I remember 1989

FA Cup, 3rd Qualifying Round – Sutton United FC v Bognor Regis FC
Saturday, 15th October 2011, 3pm
The Borough Sports Ground, Gander Green Lane
Distance 9 miles, Attendance 622
Legend has it that The Dive was once an underground kitchen which served, through tunnels, four halls of residence located in the parkland of a “splendid mansion”. More recently The Dive had become a student bar, and I had the pleasure of working there. As a barman one was afforded certain privileges, chiefly a front row seat to the debauchery going on, and then the right to remain silent when asked what exactly I’d witnessed. It was here that I met Lennie Dennis. A tall*, athletic, quietly spoken young man; always in a tracksuit, always calm, and, unlike his peers, always sober. Of course memories can fail the best of us, but during the early 90s that is exactly how I remember him. Though now training to be a teacher, two years earlier Lennie had been member of one of the greatest non-league giant killing teams in history. He rarely mentioned it, and I never asked, but we all know where we were when Sutton beat Coventry. For my generation there is no World Cup winners, nor Busby’s babes, not even George Best, but we do have London’s FA Cup underdogs. West Ham in 1980, Wimbledon in 1988, and Sutton United in 1989. All are now etched in folklore, all have been good for football, and all now occupy a special place for me.

Since starting down my road to Wembley I’ve been keeping an eye out for certain teams. Teams I just HAD to see play. Thanks to Lennie Dennis and the team of 1989, Sutton United was always going to be one of them. The previous round I avoided their match at Dulwich Hamlet, hoping to catch the replay instead, but they went and won. Being drawn at home for this round made my match choice very easy.
Driving into the car park on Gander Green Lane you find a world slowly being eroded by the incoming tide of concrete bowls. The Borough Sports Ground is charming and personal and unique. The warm suns only heightened this charm. It’s home to three quarters of a cinder running track, a pleasant club shop with 30p team sheets, and Rose’s Tea Hut. When drawing up a list of football must-sees, this place really should be on it.

When the game started it was clear I wasn’t going to be witnessing a tight affair. The teams are two divisions apart and it showed. As Bognor manfully tried to keep up with play and protect their goalkeeper, my mind wandered to the possibility of a rout at the hands of The Us. As it turned out it was just a modest two goals in the first half, and then another two in the second. There were two other major occurrences during the match but these were on a more personal level.
For the first time in 35 years of watching football I touched the match ball. No great save, no punching away, but a one-handed display of agility without spilling my cup of tea. Resisting the chance to bow to the crowd, I warmed myself on the childish glow of pride rising within.

And then there was The Us player-coach. In case you don’t know, and really you should, I love Watford. Graham Taylor saw to that. Paul Telfer wasn’t so fortunate, he played for Luton for seven years. Knowing this I truly didn’t want to like him but he was without doubt a huge difference between the two sides, and his cross for the third goal just oozed class. I won’t be shouting my admiration from the roof tops but neither will I be abusing him from the stands any more.
(* whatever someone’s height it’s likely they’ll be taller than me)
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One Response to I remember 1989

  1. drbillyo says:

    Watching the Coventry final was one of my first football memories, I was 6 (I remember the sticker album for Mexico ’86, but none of the football). So seeing them knocked out by Sutton was probably my first big FA Cup shock.

    I remember very clearly Arsenal getting beat by Wrexham in 1992. I thought this was a non-league top-flight scalp, but wikipedia informs me Wrexham had finished 92nd the previous year, but had not been relegated, so Sutton are still the last non-league side to knock-out a top flight side, something which sadly I suspect becomes more and more unlikely to happen as the years go on.

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