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Letters from Wiltshire #11
at 14:04 24 Oct 2020

So, what’s happening in the world outside of coronavirus? Well, the world collectively holds it breath waiting for the outcome of the US presidential election, and what may transpire if the result doesn’t go the way of white supremacists, our own government votes itself a handsome pay rise, then votes against free meals for our most impoverished children during half term, and thousands protest in Poland over new laws that ban abortion in almost all circumstances. What the f*ck…
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Letters from Wiltshire #11
at 14:03 24 Oct 2020

So, what’s happening in the world outside of coronavirus? Well, the world collectively holds it breath waiting for the outcome of the US presidential election, and what may transpire if the result doesn’t go the way of white supremacists, our own government votes itself a handsome pay rise, then votes against free meals for our most impoverished children during half term, and thousands protest in Poland over new laws that ban abortion in almost all circumstances. What the f*ck…

Colchester United v Cheltenham Town
Saturday 29th February 2020
Sky Bet League Two (Tier 4)
Attendance 3,698


Letters from Wiltshire #11 and we return to the traditional random match selector, and bang up to date too, with what eventually turned out to be the penultimate match of the domestic season 2019/20, at home to Cheltenham Town on Leap Day 2020. As far as I can tell, we’ve only played three times on this day, and (spoiler alert) never won once, in fact never even scored – the previous being a 0-0 at Selhurst Park back in 1964, and a 1-0 defeat at Blackpool in 1980.



Say what?
Early astronomers realised that leap days were needed because our planet takes approximately six hours more than 365 days to orbit the sun. The Julian calendar, introduced by Julius Caesar, calculated the orbit to be approximately 365.25 days, and hence added one day every four years to try and keep things in check. However, our orbit is actually 365.24219 days – not a huge difference granted, but it meant our calendar was getting increasingly out of whack with the solar calendar (e.g. seasons, equinoxes etc.).

By the 16th century, the Gregorian calendar was introduced (by Pope Gregory XIII) to bring things back in line, refining the leap day adjustment to be yes to every year if divisible by four, no if it is also divisible by 100, though yes again if also divisible by 400 – seems pretty straightforward. To correct the drift already experienced, Thursday 4th October 1582 was followed by Friday 15th October 1582, allegedly leading to riots by those who genuinely believed they were literally having time stolen from them.

New Kids on the Block
Before we get to the Cheltenham match, let’s have a quick look at today’s opponents.

Harrogate Town AFC were formed in 1914, but thanks to the Great War, didn’t actually play their first competitive match until August 1919, five years later – that’s got to be a trivial pursuit question for the future? They spent these early years playing in various amateur regional leagues, including West Riding League, Yorkshire League and even the Midland League, and eventually disbanded in 1932. In 1935 they reformed as Harrogate Hotspurs, and following World War II changed their name to Harrogate Town.

After a spell in the West Yorkshire Association Football League, the Sulphurites (so named because of the hot springs beneath the town) joined the Yorkshire League in 1957. Twenty-five years of yo-yoing in that league later, they became founding members of the Northern Counties East League Division 1 North (catchy huh), and then steadily climbed their way up to gain promotion to the National League in 2018.

In a similar fashion to the U’s, by the time the 2019/20 was curtailed, they had amassed sufficient points to be awarded second place in the league behind Barrow, and hence a place in the play-offs. Second place meant direct entry at the semi-final stage, where they beat Boreham Wood 1-0, and then in the final brushed aside former league giants Notts County 3-1 at a socially distanced Wembley stadium. Finally, after a wait of technically 106 years, Harrogate Town were part of the 92.

Harrogate is famous for its hot springs, and the town motto Arx celebris fontibus rather unimaginatively translates as “a citadel famous for its springs”. Anyone who has visited Harrogate, or even travelled in the north, will also know that Harrogate is also equally famous for Betty’s Tea Rooms.



Any connections?
As touched on previously, this is the first time we have played Harrogate Town in any competition, so there’s no point dwelling too much on the history between our two clubs. There are no transfers that I’m aware of directly between the two sides, but Graeson’s www.coludata.co.uk website does list three who have played for both – Matt Stonemen, Matt Heath and of course Alan White. I’ve never heard of Matt Stoneman, but he apparently played three games for the U’s between 27th December 1994 and 28th January 1995, and even managed to score as well, in our 2-2 home draw with Hereford on New Years’ Eve.

There is one other significant connection – Luke Garbutt, who has played for both the U’s and Cheltenham Town, was born in Harrogate, and played for Harrogate Grammar School and local side Pannal Ash Juniors before being spotted by Leeds United.

Back to the future
And so to Leap Day 2020, and with my youngest in tow, I drove over for the Cheltenham Town game, having purchased our e-tickets on line. Parking up in the Park’n’Ride, we braved crossing the A12 junction and headed to the concourse for a pre-match bite to eat and drink, picking up our free programme in the process. Not surprisingly, given his connections with both teams, ‘Arry was the cover photo for this edition.



