When Sean Raggett's header inched over the line at Turf Moor, you'd have been forgiven for thinking everything was alive and kicking in the FA Cup. If you're even less cynical than that, you may have even thought that there was still a huge heart pounding through the centre of football. Such romanticism seemed even more blossoming when the Quarter Final draw saw The Imps receive a tie against the victor of Sutton versus Arsenal. To get to the Semi Final stage, which would of course include a visit to Wembley, Lincoln would either be paired up against a fellow non-league side or, at very worst, get to take on one of the grandest teams in English football in one of the England’s biggest arenas.
So, full credit must go to Sutton United for managing to squeeze every last drop of that enthusiasm right out of the competition.
In fact, it isn't just the magic of the cup they've managed to wring dry. Sutton also charged their supporters £30 for tickets for, arguably, the biggest game in the club’s history. While it may be fair to eek a little extra out of the Johnny-come-lately's who, before Monday night, had probably never set foot in Gander Green Lane, it's a disgrace to charge their loyal fans double the price of an average National League game ticket. Season Ticket holders received their usual priority booking period, just like a season ticket holder of any club would, but their loyal support of a non-league team was still rewarded by a hugely inflated ticket price. It's worth bearing in mind that £30 wasn't even the cheapest adult ticket - that was the price for terracing. If you wanted to rest your legs and get a seat, there was an extra fiver for that privilege.
It wasn't just the gate receipts that saw Sutton's chairman, Bruce Elliot, replace his pupils with dollar signs though. It was nauseating watching Elliot awkwardly try and joke with Dan Walker and Tim Vine during half time, especially since the man clearly has little in the way of integrity or charisma. He was just another chairman, the like of which we have seen all too often at the upper echelons of the footballing pyramid, who want to bathe in the warm glow of the spotlight.
Just when you thought that Sutton United’s soul couldn't be sold any more, they signed a deal to be sponsored by The Sun. Their gambling firm, Sun Bets, would be plastered all over the kit and ground of The U's in a display of vulgar marketing. Not for the whole season either, just for the game against Arsenal. As manager Paul Doswell said “It's great that The Sun are sponsoring us for the Arsenal game” - he may as well have said “We can be bought easily and just for one game.”
By this point I'd gone from wanting Sutton to pull off the unthinkable to hoping Arsenal would show no mercy and pummel them beyond belief. I'm sure many football fans, who've often been the subject of The Sun's ire, felt the same.
So after that circus, which also included a jolly old lark to Wembley for Sutton, it was actually time for the game. An actual 90 minutes of football, which didn't seem to matter for many concerned. I'm sure most of the players wanted to give their all and were furious at not just being able to get on with their preparation, in fairness to them. The decisions of the board aren't their fault, of course. That is, unless you fancy a slice of the pie yourself. And I don't just mean any old pie.
Not content with a cash windfall raining down on them, Sutton sought the opportunity to engage with “the banter generation.” Their one off sponsor offered odds of 8/1 for reserve goalkeeper Wayne Shaw to be spotted eating a pie during the game because he's overweight and because banter. It's alleged that Shaw's teammates dived straight in, (something which Doswell has not denied) given the staggering odds and instead of trying to create an iconic moment on the pitch, they instead concentrated their focus on creating one in the dugout. All for the sake of social media likes and lols and all for the sake of potentially more cash.
Now, Sutton are out of the cup after a 2-0 defeat. The supporters who will probably never watch Sutton again, invade the pitch, denying the hardcore fans the chance to applaud their heroes efforts. A bitter end to the journey. That’s not all though, sadly. Wayne Shaw, a stalwart of Sutton, has resigned in the wake of his pastry based scandal. A harsh outcome, especially for a man who has given his life to the club, but his misguided actions meant he was always running the risk of punishment.
Still, the balance sheet looks better though and a right wing rag is getting a boatload of free publicity. The good guys win again, eh?
So cheers, Sutton. After Lincoln's heroics, you should have served as a reminder that there's still a soul to football. Instead, you just proved the problem goes much further down than the Premier League and turned what should have been a great weekend, in the oldest competition in football, into a total farce. Let it never be said, that it's just the so called big clubs who disrespect The FA Cup.