It’s the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round this weekend, and two sides are flying the flag for Non-League football. And we’ve managed to catch up with Sutton United boss Paul Doswell ahead of their enticing clash with Leeds United.
Doswell is nearing on 10 years in charge of the south London outfit, and in that time has taken them from the Isthmian Premier into the National League.
It’s a remarkable achievement for a club who have Premier League Crystal Palace less than seven miles to the east, and AFC Wimbledon under five miles north-west.
But Sutton United are no ordinary team, and Doswell no ordinary manager.
The 50-year-old isn’t paid by the club, and indeed has continuously stumped up his own money to improve the Gander Green Lane outfit.
And that includes a £500,000 interest-free loan for a top of the range 3G pitch.
“It’s one of those clubs that draws you in – it’s a fantastic team,” Doswell explains.
“I’m coming up for 10 years almost at Sutton and they’ve become a big part of my life and my footballing life now.”
Of course, Sutton are no strangers to an Emirates FA Cup giant-killing, famously defeating Coventry City in 1989, despite the Sky Blues lifting the cup just 18 months earlier!
And it’s not the first time Sutton and Leeds have met, with a famous clash way back in 1970.
Back then Leeds were one of the greatest sides in England, led by the great Don Revie. 14,000 people packed the stadium that night, and the Whites – boasting 11 full internationals – prevailed 6-0, but the game put Sutton on the map.
And Doswell is well aware of the U’s cup heritage: “Historically Sutton have got a fantastic FA Cup tradition, and that’s felt these days in the early rounds where everyone’s looking at us because of our history.
“You can never take away what the 1989 team did and the 1970s team did, but this team now in 2017 is very close to making its own piece of history. And having battled past Wimbledon to get here, we’ve managed to make our own dreams.”
Preparation and trust
Sutton will be taking on a Leeds United side in fine form, and who are showing signs of a resurgence under Garry Monk. But with the hosts losing just four of their last 44 competitive home ties, Doswell and his side are ready.
“We’re good at home and having lost only four of 44 is an incredible run, so if we are going to do something against Leeds then it’s going to be at our place.
“We are quite analytical and we might be a bit like dinosaurs in some ways. We don’t talk about transitions or phases stuff like that, we aren’t these new style coaches, we’re a bit old school,” the former Eastleigh boss explained.
“But we’ve had Leeds analysed as best as we can, and our lads will know exactly what they’ve got to do on the day and it’s up to them to go out and put it into practice.
“It’s really their day, this weekend, they’ve done it for the club and for us. We do trust our players, and that’s a word we use a lot at our club, trust.
Full house and no pressure
And with the television cameras in place, it’s sure to be a fantastic atmosphere at a packed Gander Green Lane.
“Oh yeah it’s a full house alright – it sold out within about two days and there isn’t a spare seat or spare space on the terraces!” Doswell says.
“It’s going to be a great event and I think the experience of playing Wimbledon – which was another sell out – will put the boys in good stead, they won’t be fazed about playing in front of a full house.”
Sutton have already sent two football league sides packing, in Cheltenham and Wimbledon, but for Doswell this clash is altogether different.
“This game is something of a free bet for us, if I’m honest with you. With the Wimbledon game we knew that the financial rewards on the line were huge for everyone at the club. It was an enormous amount of money for us and there was plenty of pressure on us to make it through.
“With this one, I think it’s about enjoying the day more. When the draw was made we knew we would be on the television in the Fourth Round and the prize money on offer, it makes it a bit of a free bet for us.
“Of course we’re not just there to turn up, we’re there to compete and to win, but this time there isn’t that pressure on us.”
Against the odds
And despite the 83-place gap between the sides in the football pyramid, Sutton’s Emirates FA Cup heritage sees them installed at a very respectable 3/1.
“I’ve heard we’re hovering around the 3/1 mark,” Doswell quips. “Which says an incredible amount about the club and the progress we’ve made.
“I’m not a betting man but I’ve seen a few Premier League sides priced up at 18/1 this season, so 3/1 says a huge amount about how we are regarded heading into this game.”
And don’t be surprised if Sutton do pull off another famous Cup upset, after all, as Doswell explains, this isn’t an ordinary club.
“Everyone at Sutton pulls together to the same end, it all works brilliantly and that’s quite unusual.
“Normally you get one or two who are out for their own agenda, but that’s not the case here. From the staff right through to the players nobody is bigger than the club and Sutton succeeds because of it.”
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing