Mint Balls

Us? Oooh, we’ve always been big big Pizza Cup guys. Oh yeah. Massive fans. Can’t get enough of that Pizza Cup action, it’s all we talk about in fact. Pizza Cup this, Pizza Cup that. We even dream about it when we sleep. So it’s literally just Pizza Cup chatter night and day around here. So much so, some people reckon we should change the name of the blog to Pizza Cupamonium. True story. Ahem.

Conviced yet? No? Nah, didn’t think so. You’re all far too clever to fall for that sort of old flannel. And that’s why we like you. But seriously, despite the fact that the U’s have progressed through the competition and got closer and closer to Wembley with each trademark hardworking performance hasn’t really changed our opinion on the current format of the competition and we maintain the PL reserve sides simply shouldn’t be in it. Does that cheapen the club’s achievements in getting this far? Not really. We’ve still had to win games and you can only beat what’s in front of you. Also, those making snarky comments about what games people choose to attend can poke it. I don’t do friendlies normally either, so does that make me a ‘bandwagon jumper’ when we then have a decent run when the season starts for real? Does it bollocks. Also, at least I’ve not sacked it off entirely and then just rocked up at Wembley with face painted up and a fucking shit amber and chocolate jester’s hat on.

The new poundshop Manhattan district of Sunny East Croydon
Hey Euston, yeah us again…

Regardless, Matt and the gang have battled their way to the semis and if you think I’m missing that on a February Tuesday evening in Wigan, then you’re fucking barmy. Moody competition or not, that’s the sort of shit we love and at a new ground to boot. Sign us up, inject into our veins and so forth.. So, with plenty of time off burning a hole in my metaphorical pocket, I decided to do this properly and booked the Tuesday and Wednesday off work, bagged train tickets and sorted out a pit at the local Premier Inn dosshouse. And it seems I wasn’t the only one either judging by the chatter leading up to the game. My decision was also because it seemed not many drivers would be making the trip from our circle, so Mr X would have a full motor which ruled out train up, day on the piss and a lift home. Plus I didn’t fancy sitting in a motor for 4 hours after whatever the result may be. I’d much rather be sat with a pint in Wigan town centre thank you. Miserable or happy.

Having risen early, I get my crap together peck her ladyship on the cheek and head out for the bus to East Croydon and a train to London. Of course, a 410 sails past as I get half way to the stop, but I’m not that bothered as I’ve factored in plenty of transport fuckery margin and as I get to the stop a 407 rocks up. Off we go. The run up to town is dead easy and I pitch up at Euston with a good 30 minutes before the next leg of the trip. I spot a couple of people mooching about with U’s gear on, but they’re not faces I recognise. With time to kill, I head for Saino’s, grab a drink and some nibbles and drop a tenner on the Big Issue lad outside and as I walk back towards the concourse, 4 Days appears and strolls into the station itself. I call after him several times using various greetings ranging from “Oi!” to “Wales are fucking shit!” but he carries on his merry way, completely oblivious. Fucking kids these days and their bloody headphones!! With a cuppa sorted as well, we hit the train and find we’re in different carriages. Oh well. The Welshman hangs about for a while to see if any of the seats round me are left empty when we depart, but he’s out of luck and heads for his own spot next door. It seems I shall be keeping myself company for the duration.

Players bus awaits the squad’s arrival at the station
I spy a public house!

The run up is trouble free. There’s a few Millwall on, most likely heading to Blackburn tonight. There’s also a couple of other lads in my carriage who it turns out are heading to Wigan too, a fact that’s revealed when another lad in a Sutton shirt appears and heads for the khazi and they all cheer. Presumably because they’re reassured there’ll be more than them there tonight, not the fact that the lad was going for a piss. Opposite me, two middle aged northern lasses apparently fresh from a Spa weekend away in London chatter away about various Channel 5 reality show type dramas in their respective families. Hey, it passes the time if nothing else. Before long, Wigan is on the horizon and I’m hopping onto the platform to find 4Days chatting to a tall fella with a shaven head who looks vaguely familiar. As we walk out of the station and chat, I soon discover why this is, as it turns out he’s Matt Gray’s brother! I manage to refrain from being a twat and cheekily asking why he’s up here today.

