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Amber Lane Talks To... Mark Frake

27 May 2017

This week Amber caught up with one of the U's most recognisable supporters, Mark Frake, the club's unofficial official historian. Mark must have been taken by Amber's blue eyes because his interview gushed onto two pages.

AMBER: Mark, most of the long-standing Sutton fans will know who you are and even if they don't know you they will have heard you! You have been supporting the team for almost half a century and travelled far and wide with the club. You are the club's historian and have an extensive personal collection of programmes and other memorabilia. How did you get involved with the club initially?

MARK: My grandfather took me to a match on 13/12/1969, Leatherhead in the old Amateur Cup. He had been the assistant sponge man for the club in the 1930's as well as being involved with the Supporters' Club in some capacity. I was hooked pretty quickly - it probably helped that my fourth ever match was the Leeds United 1970 version and everything grew from there.

Eventually, my mother worked on the GGL turnstiles (for nearly 40 years), my father also worked on a gate then later with Rose in the Tea Hut, my sister for  short while did one of the old wooden stand transfers and my uncle was one of the very first stewards at the club. I was a ballboy from Dec 1972 for about three years then later worked on the gate, as Safety Officer and then Chief Steward. I also had stints as the Supporters' Club sec and chair.

I started becoming interested in the history of the club in the late 1980's but didn't finish (still haven't really) taking info from Sutton Library until last year. As for programme collecting, I always bought one when I first went and kept them and then Bruce sold me a sizeable 1960's collection that had been handed in to the club shop in 1975(ish) and since then I have collected over 4,000 first team programmes. The oldest is at Dulwich from 1919. Cost me a bloody fortune collecting them and I bought a collection of 200 1940's and 1950's programmes for £800 a few years back.

I have started a project on the history of the club that will be the most detailed ever produced should it ever get finished!! Gonna take some while though.

I am, without doubt, a SUFC anorak.

AMBER: This season will undoubtedly be remembered for the cup run, but where do you think the Arsenal game stands in the club's long history?

MARK: It is so difficult to compare with past events, but as an occasion it probably matches with the Leeds 1970 FA Cup tie. Ok, there wasn't 14,000 in the ground but live on BBC TV and the global coverage of the event and leading up to it was incredible. Of course, it was one round further than the club had progressed to in the past, so on that one fact it is the club's finest hour. (On a personal level though, the 1979 AIT Final will always be my top match, ever!).

AMBER: Until 1970 the club didn't have much pedigree in the FA Cup but since then our record is impressive for a non-League side, with five appearances in Round Three or beyond. Could you pick your favourite five FA Cup games (and why)?

MARK: This will raise some eyebrows! In reverse order:-

5/. Leeds 1970. As above, 14,000 packed into the ground to watch the amateurs of Sutton (ignoring boot money!) take on mighty Leeds, reigning FL Champions. I don't remember much of the match but I do recall queuing for tickets for hours, and where I stood to get a view of proceedings and then crying because we lost 6-0! (I was only 8). Leeds lost the title to Everton, the FA Cup final to Chelsea after a replay (will Arsenal experience similar at Wembley this month?) and Celtic knocked them out of the European Cup in the semi-final. They probably under achieved as they were favourites to win it all.

4/. Peterborough 1987. A fantastic victory on away soil (our first against a League club having beaten Aldershot at home in the previous round, our first against a FL club anywhere). Stuck under that covering with hundreds of other U's fans the noise was deafening as the team won by 3-1. Lennie celebrating the late third from Joycey's superb cross by climbing onto the fence to take the fans' adulation is an iconic moment in the club's FA Cup history.

3/. AFC Wimbledon replay 2017. One down early on and then they had a guy sent off. But the last fifteen minutes of the match was incredible. Roarie's brilliant equaliser, the superbly worked second goal and then Fitch's brilliant finish to confirm victory. Back to the club for an impromptu celebration which was probably the best night I have ever experienced in the bar at GGL. Have to admit to shedding a tear (still sober at the time too) that night as I did after we defeated Leeds in the next round (I am only 55 though).