The U’s had been in frustratingly indifferent form leading up to this game and were desperately clinging on to a 6th place play-off spot, but only on goal difference. Cheltenham were going somewhat better, and although one place above, were a comfortable 5 points better off. February had been one of those months – wimping out 1-2 at Cambridge, smashing Plymouth 3-0 the following match, then three days later losing by the odd goal in five at home to Grimsby, falling apart at Port Vale 0-3, and then in the face of a howling storm, brilliantly overcoming Salford City 2-1 away. If we wanted to stay in the play-offs, we needed something today.

Oh dear…
The U’s lined-up:
1….Dean Gerken
2….Ryan Jackson
3….Cohen Bramall
6….Omar Sowunmi
5….Luke Prosser (captain)
8….Harry Pell
14..Brandon Comley (Luke Norris 69’)
24..Ben Stevenson
49..Kwame Poku (Frank Nouble 68’)
15..Callum Harriott (Courtney Senior 79’)
13..Theo Robinson

Cheltenham, managed by Michael Duff, started with Ben Tozer as captain, who had played just the once for the U’s on loan – a somewhat inauspicious record too, in defence on the wrong end of a 4-0 home thrashing by Notts County. Cheltenham were in worryingly good form too, having won four on the bounce going into this match. Pre-match McGreal commented “…we know that we’re in for a game, on Saturday. We’ll have to come with our own plan and implement it against a team that’s won four on the bounce”.



It was miserable weather, with a strong swirling wind and a sticky pitch (though nothing compared to Salford the previous weekend), but the U’s seemed to adjust better to the conditions in the early stages. Harriott had an early half-chance to put us ahead, but for goalkeeper Owen Evans it was an easy save, and then a minute later, after some neat passing, Harriott had a better attempt on goal blocked. It wasn’t all U’s though, and Gerken had to be on his toes to claim a decent cross into his box that was begging for a head to finish it. Harriott was clearly the main threat in the final third, twisting and turning the Cheltenham defence every which way, and on the quarter of an hour mark combined well with Stevenson to allow him to drill in a shot which could only be parried away by Evans.

Twenty minutes in, and the heavens opened, but still the U’s pressed, with Harriott, Robinson, even big Sowumni having half-decent chances on goal – the latter a header which looked a certain goal until Ryan Broom managed to throw himself in the way. As the sleety rain eventually dried up, we come to the first controversial moment in the game.

Controversy #1 – on 42 minutes a speculative Chris Clements through ball saw Alfie May seemingly at least a yard offside, but to the dismay of everyone no flag was raised. With Eastman et al trailing in his wake, May managed to slot the ball past the onrushing Gerken to give Cheltenham a 1-0 lead, albeit Gerken did well to get a hand to it in the process.

Controversy #2 – May, already on a yellow card for kicking the ball away, should have been booked again for his inflammatory goal celebrations in front of the faithful, but clearly referee Sam Purkiss was having a “Be kind to Robins” day.

Half-time arrived, and although the U’s had dominated possession, and the better of admittedly few decent chances on goal, we were losing 1-0. Time for a Bovril to warm me up.

Into the second half, and after a slow start, Sowumni makes a heroic tackle to deny Ben Tozer just as he was about to pull the trigger. After just ten minutes Michael Duff decides to change things around and brings on Rohan Ince for Clements. However, it was still the U’s creating the better chances, with Stevenson almost getting on the end of a Poku cross that had the Cheltenham defence at sixes and sevens. The Robins were still a threat though, with Gerken on his toes to clear a long-range effort that was nearly claimed by an advanced May, and five minutes later reacting well to keep out a Max Sheaf effort.

Time for McGreal to mix things up, and in rapid succession brought on Frank Nouble and Chuck Norris for Poku and Comley. Switching to a 4-3-3 to accommodate both strikers, this should have been the cavalry charge towards at least an equaliser, or even winning the match. However, maybe because of the change in formation, this actually marked a spell of pressure from Cheltenham, with the U’s struggling to reassert their game plan on the match, and ten minutes after the double substitution, the U’s were 2-0 down. A regulation Chris Hussey free-kick out on the U’s left should have been dealt with easily by Gerken, who somehow managed to flap aimlessly at it, as the ball curled into the far corner of the net.

There was no way back from that unfortunately – in fact if anyone looked more likely to score in the remainder of the match (including 9 minutes of injury-time) it was Cheltenham, and they nearly did too.

Controversy #3 – Sowumni, already harshly booked for a foul earlier in the second half, was racing back to try and cover a long-range pass into the path of Jonté Smith, and with his back to it, managed to clip the ball with his hand in the process. To be fair, it was one of those “I’ve seen them given” moments, and true to form referee Purkiss did, showing Sowumni a second yellow for the ‘offence’.

Colchester United 0 Cheltenham Town 2 (Alfie May 39’; Chris Hussey 79’)

The U’s dropped out of the play-offs on the back of this result and faced the real possibility of not getting back into them either. The situation wasn’t helped by the prospect of our next match, a long trip to Carlisle the following Saturday. However, in what would turn out to be the final game of the domestic season we finally put things right with a thumping 3-0 victory at Carlisle, squeezed back into the play-offs as a result, and stayed there thanks to our marginally better average points per match record (1.57 compared to Port Vale’s 1.54).

