continue to control the early running and on 23 minutes, another good battling run from Watkins sees him into the box, but his shot across goal is well held by the Eastbourne custodian. A couple of minutes later, Nigel Brake makes a good run down the left and delivers an excellent low ball across the 6 yard box, but Watkins is unable to provide the killer touch sliding in. The danger still looms though as Gray retrieves the ball out on the right and delivers it straight back into the danger area, but Quinton arriving late hooks the ball well over the target.
With the home side having registered only one long range effort on our goal and straight at Vaggy, it’s something of a surprise when they draw level just around the half hour mark. The ref decides to allow what appear to be fouls on Martin and then Akuamouah inside the space of a couple of moments out on the left, before then penalising Eddie for something, although we can’t quite work out what. The free-kick is rolled infield and a red shirt tries his luck, hitting a low shot towards the box from what must be 25 yards or so. It’s pretty crap and is lacking any real venom. No problem it seems.
What we haven’t counted on is the intervention of Nigel Brake's heel on the edge of the box which deflects the ball into the air and a rather surprised Vaggy can only watch it loop over him and into the net. Typical. Fucking typical! The goal naturally gives the home side a bit more confidence and shortly after they’re trying their luck again from range. This time the shot flashes in from the right and past the far post.
With 33 minutes played and we're back on the offensive. A deep cross from the left is aimed at the back post. Gray jumps to meet it by is rather unceremoniously taken out in mid-air, landing heavily on the turf. Not only does the ref wave away our strong appeals for a penalty, he then ignores our injured player for a good minute of play. It's safe to say you’re starting to get on my tits mate.
Our situation gets worse 2 minutes later when Eastbourne win a corner on our left. The ball is played in towards the near post, where there is a distinct hint of handball from an attacker. Again the ref ignores protests and a goalmouth scramble of the sort only seen in an under-5’s little league match ensues. The defence can’t get a hold of the ball to clear the danger and it’s eventually and inevitably scuffed in at the near post and we're behind for the first time. This is a little frustrating. After bossing the game for half an hour, we’ve now conceded two bollocks goals in a little over 5 minutes. Poor ol' Vaggy must be loving this. He’s only had one real shot to deal with, yet conceded twice. And neither of them from that shot!
Welcome to the world of playing for early 21st century Sutton United Chris.
Matt Gray voices his displeasure at the refs lack of bottle with the handball and chases him a good 20 yards, jabbing his finger at the man in black. Quite how he avoids a yellow card for this is somewhat surprising.
|The identity of the culprit has been obscured for legal reasons.....|
With half time approaching, we’re urging the lads on to try and get level before the break. Akuamouah breaks from deep and charges into the Eastbourne half before being rather cynically taken out around 25 yards from goal. Naturally, the offender is booked, but a fellow U’s fan kicks out at the perimeter fence in frustration, putting his foot through a rather flimsy looking advertising board for British Gas in the process. A bit shocked by his accidental act of vandalism, he retires to the back of the terrace before apologising profusely to the steward who is soon on the scene. Naturally we support our shocked colleague in the only way we know how. By pissing ourselves laughing. Sorry Mark!
Still giggling about the incident as the ref blows for half time, we head for the far end. Looking back, the stewards are removing the now fatally wounded ad board. Bloody yobs!
|They've got BIG mice round here. And they love an ad board....|
JR has obviously rallied the lads at the break and we come out in determined mood for the second half, once again forcing the home site onto the back foot. A few minutes in, Brake is sent down the left, delivering a cross into the near post. Akuamouah claims the ball, but is hauled down by a defender with a handful of his shirt. Naturally no pen. The ball then runs to Martin who lays the ball back out to Fear on the left. He gets to the bye line and pulls the ball back in to the near post again. This time it’s Taff’s turn to be hauled to the ground. Once more, the ref fails to see anything wrong.
But despite this, we keep roaring the lads forwards and they keep the pressure on. A corner from the left being tipped away by the ‘keeper and falling to Corbett at the back post, but his ball back across fails to find anyone in an Amber shirt and is cleared. The respite is brief, as within 60 seconds, we’re finally level. Fear takes a clever early free-kick out on the right, sending Matt Gray free down the right. He drills a ball across the 6 yard box and a defender puts a foot in to lock it. But he only succeeds in deflecting it to Akuamouah, who turns it goalward and another defender can only help it to it’s final destination, deflecting it into the roof of the net. Once more, we get to partake in our favourite pastime whilst at a game. Jumping around like idiots.
Parity restored, we’re again confident of now regaining control of proceedings. Little do we know there’s another twist to be played out. Just after the hour, a deep ball forwards down our left is chased down by an attacker. John Scarborough, an ex-Borough man from their Langey Sports days, times his challenge badly and brings down his opponent just inside the box, leaving the ref no option. Penalty.
Matey steps up and sends Vaggy the wrong way to restore the home side's lead. Again, my thoughts turn to our unfortunate stopper at the far end. He’s probably touched the ball as many times from actual open play than he has to pick the bastard thing out of his net.
Miffed, we up the noise levels and again try to urge our side forward. It seems to do the trick as within 2 minutes of going behind, the tireless Watkins again causes the hosts defence some serious problems. A ball is played between defenders across the Eastbourne box. The last man in the chain takes a poor first touch and then dithers on the ball further, allowing the lurking Watkins to rob him of the ball and carry it into the box out to the right. Spotting the opportunity, Taff Martin darts into the centre and meets his strike partners low centre with a sweet side foot finish to once more level the scores and send us lot ape-shit.
