This is something a little unusual for us. An attempt at being serious. It's not a practice we're particularly big on if we're honest. However, sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and be adult for a change I suppose. So here goes...
On the 10th February 2017, Liverpool FC took the decision to ban national tabloid The Sun from Anfield and their Melwood training ground over the long running dispute over the paper’s reporting of the 1989 Hillborough disaster. 4 days later, Sutton United announces that for its much anticipated 5th Round FA Cup tie against Premier League giants Arsenal, their regular 1st team shirt sponsor 'Green Go Waste' would be replaced by 'Sun Bet'. A new online betting site part owned by News International and branded for the aforementioned newspaper.
To say the the decision of the U's to make the most of their 15 minutes of fame and associate with the daily publication now officially persona non-grata on Merseyside does not go down well is an understatement and then some. Alongside what seemed like most of Twitter thinking we're scumbags, a lot of U's fans were also shocked & upset when the news dropped. This sort of shit isn't normally on our radar where priorities are more around finding that boozer that opens early for some far flung away day and where the fuck exactly is North Ferriby. A lot of Sutton fans were angry because of the perceived toxic nature of the Sun's brand, some because of the reporting of Hillsborough and some quite frankly because of both. However, we are a diverse group, generally held together by a love of football, beer and a bit of rock 'n roll. Of course, there are the sorts who couldn't really care where the money comes from. That's not our view, but people are entitled to it all the same. As long as they're not being a dick about it.
And when we say we're a diverse group, we mean it. Amongst our number we even have several proper, bona fide Scousers from the Red half of the City. Now exiled here in the South with us shandy drinkers, they've found coming to Gander Green Lane to be a not half bad replacement for Anfield and judging by the time they spend in the bar, they certainly seem to feel at home here and we’ve certainly come to think of them as part of the family. Guys like that don't stick around long if you're a bunch of arseholes. We extremely doubt this deal will be at all popular with them, as we fully understand the 'never forget never forgive' stance a lot of they and their kin would obviously take towards the News International publication. But we also hope that they've come to know the club well enough to know that they didn't set out to deliberately piss off or alienate them.
With this in mind, I understand there will be some JFT96 material being distributed at the Arsenal game as a response and undoubtedly some from our own number will be involved in that.
Personally? I'm definitely conflicted. It's a bit like that film Indecent Proposal. Some rich geezer has offered your missus a wad of cash for a bunk up. However in this case, your missus isn't that much of a looker to begin with and the bloke offering the money is someone well known, but a lot of people don't like. Like Nigel Farage. You’re not too sure about it & know it might cause a bit of friction in your relationship, but that money would certainly come in handy.
I've never been a Sun reader, never will be. Even after the Leeds game when the cheeky sods used our crap pun of a name as a headline (we actually expected some abuse for that, but it seems no one noticed. Sums up Gandermonium perfectly I guess!), when my newsagent Ali insisted he give me copies of it and the Mail (another one I won't buy) for free after I'd spent nearly a tenner on everything else available in print that Monday morning. But on the other side of the coin, I'm writing this having got to know one of their sports correspondents on this journey. Ben's a good bloke, works fucking hard and is always good value to talk football with. He even wound up in bloody Guiseley with us this week the poor sod. I've personally also appeared on their Football podcast during this run prior to the Leeds game, back when it was all a bit of a laugh and we were just out there talking up our little club. Does that make me the devil, a sell out or just some sad bastard happy to talk to someone who's actually interested in his poxy little club for a change? Now, barely a week before the biggest game we've ever had, loads of people think we're despicable money grabbing wankers and our support is hugely divided on the matter. A fucking laugh it is no longer.
To the outsider, it would understandably seem like this deal is just another in a long line of football clubs just cashing in when the opportunity arises and fuck the consequences. And I can't say I blame 'em, especially given we have of course already secured some pretty sizable cheques to delight our bank manager with, so to some this could appear to be us just milking it for the sake of it. However, here the decision would have been reached by a board that are, like us, supporters. Our Chairman and our President both started out in our Supporters Club many years ago for example and served on a Management Committee that in 1989 sent a donation to the Hillsborough Disaster fund on the Club's behalf. These aren't guys taking a deal to pay them back a 'directors loan', or pay shareholders a dividend, nor will we be spunking a hundred grand striker over the summer.
Sutton United is a classical Non-League outfit still finding it's way and coming to terms with the modern game a little, which is mostly thanks to our manager Mr Doswell who's dragged us a little forcefully towards the 21st Century over the last few years. However despite being a bit dusty, we've always tried to do things the right way. People take the piss out of our directors and their club ties & blazers but unlike some of our peers we've never used HMRC as an overdraft, never been in admin and then shafted local businesses out of fortunes with bollocks penny in the pound CVA deals and we make sure our staff and players are paid on time and in full.
The thing is, these guys in charge are volunteers, they do it for the love not the money. And sometimes, they might get it wrong. But when all is said and done, any mistakes are made with the future and the sustainability of the club at heart. And with the FA looking to play chicken with Parliament over their governance of the game, we little guys (and I speak of Non-League in general here) are staring at the distinct possibility of £40 million quid being withheld from grassroots football as a result. Is it any wonder heads can be turned by big money?
We aren't the first Non-League side to take the Sun shilling of course. And barring the likes of a Dulwich or a FC United, I doubt there aren't many sides at our level who'd say no either. Farnborough, Scarborough & Crawley have all done so in the last 13 years when they got huge ties in the FA Cup. Scarborough used their Sun money from their tie against Chelsea to pay a tax bill, Farnborough's (ironically from a game against Arsenal) ended up going to their owner\manager at the time who then promptly upped sticks 5 minutes later to Stevenage, taking half the team with him. And Crawley? Well they already had a seven figure wage bill, so fuck knows what black hole that went into, probably another League 1 player's signing on fee. Ours? It’ll go to fix the clubhouse roof and go into facilities on the Rec side of the ground that'll benefit not only us but our local community too, that same Rec that we lease from the council and maintain at our own cost to give our juniors team somewhere to play.
To be honest, throughout this run, another theme has been Paul Doswell saying we don't want to go up, we're not ready, we're a Non-League club and the infrastructure isn't there. We're run almost entirely 100% by volunteers and to be honest, the last week has caught up with everyone a bit. Of course we've enjoyed this extraordinary adventure, but when the circus packs up its toys and we get back to being a local club with local sponsors battling for the points to stay safe in the national league it will be relief for many of us.
If you've got this far, then cheers for taking the time. Now do us a favour if you will, come back and check out Sutton United in a year, 18 months time. Maybe we (the club) can then show you the real fruits of all this and perhaps you can see the reasons why the club took that deal. In fact fuck it, if you genuinely want to see it for yourself but don't even want to give us any money, get in touch. I'll happily pay you in, you can have a pint and you can maybe see for yourself why we stick with this lot. I'll even try & get you a chat with the Chairman himself if you want.
If you want further pointers, check out Dos' presser from GGL yesterday here. I'm not sure I can put it any better.
On the other hand, if you think this is all a load of old flannel, Sutton United have made their deal with the devil and will have to live with the consequences, then we completely respect that too. You've at least heard us out and I genuinely hope someday when you next hear the name of Sutton United FC, it'll be for a far more positive reason from your point of view.