Fifth-tier Sutton United and fame may be ships which pass in the night but, whatever happens against Arsenal on Monday, beacon-like memories have been made which will sparkle long after the limelight vanishes.
The minnows have certainly made their mark during a giant-killing extravaganza which may or may not reach its conclusion in the fifth round against the Premier League heavyweights at Gander Green Lane.
Quintessential non-league characters have emerged, none more so than the erudite Paul Doswell, their unpaid manager and a property developer who has loaned the club monies in excess of seven figures, interest free, during his nine-year tenure.
Skipper Jamie Collins’s penalty which knocked out Leeds in round four is already immortalised in FA Cup folklore, while it is debatable whether chairman Bruce Elliott will ever be interviewed by Arabic or Russian media again.
Sutton’s former Arsenal reserve team player Roarie Deacon, who has scored four goals in the competition this season, is understandably desperate for the fairytale to continue.
“I’m excited and buzzing,” the 25-year-old told City A.M. “Those feelings have just been getting stronger and stronger as the game has got closer and closer.
“Every day that has gone by I’ve been thinking about the Arsenal game and I just want to get on that pitch and do well. It’s the biggest game of my career and I just can’t wait for it to come.
“I don’t want this FA Cup run to end as it’s been fantastic for everyone connected to the club.”
Doswell believes Sutton have no chance of following Lincoln’s lead and making the competition’s last eight should Arsene Wenger select big-hitters Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez. If a second string is named then the probability, in his view, rockets to one or two per cent on a high
And while the chance to pull off possibly the greatest FA Cup shock of all time would be grabbed with both hands, as would the financial prize of an Emirates Stadium replay, there is the odd admiring glance in the direction of normality.
“There have been a few flustered moments in the last few weeks,” Elliott told City A.M.
“Although we were all jumping around when we drew Arsenal and realised it was going to be a massive tie, I don’t think we quite realised just how massive.
“It’s been a big ask for the volunteers at this club but why would you not step up to the plate? You get on a bit of a high.
“Am I looking forward to getting back to normal? I am in a way. But if this went on a bit longer, we’d just go with it and enjoy it. I suspect it may end on Monday, but we’ve thought that before.”
Doswell shares his chairman’s view with specific football reasons in mind. Win, lose or draw against the Gunners, Sutton will be in National League action at Torquay on Saturday, bidding to arrest a run which has seen them slip to 17th.
“I’m so looking forward to the players enjoying what they’ve achieved against one of the biggest clubs in Europe,” Doswell told City A.M.
“[But] Before the Wimbledon game [in the third round] we were more than comfortable in the league and looking like maybe pushing for a play-off place.
“The cup run has meant we are games behind and looking over our shoulder.
“People have not wanted to get injured or booked and miss the cup games. We’ve seen tackles and play this last month that have taken us by surprise. We’ve conceded goals that we wouldn’t have done normally if players had just taken a booking.”
Gunners in disarray
Sutton’s increased exposure has inevitably unearthed some hidden gems on the pitch, while the fiscal rewards have provided a major boost to a club whose annual turnover is £800,000.
But all the David versus Goliath quips, such as whether new shower heads will be bought to spruce up Sutton’s pokey dressing rooms for the visit of the top-flight elite, would disappear with defeat and a retreating spotlight.
Reality would also return and it would then be business as usual for Sutton’s players, the highest paid of which earns £600 a week from football. Among their part-time ranks are picture-framers, carers and house-husbands.
“We know if we lose, come Tuesday it’s all done and we won’t see any of these people ever again,” Collins, who works as a building site supervisor, told City A.M.
“My guv’nor has given me a few days off leading up to the game. Normally I’d be working the day of a game if it was a night match. Everyone has asked their bosses for a couple of days off if we win and, if we do, we all deserve it.”
Sutton are not short of confidence. Deacon and fellow ex-Gunner Craig Eastmond have spoken about their capabilities of exploiting the disarray currently engulfing Arsenal.
West Ham fan Collins has done it all before, leading out Havant and Waterlooville against Liverpool at Anfield in 2008, and if it is to be Sutton’s last hurrah, they intend to enjoy it.
“You always dream,” added Collins. “All the lads are confident about getting the result but it’s a day to remember. All the squad are arguing over which Arsenal shirts they want if they bring their best lads.
“At this level, these sorts of days don’t come around too often.”