Thirty years I’d lived on Gander Green Lane, a ten minute walk up the road from the famous Borough Sports Ground. I’ve loved West Sutton and it has loved me back unconditionally. But when a sheer fluke combined with a dose of brass neck meant that we were in a position to buy the house we’d been looking for on the South Coast it was time to pack up five full van loads of vintage treasures and head off down the A21 to 1066 Country.
It was always going to be the case that a move would limit my appearances at Sutton games and particularly the long haul expeditions but that was part of the deal. The upside is that the matches I can get up to carry a nice chunk of added value as it requires a bit more effort than hauling my arse out the of armchair, changing my pants, splashing on some Old Spice and turning left out of the front door.
So Harrogate at home would be my first Sutton match since Mansfield. The few weeks in between I’ve grabbed the opportunity to get involved in the non league action down here in East Sussex and it’s been a pleasure to take in games at Eastbourne Town, Hollington United, Hastings wonderful Pilot Field and a couple of trips to Bexhill United where I already feel very much at home.
As this weekend’s fixtures dropped like skittles it seemed inevitable that Sutton would eventually fall victim to this latest COVID mayhem and I was already lining up possible local alternatives. Come Saturday morning the game was still on and I thought fuck it I will travel up anyway as I’d planned to meet some of the top movers and shakers and we could at least have a few scoops before the shutters are pulled down on the pubs again.
My initial plan to jump the train and drop back down from Clapham Junction was booted into touch after it became clear that services were fucked by crew availability and I really didn’t fancy spending hours at Hayward’s Heath scratching my arse. So I fired up the van and pointed it North and said goodbye to the seaside. Luckily my sister lives in Cheam and is happy for me to kip down at hers and with the Clash slammed into the eight track I was soon gunning it through Kent to the ominous and appropriate sounds of Working For The Clampdown.
Tom the Beard is an organised geezer and had boxed off some space for Dirty Barry’s Christmas Party in the Gander and having made good time I was bowling through the doors bang on noon to find DB himself and Scotty Coaches already in situ and revving up for the afternoon ahead. I ordered a nice pint of Side Pocket, I’ve become something of a real ale wanker since shifting gears, an affliction aided and abetted by a proliferation of decent boozers within easy walking distance of the new drum, and I set about catching up with the crew.
DB is telling me some story about his jumper getting tangled up in a bra strap and I can’t even remember if it was at Bradford or Bristol although Bristol would seem more appropriate for those who know their rhyming slang. I’m pleased when Smarty and the Bacons rock up as it raises the tone of the chin waggery, not by much but even a marginal turn of the dial is to be welcomed once the Guvnor Of Grumble is in full flow.
Smarty has also brought along the legendary Turkey Helmet. The last time I’d seen this important historical artefact it was jammed behind the cistern in a Nottingham shit house. Seems incredible that it was almost exactly two years ago that we were enjoying that brilliant awayday when the festive legend of Turkey Barry was born and later celebrated in both word and song. The Old Bugger himself wasn’t so keen at the time and made repeated efforts to bin off the Helmet in various khazis but there was to be no escape from its magical sexual properties. And now it’s back just in time for Christmas.
Anyway. We have a quick discussion about these greedy little fuckers with their home made “Ronaldo, can I have your shirt?” placards. Grubby little scroungers, and the parents waiting at their side ready to bung it up on eBay to chisel out a few quid. We agree that if we ever get a televised game again we will sort out an appropriately pathetic “Dirty Barry, can I have your pants?” poster just to confuse the broadcasters and project the man and the brand to an even wider audience. There’s plenty more of this nonsense as the beer flows and we decide to risk the queues at the club bar for a couple of final scoops before kick off.