Cheltenham likewise made the play-offs, finishing top of the group, but went out in the semi-final against Northampton, whilst the U’s were unlucky to do likewise against Exeter City. Exeter had no such luck in the final and were brushed aside 4-0 by Northampton.

Play-off failure marked the end for John McGreal, who alongside (ironically) Danny Cowley at Huddersfield, were the last two football league managers to be sacked in the 2019/20 season, on the 14th and 19th July respectively.

Anyway, if you can bring yourself to be reminded, here are the ‘highlights’



Up the U’s
[Post edited 24 Oct 14:11]
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Latest statement from Robbie...
at 12:22 21 Oct 2020

...and another cracker too.

https://www.cu-fc.com/news/2020/october/robbie-statement/
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Letters from Wiltshire #10 - Apologies
at 17:48 20 Oct 2020

As I rather expected, work has been somewhat manic in recent days, so I'm not going to have time for a blog ahead of the match tonight, so soz about that.

It's a shame too, because I was thinking about a reflection on our brief history with Forest Green Rovers, maybe a bit on Jevani's failed loan last season, my neighbourly connection with FGR (well, former now, he's no longer at the New Lawn).

I was particularly interested in the very recent news that following Innocent (Smoothy) announcing they would be the ground sponsor, FGR had foolishly run a naming poll inviting fans to decide what that name should be from a choice of four:

Innocent Fruit Bowl
Innocent New Lawn
Innocent Sustadium
Kevin


No one's quite sure how the last one slipped through, but I'm sure no one will be surprised that Kevin won by a landslide. However, in true Boaty McBoatFace style, the peoples choice was eschewed in favour of the second place Innocent New Lawn.

Boo!!

Anyway, hopefully a normal Letters from Wiltshire service will resume for Saturday

Up the U's!
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Letters from Wiltshire #09
at 14:17 17 Oct 2020

There’s enough doom and gloom about concerning the coronavirus pandemic to last several lifetimes, and let’s face it, 2020 really does suck. I’m pretty sure we’re all in need of some positivity right now, something to set our sights on, a goal if you will. Mine came to me in a blinding flash of inspiration as I prepared my wake-up mug of caffeine this morning – never, in all my years of following Colchester United, have I got even close to watching every single match of a season. I suspect I’m not alone in that, even diehards like noah must miss the occasional one or two each season. Kind of thanks to coronavirus (bizarre huh) and the relaxed approach to match streaming on Saturdays, I’m currently on 8/8, today being the 9th. Why not, I thought, make it all season without missing a game? There’s a lot of ifs, buts and maybes in that, not least if we do emerge from this crisis before the end of the season and the streaming gets canned, but for now I have my goal…
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Letters from Wiltshire #09
at 14:09 17 Oct 2020

There’s enough doom and gloom about concerning the coronavirus pandemic to last several lifetimes, and let’s face it, 2020 really does suck. I’m pretty sure we’re all in need of some positivity right now, something to set our sights on, a goal if you will. Mine came to me in a blinding flash of inspiration as I prepared my wake-up mug of caffeine this morning – never, in all my years of following Colchester United, have I got even close to watching every single match of a season. I suspect I’m not alone in that, even diehards like noah must miss the occasional one or two each season. Kind of thanks to coronavirus (bizarre huh) and the relaxed approach to match streaming on Saturdays, I’m currently on 8/8, today being the 9th. Why not, I thought, make it all season without missing a game? There’s a lot of ifs, buts and maybes in that, not least if we do emerge from this crisis before the end of the season and the streaming gets canned, but for now I have my goal…

Carlisle United v Colchester United
Saturday 27th April 2013
Npower League One (Tier 3)
Attendance 5,427


Letters from Wiltshire #09 is another special pick, and as with the Walsall blog for #08, again another last match of the season, this time a year earlier at today’s opponents Carlisle United. Had I bothered to buy a programme that day, this would have been in my original Matches of Yesteryear pool, but I didn’t, so it isn’t – heyho.



F*ck it – I’m going to Carlisle…
…was my Facebook post at about 11pm on the Friday night when I finally decided I was going. No doubt drink had been taken, it was, after all, Friday night, but my diary was clear so to speak, the weather forecast looked good, and the U’s really needed the support. This would have to be a drive for me, there was no way British Rail could get me back post-match on the Saturday evening, and I really didn’t fancy kipping on a platform. For those who remember back then, we were perched precariously above the relegation zone, three points ahead of Scunthorpe, and with a very slim goal difference advantage – we were on -19, Scunthorpe on -22. We needed a point to guarantee survival, but even a modest defeat and Scunthorpe beating Swindon could have meant relegation. It was that close, there was actually a pretty good chance that the head-to-head record might have been needed for the first time ever – we would have been relegated if so.

On the Circuit
This would be my first trip to Brunton Park to watch the U’s, though certainly not my first trip to Carlisle – I actually sort of lived there over the winter of 1980/81. At the time, I was on the archaeological digging circuit, and got a job working with what was then known as the Central Excavation Unit. This was my second dig with the CEU, and followed on directly from the heady summer of 1980 excavating at Ardleigh. Back then, in the days before commercial archaeology was a thing, the CEU was ostensibly a government-funded operation, and most of the field archaeologists who worked for them were only paid a subsistence payment – pretty sure my weekly ‘salary’ was about £27 per week.

