Sutton United’s 125th anniversary: FA Cup giant-killings, Wembley trips, trophies and selfies

10 min

In March 1898, the Robin Hood pub hosted the inaugural meeting between Sutton Association and Sutton Guild Rovers, an event that led to the sides merging to become Sutton United.

Since then, the South London outfit have gone on to have one of the greatest non-league histories – winning an array of titles, dominating the FA Cup as perennial underdogs and becoming the only non-professional English side to lift the Anglo-Italian cup.

Two years ago Sutton once again defied all the odds to gain promotion to the Football League for the first time with Matt Gray’s side then narrowly missing out on the League Two Play-Offs as well as reaching the EFL Trophy final in their inaugural EFL campaign.

As the Us celebrated their 125th anniversary at the weekend with a 1-1 draw against Crewe Alexandra at Gander Green Lane, London Football Scene took a trip down memory lane with some of the clubs’ famous faces….

“I wheeled away and ran straight to the cameras, it was pure excitement – former club captain and Coventry City conqueror, Tony Rains

Turning out for Sutton in both the 1979 Anglo-Italian cup success and 1981 FA Trophy final, Tony Rains made an incredible 724 appearances for the club.

However, the defender is best known for one of the most celebrated goals in Sutton’s history, opening the scoring in the side’s 2-1 FA Cup giant killing victory over Coventry City in 1989.

“Everything was different that day, we were out practising at 10am and it was buzzing from then on,” Rains exclusively told London Football Scene.

“We worked our way through the game and then we got a corner; Nigel Golley won the flick on at the near post, beating Brian Kilcline and Steve Ogrizovic, and I headed it in.

“I wheeled away and ran straight to the cameras, it was pure excitement but once Paul McKinnon, Lennie Dennis and Paul Rogers got hold of me I was going nowhere!

“I remember when they equalised – they didn’t really celebrate and at the time I thought if they are going to have that attitude, we have half a chance – seven minutes later we scored again.”

Rains also played alongside his brother John and remembers his winner against Woking to claim the club’s second London Senior Cup title in 1982 as being somewhat of a family affair.

“We played at Dulwich Hamlet’s old ground for the final and there was a brilliant atmosphere.

“The goal was definitely a little bit family orientated – John headed it down, it bounced and I managed to head it up and over the keeper.

“Playing alongside John was excellent, we had a connection that carried into the game and for me, that goal gets overlooked by others but it was a really good one to win the final.

“I always ask for a selfie when we come up against the big names” –  ex-midfielder and England representative turned assistant manager, Micky Stephens

Micky Stephens played throughout Sutton’s ‘golden era’ in which he won two Isthmian League titles, the London Senior Cup, the Anglo-Italian cup and eight Surrey Senior Cups alongside England semi-pro honours.

Scoring 42 goals in his 552 appearances as a midfielder, Stephens returned to Gander Green Lane as assistant manager to Paul Doswell in 2013, a position he has retained under current boss Matt Gray.

Stephens is also one of a few individuals who has both coached and played for the Us at Wembley – turning out in the 1981 FA Trophy final before returning as a coach in last season’s Papa Johns Trophy final.

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

Speaking to London Football Scene, Stephens said: “Being selected to represent England would not have been possible if I wasn’t a part of what was going on at Sutton United.

“There’s been so many great memories – beating Aldershot, taking Middlesbrough to an FA Cup replay and defeating Coventry – we were such a good non-league side and during that time, we felt we could beat anyone on the day.

“Winning at Wembley is something I have never managed to do but I think winning there alongside Matt Gray and Jason Goodliffe (fellow assistant manager) would trump anything I did as a player.”

Stephens also recalls Sutton’s incredible run to the FA Cup Fifth Round in 2017, resulting in the side hosting Premier League giants Arsenal at Gander Green Lane.

“When we drew Arsenal out of the hat, I knew they had Bayern Munich in the Champions League just before so I asked Paul Doswell if he would like me to fly out and watch them but he just laughed!

“That whole event was surreal – we were all very excited to meet Arsene Wenger after the game, I know I was – even as a Chelsea fan!

“I always ask for a selfie when we come up against the big names and there’s a little collection I have on the go and I think the opposing managers love it as well.”

