I’m lucky enough to live within walking distance of my place of work and so the concept of the nightmare Capital commute is alien to me. But in order to gain an authentic experience of London living, it doesn’t heard to go and join it once in a while.
I always have a purpose to doing this of course and on Tuesday night, while everyone else on the train was desperate to simply get home, I was eager to reach Gander Green Lane and Sutton United. Obviously.
And, my goodness, what a nightmare it is. I now see what everyone moans on about and sympathise with why the word ‘commute’ has become such a dirty word.
There’s the Tube bit first of all, when a man of my height (6’5”) has no hope of avoiding a bad back and long-term neck damage unless he can strong-arm his way into the very centre of the carriage, whereupon he is inevitably squeezed with his forehead touching the filthy, germ-ridden overhead grab bars between two very expressive Italian tourists and their fold-out maps trying to locate Elephant and Castle.
Then there’s the train leg. Good old British Rail. First, the station was half-terminus, half-building site. Crossrail will be fantastic when it arrives but you can’t help think all those promotional signs boasting that there will be 6,580 trains an hour when it’s done are a bit lost on regular commuters forced to side-step their way down a narrow half-closed platform with the piercing drone of a pneumatic drill ringing in their ears.
Then, in my carriage, which was inevitably standing room only, there was the mandatory bike w**ker, headphones w**ker and luggage w**ker. Luggage w**ker I can cope with - they’ve obviously just come in from a flight or a cross-country train trip and have their bags with them, they’re exhausted and want to get home - fine.
But there’s no excuse for headphone w**ker and bike w**ker. Headphone bloke with his rap music so loud that the whole carriage and even the train behind can hear every lyric and bike man who decides to carry a full-sized mountain bike into an already claustrophobic carriage at the busiest time of the day.
Then there was the obligatory delay - not too bad from my point of view - after the inevitable signal failure and chorus of tutting from all the passengers. People of the commute, I sympathise with you.
Thankfully, the rest of the evening was very pleasant despite being piss-steamingly cold. I’d heard that Sutton’s ground had a running track around it and therefore I’d be a million miles away from the action. Thankfully, I’d heard wrong. It used to have something around it (greyhound racing?) but the stands have been moved in and I had a great view from one of the corner terraces.
I didn’t think much of the burger, particularly in these Shergar meat days, but the chips were nice and everyone was very friendly, including the programme seller who kindly informed me that they couldn’t afford to fully reprint the issue from the postponed game over Christmas and so had brought it up to date with a four-page insert. As if I was going to kick off and storm out because there wasn’t enough to read...
I didn’t hold out much hope for Sutton, who went into the game 20th out of 22 in the Conference South, and were up against Welling, who were second and looking good for promotion. Presumably, neither did the hundred or so travelling fans from the opposite side of south London, nor many of the home fans who had braved the chill evening.
But if the proverbial alien had, for some reason, chosen Sutton as the starting point for its life on Earth, it would not have been able to tell which side was flying high and which was staring at the Ryman League. Like at Bromley against Basingstoke on Saturday (see below), there is very little between, essentially, the bottom 15 teams of this ridiculously tight division.
Sutton tore into their opponents from the very start. They were faster to every ball, good on the counter-attack and sharp in every tackle. They created 90 per cent of the chances in the first half and their rotund goalkeeper Wayne Shaw, who received terrace taunts such as “can you point out where your neck is?”, was rarely bothered.
They didn’t score, however, despite Jamie Stuart heading against the post when unmarked at a corner kick and a penalty save from goalkeeper San Motts against Sam Rents in stoppage time.
I feared for Sutton at the break - surely Welling would turn up for the second half and nick a goal at some point. I had no cause to worry. They were just as energetic after the break and Craig Dundas opened the scoring with his 50th goal for the club, tucking away the ball following a good ball from the right.
Moments later, Sutton doubled their advantage thanks to the excellent Harry Ottaway, who rounded off a flowing move which cut open the Welling defence.
As the home side sat back, there were a couple of scares before the three points were assured. First, Ross Lafayette outsprinted the defence, easily rounded the flailing attempt of Shaw to stop him, but, with the goal open, blazed it high over the crossbar into the away fans.
He would pull one back in the 88th minute after being set up by Jon Main but, despite a barrage of late pressure, they were unable to gain a point to keep them in touch with leaders Salisbury.
Next Match: Working over the FA Cup fifth round this weekend, so hoping to get to another match next week. If not, it will be Boston’s trip to Solihull Moors the following Saturday.