Published on Tuesday 02 October 2018 in Vanarama National League News
Tottenham Hotspur are one of the Premier League's overachievers – consistently competing for a spot in the division's Champions League places and mounting a title challenge as recently at 2015/16.
That's in spite of limited financial resources compared with rival clubs like Chelsea and Manchester United, and a costly stadium move on the horizon. It feels as though Mauricio Pochettino's men are constantly on the brink of greatness, but conversely still so far away from catching the ever-improving Liverpool and Manchester City at English football's summit.
Such is the unique nature of Tottenham's situation that it can be tricky to find a National League side who are experiencing the same conundrum. But there is one club in the fifth tier who share a remarkable number of similarities with the Lilywhites…
Sutton United – the non-league Spurs?
Sutton United are one of the National League's more recognisable teams, despite never having played in the EFL. The U's play in a distinctive amber and chocolate coloured strip and have attracted attention for some impressive FA Cup results over the past few decades. Sutton famously knocked top-flight Coventry City out of the competition in 1988/89 and reached the fifth round in 2016/17; beating Football League clubs Cheltenham Town, AFC Wimbledon and Leeds United, before losing to Arsenal.
Tottenham are also a team more famed for cup success than league titles. They have only won the top flight on two occasions (1950/51 and 1960/61) but have 15 trophies from knockout competitions to their name – eight FA Cups, four League Cups, two UEFA Cups and a solitary Cup Winners' Cup victory in 1963. A rich cup history is just one of the parallels that it's possible to draw between Spurs and the team from Ganders Green Lane.
Success against the odds
Financial disparity is part and parcel of the Premier League, but it is just as prevalent at National League level. While it's well known that the resources of the top flight's 'big six' far outstrip those of clubs like Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City, such inequality is also evident in the fifth tier.
Recently relegated Barnet and Chesterfield have the luxury of parachute payments to supplement their playing budget for the next two years, while Leyton Orient and Wrexham are in the fortunate position of drawing 4,500-plus crowds a on weekly basis. Some of the divisions less famous names like AFC Fylde, Ebbsfleet United and Salford City have affluent backers intent on funding a promotion push, making it quite a challenge for the league's smaller clubs to compete for a place in the EFL.
But just as Spurs are finding ways to defy the odds, Sutton United have been punching above their weight since winning the National League South in 2015/16. Tottenham have developed young talents like Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Danny Rose and Harry Kane, to help balance out their inability to attract the biggest talent and pay the highest wages.
Sutton have been similarly shrewd, picking up a range of bargain signings not on the radar of rival clubs. A well constructed blend of experienced pros like former Middlesbrough midfielder Nicky Bailey, and players who are looking to prove a point after dropped out of the EFL (notably Harry Beautyman and ex-Arsenal man Craig Eastmond) have resulted in a team that is undoubtedly greater than the sum of its parts.
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Both Tottenham and Sutton United have experienced challenges regarding their stadiums in recent years. For Spurs it's the on-going delays and ever-rising costs of the soon to be rebuilt White Hart Lane, which will impact on their spending power in the coming years – much like at Arsenal in the seasons following their move to the Emirates Stadium.
The U's problems relate to a 3G pitch that was laid at their Ganders Green Lane home in 2015, and which generates off the pitch revenue in addition to being an excellent community asset. Unfortunately for Sutton the EFL don't yet permit 3G pitches, so the club have had to commit to replacing it with a grass surface if they win promotion. While this will become a necessary evil if they do go up to League Two, it would be a great shame for the Yellows to lose an asset that has proved so valuable since its installation.
It is perhaps a damning indictment of modern-day football that Pochettino is the eighth-longest-serving manager in the Premier League and the EFL, despite only having been in charge of Spurs for just under four and a half years. Regardless, in relative terms that makes Tottenham one of the more stable clubs in their division, and has allowed their manager to gradually build a side that has become one of the most exciting in English football.
That same patience and forward planning has also been in place at Sutton United. Manager Paul Doswell has been in the Ganders Green Lane dugout since 2008 and has presided over two promotions in the past decade, taking the club from the Isthmian Premier Division to the brink of League Two after achieving a third place finish last season. He has been able to slowly improve his side year on year and now faces a similar challenge to Pochettino at Spurs – to take the final step, in this case by becoming a Football League team. Much like Tottenham's quest for the Premier League title, it will be certainly be a victory against the odds if they manage to reach the EFL's promised land.
This article was written by Will Evans from Football Whispers.