All tickets for Sutton United’s F.A Cup clash with mighty Coventry City had been sold by Wednesday last week and the stage is nw set for one of the biggest days in the club’s history.
With car parking restricted to pass holders selected by the club the message to fans was ‘start off early and walk.’
The ground will be open at noon, two hours before the 2pm kick-off, which was brought forward to enable 8,000 fans to leave the match in daylight.
Although their First Division opponents hit form on Saturday with a 5-0 home win against Sheffield Wednesday, United are not suffering from an inferiority complex. Last season the U’s gave Middlesbrough the fright of their lives before going out to the odd goal after a replay they could have won.
Manager Barrie Williams won’t venture a forecast but one of his defenders, Stuart Hemsley, has few doubts.
‘I think we’ll nick it by the odd goal,’ he said. ‘I can’t see us being beaten at home even by a First Division club.’
For Hemsley the past ten days have been the most worrying period of his career. He twisted his knee badly in the Boxing Day match against Maidstone and has since been undergoing intensive daily treatment from the club physio.
“Fortunately it doesn’t seem quite as serious as I first thought” he said. “I aim to be fit and running around well before kick off.”
Manager Williams will certainly give him every chance right up to the morning of the match.
Hemsley joined Sutton from Croydon two seasons ago and played in both Middlesbrough matches. Last March he was picked for the provisional English semi-professional squad to play Wales though he did not take part in the game.
If Hemsley is fit in time Sutton should be at full strength. Tony Rains took a slight knock over the weekend but is expected to be available.
I SNUBBED BIG CYRILLE ADMITS SUTTON BOSS WILLIAMS
Shoot, January 1989
Cyrille Regis might be interested to learn how he was once written off as a centre-forward by Sutton United manager Barrie Williams.
Regis, then a raw striker with Isthmian League Hayes, had attracted the attention of Plymouth, who sent Williams to do a scouting message for them. They never followed up their interest after receiving Williams’ report and eventually West Bromwich Albion took a chance on big Cyrille…
Eleven years, four England caps and considerably more than 100 League goals later, Regis is about to meet up with Williams again when 1987 FA Cup winners Coventry to Gander Green Lane to meet Sutton.
“That shows what a good judge of players I am,” laughs Williams. “I must admit I didn’t give a very good report of him. But the last time I saw Cyrille was on television last month, when he scored the winner against Manchester United.”
Williams is hoping that Regis won’t take his revenge by adding another decisive goal in a match he describes as “the glamour tie of the third round.”
He adds: “Basically we’ve got no right to be on the same pitch as the team who won the Cup in 1987 and were lying in third place in the First Division on the day of the draw.
“But having said that, they won’t relish the prospect of entering the unknown. We have a chance, of course we do. We’re playing at our home ground and if the elements are right and we have the rub of the green we could have a giantkilling on our hands.
“We are aiming to win, and that is why we have not taken the soft option of switching the game to Highfield Road for a financial killing. If we had done that we would have been saying to ourselves: ‘Right, we’ve got no chance so we might as well earn a few bob.’
“Instead we are going to give it a whirl.”
Coventry, who were knocked out of the Cup by Kings Lynn back in 1961, indicated to their Vauxhall Conference League rivals they would be more than happy to stage the game at Highfield Road.
“But we didn’t even give that consideration, I am happy to say,” adds Williams.
Sutton reached the Third Round last season, when they held Middlesbrough to a 1-1 draw at Gander Green Lane before a genuinely unlucky 1-0 defeat at Ayresome Park.
Williams has since lost Mark Golley, who scored against Boro, to Conference rivals Maidstone, but in Lenny Dennis and Paul McKinnon he has a pair of strikers well equipped to test Coventry goalkeeper Steve Ogrizovic.
Two seasons ago McKinnon left Sutton for Blackburn in an £8,000 move, and played in their Third Round defeat by Portsmouth. He also made five League appearances for them, but was released at the end of the season after failing to score.
The former Chelsea apprentice, now 30, has also played for Swedish club Malmo in both the UEFA and European Cup Winners’ Cups. McKinnon now divides his time between Sutton and Swedes Orebro, a club he helped win their Second Division Championship last season.
He rejoined Sutton at the end of October, and his presence immediately lifted 23-year-old Lenny Dennis, who cracked 11 goals this November.
Dennis has scored almost 100 goals in just over four seasons with the club and was called up by Jamaica for their World Cup qualifying fixture against the United States recently.
“I call them my coffee and cream,” adds Williams. “Lenny is very awkward to play against and has a keen eye for goal while Paul is a cultured, intelligent forward who gets himself into good positions.”
