Sutton United

Kieron Cadogan was part of a crop of Crystal Palace youngsters characterised by the sort of locally-made exuberance still seen in the Eagles’ first team today. Much has changed for the winger and his old club since then, but South London is indeed where you find him, being given the green light to stay true to what saw him emerge as a Championship player less than a decade ago.

On the face of it, there is not a great deal to link Gothenburg and Sutton, though Sweden’s second city does carry the moniker of ‘Little London,’ which is said to owe to the numerous British industrialists who resided there in the 19th century. In any case, ‘Gbg’ was where one South Londoner found himself rejuvenated.

As Crystal Palace tussled with Queens Park Rangers at Selhurst Park in October 2010, a teenage Wilfried Zaha jinked his way to the byline before cutting back to another local prospect, Kieron Cadogan, to score. It was an 89th-minute equaliser for the 20-year-old, and although QPR, managed by a returning ex-Palace boss in Neil Warnock and heading for the title that year, would snatch a winner in injury time, the moment had been sweet for the Tooting product.

He celebrated with what he and his teammates referred to as ‘The Eagle Skank,’ a Palace play on the kind of ska/reggae-influenced move tearing up dancefloors at the time with genres like grime and drum and bass dominating clubs and radio stations.

“Yeah, we came up with it in Ayia Napa,” Kieron, a scoring Palace debutant against Coventry City at 18 recalled. “A lot of us, we love to dance and stuff, so that was something we came up with.”

“We always said whoever scores first would do it, and luckily, it was me. Nathaniel Clyne was there, there was me, Kieran Djilali, Sean Scannell, James Comley was there as well, so there was a few of us.”

A goal celebration like that would not appear to have too much deeper meaning behind it, though such an instinctive, expressive vibe said a lot about a young player enjoying his opportunity. Later plying his trade in lower divisions for the likes of Aldershot and Barnet, however, it had all lost some of its shine for Kieron, with more time spent looking up at the sky at a long ball than facing up to a full-back with the ball at his feet and purpose pulsing through him.

A seemingly left-field switch to Swedish football with second-tier GAIS in 2014 allowed him to sprinkle some enjoyment back into the mix, while there was no loss of zeal and intensity in the fan culture when he represented the Grönsvart (Green-black). A return to the English game came in late-February 2017, and far from heralding a rebirth of the arduous days that had instigated his move abroad, Kieron’s time with Vanarama National League promotion-chasers Sutton United has actually been a continuation of sorts from his Swedish adventure.

“Obviously, I remember watching the (FA) cup run (to the fifth round in 2016/17),” the 28-year-old explained. “I knew a couple of the players before coming to Sutton, and I knew they were very good players.”

“They advised me to come and said it’s a good set-up. I watched the Arsenal game (in the FA Cup) and thought ‘this team can achieve some good stuff.’

“I thought ‘yeah, I’ll jump at it.’”

U’s boss Paul Doswell passed a decade in charge at the Gander Green Lane club in May, and during his time working under the ex-Eastleigh gaffer, Kieron has scored ten times. Last season, he played 41 games in a team that made the National League’s play-off semis, having achieved a 3rd-placed finish.

After losing out by the odd goal in five against Boreham Wood, Wembley would have to wait, but Kieron says the early-season optimism this time around has not faded, as the Yellows sit in the final play-off place after 13 games.

“Confidence in the team itself is high. We’ve got a good squad so that should keep everyone on their toes and hopefully performing at their maximum.

“The manager wants us to express ourselves, which is all I’ve really wanted. That suits me fine.”

 

Photo: Paul Loughlin

 

Sutton fans have had a showing since Kieron arrived of what convinced Neil Warnock to hand him a professional contract just after his 18th birthday, at the beginning of his second year with Crystal Palace’s academy. What he could not have envisaged then was that he would get to play alongside a UEFA Champions League winner and one of the most recognisable footballing figures of his generation, Edgar Davids.

The veteran Dutch midfielder joined Palace in August 2010, having first been alerted to the Eagles by a fan on Twitter asking if he could drum up support for the club. Spending three months playing for them during George Burley’s tenure, the ex-Ajax and Juventus star was somewhat less likely to be found right amongst it when ‘Eagle Skank’ situations and suchlike were bubbling amongst the players.

