Carlisle United make their first ever visit to Gander Green Lane, home of Sutton United, this weekend.

The south London club, famous for FA Cup contests with Coventry, Leeds and Arsenal prior to this summer’s historic promotion to the Football League, forms the third-longest trip on the League Two calendar for the Blues.

It will be a new ground for many of United’s travelling faithful – but not for one man with links to both clubs.

Carlisle’s supporter liaison officer (SLO) Simon Clarkson is a former Sutton resident and often spent time on the Gander Green Lane terraces.

We spoke to Simon for a bit of expert guidance on what Cumbrian supporters can expect as they head south for Saturday’s game.

GETTING THERE

It’s a 330-mile schlep by road, via the M6, M40 and M25.

If supporters prefer to travel by train, Simon offers some pointers.

“The temptation is to look at the nearest station, which is West Sutton. The only caveat is that entails a much longer stop-start journey from central London, starting at King's Cross on the Thameslink line,” he said.

News and Star: Gander Green Lane (photo: PA)Gander Green Lane (photo: PA)

“A much faster way of getting into Sutton is to drop down to Victoria and take a fast train to Sutton. Although the ground’s a slightly longer walk in total, the journey may be shorter. And another plus is that there is a taxi rank outside Sutton station.

“Gander Green Lane is a long road; at one end there is Sutton Cricket Club, and in middle there’s the football ground.

“It’s in a residential area – think of clubs like Luton, or Liverpool, where you literally walk from the street and you’re in there.”

PRE-MATCH OFFER

Carlisle-based Simon, who lived in Sutton from 2002 to 2015 after moving to the area through work, is still a member and vice-president of Sutton Cricket Club - and has arranged for that venue to play host to travelling Blues this Saturday.

“There’s a couple of bars at the ground, but they’ll be very busy with home fans,” he says. “Conscious of the closure of a pub outside the ground, and the lack of real pre-match refreshment options, I’ve been able to use my connections at Sutton Cricket Club to arrange that to be opened up from 12pm on matchday.

“It’s only a 10-minute walk from there to the ground.

“There is plenty of space inside and outside, and there’ll be a barbecue fired up so fans will be able to get a bit of pre-match grub.

“I know it’s a game that’s created significant interest from the London Branch, with it being one of only two games within the M25 boundaries.

“The London Branch secured tickets on behalf of people, so it’s chance to meet and have those tickets handed out while socialising.

“But it’s very much an open invitation to all travelling Carlisle fans on the day.

News and Star: Nigel Clibbens, second left, is due to meet Blues fans at Sutton Cricket Club before Saturday's game (photo: Barbara Abbott)Nigel Clibbens, second left, is due to meet Blues fans at Sutton Cricket Club before Saturday's game (photo: Barbara Abbott)

“We know Nigel Clibbens [United’s chief executive] is going to make a point of being there too; not for anything formal, but to mingle with fans, which is another opportunity for engagement, particularly with fans that don’t have ready access to home matches.

“We think it’s going to be a good opportunity for a good social gathering. That’s what fans have really missed with Covid.”

THE GROUND

“Sutton have come through non-league and, this being their first time in the EFL, they are working hard to expand their facilities but there’s a lot of constraints,” Simon said.

“They’ve got plans for a much bigger seating capacity for the away end at the moment they can’t get the steel.

“They had to dig up their 4G artificial pitch, which worked very well from a business/commercial point of view, because of EFL rules on grass pitches, but they’ve already won two of their home games and it won’t be an easy place – it’s a tight ground and quite a vocal crowd."

Simon says United have already sold their allocation of 122 seats and about 280 of their 444 allocation of terracing tickets for the game at a ground known for sponsorship purposes as the VBS Community Stadium.

“The away turnstiles are at the back. Although Gander Green Lane has a big entrance to Sutton United, away fans follow the ground round, in a similar way to away fans at Brunton Park," he added.

“You end up walking into a park, known as the Rec, and the away turnstiles are at the back.

“They used to be very rudimentary but they’ve now automated them; as Carlisle fans will have seen, the tickets are the biggest you’ve ever seen, an A4 piece of paper with a QR code.

“For anyone who hasn’t got tickets in advance there is an away ticket booth at the back, although I imagine most will have bought in advance.

“One or two of the standing areas had to be altered to comply with EFL regulations. When I first started going there [after moving in 2002] it was a typical non-league ground, where fans were able to walk around the full circumference of the ground, with no away or home end as such.

“Things like Rose’s catering hut, which has been there a long time, are still there. But other things had to be modernised.

News and Star: Tony Rains, left, and Matthew Hanlan, goalscorers in Sutton's famous FA Cup third round win over Coventry in 1989 (photo: PA)Tony Rains, left, and Matthew Hanlan, goalscorers in Sutton's famous FA Cup third round win over Coventry in 1989 (photo: PA)

“The club’s history to many people is associated with their famous FA Cup victory against Coventry [in 1989], and more recently they got as far as the fifth round of the Cup, beating Leeds and getting knocked out to Arsenal [in 2017]," Simon added.

“They’ve used that money wisely, invested in the facilities and the playing side, hence them getting up into the Football League. They were as long as 40/1 last season but had an excellent National League campaign to go up as champions.

"When I lived there my only hope of seeing Sutton against Carlisle was in the FA Cup, but the odds were always long on that draw coming out of the hat.

"Now it's on the league calendar I hope Carlisle supporters enjoy the day and it's a successful trip in every way."

*Any supporter who would like any further help or guidance can find Simon on Twitter @CUFC_SLO, while Keith Elliott is also part of the SLO team as part of United's away travel group. Sutton's own ground guide for home and away fans can be found here