Williams, full-time manager of the club, is a former school teacher: “I would describe Sutton’s mid-term report as making satisfactory progress but could try harder in certain subjects.”
Sutton are halfway in the Conference table and Williams knows they haven’t won as many games as they should have. “Our problem before Paul joined was that we were too good to lose but not good enough to win.”
There will be 8,000 people at Gander Green Lane on Saturday, and most will be hoping that problem can be ironed out.
But big Cyrille and his Coventry mates might have something to say on that matter.
IT’S IN THE BANK FOR YUPPIE SUTTON
Shoot, January 1989
-Sutton United are the yuppies of the FA Cup Third Round: Two members of the squad (midfielders Nigel Golley and Micky Stephens) are assistant bank managers; Paul Rogers is a commodity broker; forward Mike Cornwall is a marketing executive; defender Stuart Hemsley is a systems analyst with an insurance company while Robin Jones, hoping to make his third consecutive Third Round appearance (he was a member of the Caernarfon side that held Barnsley to a replay in 1987), works as an executive in the Civil Service.
-“We’ve got Golf GTi’s and Escort XR3’s in our car park on match days but we’re not a bunch of Southern softies,” warns manager Williams.
-“That label was levelled at us about four or five years ago but we have learned to look after ourselves. You don’t survive in the Conference with a set of pansies. We aren’t a dirty side – we never strike first but we’ll always be standing at the finish.”
-Coventry will have a job on their hands to make sure Sutton don’t remain upwardly mobile in the FA Cup.
I say chaps, the old cell phone's ringing. OK yah.
SUTTON’S SWEDE BASHER:
McKINNON GOES GUNNING FOR COVENTRY
Match, January 1989
When it comes to cup competitions they don’t come any more experienced than star Sutton striker Paul McKinnon.
The 30-year-old boasts an impressive record which includes action in both the UEFA and Cup Winners’ Cup with crack Swedish side Malmo.
And now the globe-trotting sharp-shooter, who has played for more than ten clubs the world over, is hoping to put that experience to good use against the ‘Sky Blues’ on Saturday.
Explains Paul: “I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to play for Malmo in the early 80’s when former Sutton manager Keith Blunt went out there as coach. He later became manager, asked me to join him and I jumped at the chance.”
Paul has maintained his Swedish connection ever since, playing in the summer months over there but always returning to play for Sutton in the winter.
For the past three seasons he has played for Swedish side Orebro and last term he helped them to promotion to the country’s Premier Division as well as picking up a losers’ medal in the Swedish Cup Final.
Says Paul: “I’m lucky because I have a good arrangement with Sutton. The Swedish season begins around the end of May and finishes around October/November and Sutton allow me miss the first ten or so games over here.”
Despite of never being short of somewhere to play as the scorer of more than 200 goals – be it winter or summer – Paul has only once been given a chance by an English League club.
And even then it ended in disappointment after just five appearances. Recalls Paul: “It was shortly after returning to England in 1985 when I received a phone call from then Blackburn manager Bobby Saxton asking me to go up for a trial.
“At 27-years-old I was rather surprised they were interested in me but I didn’t need asking twice.”
After just five games for the first team, however, Paul suffered an injury which put him on the sidelines. In the meantime Bobby Saxton was sacked and Paul found himself released by the club.
Looking back he says: “I was very disappointed because I don’t believe I was given a real chance to show what I could do.”
So Paul has something of a point to prove when he comes up against League opposition again in the shape of Coventry this weekend although he admits is will be far from easy for Sutton.
DUEL AT GANDER GREEN
Match, January 1989
Sutton manager Barrie Williams is under no illusions about the task that faces his team when they take on Coventry on Saturday.
Says Barrie: “Coventry are one of the top clubs in the country. They have class written all over them.”
But at the same time the’ U’s’ boss is sure that the First Division team won’t relish the thought of playing Sutton at Gander Green Lane.
“Let’s face it, what League club does relish travelling to non-League opponents?” he says.
“They have nothing to win except a Fourth Round tie. If they beat us, it’s only expected but if they lose they face humiliation.”
For Sutton, the Third Round of the FA Cup is familiar territory and, as Middlesbrough discovered last season, Coventry can expect a tough battle.
‘Boro’ found themselves locked in a titanic battle with Sutton in last year’s Third Round tie. And it was only after escaping with a 1-1 draw at Sutton that they finally won the replay 1-0 at Ayresome Park. Even then it took extra-time to decide the issue.
Sutton will hope to play in front of a capacity crowd of 8,000 with the majority eagerly awaiting a major Cup upset and Barrie says “I’ll tell the lads not to worry about Coventry. We know what they can do but, if we just work hard at our own game well who knows?”