First of course we have to negotiate our way past the club steward commonly known as Mr Angry From Littlehampton but after he’s given us a mouthful and told us to ‘fuck off’ we are in. Great to see a few people I’ve not clocked in a while like Belly, Four Days, Amber Aleman and Southampton Steve amongst others. I used to sneer at AA with his well thumbed CAMRA pub guide but now I think I’m fucking turning into him! Never mind. There are far worse vices than seeking out a decent hazy pale as I know only too well. Always a pleasure as well to see Geoff and Gaz Fear and Paul the Mod enjoying a couple of beers out in the car park fan zone.
The COCS arrive looking hale and hearty after their traditional posh pre match luncheon with lashings of Hollondaise Sauce and good luck to ’em. I have a nice catch up with my old mate from The Plough days Sean The Ram and we make some vague plans for him and the lads to shoot down to the Stings in the spring for some fresh seafood off the boat and some decent plonk. By the way, that invite for a bit of local tour guidery extends to anyone who’s planning a trip down to these parts. No fees or gratuities involved. I will look after you no problem.
As we head to the turnstiles I’m a bit sad to see the historic Sutton Pigeon Club building half demolished, is nothing scared these days? With the efficient gate operation we are soon in and Crooked Ces is already brandishing the marked cards up on the section of the Curva we now call home and us mug punters, for whom the fun stopped years ago, queue up to be rinsed yet again by the DILF Bingo Svengali. Even his sidekick Hawksey has turned up to rifle through our pockets. Although to be fair he at least always does you over with a smile on his face.
Before kick off there’s a minutes silence to mark the unbearably tragic deaths of four young children in Collingwood Road just behind the ground this week. Just heartbreaking.
Bouzanis, Wyatt, John, Goodliffe, Barden, Smith, Milsom, Ajiboye, Randall, Bugiel, Wilson. SUBS: Sho-Silva, Korboa, Kizzi, Chalupniczak, Bennett, Olaofe
I’m not going to write much about the game as there’s not a huge amount to write about it other than that Donovan took his goal superbly, Deano and the defence dealt with any threat posed by a lively and well regarded Harrogate side and we did the job required with ruthless efficiency, secured the three points and now sit in the automatic promotion places. Someone said to me at the final whistle that it wasn’t one for the purists but I’m not a purist and as long as we get the win I’m not that arsed about how we do it. Just look at the League Two table me old chinchillas. It tells you no lies.
In other shock news Crooked Ces won the DILF Bingo. Even though he was weighed in with a combination of Mexican Pesos, Euros and Luncheon Vouchers he seemed happy enough to get away with another year of relentless scamming that makes Bernie Madoff look like a rank amateur. Bollocks to that anyway, we’re going down the pub! And Ces is paying! Wonder if they take Pesos?
Back in the Gander our ranks are swelled with the likes of Bev The Vegan, Mrs and Mrs Yeti, Neil and Sleepy Joe from the Cocktail Crew and Clives little mob of desperadoes. Things get a bit mad with repeated outbreaks of the Turkey Barry anthem, trays of shots and associated seasonal silliness. We also get an unexpected visitation from PROWS Spiritual Adviser and outside candidate for Pope Father Kev. He’s not done up in his dog collar and frock but that doesn’t stop him from having a pint of stout and laying his hands on DB and offering him absolution and a full holy smokes blessing – in fucking Latin! It’s a truly magical moment.
A decision is made to move on to the Prince of Wales in Cheam. DB has to be virtually carried up there as the dual impact of tequila shots and religious experience seems to have got to him and he is thoroughly bollocksed. The lovely ladies who run the pub don’t seem that bothered and are soon draped all over the ageing lothario. We settle in for a night cap and watch a bit of the darts as the night slips away. Big Malcolm P offers to take DB up the Star for a Birthday Ruby with a few of the others but me, TTB and Bacon decide to call it a night and wander off down the Malden Road to our respective abodes.
It’s been a great day with loads of laughs and Sutton hitting new and unprecedented heights as the magic journey under Matty Gray rolls on. Meanwhile, the latest news from the COVID front is relentlessly grim and none of us know whether our fun and games are on the point of being seriously curtailed again. We will see. But anyway, have as good a Christmas as you can, stay safe and stay free.