The CEU had been commissioned to excavate a wide swath through Hadrian’s Wall, in advance of a gas pipeline coming down from the Aberdeen oil fields if memory serves. The site was near Crosby-on-Eden, so we stayed (squatted more like) rent free at Carlisle Airport in one of the disused former airfield accommodation blocks. I think they dated back to WWII when the airport was in active service as RAF Crosby-on-Eden, originally used as a training facility for Hurricane pilots, and later repurposed for long-range Bristol Beaufort and Beaufighter fighter crew training.

When we arrived, it was pretty much just a municipal airport for civilian aircraft, and virtually abandoned for the most part. It was actually a really great time for me, met loads of friends I still have today, and I still remember fondly our trips into Carlisle each Saturday to spend a few hours and a few quid in what resembled civilisation to us paupers. For me, much of this was either spent in The Board pub, or relaxing in Carlisle Cathedral admiring the incredible ceiling, but never in all that time actually at Brunton Park.

The wanderer returns
And so there I was, 30+ years later on the road to Carlisle, more or less following a route I’d hitchhiked numerous times as a callow youth. Driving has never really been a thing for me, I actually quite enjoy it, so I wasn’t particularly fazed by the distance, but I’m pretty certain this was then, and still is, the furthest I’ve travelled following the U’s. The weather forecast didn’t disappoint, it was a beautiful day, and although the journey took nigh on five hours, I had my music on and all was good with the world. Once I reached the M6 for the final stretch, it was also really uplifting to pass, and be passed by other U’s fans on the journey – looked like I wasn’t the only nutcase on the road that day.

I opted for street parking when I got there, and then headed for the Carlisle Rugby social club for a quick pre-match pint, delightfully bumping into Durham and his boy in the process. The social club was heaving with U’s fans, all in excellent voice, all mingling happily and freely with t’other CUFC supporters. I’m certain I recall, not sure whether it was on our board or the OMB, the landlord of the club coming on after the game and praising us for our support and behaviour. After a swift one, I headed into the ground, to join what was already a well packed out away stand – must have been about 400 all told, which given the distance involved was a tremendous turnout. Our numbers were swelled even further by the welcome addition of unused squad players Drey Wright, Clinton Morrison, Josh Thompson and Matt Heath, who clambered into the seats down the front of the stand in a fantastic show of solidarity and support – a very special moment.



As the stuffed fox was bought out to herald the start of proceedings, Joe Dunne’s U’s lined up:
44..Sam Walker
2….David Wright
4….Magnus Okuonghae
15..Marcus Bean (Kemi Izzet 87’)
17..Jabo Ibehre
18..Tom Eastman
20..Brian Wilson (captain)
21..Gavin Massey
25..John White
39..George Porter (Bradley Garmston 70’)
41..Billy Clifford (John-Joe O’Toole 82’)

Who are ya…
There weren’t too many familiar names in the Carlisle line-up for me, the notable exception being their then manager Greg Abbott, who I’d seen play many times for the Bantams during my time in Bradford. He was part of that famous double act Abbott and Costello, after Bradford City also signed Peter Costello in 1988. It had been an indifferent season for the Cumbrians, and they were destined to finish lower mid-table, never really in any threat of getting dragged into a relegation scrap, but likewise never really challenging for the top half either – definitely Ceefax Page 4 material, like us.

That match!
As the U’s emerged from the tunnel, the roar was deafening, streamers flying, balloons, the lot – honestly, you’d think it was Wembley and we were on the eve of greatness, not fighting for our League 1 survival. The noise levels didn’t abate either, just wave upon wave of chants driving the U’s on and on. It was a tense nervy start to the game, neither side really taking control, and with some blooper reels moments too (Walker’s tendency to kick for touch had returned for instance). There was a couple of lengthy delays for Carlisle injuries, so by the time half-time arrived we already knew that Scunthorpe were holding Swindon 0-0 at the break. Everything therefore still on a knife-edge, and for me still far too close for comfort.

What was becoming clear, as the first half wore on, was that the U’s, buoyed by the fantastic support, were far more up for it than their hosts, and that was reflected on the terraces – there wasn’t a bad crowd in that day, even without the U’s faithful, but we hardly heard a peep from them all match. It was therefore imperative that the U’s came out with more of the same for the second half, and boy did they.

Wave after wave of attacks down both wings were eventually rewarded in the 65th minute, when a driven shot by Clifford cannoned back off the crossbar, to be met by Gavin Massey, whose looping header seemed to spin off the turf to nestle inside the post past a bemused Mark Gillespie in goal. The riotous celebrations that followed were simply incredible – the guttural roar that went up, part-celebration, part-relief, was deafening – we were falling over each other in ecstasy, and it was reflected on the pitch as well, with the U’s jubilant.

Thereafter, Carlisle never really had a look in, as this was one of those days were there was never a hint of sitting back and trying to hold on, and Joe Dunne’s side kept on pressing and pressing. Maybe, if there’d been a bit more of that throughout the season, we wouldn’t have been in that situation in the first place, but there you have it. George Porter had been more effective in the second half, but was subbed by Dunne in the 70th minute, replaced by Bradley Garmston.

