Bouzanis on threshold of history as Football League beckons for soaring Sutton

By his own admission, Dean Bouzanis’ move from A-League's Melbourne City to non-league Sutton United was seen by some as “a step back”.

It’s not looking quite that way any more, with the little South London suburban club closing in on the golden ticket of Football League status for the first time in their 123-year history.

The minnows from Gander Green Lane are four points clear at the top of the National League, English football’s fifth tier, with two games in hand and dreaming of doing a 'Wimbledon'.

With 11 clean sheets in his debut season, Bouzanis, 30, has been front and centre of the drive for automatic promotion to the EFL, where he had previous spells with the likes of Oldham Athletic, Carlisle United and Accrington Stanley.

“People can say ‘ah, he’s taken a step back and isn’t playing at the level he was before’,” said the former Liverpool academy product.

“But I don’t see it like that ... I’ve had a fantastic opportunity to come to a good club, a successful club.

“I’ve played 30-odd games this year and will hopefully have a promotion on my CV along with the other things I’ve won.

“For me, it’s been a blessing in disguise coming over here and being part of such a fantastic group, many of whom wouldn’t be out of place at all playing in the A-League.”

Semi-professional Sutton are famous for previous giant-slaying FA Cup runs, reaching the fifth round in 2017. But the holy grail of the Football League has always eluded the club who a decade ago were languishing in the English game’s seventh tier.

During the crowd-less age of COVID-19, money’s been so tight that their physio has had to double up as general manager.

The only full-time member of staff is first-tine coach Matt Gray, who has been little short of a revelation.

They play on a $1 million plastic 3G pitch which will have to ripped up and replaced by grass, at a further cost of $400,000, should they go up.

Nearby Wimbledon famously went all the way from non-league to Premier League when the Crazy Gang reigned, beating Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup final. Crawley and Stevenage have also made the jump to the EFL in recent years.

Bouzanis is convinced Sutton’s time might be nigh.

“We had a team meeting a couple of weeks back and the message was ‘we can create history here’,” he added.

“It would be a fantastic achievement. The club is well-run, it’s professional.

“There are people who’ve been at the club for a lot of years ... our kit-man has been here for 20-odd years. And there are plenty around like that.

“It would mean so much to them and the fans to win promotion.

“This Is a club with a lot of ambition and drive to reach the next step.

“The way things are with COVID I think we might have fans back in the stadium for the second-last game of the season.

“To get promoted in front of them would be icing on the cake for us.”

Bouzanis, whose partner is Arsenal’s Matildas star Steph Catley, plays down his own role in Sutton’s rise.

“You defend from the front and collectively we’ve been very solid,” he said.

“It’s not just myself, although it’s fantastic to get clean sheets as a goalkeeper.

“We’re hard to beat as a team which is why we’ve been so successful this year.

“The manager prides himself on setting up a compact unit and past experience has taught me defence wins championships.”

He’s open to extending his deal beyond this season, if the club make an offer.

“It’s definitely an option - I’m very happy here at Sutton. The club have been fantastic to me,” he said.

Source SBS The World Game