As Kieron puts it: “He definitely did his own thing. Yeah, let’s leave it at that!”

There are a scarce few in non-league, or in much of the EFL, who can count such a name amongst their former colleagues, and Kieron maintains a good rapport with Davids today, even working with him again when he was managing Barnet. Asked about fellow pros at Palace he connected well with, and about Davids more specifically, Kieron recalls an exercise the Dutchman introduced to him.

“I was quite close with the likes of Neil Danns, Calvin Andrew, Claude Davis. With Edgar Davids, I forced myself on him; I wanted to learn everything I could off him.

“We still stay in contact now, which is good. He loved to give a story about when he played, which I loved.

“There’d be little training drills he’d show me as well; one-on-ones that they used to do at Barcelona to control the ball. He would blaze the ball at me from like three yards away and say ‘you’ve got to get the ball to the floor as quick as possible.’

“Little tips like that, that you wouldn’t really think of.”

Although he had played at semi-pro level for Fisher Athletic, former Fulham and Arsenal youth Kieron’s eventual departure from Palace in August 2012 still represented a significant change to get used to after so long with the Eagles. He had been on the inside, and is one of an elite club to know that feeling of scoring in front of the Holmesdale Stand, and all the rest of it that goes along with wearing the badge.

To see Palace as not only a top-flight club again, but far more established than they ever were in their previous Premier League stints, and known around the world as a result, is it tough to watch on from afar?

“I would say it’s bittersweet. There’s no hard feelings, and I always feel like it’s a part of me.

“There’s always a ‘what if?’ or ‘if I’d made this decision,’ but I’m proud to see where the club is. I still stay in contact with the likes of Zaha and Jonny Williams and a couple of them.

“It is still nice and if I saw anyone from the club then there’s always a lot of love that they show me.”

While there can be a euphoric frenzy in the dressing room of victorious clubs up and down England at select moments during any season, Kieron notes that with GAIS in Sweden, every win would be marked by the players ‘singing like you’ve won the league.’ Despite the concept of ‘lagom’ (moderate, just the right amount) being a part of Swedish identity, Kieron says you would be far wrong if you thought football fans were more easy-going than in other nations.

“Absolutely not, they’re not different. The fans are very, very, very passionate.

“You’ve got smoke bombs and all of that stuff, they wear like balaclavas. If you weren’t used to it you could be a bit intimidated.

“GAIS is quite a big club, so the fans demanded results, which they should. If the results weren’t going right, the spokesmen for the fans, so there’d be a little consortium of them, were coming down to the training ground demanding answers or demanding solutions.

“I’ve not really heard of too many stories in England of that happening. They’re very much involved, they’re not separated.

“I didn’t personally talk to them, but a meeting would kind of be set up between the chief exec and manager maybe, or the captain and the manager, just to reassure them or let them air their views. It could get pretty intense, but it’s all for the love of the club.

“It’s not battering us…well they are, but you know what I mean!”

Prior to his transfer to the Superettan, Kieron had spent some time on trial with Paul Hartley’s Dundee in the summer of 2014. He ended up taking the classic leap of faith in August of that year with GAIS.

There was no real time to over-think, with the club contacting him on a Friday and the transfer window closing within the next couple of days or so. Signing with around three months left of the 2014 season, his stay became another two years on top of that.

At the time of his move, he had just turned 24 and had never played or lived overseas before. The football is of paramount importance of course, but before that even comes into focus there is that knot in the stomach at the airport as you look ahead.

For Kieron, it was when he took his seat on the flight that the realisation set in.

“Because it happened so quickly, I think I was kind of numb to it, up until literally when I sat on the plane and thought, ‘oh right, I’m actually moving countries here.’ It was the first time I’d moved away from home, so it was a bit of a stiff moment in your throat, but it was very nice and everyone was very welcoming.

“I didn’t feel too out of place, which I thought I would have.”

Swedes would naturally want to practice their English when they spoke to Kieron, which is understandably a touch frustrating for anyone trying to familiarise themselves with a new language. There are nearly three million people in South London alone, whereas in Gothenburg, it is around 573,000.