Ten minutes later, we were in heaven, as a floated cross from Drey Wright was met by big Tom Eastman, who headed back across the face of the goal and into the far corner of the goal. If I thought the celebrations for the first goal were something, this was just bedlam! There was no way back for Carlisle now, and with a couple of game management substitutions by Dunne in the closing minutes, and the news filtering through that Swindon had gone 1-0 up at Scunthorpe, we were in full-on party mode, which erupted into a massive celebration as referee Carl Boyeson blew the final whistle.

Carlisle United 0 Colchester United 2 (Gavin Massey 65’; Tom Eastman 80’)

Pandemonium


The post-match celebrations were something too behold, as the U’s, the bench, the rest of the squad, the club officials, even Robbie Cowling, were on the pitch in celebration sharing the moment with the U’s faithful. Shirts were thrown into the crowd, even big Sam lobbed his gloves into the stand. This was a bit of a shame for Carlisle, who had planned a lap of honour after the game, but to give them credit, it was clear many were staying just as much to applaud the U’s. There were some excellent videos of the goals and the post-match celebrations around at the time, and the bloke filming was just a few feet from me, but sadly they’re now no longer available unfortunately – wished I’d taken copies at the time, they really did capture the moment.

Perhaps conspicuous by his understated response, Joe Dunne didn’t get too heavily involved – we know how important Colchester United is to Joe, and perhaps he was reflecting that as great as this moment was, we had underperformed all season.

This was very much a parting of the ways for many, with Billy Clifford, Bradley Garmston, Kem Izzet, George Porter and Sam Walker all playing their last for the U’s that day. On the long drive home, I heard on the radio that Scunthorpe had managed to score three times in the last few minutes to win 3-1, but it didn’t matter and they were still relegated, alongside Bury, Hartlepool and Portsmouth.

After an uneventful trouble-free drive, I arrived home sometime after 10pm, I reflected on what had been a simply magnificent day out, and well worth the 615.4 mile round trip!



Up the U’s
[Post edited 17 Oct 14:16]
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Letters from Wiltshire #08
at 13:13 10 Oct 2020

Lots of discussion this week on football forums, including here, on two subjects – the petition to lobby parliament to allow limited numbers of supporters back into football grounds, and of course the return of that old chestnut from Man City Chief Executive Ferran Soriano, introducing Premier League ‘B’ teams into the EFL. First off, I don’t mind admitting I’ve signed the petition ( https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/552036 ), as have 192,779 others at the time of writing, though I don’t actually think it’ll make any difference. I can completely understand why some do not think this is a good idea, as second-wave spikes of coronavirus infection pop up all over the country (mainly because – let’s face it – some people are dicks and can’t be trusted to sit the right way on a toilet). But to me, the two go hand in hand (not dicks and toilets) – whilst football clubs throughout the country struggle financially without spectators, we are always going to be under threat of this sort of ‘B’ team nonsense as a condition of financial support from the Premier League fat cats. They got their way in 2016 with the EFL trophy, who’s to say they won’t again when the financial squeeze really starts to tighten its grip without paying customers through the turnstiles? Robbie has featured prominently in this debate in recent weeks, and looks like he will again on Sky tomorrow if this tweet from Sophy Ridge is anything to go by -
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Letters from Wiltshire #08
at 13:13 10 Oct 2020

Lots of discussion this week on football forums, including here, on two subjects – the petition to lobby parliament to allow limited numbers of supporters back into football grounds, and of course the return of that old chestnut from Man City Chief Executive Ferran Soriano, introducing Premier League ‘B’ teams into the EFL. First off, I don’t mind admitting I’ve signed the petition ( https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/552036 ), as have 192,779 others at the time of writing, though I don’t actually think it’ll make any difference. I can completely understand why some do not think this is a good idea, as second-wave spikes of coronavirus infection pop up all over the country (mainly because – let’s face it – some people are dicks and can’t be trusted to sit the right way on a toilet). But to me, the two go hand in hand (not dicks and toilets) – whilst football clubs throughout the country struggle financially without spectators, we are always going to be under threat of this sort of ‘B’ team nonsense as a condition of financial support from the Premier League fat cats. They got their way in 2016 with the EFL trophy, who’s to say they won’t again when the financial squeeze really starts to tighten its grip without paying customers through the turnstiles? Robbie has featured prominently in this debate in recent weeks, and looks like he will again on Sky tomorrow if this tweet from Sophy Ridge is anything to go by -


Walsall v Colchester United
Saturday 3rd May 2014
Sky Bet League One (Tier 3)
Attendance 4,271


For now, back to matters in hand, and the tricky choice of what to cover for Letters from Wiltshire #08. Actually, not really a difficult choice at all as it happens, I was already forming this idea when writing the blog ahead of the Oldham match. It was Daniel’s excellent interview with Micky Cook that gave me the inspiration, and particularly Micky at the time musing on the (then) future a young Karl Duguid might have at Colchester United. Fast-forward twelve years from then, and we come to Doogie’s last ever appearance for Colchester United, fittingly in the context of today, away at Walsall.