A quick bearings check outside and we’re soon around the corner slumping into chairs at the Central, a station themed ale pub that 4Days had been given a tip on during the week having collected Podcast Mike along the way. Here we find Indy, already on his second bevvy of the day having got the train up an hour before ours. We grab a pint to join him, or at least I and Mike do, the Welsh wonder instead talks shop with the lad behind the bar like the dirty hop nonce he is. We sup a couple here to kill the time until our 3pm check in at the Premier Inn, which Mike reveals used to be the old main Police Station in town. Clearly someone’s been browsing the local tourist information website on the train up! We also discuss drunken stupidity and discover that I and Mike have done idiocy that 4 Days hasn’t in walking home pissed along a railway line. 3pm comes around soon enough and I, Indy and Mike head for the digs leaving 4 Days to another pint as his pub B&B is up the other end of the high street and we’re planning on heading that way after anyway. Having located our dosshouse in the old local Stasi HQ, we get checked in and I’m reunited with the lads from my carriage earlier, one of who it seems went to school with Indy back in the day. I also bump into Crooked Cess in the lift on the way down back to the foyer and find Scotty Rattle, Keepo, Dancing Marcus and his good lady and Fish the Cabbie all waiting to check in too. Seems like West Sutton’s annexing this bit of Wigan for the next 24 hours or so!

Sightseeing
Panoramamama!

With Mike hanging back for a while to do some work on his laptop that he wasn’t able to do on the way up, I and Indy march back to the Central, get one in and are soon joined by Keepo and crew. They recommend the Swan opposite the station and having downed our latest, decide to head there next, mainly as it’s also the closest option. It’s a decent pub too with a good selection and a proper old school type boozer with multiple snugs found off the main bar. We settle by the coal fire in one and I decide to order up a pie as I’m starving. Mt steak and kidney goes down a treat and catches the attention of a pair of whippets belonging to a local who’s just come in. Sadly, they’re too late as I’ve largely polished it by the time they realise there’s grub on the go. Here we’re joined by the Mr X Mazda crew, with Magnum, Nat and Rax getting a beer on. Mr X has meanwhile gone off to gas the motor up for the trip home later. Drinks downed here, we head next to the Raven and along the way are passed by Mr X in his motor “Where the fuck are you lot going?” he hollers out the window as he drives past. He soon catches us up in the boozer though having found a parking spot nearby. Here we soon cross paths with the Wing Commander, who starts going on about Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls and some geezer called Mike Harding. But as I’m now already several pints down, I can’t make any sense of it all and just nod politely.

4 Days scampers off from here first so he can get checked into his digs and we’re soon en route too. Mainly as there’s another decent boozer just around the corner from there. Soon we’re in ‘real Crafty’ and getting our beer on again. As we’re also effectively now heading away from the ground, the non-Mazda crew decide to try and rustle up a sherbert for the run to the ground. With the help of some friendly locals also going to the game, a number is sorted and a cab due for quarter past. Several minutes past this time and shortly after the Mr X Mazda gang have flown the coop, I then get a call back from the cab firm to inform me that the transport is somewhat delayed and won’t be with me until 10 past 8. Ah fuck! Some Googlage ensues and we’re soon resigned to getting on our toes and going Lord of the Rings style and walking to Mordor. At this point, it’s 20 past and we’re a good 20 min walk from the ground. This is gonna be tight! 4Days and I head off and Indy trails behind, still a bit stiff from his recent bout of sciatica. But he insists we crack on and even if he hadn’t, there’s fuck all else we can do. We follow our phones and after 15 mins on the march, the DW Stadium looms into view just the other side of the canal. We should just make kick off!!

Bouzanis, Kizzi, John, Goodliffe, Milsom, Eastmond, Beautyman, Ajiboye, Randall, Wilson, Bugiel SUBS: Bennett, Wyatt, Nelson, Rowe, Kouassi, Korboa, Boldewijn.

Will puts us in front!
Not a bad view from up here…

I scan my ticket, dart up the stairs in the stand and at the top find a nice lady steward who luckily is in charge and can tell me where the big flag can go. I get this up as the teams appear and then join the rest of the herberts at the back for 90mins of tension. Indy rocks up at his seat just as the teams kick off. Timing mate!! The early exchanges favour the hosts more, with them having plenty of the ball and us not quite getting things right to generate pressure of our own. There’s a let off early on when Louis loses the ball on halfway and a pass sends a lad clear in behind. Bouzanis races off his line and maybe does just enough to throw off the geezer’s aim as he rolls his shot agonisingly wide of the far post. This is the wakeup call we need though and we’re soon slowly getting a foothold in the game and not long after, win our first corner. Randall swings it over and Kizzi gets up above everyone to nut across the keeper and ping the ball back off the foot of the far post. Close, but we’re in the game now! From here, we grow in confidence and with half an hour played and the tie finely poised, we get the breakthrough. A ball is played up to Omar, he flicks on, Donovan collects and instantly hooks it round the corner for the deep run of Randall. Will darts into space and keeps his composure to slot it far corner and send the away end radio rentals.