“Sutton have always had continuity on and off the pitch ”- long-standing chairman, Bruce Elliott

From starting the Supporters Club shop and becoming assistant secretary in 1979 to overseeing the club’s switch to full-time with EFL promotion in 2021, chairman Bruce Elliott has done it all.

When Elliott made the jump from vice-chairman to chairman in 1996, he could not have envisioned the side would be promoted to the Football League 27 years later, something that has brought logistical off-field challenges – although most definitely welcome ones.

“We were naive when we came into the Football League, but the players and staff have helped us,” Elliott exclusively told London Football Scene.

“The success on the pitch has allowed us to deal with the demands of league football off it – but it isn’t just about those on the pitch, we spent 123 years as a non-league club that was built on volunteers and that will not change overnight.

“Sutton have always had continuity on and off the pitch, you cannot succeed with one or the other – of course there is a bit of luck too – but that is key.

“I may have had a part to play, but there is a whole board around me who have made big decisions together, so they must take the credit as well.

But what stands out as Elliott’s best memory over the past five decades?

“I could give you 103, but the three most significant to me are: defeating Coventry, reaching the FA Cup Fifth Round and returning to Wembley for the EFL Trophy Final after having to wait 41 years to go back there. That was a great occasion.”

“Nothing can beat going to Wembley and having access to all areas” – the magnificent media man, Tony Dolbear

This summer marks Tony Dolbear’s 50th anniversary as a Sutton United follower, beginning his love for the club at the age of 12.

As well as supporting the club from the terraces, he pledged his allegiance to the Amber Army by becoming the press secretary in 1988, going on to witness some of the club’s greatest achievements.

With so many memories to choose from, Dolbear admits it’s a difficult choice to narrow them down with the last few years particularly feeling like a blur.

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

“I started supporting the club when we had 400 fans in the Isthmian League, now being a Football League club with a chance of being in League One next season, is quite ridiculous,” Dolbear told London Football Scene.

“My best memories are probably shared; the Anglo-Italian cup in 1979, the FA Trophy run to Wembley in 1981 and multiple championship successes.

“Strangely the win over Coventry doesn’t rank too high on my list as I had only been in the media role for two months and we had no mobile phones!”

However, when asked what his favourite game was as a media manager, there is only one winner for him.

“Make no mistake, it’s that 2017 FA Cup run with my personal highlight being Roarie Deacon’s goal against Cheltenham to reach the Third Round. 

“For any big game, the satisfaction of all media leaving feeling happy is great and the club received so many nice comments about our service from the Arsenal game – it’s a shame it was ruined by a certain ‘pie incident’.

“More recently, nothing can beat going to Wembley and having access to all areas – particularly being on the PA for five minutes and seeing parts of the Stadium I had always dreamed about!”

“Sutton United have brought the best out of me” – current club captain, Craig Eastmond

When Craig Eastmond joined in September 2015, Sutton United were competing in the National League South.

Fast forward seven years and the 32-year-old has captained the side in a Wembley final and is leading Matt Gray’s side towards a League Two Play-Off push.

With over 300 appearances, two Player of the Year awards and a goal in front of the Amber Army at Wembley, Eastmond is one of two current players on the club’s Hall of Fame list (Craig Dundas the other).

READ MORE: Charlie Vaughan – Sutton United’s war-time legend with a venomous shot and incredible goalscoring record

Speaking exclusively to London Football Scene, Craig Eastmond said: “When I joined the club I did not think I would feature on that list of amazing players

“There are so many things that I had not completed when I first arrived but Sutton United have brought the best out of me.

“I always said I wanted to get back into the Football League and here I am enjoying it with Sutton.

“We are always progressing and for me I have become captain, made a cup final and reached the FA Cup Fifth Round.” 

Another standout moment for the player was last season’s EFL Trophy final where, although eventually beaten 4-2 by Rotherham, Eastmond scored the Us second goal on the day.

“How did I feel? I still don’t even know now! I normally do my aeroplane celebration, but there was so much going through my mind.

“I was right in front of the fans and my family, I was able to give them a little wave too – I will always remember that moment.”

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