The Man, The Myth, The Legend
Before we get to the match itself, it would be wrong not to dwell on the remarkable Colchester United football career of Karl Anthony Duguid. Born 21st March 1978 in Letchworth, Karl joined the U’s as a 16 year old through the Layer Road youth scheme, and by 17 had already played for the first team – his debut coming on as a substitute in a 1-1 draw at Hereford on 9th December 1995. Little known fact – the player substituted to make way for Doogie’s debut? Our very own Steve Ball. He scored his first goal for the U’s less than a month later, in a 3-2 victory at Torquay on New Year’s Day.

My personal recollections of both Duguid and opinions about Duguid on the terraces from back in the 90s were very much the Marmite kid. Opinions definitely varied (back then, for instance, my brother-in-law couldn’t stand him), almost as much as his starting position for the U’s, and I’m certain he even had a spell playing up front as a striker – though not a very good one. Graeson’s coludata website lists Karl as a ‘utility player’ and that kind of sums him up really, though most these days would associate him with a right back or midfield position.

Mind you, if opinions about Doogie varied amongst the U’s faithful, thoughts were considerably more focussed for opponents. Duguid seemed to have this rare ability to be able to really get under the skin of, and wind up, opposition players, which he utilised to very good effect. Who can forget him squaring up to Ian Wright down near the Barside corner flag in that Burnley game, which earned Wrighty a yellow card. Doogie should have had one too, but in a case of what was widely believed to be mistaken identity, referee Rob Styles booked Joe Dunne instead.

As his U’s career progressed, those lingering doubts about the Marmite kid evaporated, and Duguid established himself as a firm fans favourite, and without doubt the first name on the team sheet for a succession of managers. Apart from, of course, 2004/05 which he missed in its entirety thanks to a serious knee-injury. But Doogie was made of sterner stuff and returned with a bang the following season to lead the U’s as club captain to promotion into the Championship.

Parting of the ways
Despite being almost ever-present for our two seasons in the Championship, Duguid couldn’t prevent our relegation at the end of 2007/08. It was therefore with very mixed feelings that we agreed an undisclosed fee and sold Doogie to Plymouth Argyle. Gut-wrenching to lose someone who seemed to epitomise the underdog spirit of Colchester United Football Club, tinged with pleasure that his value was recognised by others, and that he at least would be able to continue the Championship adventure.

It came as no surprise that he very quickly became a fans favourite at Argyle also, and stayed with the Pilgrims for three seasons. He only scored three goals whilst there, though when you consider they were against Watford, Newcastle United and Arsenal in the FA Cup, that’s not a bad record to have on your CV!

Déjà vu
Plymouth were relegated out of the Championship in 2009/10, and at the end of 2010/11 suffered a successive relegation back to the basement. At this point they released Karl Duguid, along with eight other first team players. As often happens, during the pre-season Duguid trained with the U’s, and after a brief chat with John Ward, signed a one-year contract back with the U’s for 2011/12. He clocked up his 400th league appearance for the U’s in February 2012, and subsequently signed a one-year extension to his contract until summer 2013.

Appointed player-coach by then manager Joe Dunne in December 2012, Doogie focussed on developing the youth team to be ready for first team football, and really wasn’t playing much football himself. His player-coach contract was extended for a further year, and on 21st March 2014 (his 36th birthday) he announced he would retire from his playing career at the end of the season (his last appearance for the U’s had been back in October 2012, and his last goal much further back in March 2012), to focus on coaching.

All caught up
So there we are, up to speed and at the final game of the 2013/14 season at the Bescot against Walsall (actually Bank’s stadium at the time). It had been a distinctly average, even below-par season to be honest. Not quite escaping relegation by the skin of our teeth, but still a bit too close for comfort. Mathematically we were kind of safe from about mid-April, helped by winning 3-2 at Stevenage, a dour 0-0 at Crewe, and thumping champions-elect Brentford 4-1 in our penultimate match. As a result, there was nothing really to play for as far as the U’s were concerned, nor for Walsall who were destined to finish in a comfortable mid-table slot.



It was a beautiful early May day, sunny and dry, white clouds scudding across an azure sky, so what better weather to be on my way from Warminster on the train up to Walsall. The Bescot has always been one of my more popular destinations, really easy to get to with a football station actually at the ground, never any hint of hassle from the home supporters, and just as importantly always good connections home in time to still have some of the evening left for entertainment. I travelled up on the train, along with a few cold ones who sadly didn’t survive the journey, and met up with many others (including noah4x4) at the excellent and super-cheap (£2 a pint) Saddlers Club bar at the ground. Perhaps the cold ones were having effect, but I did manage to place one of those pints on thin air about an inch from the table whilst there, but fortunately most of it missed Noah’s leg 😊.

