So, as we prepare to welcome a new year we must also say goodbye to the old year and, for Sutton United, it will be a bit like saying goodbye to an old friend.
We entered January 2017 looking forward to a full-house for the Emirates FA Cup 3rd Round tie against AFC Wimbledon. Many people assumed our chance had gone after a 0-0 draw in a game we dominated but despite falling 1-0 behind in the replay at Kingsmeadow we went on to record a famous victory, 3-1, on a night never to be forgotten. The prospect of Leeds United in the 4th Round brought back memories for many of that January day in 1970 when Don Revie came to town. Could we avenge that defeat after 47 years? Surely not! But a penalty from Jamie Collins was enough to bring a fully deserved victory.
The 5th Round! Unheard of territory for the U's. Who would we get? A home tie! Will play... Arsenal! A few moments of quiet and then pandemonium. For three weeks! Even now it is hard to take it all in. Live on BBC1, a bigger audience than Eastenders. A global audience. 100 million! 200 million? Alexis Sanchez, the star of the last World Cup, playing down The Lane.
2-0 but not disgraced. Why couldn't Roarie Deacon's thunderbolt have crept under the bar? With the cup out of the way attention turned back to the league. Had we been distracted? Despite outstanding home form we were looking down at the bottom pack of clubs rather than upwards. A great win in adversity at Torquay brought 3 welcome points. A final placing of 12th was deserved reward for a fantastic season.
What became more and more apparent as the weeks passed was that we could not overestimate the reach and impact of our cup run, televised in all corners of the globe. We sold shirts across Europe, Australia, Asia, North and South America. We received enquiries from players across the same geographical spread, each assuring us they would become the best player in the world and guide us to the Premier League. We had people wanting to be our manager (Sorry Dos, 5th Round wasn't good enough...), to sell us a 3G pitch (!!), to be our global marketing partners and even approaches to buy the club. And it still hasn't stopped.
Usually after the publicity of a big FA Cup run has died away the home attendances do the same, but we bucked the trend; ours continued to rise. We have sold over 1600 season tickets for the current campaign and our home attendance is averaging around 2,200. And then there's the team! The players have exceeded all expectations so far this season (well, maybe not their own. Or Dos's!) and we finish 2017 in 3rd spot, our highest ever year-end placing in the national pyramid.
Of course, the possibility of promotion will bring its own challenges for 2018, not least the issue of 3G pitches not currently being allowed in the Football League. But we will cross those bridges if and when we need to and, in the words of Mr Baldrick, we have a plan.
So, we have had a fantastic 2017 and look forward to 2018 with excitement and anticipation. From everyone at Sutton United, we would like to wish all of our supporters, near and far...
A HAPPY NEW YEAR