Unfortunately, all this serves to do is annoy the hosts who step up a gear after this and go chasing a leveller. James McClean, the poppy fetishists best mate, is running the game for them and having teed one lad up with a decent run and pass that gets fired well over, he himself levels 5 mins before half time. A quick switch of play in the middle and an angled ball over the shoulder of Kizzi catches out the full back and the Wigan lad has space to feed McClean on the overlap and he lashes a shot through Deano’s gloves into the back of the net. Cock it. Right lads, let’s hold out to half time eh? Thankfully we do and the only other moment of note in the half is when play stops for the shittest pitch invasion ever, some hooded lad appears on the pitch (no idea where he came from!) and runs around like a twat for 30 secs whilst stewards largely ignore him and everyone in the stands hurls abuse and generally tells him to fuck off. Realising no one is chasing him or even intending to, he apologetically clambers over the ad hoardings pitch side and hands himself into the nearest stewards. Enjoy your banning order fella.

Off to pens we go….
Get in!!

At the break, I grab a pie for further soakage, but it’s hotter than the earth’s core and I just end up burning my mouth on it. It’s pretty disappointing as well sadly, which is a shame given where we are. The second half gets underway and the U’s are bang at it from the off. Clearly with there being no extra time scheduled tonight, the lads are looking to give it all getting ahead again and trying to see it off from there. In the first 20 mins of the half we create three decent sighters, with Kizzi firing straight at the keeper weakly when well placed, Omar hooks one over the bar from a great spot after a top run to the bye line by Donovan and Omar forces the keeper to save with his legs from a tight angle having battled his way through from out wide. The goal doesn’t come sadly and with 20 to go, the oppo switch things up by summoning three regular first team lads from the bench. This has the effect of forcing us onto the back foot as this injection of quality and fresh legs means we’re gonna be living off scraps more. Naturally, this means the last 20 is pretty tense stuff in the away end, however despite having almost all the ball in that time, Wigan create very very little of any note with one header glanced comfortably over and Deano having to make his one half decent stop of the night to push away a shot and as the minutes tick away, our two banks of 4 stand resolute and repel what the hosts can throw at them.

Bennett, Enzio and Ricky K come on to freshen things up, but it’s no more than that as we just can’t get the ball for long enough to really mount any attacks. In the end, the game peters out at our end of the field and we’re off to penalties to decide who goes to Wembley. With the kicks being taken down in front of us, Sutton go first and skipper Easty rattles in his kick to get us going. Deano then sends the away end mad by diving to his right to push away their first one. The advantage doesn’t last however, as Beauts is up next and his poor effort to the keeper’s left is saved easily. It seems from his socials after that he changed his mind on where to go at the last moment. Tut tut H! After this, we exchange pens, all of a decent quality until we reach the 7th round. Deano picks the ball out of the net and steps up to take one himself. Oh fuck. Here we go…

Sanity has left the building
Magnificent bastards

In typical ‘No worries mate, yeah nah fair dinkum’ fashion, Bouzanis sends his oppo number the wrong way and slams his kick right into the corner. Have that. They level and next it’s Louis John for the U’s. Like his centre back partner earlier, he confidently puts away his kick and the next to go is the Wigan skipper to keep this madness rolling ever on. As the shoot out had progressed, I’d filmed their last couple in case I caught the winning moment on my phone and again I cue up the camera for this one. “Come on Deano, make a fucking save!” I plead to no one in particular. Their skipper goes to Bouzanis’ right and the Aussie stopper guesses correctly, diving full length to tip away the kick. And at this point, 320 Sutton folk behind that goal lose their minds as the rest of the players sprint from half way to bury their keeper under a sweaty amber and chocolate pile.

In the ensuing limbs, 4Days comes piling in, knocking my phone flying into the air and it slams down face first on the concrete of the row in front. It’s quickly recovered, amazingly unscathed, by the nice chap stood there with his missus and instantly returned before the madness once more engulfs us all. All around us, the same scene is played out. People stand arms aloft, howling like fucking banshees or simply hugging anyone and everyone who just happens to be nearby. Fucking Ada. These bastards have done it again! Sutton are going to Wembley!

Farewell DW
Should probably see a doctor about those Joe…

As the home stands empty, we’re in no mood to leave just yet and lap up the moment with the team and coaching staff on the pitch before us. Omar wanders around, hands on his head almost in disbelief. Ben Goodliffe has his shirt off and looks like he’d pump way more than the two fists that god gave him if he could. On the edge of this, kit man Clive Barker dances a little jig of delight. In front of me, Mr X stands alone in the aisle about halfway up the stand, simply shouting “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?” over and over. Now, I’ve never cried at football before, it’s something I simply will not do, but by christ it was a struggle this time. Bruce and AB appear on the pitch, the former with his hand placed on his cheek in a manner that suggests something along the lines of “That bloody Gray bloke will be the death of me!” might very well be on his mind. Eventually though, exhausted with delight, we really must leave the scene of our latest triumph. As I gather up the flag, the concourse beneath echoes with the refrain of “Wembley Wembley, we’re the famous Sutton United and we’re going to Wembley”. Flag sorted, I head out into the cold night air and find most of the usual faces lingering and trying to compose themselves for whatever it is they’re doing next. Either driving 4hrs home or heading out of a pint.

