Adventures in Football #57: Gander Green Lane (Sutton United FC)
July 16, 2022
SUTTON UNITED vs. CHARLTON ATHLETIC (Pre-Season Friendly)
We’re on our way to Brentford today for the women’s Euros but seeing as kick off is 8pm, it gives us ample time to clock in with another ground. I’ve never done two games in the same day before and seeing as we’re in London anyway, it would be rude not to check in with one of the local pre-season friendlies and tick off yet another of the 92 in the process. I’m not sure how long Sutton will be a league team, but we might as well see what the league’s newest club (seeing as promoted Stockport and Grimsby have been there before) has to offer.
Sutton United FC were founded in 1898 and Gander Green Lane has been their home since 1912. Sutton United are not a team with a dazzling history. They’ve traditionally been a small non-league outfit. They joined the Athenian League in 1921 and played in that until moving to the Isthmian League in 1963. Slowing climbing the divisions they made it into the Conference in the mid 80s for five years, returning again in 1999 for a doomed one season (finishing dead last). They made it back again in 2016, winning the National League South. After finishing P15 in 2019-20, the club shot up to top spot in 2020-21 and have just enjoyed their first season as a football league team, finishing P8 in League 2.
Sutton are currently enjoying their best spell of their entire history (much like Brentford) and in 2017 reached the fifth round of the FA Cup, their best run, where they lost to Arsenal and knocked Leeds out in R4. Before that their best was 1988-89 where they lost 8-0 to Norwich in the fourth round. They managed a giant-killing that year too, eliminating Coventry who were the defending champions following their famous win over Spurs at Wembley the year before.
It’s pretty hot in the capital today (28 degrees or so) so we load up on drinks and hit the road around 11.30am. If we were going straight to Brentford (for the later kick off) we’d have loads of time. Sutton is a bit trickier, due to large amounts of M25 and we’re on a 2h38m journey through London. Aiming for the club advised parking at Gibson Road multi-storey. The journey takes us past a sign for Chertsey. That’s where Josh lives! I did ask him to come to today’s game but he was “busy”.
Apparently, I must run everything by him weeks in advance! I only aimed to do this friendly game the day before it happened so here we are. When I sent him this photo saying I was “near his manor” he thought I was mocking him for his failure to pronounce Woking (I mean, come on mate, “Wok-King?”)
Anyway, we get into Sutton, and I snap this through the car’s windscreen. It turns out Sutton is quite nice. I’ve never been to south-west London before. It seems to be in decent nick. After parking up in Gibson Road, which I highly recommend, I ran into the Holiday Inn next door because we hadn’t stopped and I was busting for a piss. The side effect of staying hydrated. The 15-minute stroll to the ground is quite pleasant, passing by a pub named after Robin Hood, several convenience shops and a park.
This is the away entrance that we walked past. Sutton are a league team now, so their games are segregated. Are they expecting a bit of bother from Charlton? Apparently so, we have police at the game and one of the Charlton lads sets off a flare in the park after the match. Alright mate, settle down. The area is quite posh though and on the way in we passed a lot of high-end real estate. Like the area around where I live, only, because it’s in London, the house prices are probably in the millions.
Did I mention it’s hot today? An ice cream guy in the park would have made a killing today. Or a bloke selling bottled water.
The ground is partially boxed in by residential so chances of it ever becoming a big stadium are slim. They’re punching way above their weight. The one possible area of expansion is to the north side of the ground where the park is. Based on the curved terracing it’s clear the ground used to take up a larger space with an oval design. There’s some dead space behind the away end and if they wanted to abandon some of the parking they could expand the stadium.
On entry to the ground, there is seating to the right there. That’s the grandstand but it’s very small. The away end is in front of us. To the left is covered terrace and right beside us is another covered terrace. There is some open air standing in the corners and it’s clear the ground is barely up to league standards. I’m sure Sutton are aware of this. I think it’s key not to get too obsessed with ground improvements, but work is required here. It’s quaint. I like it. A steward tells us to move, if we’ve finished taking pictures. I have to laugh. “Bloody groundhoppers” grumbles Mike.
