Up the U’s!

April 27th 2024 marks judgement day for Sutton United (2) and Colchester United (currently top 10). Only one of them will retain their league status, whilst the other returns to the “Bastard League” (a term, I believe, first coined by Bornatotter). So why, whilst I watch a (potential) game of beach football between my beloved Fulham and Crystal Palace, will I be familiarising myself with both team’s scorelines?

The answer is not a mystery. I am a Fulham-supporting Suttonian now living in Colchester.

Before I was allowed to go to away games on my own, I would occasionally take the 20 minute walk from my folks‘ home in North Cheam, over the A213 and down to The Borough Sports Ground. The admission fee was always affordable and you’d get to see some live football and the occasional former big name well beyond their prime – Graham Roberts (Enfield) and Gerry Gow (Yeovil Town) are two that spring to mind.

Although I was certainly no regular, evidence at my parent‘s house does point to some level of dedication. One being a programme of a game in January (late 1980’s) against Dorking in an early round of the Surrey Senior (Demolition?) Cup. Another from a fixture dated the night of my 16th birthday. Did Rose’s ever sell alcohol? FA Cup heroics against Aldershot, Posh and Boro. I wasn‘t in attendance. Too mainstream for me.

7th January 1989. Whilst my schoolmates congregated at Gander Green Lane (GGL) to witness Sutton’s most famous victory against Coventry City, I was one of the 4,196 at the Cottage witnessing Fulham beating Chester City 4-1. Understandably, the talk on Monday morning was about Matt Hanlan’s winner, despite me trying to big up the Whites. I did however go to Carrow Road three weeks later to witness the U’s 8-0 defeat to Norwich City. In my defence, Fulham were away at Bury.

The start of the 1990’s coincided with my folks allowing me to attend Fulham away matches on my own by Mary’s coach, (I‘ve never forgiven them!), so my presence at the Borough Sports Ground was reduced. I’d still follow the results and keep an eye on how Mark Costello, who had gone to my secondary school, was getting on. Whenever I did go, I enjoyed watching Robin Seagroatt a short, slightly rotund figure a bit like Kevin “Mighty” Mouse without the glasses and on occasions, the Gerd Müller of SM1. His name still strikes fear in Gateshead. Three years at university in Derby meant that even visits to my beloved Cottage were limited.

I returned back to the borough in 1996 and started to play Sunday League football. Originally, I plied my trade for Tudor Villa, but when the club folded, Clive Baxter, who recently was inducted into the Sutton United Hall of Fame, asked me to join, Sutton Supporters. Here I was reunited with my old work colleague, “Kingy” and met Taz, the wordsmith who is Gandermonium (who I believe drove to matches in a Jag), as well as form a centre-half partnership with Adrian Barry, who mentored me throughout and who I owe a lot of thanks to. Our kit was yellow and black, which always felt like a very half-hearted effort to replicate the first team’s strip.

I can‘t remember off hand any U‘s games subsequently until 2004. I was milking Fulham‘s rise to the top division. Then, whilst now living in Brighton, I decided to witness the Chocolate & Amber Army at Eastbourne Borough for a FA Cup 2nd Qualifying round fixture. Cult Zeros were in their embryonic stage and I remember meeting up with Millsy to talk about potential Sutton United cult players t-shirts. This remains my favourite ever Sutton match. My memory is a little hazy now – I thought it was Les Cleevely, who had got an 11th hour invite (grovelling phone call) to come out of retirement to play in goal – but having read Taz’s comprehensive match report, it was in fact U’s fan, Chris Vagg. It was Roy of the Rovers stuff (or should I say, Tubby Morton!)

The ‘Roly Poly Goalie’, Wayne Shaw (left). The Roly Poly wannabe, me! (right).

I got the gig of producing (National League South) Champions shirts in 15-16 and watched from afar Sutton’s heroic FA Cup journey of 2016-17. The enjoyment of being involved in producing Wayne Shaw’s, ‘Roly, Poly, Goalie’ shirts, turned sour the day after their defeat to Arsenal. The hard work of the club was lost in a really ill-thought out stunt by one individual. Suddenly the U’s were public enemies, like puppets to The Sun newspaper. It was sad to see and I felt for everyone involved at the club.

Going (Gander) green, well, the JobServe Community stadium actually.

In recent years, the fixtures have been kind so I have been able to see Sutton play up the road at Colchester United. (Fortunately, I missed the 4-1). Sutton’s 1-0 home win in December 2022 (the day England lost on penalties to France), coincided with an old boys drink-up (and thawing out session) in Cheam Village.

The Other U‘s.

Fortunately just a passing phase… I hope!

Prior to moving up to Colchester over a decade ago, I had no affiliation with the place. I‘d been to Layer Road a couple of times watching Fulham (I‘ve a 100% loss record). A tenuous link was that my cousin knew Carl Emberson from growing up (he later played for Sutton United), other than that, nothing.

There will always be a hardcore element of loyal fans at any club at any level, but often these sides rely on fans of other clubs who adopt them as their second club or a cheaper, more accessible alternative to their ‘real’ team. This is the case of the majority of Col U fans that I know through work and social life. Those Colchester born and bred, will go to the occasional match but often follow from afar, whilst chewing the fat over their beloved, West Ham, Arsenal or Spurs. (Much the same as I was a Fulham fan at GGL). Certainly, more recently, you could be forgiven for thinking Colchester is a suburb of Ipswich due to the amount of Ipswich Town shirts on display. To say the stress of relegation is palpable around town would be bullshit. Locals want the team to do well, but no sleep will be lost if they aren‘t. I sense that leaving Layer Road was the end for many‘s involvement, or maybe that was the excuse they needed.

I am generalising here. Of course there are exceptions.

A sixteen-year-old that I teach has a season ticket with his dad at Colchester United. You can sense the weight of Col U’s fate is on his shoulders. Col U is his team. FULL STOP. I often speak to him about the lean times I had when I was slightly younger than himself. Home defeats of 6-0 and 5-0 in the same season to Port Vale and Chester City, respectively, as a 14 year old. Monday mornings could be challenging. He’s not that bothered by my stories, or if he is he doesn’t appear to be. And why should he? He has got Cowley’s first XI selection spinning around in his head.

Regardless of how results go on Saturday, I will have a slight pang of disappointment. I make no bones in saying I will be hoping Sutton make a miraculous escape to safety. Maybe Col U going down for a season will galvanise them again. Clear the cobwebs. The spirit of Roy McDonough.

Alternatively, can‘t the FA just dock MK Dons points just for being themselves? Up the U‘s!

Freezing our nuts off. Sutton United 1 Colchester United 0, December 2022.