Hurrah for the first signs of spring this week, following the chaos of the ‘Beast from the East’ (last time i’ll mention it - I promise). The temperature in London has now risen to a comfortable level and football is beginning to be played again. Not that Sutton United need to worry too much. They are one of a number of high profile National League clubs that play on plastic.
The Surrey club, currently second in the National League, are the highest ranked non-league side that use an artificial pitch. They face an anxious few months, as mentioned in an article on All Out Football a while back. If they win promotion they may have to dig up their 3G surface or face relegation into the Conference South.
Competition: National League
Refreshments: £7.50 (burger, chips, coke)
Star man: Byron Harrison
Who are ya, Sutton United?
Sutton were formed in 1898 after the merger of two local clubs, Sutton Guild Rovers and Sutton Association. They forged a reputation in local leagues and were elected into the Athenian League in 1921. They remained in the League until 1967 and won the Championship three times in 1928, 1946 and 1958.
The U’s joined the Isthmian League in 1967 and were promptly crowned champions in their first season. They won again in 1985 and by now promotion into the football conference was an option. Sutton refused promotion, however, citing issues with the stadium. They won the league again the following year and this time accepted the promotion invitation as supporters groups stepped into help fund improvements to the ground.
Sutton remained in the conference until 1991, when they were relegated back into the Isthmian League. They returned to the conference again in 1999 but lasted just one season before being relegated again. In 2004 the Conference South was created and Sutton finished high enough in the Isthmian League to be selected as one of the founder members.
Another relegation struck in 2008, but the U’s returned to the Conference South in 2011. In 2015 the division was renamed the National League South and Sutton were crowned champions in the first season under the new name. The U’s entered the top tier of non-league football for the first time. At the beginning of this season Sutton briefly occupied first place in the National League, the highest League position the club has achieved.
- Sutton won the Anglo-Italian cup in 1979. They defeated Chieti 2-1 when the tournament was contested by semi-professional clubs
- The U's have lost all three of their Wembley appearances. Two FA Amatuer Cup finals in 1963 and 1969, and one FA Trophy Final in 1981
- Sutton played AFC Wimbledon in the phoenix club’s inaugural game after creation. The U’s won the pre-season friendly 4-0.
Sutton were second in the National League going into the game, and were unbeaten in their previous five league games, with three wins and two draws. The U’s were five points behind leaders Macclesfield whose game was called off giving Sutton a chance to close the gap to two points.
Woking were in fifteenth place and had lost two and drawn one of their last three games, having won two in a row before that. They had a helpful cushion of nine points between them and the relegation zone. The previous meeting between the two sides this season took place in September and was won 2-0 by Woking.
The Sutton United experience
Train: The Borough Sports Ground, is next to West Sutton Station that can be reached from Wimbledon or Sutton Stations. Turn right as you come out, walk past the Plough pub and you’ll see the entrance to the ground.
Car: The Borough Sports Ground is just off the A217 and the A232 which runs through Sutton town centre. There is a small car park at the ground and plenty of nearby streets where parking is available.
Were it not for the flood lights illuminating the midweek evening sky, the Borough Sports Ground would be fairly inconspicuous in the suburban streets of Surrey. A short stroll down a quiet local street is suddenly interrupted by a couple of polite stewards and a discreet entrance. It’s not until you’ve handed over your hard earned money at the turnstile that Sutton’s impressive non-league ground reveals itself in all its glory.
The Knights Community Stadium, to give it its official title, retains all the hallmarks of a ‘proper’ non-league ground, despite the clubs continued rise towards the Football League. It has great features such as curved terracing in the two corners closest to the entrance, a decent main stand and three covered terraces with few obstructions.
The pitch, however, is the real apple of the club's eye. It glistens in the floodlit evening as all the best 3G surfaces tend to do. Sutton have fully embraced the artificial life and all the trappings the come with it. Adverts for pitch hire are clearly visible in the programme, on the my match ticket and the website. It even hosted a game last weekend for Sutton Common Rovers who share the ground.
The far end of the ground was cordoned off for the Woking fans, as a precaution, for this Surrey derby. The tannoy announcer was keen to stress this wouldn’t be the case for their next home fixture against Solihull Moors. I took up residence in the Railway terrace close to the divide between the two sets of fans. It was a good decision as a large hoard of vocal home fans gathered nearby and created a lively atmosphere for the first half.
Sadly the singers moved on at half time. They headed for the Gander Green Lane end of the ground to try and suck the ball into the Woking net and maybe even aim some words of discouragement towards the Woking keeper. There is a good sized walkway between the edge of the pitch and the terraces which allows plenty of room to move about and gives fans a choice of a raised few from slightly further back or a close up view from behind the advertising hoardings.
Sutton stroll to Surrey derby victory
Sutton started the game on the front foot and dominated possession and territory for most of the game. Arsenal graduate Eastmond rattled the bar with a lovely curled effort early on, but that was as close as the home side came for a while. The U’s continued to keep the ball well and put pressure on the visitors and Byron Harrison gave the Woking defenders a tricky evening.
The Striker gave Sutton the leader just after the half hour point. A set piece led to a brief goalmouth scramble and Harrison popped up to poke the ball home. There was a slight pause as players and fans alike glanced over to the linesman. No flag was raised and Sutton had the breakthrough.
The second half followed a similar pattern to the first with Sutton having most of the ball, looking comfortable, but not testing the Woking keeper too often. After 54 minutes Bolarinwa added a second for the home side as he got on the end of a Beautyman cross. A few challenges began to fly in as Woking realised that any hope of points was slipping out of their grasp. Sutton kept them at bay for the rest of the game, however, and had a couple of opportunities for a third.
Sutton were good value for their victory and they close the gap on leaders Macclesfield at the top of the National League. The win also pushed the club closer towards the unknown as they won’t know the Football League’s decision on artificial pitches until after the season is finished. The 3G surface compliments the ground well and looks great. Finger crossed it’ll be a fixture in League Two next season rather than the Conference South.