Congratulations to Bohemians and Sligo Rovers on progressing to the third round of the Irn Bru Scottish Challenge Cup [in the second round Bohemians won 1-0 away at Peterhead, who play in Scottish League Two; Sligo beat Livingston’s U21 side 4-1 at the Showgrounds].
Bohemians will be high on confidence after their superb 4-2 win over Cork in the league at Dalymounton Friday [as a Bray fan it is great to see Daniel Kelly doing so well since his move, and great to see our former player and manager Keith Long getting the better of the great John Caulfield]. Hopefully they can bring that into their tricky away FAI Cup quarter-final against Derry on Wednesday. If they win that they’ll have the chance to face Cork again, in the semis.
I’ll be heading for Dalymount in October to see Bohemians play Sutton United in the next round of the Irn Bru. I’m not a Bohs fan but I’ll be cheering for the Gypsies, even though I’ve always had a soft spot for Sutton, but more of that later.
For those not in the know the Irn Bru was rejigged a couple of years back to allow invited teams from Northern Ireland, the Republic, Wales and England take part. In the case of the first three they are teams from that country’s top flight; the teams from England come from the National League, the highest non-league division.
Bray were meant to take part this year, as they did last year. Our league decided to send the teams that finished 5th and 6th in the previous season – a fair approach seeing as all teams above that will have qualified for Europe and so the next 2 teams in the league are rewarded. That was Bray and Bohsinitially but ended up being Bohs and Sligo after Sligo stepped in when we were removed from the competition [I have no quibble with what happened there]. Last year it was Sligo and ourselves [we got beaten away to Elgin City].
The Irn Bru may not be the Champions League or the Europa League but in my opinion it is still a prestigious competition for our teams to be invited into; and while Dundalk, Derry, Cork and Shamrock Rovers are all out of Europe, Sligo and Bohs are still involved in international competition!
Out of the 4 invited countries, our sides have done the best so far in that both our representatives got through the second round. From Northern Ireland, Coleraine beat Fortmarine United of the Highland League on penalties after a 1-1 draw, while Crusaders lost 4-3 to Queen of the South. From Wales, The New Saints lost to Queens Park on penalties after a 2-2 draw, while Connah’s Quay Nomads had a fine 1-0 away win at Falkirk. From England, Boreham Wood lost to DunfirmlineAthletic on penalties after a scoreless draw, while Sutton had a good win 0-1 away to Airdrieonians.
Back to Sutton United. As regular readers of this column will know I’m a big fan of lower league and non-league English football [to me these divisions are infinitely more interesting than the Premier League and Championship] so Sutton would be on my radar anyway, but their heroics in the FA Cup thirty years ago put them on the radar of a lot of other people too. That was back in 1988-89, when they beat Coventry City 2-1 in the 3rd round; Coventry were a top-flight side at the time, and had won the FA Cup in 1987.
Sutton exited the FA Cup at the 4th round stage that year, but they surpassed this in 2016-17 when they got to the 5th round; having disposed of three Football League sides in Cheltenham Town, AFC Wimbledon and [most impressively] Leeds United they only went out to Arsenal 2-0.
Their Cup heroics aren’t limited to the FA Cup; they won the Anglo-Italian Cup in 1979 [beating Chieti 2-1, during that competition’s amateur phase] and have been to Wembley twice for the final of the FA Amateur Cup [in 1962-63, when they lost to Wimbledon, and 1968-69 when they lost to North Shields]. They also visited Wembley in 1980-81 for the final of the FA Trophy [they lost to Bishop’s Stortford].
Sutton’s amber and chocolate kit is a thing of beauty. I hope they wear it in Dalymount, even though it’s their home kit. I think they will, because their away kit has red in it which would clash with Bohemians. ‘’The Amber & Chocolates’’ is one of their nicknames, along with ‘’The U’s’’ and ‘’The Yellow’’.
The tie between ‘’The Gypsies’’ and ‘’The Amber & Chocolates’’ will be settled on the night in Dalymount, by a penalty shootout if necessary, so there will be no chance of Bohemians making the return trip to South London. If they had of got an away draw, they would have found Gander Green Lane a tidy little stadium with a capacity of more than 5,000 [and seating provision for almost 1,000].
Paul Doswell’s side will be no pushover for Keith Long’s men. They finished last season’s National League campaign in the play-off positions which was no mean achievement considering that league is packed with former Football League sides [two of which were promoted, Macclesfield Town as champions and Tranmere Rovers as play-off winners].
Sutton are well-placed in this year’s National League, having only lost once this term at the time of writing. The club has more or less been at this level for the last 30 years, bar the odd dip down into the National League South. Historically they progressed through the Athenian League and the Isthmian League to get to the summit of non-league football.
So, this is a game I’ll be looking forward to seeing in October. Forget about who Liverpool or Manchester United or Celtic will be playing; I’ll be delighted to see Sutton and Bohs. Good luck too to Sligo on their trip to Motherwell.