Being last game of the season, and with the likelihood of Doogie making a farewell appearance at some point in the proceedings, a large and noisy following were there for the U’s that day, and I reckon there must have been close on 400 in the away stand closest to the M6. Technically, this match isn’t in my memorabilia collection, as I didn’t get a programme, but the U’s lined up as follows:

44..Sam Walker
3….Ryan Dickson
4….Magnus Okuonghae (Frankie Kent ’46)
6….Craig Eastmond
9….Clinton Morrison (captain)
15..Marcus Bean (Drey Wright 46’)
16..Alex Wynter
18..Tom Eastman
21..Gavin Massey
22..Alex Gilbey
25..Dominic Vose (Karl Duguid 72’)

As for the match, whilst it did have that end-of-season meaningless match feel to it, a bit kind of training match, it actually wasn’t too bad a game. The U’s were certainly happier soaking up what pressure Walsall could bring to bear in the May sunshine, and by and large offering little threat at the opposite end for the most part. That’s not to say we didn’t create any chances – Clinton Morrison (also making his last appearance for the U’s) fired tamely straight at ‘keeper Richard O’Donnell when he should have done better, and O’Donnell did well to keep out a better curling effort from Massey in the middle of the half. Walker was also being kept on his toes, and did well to keep out decent efforts from Baxendale and Mantom in the first half, the latter a bit of a fumble that he had to gather at the second attempt.

Half-time came and went with no one really seeming to bothered about the actual result. Joe Dunne made a double substitution at half-time, bring on Drey Wright and Frankie Kent, which left just one more available – and we all pretty much knew who that’d be. Less than ten minutes into the second half, and what was a lovely relaxed day got even better, as defender Adam Chambers attempted a driven clearance out of his box, only for Eastmond to throw himself in the way and the ball cannon off over O’Donnell to nestle in the back of the net. We didn’t care how it came about, let the celebrations begin!

There was some good banter going as well, with a beach ball being punted around the away end, until one of the stewards decided he’d confiscate it. His fellow stewards clearly enjoyed the U’s faithful serenading him en masse with “Does your mother cut your hair?”. There was also a surreal pitch invasion by two Saddlers – not exactly sure what that was about, but it also seemed to spark some sort of internal power-struggle brawl amongst the Walsall supporters in the stand. All a little incongruous in the context of meaningless end-of-season fixture to be honest.

”If Doogie scores we’re on the pitch…”
Then finally, with 18 minutes to go, came the moment that most in the away end were waiting for, movement on the bench and up goes the fourth official’s board – no. 25 (Vose) off, no. 37 (Duguid) on. It’s a bit shaky, grainy, and the volume dips halfway through, but I did manage to capture the moment on my iPhone.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/183429915@N03/50444680016/in/dateposted-public/

Sadly, he didn’t score, but he still helped stiffen up our midfield, and although Walsall had late chances for both Andy Butler and Amadou Bakayoko (Morrison blocking the latter on the line), they could get the equaliser they probably deserved, and the U’s finished 2013/14 with back to back victories.

Walsall 0 Colchester United 1 (Craig Eastmond 54’)

Memories are made of this…
In a career at Colchester United spanning 19 years over two stints, Karl Duguid made 471 first team appearances for the U’s, scoring 49 goals (including one penalty), and picking up 54 yellow cards and four red.



No doubt we’ll all have memories of our own very special Doogie-moments, whether it was the fist-cuffs with Ian Wright, the ‘accidentally kick the ball out of reach when stooping to pick it up’ time-waster that so infuriated opposition players and supporters, his tears at the AutoWindscreen Final, that goal at the Layer Road end on Friday 29th September 2006, or countless other highlights from his career.

I wasn’t fortunate enough to be at the Ipswich game, but I was fortunate enough to be at Dean Court five months earlier to see Doogie bombing on down the left wing to cross perfectly on to the chest of Scott Vernon, who expertly controlled and volleyed home to give the U’s a vital 2-1 victory in our bid for promotion to the Championship. To me, it wasn’t the nervy jittery 0-0 at Yeovil that won promotion, this was the day we actually achieved it, and fitting that it was Karl Anthony Duguid doing the heavy lifting.



Up the U’s
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Letters from Wiltshire #07
at 14:26 3 Oct 2020

Welcome to Matchday #4 everyone, with the U’s making a reasonably solid start to the league campaign, undefeated, two clean sheets, only one goal conceded and sitting comfortably just outside the play-offs. I’d probably feel more comfortable if we were scoring a few more at the other end, so it’s good to see Chuck getting back into action. The big news that’s grabbing most of the column inches now is of course that President Trump is in hospital with coronavirus. Now there are many out there in the social media world who consider this somewhat poetic irony, given his (mixed) messaging on the subject since the crisis began, and there are more than a few wishing that it ends very badly for Trump. I’m not one of them, but I was reminded this morning of a famous quote “I have never killed anyone, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction”. Often misattributed to Mark Twain, it was Clarence Darrow in his 1932 work The Story of My Life. For those, like me, who consider Inherit the Wind probably the best courtroom drama ever made, Darrow was the lawyer in the real Scopes Monkey Trial.
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Letters from Wiltshire #07
at 14:25 3 Oct 2020

Welcome to Matchday #4 everyone, with the U’s making a reasonably solid start to the league campaign, undefeated, two clean sheets, only one goal conceded and sitting comfortably just outside the play-offs. I’d probably feel more comfortable if we were scoring a few more at the other end, so it’s good to see Chuck getting back into action. The big news that’s grabbing most of the column inches now is of course that President Trump is in hospital with coronavirus. Now there are many out there in the social media world who consider this somewhat poetic irony, given his (mixed) messaging on the subject since the crisis began, and there are more than a few wishing that it ends very badly for Trump. I’m not one of them, but I was reminded this morning of a famous quote “I have never killed anyone, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction”. Often misattributed to Mark Twain, it was Clarence Darrow in his 1932 work The Story of My Life. For those, like me, who consider Inherit the Wind probably the best courtroom drama ever made, Darrow was the lawyer in the real Scopes Monkey Trial.