There’s many hugs to be had as all sorts of old faces share their delight at the result. Some of us have been around longer than others and waited that bit more for this, but that doesn’t matter. Just the joy of the moment does. With farewells said to those unfortunate to have to head home tonight, the stayee’s head off into the night to find pintage. About halfway back to town, we stumble across the Old Pear Tree. That’ll do pig! It’s a locals pub, but everyone’s nice enough as we sit and try to get our breath back. An old boy comes round asking if anyone’s got any 50p’s for the pool table and finds himself practically pelted from all angles by half delirious Sutton fans. He’ll not have to pay for another game this month, I can guarantee you. We neck two quick ones here and as they’re shutting up we complete the walk into town to find a late opener. Eventually, we’re pointed towards the Boulevard, a cellar bar with a rock music flavour. That’ll do us! Down stairs we find a small crowd, including several other Sutton locals and get stuck into the pints.

This is Phil. Phil is tall.
Get in my face…

Amongst the number is Phil, clad in his Sutton home shirt. He’s tall. Very tall. In fact, he’s taller than even 4Days and well, he’s already vertically unchallenged. Sadly though, he’s not a fan of Gandermonium. “They promised me they’d put me a blog and never did!” he declares. What?? Surely not, we’re fine, upstanding, honourable sorts, men of our word. And besides, as anyone who reads this could tell you, we’ll put any old shit in here, we’re not fussy!! It turns out this incident dates back to the Dublin Irn Bru Cup trip and this false promise was made by none other than Nick the Greek. “Sorry mate, he’s a cunt” is all I can offer as an apology and promise that I’d set this wrong right for him this time round. So here you go mate, you’re in. My pleasure. Oh and don’t listen to Greek in future. Elsewhere, 4 Days gets stuck talking to a local Wigan hoolie for some reason and is eventually rescued by Rob, a top chap and another Wigan fan who’s happy to get pissed and talk shite with us despite his disappointment at missing out on the final. Music is played, Dancing Marcus lives up to his name and the celebrations continue as the opening bars of Plastic Bertrand ushers in 1am.

Eventually though, it’s all a bit too much and people drift away. Fish, Marcus and his missus head of for a kebab, followed shortly by Keepo who refuses at the last of his pint and retires for the evening. We last a little longer, but it’s now gone 2am and well, I’m fucked. Both in the alcoholic and the fatigue sense. So, bidding farewell to our new mate Rob, Ray and I head for the nearby kebab shop for some chips whilst 4Days staggers off in the opposite direction to his digs. With some delightfully seasoned chips sorted, we head for the hotel and soon, back in my room with 2 bottles of water from the vending machine in the foyer, slumber arrives to take me.

The home straight…

My alarm rouses me at 9 and I fall out of bed to switch it off before necking half a bottle of my water and crawling to the bathroom for a much needed tip out. I actually don’t feel too horrendous, but still refrain from turning on the light just to be on the safe side. Showered and down for breakfast, I find the dining area pretty deserted except for Indy tucking into a full English and yet another travelling Sutton fan Kingy just polishing his one off on the opposite table. With bacon and toast soon ingested, I head back upstairs for another hours snooze as I’m not due out until the 12.11 train. This does wonders for my fatigue levels and I’m a lot more alive when I wander to the lift. Here I bump into Mike again and exchange tales of what went on where post match. We find Marcus and missus downstairs and after a chat, head for the station. Here we find Indy fresh from a head clearing stroll round town and we wait for the train with a few other weary looking West Sutton souls dotted around the gaff. Here Indy reveals that the emotion of the result last night had only really hit him this morning and this resulted in what he could only describe as ‘an emotional poo’. Mike and I exchange glances and press the issue no further.

The train arrives and we hop on. Much to Mike’s horror, he’s literally booked in the seat next to mine. Poor bastard. Still, it makes the journey pass quicker as we flick through and catch up on all the carnage on the socials from last night. Soon we’re rolling into Euston and having said our goodbyes to Mike, Indy & I head for the underground to Victoria only to find it shut due to an ‘incident’ and so we divert off to St Pancs instead for the Thameslink back south of the River. I leave the famed archeologist here as I head back to East Croydon and within the hour, I’m falling through the front door back at HQ. “Did you have a nice time in Wigan love?” enquires Mrs Taz.

“Yeah, s’alright I s’pose”

Taz

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