This is what I was talking about when I said the ground was curved back in the day and used to be an athletics track. I love a bit of curved terracing. This is an old relic but you can see it’s popular with some of the older boys. I said to Mike, as we were leaving, if it hadn’t been so hot I would have stood on there.
We’ve gone opposite to the grandstand for the game, as this side has no sun on it, and that puts us in the North Stand for those playing with Google Maps. It’s a good view and we’re a little bit elevated. Mike Kilby is with us today. He got to the ground some time before us and has polished off a pint of cider and bought a bucket hat. Given his usually terrible sense of direction I’m surprised he’s beaten us to the ground but we do live significantly further away. Mike has picked up a Sutton bucket hat but I’m saving that photo for later.
We have a mascot! The first of the season. It’s so hot today, I wouldn’t want to switch places with this poor bastard. The #12 is Jenny the Giraffe. It’s a bit naff as far as mascots go. There’s arms to the costume, a tail and that weird long head with the blatant “man looks through here” panel. I wouldn’t want to wear it in this heat and Jenny didn’t last long before being substituted. Fair play for putting in an appearance. The Charlton fans are less impressed and chant “what the fucking hell is that?” at poor Jenny as she strolls in front of their end.
We kick off and I would describe my view as “partially obstructed”. I don’t care if I can’t see the centre circle at a game. Not being able to see the goal mouth is far worse. The first half is a decent game of football. Sutton play some nice stuff and have a few players that clearly belong at a higher level than League 2. They play League 1 Charlton off the pitch for big sections of the first half and should go in a goal ahead at least. There’s one goalmouth scramble where I can’t believe the ball didn’t go in.
Sutton has a rustic charm about it. Little bits appear to have been tacked on over time. The scoreboard feels like a more recent addition above the windows where the announcers give us team news. The away end has red and yellow seats and was apparently donated by Chelsea. It fits today’s team colours perfectly. You may notice one of the Charlton players is wearing a face mask and was mocked relentlessly for it by the lads in front of us.
The heat starts to get to the players in the second half and the game wilts like a chrysanthemum in a cheap lawyer’s office foyer. Mike goes off in search of a pile of crap and is disappointed he can’t find one. Hey, Sutton are a league team now. No more piles of crap. Maria goes and grabs some food and surprises us by coming back with something for everyone. We have a burger and it’s mid. The bread is decent, and it’s been cooked over the way in Rose’s café so it is fresh. It’s a bang average 5/10 though. It did stop me from feeling hungry until Brentford so that’s a win.
One of my favourite photos to take is one of Maria watching the football. She opts to chill out on the barrier during the second half. Just in front of us a lad in an England ‘96 away shirt gets a huge cheer for heading the ball back into play. “That’ll be the greatest moment of his life” says Mike. Another unfortunate soul is booed for failing to even attempt it. On 73’ both teams make five subs each and the game is officially dead. The final whistle ends up going on 89:30’ because the ref is too hot to take any more of this shit.
As promised here’s Mike in his Sutton bucket hat! Now it’s time for some ratings;
FINAL SCORE: Sutton United 0 Charlton Athletic 0
I know it’s pre-season but there was nothing going on here. I thought the Charlton travelling support might get fired up but it was just too hot for everyone. They peaked with abusing the mascot and, like the game, wilted in the heat. *
It was a tenner. I can’t really argue with that. Even for a pre-season friendly, where most league teams try and gouge whatever they can out of the fans. ****
Oh, it wasn’t great. The first half was alright, but the second half was dire. I blame the weather, but I can only rate what I see. **
EASE OF ACCESS:
The parking recommended by the club was perfect. It is 15 minutes walk away but it was easy to park in, easy to pay. £5 all told. ***½
I liked the old curved terrace. A look at how far the rest of stadium has come and a glimpse into the past of the club. The food was ok. **½.
Sutton United feels like a non-league club despite their League 2 status. I have seen comparable grounds in the league but even Burton or Forest Green is more of a league ground than this. That said, I did quite like it because it reminded me of a nicer version of Bromsgrove’s ground. It started the day off as another league ground to tick off that happened to be within driving distance of Brentford and ended the (sunny) day with a special little place in my memories. Maybe it was Mike’s hat.