FUCKING COME ON!!! Our game now lads, OUR game!
Tails well and truly up, the U’s set about looking for a winner, loudly backed by us gobby bastards under the cover behind the goal. Martin goes bloody close immediately after netting the last equaliser after Gray tears down the right and whips a super ball low into the box. Martin reacts to the cross and hooks the ball past the ‘keeper but off the face of the bar! Again though, Eastbourne’s respite is short lived and the threatened goal arrives with 20 minutes to play and once more it’s the rapidly blossoming partnership between Taff and his young partner up front that produces the goods.
|Idiots about to go mental just out of shot....|
A sweeping move up field and a pass finds Martin 25 yards out. He turns and advances on goal before slipping a pass to Watkins peeling off to the right. He goes past the defender and delivers a return cross to Taff at the near post and he flashes a header inside the near upright. And we go absolutely fucking mental once more.
GET IN THERE!
The momentum has now swung fully our way, the hosts are now all over the shop and struggling to cope with our forward raids. 3 minutes after taking the lead, we almost make it 5 with another Watkins/Martin combo. A ball over the top and in behind the home defence sends the now frankly rampant Watkins in on goal. He holds the ball well for support, exchanges a 1-2 with Fear and having drawn the ‘keeper, tries to tee up Martin for his hat-trick. Taff steps inside the defender in front of him to work an angle for the shot, only to see it blocked right on the line by a desperate last ditch lunge from a recovering defender.
We create a couple more openings, both falling to Brake. But his angled efforts from the left lack sufficient power to really trouble the ‘keeper. JR then withdraws Watkins for Honey and ‘Ug’ is soon in the thick of the action. Our last really good chance of the match falls to Tony Quinton, strongly rumoured to be returning to us full time after a rather unproductive spell at Canvey, driving forwards from midfield before thumping a fierce drive just a gnats chuff over the crossbar.
With Honey now in to shore up the midfield and deny space, we start to try & wind things down. The home side push forwards as much as they can, but never really look like grabbing a late leveller. The closest they get is with 7 minutes remaining. A corner is conceded and swung in from the right and partially cleared to the edge of the box. It’s headed straight back in and the ball bounces off the top of Vagg’s crossbar before being hoofed clear by Andrew Martin of all people.
A couple of late corners have to be faced, but Vaggy finally finds himself properly involved in the action, using his ample frame to impose himself on the set pieces and strongly fists the threat clear before the ref brings matters to a close and we once again can celebrate like fools. The lads eventually join the celebrations, with the biggest ovation reserved for our ‘keeper-for-the-day who celebrates like he’s just won the final and not a 2nd round qualifying tie. Which is fair enough.
"England's number one! England's, England's number one!"
What makes things even sweeter is the news that the Bobbins have slumped to a 3-1 defeat at home to Hastings. A text to Gareth from a scummer he knows claims they weren’t so much "beaten" but "crucified". Hahaha! Even fucking better then! There really are some things you shouldn't admit sometimes.
We hit the bar and begin celebrations that should last into the early hours in the town centre. The lads are greeted into the bar with great approval, with again the loudest cheer reserved for the U’s latest cult hero Mr Vagg, who on chatting to some rather pissed and excitable members of the crew reveals that the call to sign had come Thursday night from Mickey Joyce. Which wasn't a wise move on the club's part given that pretty much everyone knows Joycey is a prankster and total wind up merchant. Him calling to ask if Chris wanted to play in the cup resulted in him hanging up on him! Still, it's nice that we got the result and that Vaggy is as made up to have played a proper game for his club as we all would be. Although when asked if he’d contemplate a second such appearance, his answer is definitely a "No".
What? You're just going to let Wilson or Iga just stroll back in and take your spot?
|Bloody poncy stockbroker belt types....|
A few more beers later, it’s time to really get on it and celebrate in style. Cabs back to the B&B and then out into the bright lights of Eastbourne. Many many bevvies later, we find ourselves in 'Kings' the local equivalent of Chicago’s drinking a celebratory bottle of shampoo. Oh come on, what did you expect? We’re from bloody Surrey after all what what!
It all gets a little hazy after a while and I return to the B&B to find early retiree Millsy snoring like a traction engine. Marvellous. Head under pillow time. It later transpires that he'd spent a good while sat outside after being unable to operate the key\lock interface on the front door. It was only as he had a contemplative fag to consider his options that he realised he'd actually been trying to get into the place next door.
Special and yet marvellous I think you'll agree.
Understandably there are a fair few sore heads at breakfast the next morning, which aren’t helped by a seriously less than impressive breakfast. 2 bits of toast accompanied by a solitary sausage & slice of bacon! Really? We've been out on the piss all night love. We need stodge dammit! More worryingly, if that's not enough for a fellow like myself, imagine how a statuesque bloke like Greek felt. That boy needs fuel of a morning!
|Shut. Closed. No entry. Get lost. Piss off.|
Still, there’s the mini-golf to keep us occupied. Or so we think. The weather has taken a turn for the worse overnight and despite a hopeful wander through the pissing rain, with Millsy less than suitably dressed in a T-shirt & shorts ("I'm on holiday!" is his excuse) we find the course is indeed closed. Bastards.
A quick call to the reserve course up the road also draws a blank, so we retire to the pier to waste a few quid in the arcades instead, out of the rain. Which proves to be less than successful at soothing hangovers due to all the flashing lights and loud video game type noises.
|'Fat bloke on a beach'. Number 1 in a failed series of about 5.....|
Ooooh. it's the draw on monday. Hope we get somewhere dull & quiet away.