It was during a standard food shop that the contrasting culture shone through most memorably, as Kieron explains.

“I would say that it made me more patient, being there. I remember I think it was in the first week, I went to the supermarket and I bought some bread, and I queued up and got all the way to the counter.

“There was a massive line behind me and the woman said ‘oh no, this is the wrong one, I’ll go and get it for you,’ and she got up from the counter and went and got it from the aisle. I was thinking, looking behind me, ‘all these people are gonna be complaining,’ but no one batted an eyelid.

“You just think how it’s a total contrast to living in London. It was just little things like that.”

 

Kieron during his time at GAIS. (GAIS Klubb-TV)

 

Back on the pitch, GAIS finished 11th of the 16 second-tier teams in that first season of his stay. In 2015, it was the same again, before a climb to 8th in 2016.

In those first two seasons, Kieron and his teammates came up against Östersunds FK, at the time plotting their way up to the Allsvenskan under current Swansea City manager Graham Potter. They also faced a wideman for Ljungskile SK, who later became an Östersund player, memorably scoring at Arsenal for the Swedes in the Europa League last season.

The 24-year-old Swedish international currently plies his trade in Hertfordshire, and is one of two impressive players Kieron highlights in particular from his time in Sweden.

“I have a lot of personal friends there. A boy in my team who actually I was very close with, from South Africa, he was called Luther Singh, he got a move and went to Braga.

“He’s a quality player and he would ask me for advice, because I was older, coming from England, and he found it fascinating, playing in the Championship in England. He would ask ‘what’s it like?’

“There was also the boy who went to Watford, (Ken) Sema, who I played against. He was a good player, so the level was pretty high.”

On the subject of leaving GAIS, Kieron mentions personnel changes at the club, which included the departure of American-Swede manager Benjamin Westman. He admits there was some homesickness that factored in, too, though he would not have been against possibly staying in Swedish football under the right circumstances.

At Sutton, however, he has adapted well, and now in his second full season, the U’s are among the sides to have kicked off the campaign in promising fashion. Salford City and Harrogate Town have kept the winning habit going after promotion last term, while the likes of Leyton Orient, Wrexham and Hartlepool Untied are chasing their respective returns to the EFL shore.

Kieron believes continuity could hold the key to Sutton’s chances of grabbing one of the two golden tickets come the end of 2018/19.

“We haven’t made too many changes from last season, so we should be contending, hopefully. The whole vibe in the changing room is pretty good, so that should be a positive going into the later stages of the season.

“You’ve got teams chucking money at it, which is not something that Sutton does, but every year there’s always someone chucking money at it somewhere. I don’t think it is too different, to be honest, but it’s definitely there for the taking, in terms of the quality of teams.”

Bagging five goals in 14 games after his late-season arrival in 2016/17, Kieron showed a clinical touch with his winners at Dover and Chester (in stoppage time) last season, on each occasion taking up a goalscorer’s position in the box and snapping up the chance. He was at it again earlier this month as he got himself off the mark for the campaign, coming in from the right to prod home in the 3-0 home win over Sam Ricketts’ Wrexham.

It always helps when there is more of a complete picture to enjoy, besides just doing well on the pitch. In the Sutton ranks there is Champions League experience with former Arsenal youngster Craig Eastmond, while ex-Middlesbrough man Nicky Bailey was a free-scoring Championship midfielder with Charlton during his earlier career, having emerged at Sutton.

There were a handful of new additions to Paul Doswell’s squad over the summer and Kieron rates the dressing-room camaraderie highly.

“Jokers, yeah there’s a couple of them. You’ve got the captain (Jamie Collins) who’s the joker, you’ve got Aswad Thomas.

“The thing about Sutton is I think everyone doesn’t take it too, too seriously, but everyone’s professional at the same time. It’s just a good mix with the boys.”

In case all that isn’t quite enough, the touchline schemer will soon be presented with a tricky customer of his own to contend with. Twists and turns are assured, but two-footed challenges when it gets tough are not permitted!

“Well I’m about to have a child, so I’m just kind of getting ready for that. Apart from that, still finding myself and growing.”

Interview/article by @chris_brookes

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