Sutton United’s Bruce Elliott: “I’ve been so wrapped up in it all, I did not realise how much we have achieved.”

5 min

It’s been just over 18 months since Sutton United defied the odds to claim the National League title with the club still getting to grips with their new-found Football League surroundings.

An impressive eighth-place League Two finish in their inaugural campaign has helped to strengthen their EFL position, although elements of their not-too-distant non-league status still remain.

And while some of these aspects, such as the club’s effortlessly approachable persona, are advantages more than drawbacks, others such as the stadium infrastructure has proven more problematic.

As soon as promotion was confirmed back in May 2021, work was immediately undertaken to ensure Gander Green Lane came up to the minimum EFL standards – starting with the replacement of the club’s artificial pitch.

Speaking exclusively to London Football Scene, Sutton United chairman Bruce Elliott said: “We won the league on Sunday and ripped the pitch up on Tuesday – it was complete mayhem.

“That summer, the club was a building site – we were thrown in at the deep end. We went from being a three-quarter time club to a full-time one, rather naively.

“And one of the major differences was seeing a few more noughts on some of the figures!”

With the artificial pitch not only providing a free training facility as well as functioning as a community asset that offered the club additional income, its removal was seen as ‘a double whammy’ alongside the rising costs.

The Us currently find themselves training at Imperial College in Harlington, formerly used by QPR and Chelsea, but Elliott acknowledges it is far from ideal.

“We have a wonderful training ground, brilliant facilities, but it is not in the London Borough of Sutton,” Elliott said.

“It is fine for those who live closer – of course some players are happier than others about that.

“Also, from a community aspect, we now have to try harder to keep everyone under one roof.

“We haven’t lost that (community spirit) yet and we are working hard to maintain it – we just have to change tack.”

Appointed chairman back in 1996, it is clear the past two years have seen the biggest upheaval during his tenure – yet for any match-going outsider looking in, they are still likely to find the usual warm welcome they have always received.

“A club is not about the bricks and mortar, it’s about the people and that’s where we score heavily,” Elliott said.

“Everybody loves to be loved and we pride ourselves on welcoming guests and being hospitable, except for those 90 minutes!

READ MORE: Clive Baxter – Sutton United’s kitman on his 61-year love affair with the Us

“It could be someone selling programmes or somebody sweeping the car park – whatever it is there is continuity of the people involved.

“The higher you go there is a danger you lose that aspect, but we have always tried to continue that communication.

“There is a non-league mentality still, which is not a bad thing: you do not get that everywhere and that is special.”

It’s a culture that extends to the playing squad, led by manager Matt Gray, who can often be seen having a post-match drink with fans or hosting a Quiz Night at the club to help raise much-needed funds.

Yet despite Gray’s affable nature and overwhelming success since taking over from Paul Doswell in 2019, Elliott claims no official approach has ever been made for the 41-year-old’s managerial services from bigger clubs in the EFL pyramid.

“It is surprising – maybe clubs have been put off because they know he wants success with us or maybe they feel they are wasting their own time.

“We know nothing lasts forever but Matt (Gray) gets on well with the board, there is mutual respect and he’s been brilliant for us.”

This time last year also saw Sutton embark on their first-ever mid-season transfer window where, unlike at non-league level, there is a chance to strengthen the squad before heading into the final few months of the campaign.

READ MORE: Sutton United Women’s recent success is just the beginning under manager Will Letts

However, Elliott admits the experience wasn’t a daunting one and there would similarly be no panic this time around as the board and manager continue to work in unison.

“We (the board) are involved in terms of potential signing discussions and whether he (Matt Gray) will go to meet the player.

“If successful, he will then come back to us to speak about finances but we do not interfere with the playing side of it.”

In terms of other club expenditure, Sutton have now managed to fulfil all the required EFL criteria other than increasing the stadium’s seating capacity from 1,000 to 2,000 – something that Elliott confirms will happen next year.

That will hopefully bring an end to what has been a whirlwind chapter in the club’s history with Elliott readily admitting it’s been difficult to keep track over the past year-and-a-half: “Because I’ve been so wrapped up in it all, I did not realise how much we have achieved!”

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