SUTTON, England (Reuters) - The magic of the FA Cup will be sprinkled liberally around Sutton United’s Gander Green Lane ground on Monday but Arsenal’s multi-millionaire players will not find anything magical about the changing rooms.
Painted a rich chocolate brown, with metal hooks on the walls, simple showerheads and the old players’ bath stripped out and cemented over, the visitors’ facility is not designed to lift the spirits.
“We thought about putting new shower heads in ... for about two seconds,” smiled manager Paul Doswell, meeting reporters ahead of his minor-league side’s fifth-round tie against the 12-times winners.
”And then thought, no. We haven’t done it for any of the other teams that are coming down. It’s only because we haven’t been able to afford it. It’s not us trying to be big and clever.
“One of the players said to me the other day, ‘When I played against you it was always hot in the dressing room’. I said that’s because we can’t turn the (radiator) off -- the valve’s gone.”
Football lore is rich in anecdotes of clubs deliberately making visiting teams uncomfortable -- Cambridge United’s former manager John Beck famously flooding the changing rooms before opponents arrived or turning the heating up to the max.
Sutton, wrestling with a leaking roof and other infrastructure problems familiar to clubs scraping by in the lower reaches of the English game, have no need to be inventive for the visit of the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil.
“The boiler’s absolutely shot to pieces,” said Doswell.
“At best they’ll get lukewarm showers. I don’t think we’ve got a water softener either so I think the water’s struggling to get through those three little pins in the shower head.”
All the money from the club’s amazing cup run will go on improvements, with new youth changing rooms a priority as well as fixing the leaks.
The floodlights could also use an upgrade.
“The chairman has said we can add two more bulbs to each lamp,” said Doswell. “That’s a big thing for us. There’s six pylons so that’s 12 extra bulbs.”
Arsenal, whose lavish Emirates ground seats 60,000, will know they have arrived in another dimension when the coach pulls up outside the 5,000-capacity ground in the south-west London suburbs.
The next home fixture is spelled out at the entrance like any other forthcoming game -- “Mon 20th FA Cup v Arsenal” -- next to adverts for a local waste-disposal firm and plumbing and heating services.
“Welcome to Sutton United,” it declares. “Proud members of the Vanarama National League.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Neville Dalton