2/. Coventry 1989. Does it need explaining?

1/. Middlesbrough away 1988. We lost in extra-time but still the best I have ever seen a Sutton side play (we did come close to that at AFCW and at home to Leeds in 2017 though). Trevor Roffey was coined before the match, after he was taking the plaudits from the home crowd with the rest of the U's players after an absolutely magnificent effort. I am of the opinion that the 87/8 squad was the best I had seen at Sutton in my time but the 16/17 squad comes a very close second.

As I say, it's difficult to compare with different eras but while defeating Coventry is probably the club's finest one-off result the 2016/17 run is, without doubt, the best in the club's history. It was also the most dramatic because of the late goals, that penalty and that night at Kingsmeadow.

AMBER: What about the other cup competitions? The focus now is very much on the FA Cup and FA Trophy but there have been times when we would have entered five or six cup competitions. Which of those games stand out for you?

MARK: The AIT Final of 1979 in Chieti is the stand out moment for me since I started watching U's in December 1969. It helps that we won but the whole journey by train is engraved in my memory plus the fact it was the first time I had ever been abroad (I was 17) and had only left school about a month before. The seven of us who made that rail journey had to endure some arduous times (standing up for 8 hours on one leg of the trip and the lack of washing opportunities) but we had fun too and Bob Budd brewing up on a primus stove on the train and getting away with it was one of the more memorable. To travel all that way & see your team win and for no other English club to match the achievement before or since (we did come close twice though) makes it my stand out match.

Of course the 1980 and 1982 AIT trips also stand out, particularly the week in Sorrento. I think the AIT adventures were the making of the modern day club and were the catalyst for a decade of success on the pitch and the “fans” club moniker that is attached to the club to this day was born out of them.

Defeating Walton & Hersham 4-0  in the SSC replay at Fetcham Grove in 1970 springs to mind because it was the first trophy I saw U's win as does that late, late win against Carshalton at Woking in the SSC when we were losing to Dacky's goal with a minute left and ended up winning by 3-1.

AMBER: The last two seasons have seen a rapid increase in our home attendances. Since Christmas we have seen four league games with crowds in excess of 2,000. When was the last time the club averaged gates at those levels ?

MARK: Unfortunately, it is only in recent times that attendances have been regularly recorded or at least announced but our average league gate of 1600 plus this season has probably not been seen since around the late 1960's. Certainly not been achieved since then.

AMBER: You've seen most of the club's greatest successes. What would be your ambition for next season?

MARK: Improve our National League position and avoid “second-season syndrome”. Bromley & Boreham Wood both managed to and I don't see why we shouldn't either. The real one for me though, would be to get to Wembley (and bloody well win!!).

To add (if I may): Anybody who has been watching Sutton over a similar period to me has been very lucky. Yes, we have had our bad times, relegated twice from the Conference and the 76/7 and 94/5 Isthmian campaigns when the club flirted dangerously with relegation and then 07/08 (the worst of the lot) but they are outweighed massively by the FA Cup runs, FA Trophy runs, four Isthmian titles, a NL South title and then the season just gone.

Perhaps 07/08 was needed to refresh the club because since Dos arrived the whole dynamic has changed and with the backing of the Directors he has transformed SUFC on and off the pitch and I am sure with more to come.

For us “older” fans, the last nine years sits favourably with the “golden” decade of the 1960's and the achievements of the 1980's under the Molloy/Williams partnership.

The 2016/17 season has been one of the most enjoyable for me and not just because of the cup run. I have loved travelling up and down the country to watch the team play with some great rail trips with some fantastic people. This season's set of players have been a pleasure to watch (win or lose) and how they have bought into the club is a superb example of Dos and his football management team's ability to get the best out of the squad on and off the pitch. I know they get paid to play but their collective attitude has been superb, an approach that has grown under the Doswell years.

Amber: Mark, thank you for your time.


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