The U’sual – The Colchester United Fanzine
Issue 1
August 2002


Yep, my memorabilia random match selector has finally not chosen a match, but a fanzine – and what a significant one in the history of Colchester United. For those that are unaware, this was produced by our very own webmaster Daniel, and followed on from the previous The Blue Eagle, which had ceased production about three years earlier. This was back in the day of ColuOnline when we were on the old Rivals network. To put my fanzine purchase into context, I’m pretty sure I picked up my copy when I travelled over to Layer Rd for my traditionally ‘closest to my birthday’ football treat on 24th August 2002, to watch the U’s take on Brentford.



Aw crap…
Not so much of a treat it turned out, as we lost 1-0. That match remains a possible choice for future blogs, so I won’t go into it now – I’ll spare you that at least. Worryingly, like today, this was our fourth match of that season, so I sincerely hope that isn’t a portent of things to come this afternoon…



Nerd alert
I’ll have a trawl through Issue 1 of The U’sual in due course, but for now lets have a look at some stats related to the occasion, the opponent, the date etc. Most of this is derived from Graeson’s excellent www.coludata.co.uk website, plus my own paltry records on occasion.

…will play ball #4
There is a slight flaw in my data, in that my matchday numbers per season don’t differentiate between league and cups, but when Matchday #4 coincides with a league match, it’s a reasonably auspicious occasion for the U’s. Sixty-seven occurrences since 1937/38, and we’ve won 27, drawn 17 and lost 23. If you translate that into a 46-game league, that’s about 67 points – ironically, probably somewhere just outside the play-offs (sounds familiar).

”Hold them…Hold them!”

Oldham Athletic began life as Pine Villa FC in 1895, playing in the Manchester and Lancashire Leagues. When Oldham County folded in 1899, Pine Villa moved into Boundary Park and changed their name to Oldham Athletic. After winning the Lancashire Combination title in 1906/07, they were elected into the football league for the 1907/08 season – and they’ve been here ever since.

Unlike the U’s, Oldham’s football record is interrupted by both World Wars, the Great War coming at a particularly inconvenient time for the Latics, as they were in their ascendency and had missed out winning the Division 1 title by just one point. The inter-war years were not kind to Oldham, who had gradually slipped all the way back to Division 3 North by the time Hitler came to the rescue. Mind you, it didn’t get much better once normal football hostilities resumed after the war and following a single season foray back into Division 2, they ended up as one of the founding members of Division 4 in 1959/60. With echoes of Barrow’s plight, the following season they had to apply for re-election, which they were granted at the expense of Gateshead (who had finished above Oldham). Gateshead were sacrificed for our dear friends and neighbours Peterborough United.

After bouncing around between Divisions 3 and 4 for the next fourteen seasons or so, they eventually gained promotion back to Division 2 in 1973/74 under player-manager Jimmy Frizzell. There they stayed until 1990/91, when under Joe Royal they finally returned to the top flight, and having survived one season, therefore became a founding member of the newly formed Premier League in 1991/92. A somewhat ignominious claim to fame – surely they must be the only team who were founding members of both Division 4 and the Premier League? Whatever, it didn’t last long, and they were relegated in 1994. Since then, it’s pretty much been a downward trajectory through to today – 4th from bottom on zero points and three straight defeats in the league. Cheer up though Latics, where there’s a Southend, there’s always hope for you!

Score on the Doors
Don’t get yourself too excited about a potential cracker here – since our first meeting with Oldham back in 1961/62, we have played each other 49 times, and twenty of those have been draws. It’s pretty much honours even for the remainder too, we’ve won 14 and Oldham 15. As a portent of things to come, the very first game was a 2-2 draw at Boundary Park, but the return match at Layer Rd two days before Christmas saw a 5-1 victory for Benny Fenton’s U’s (two each for Martyn King and Bobby Hunt, and one for Peter Wright). That’s as good as it’s ever been for the U’s, though we came close in 2011 with a 4-1 victory at the Weston Homes. Oldham have returned the compliment on a few occasions, thrashing the U’s 4-0 at Boundary Park in 1967 and 1971, and 4-1 in March 2002. Oddly, we’ve never played each other in a cup competition.

Not you as well!
Graeson’s ‘Played For Both’ function throws up a veritable rogues gallery of names to consider, which include Wayne Andrews, one of my all-time favourites Colin Garwood, Scott Vernon, Guy Branston, Big George Elokobi (of course), Chris Iwelumo, Jabo, Chris Porter, Mark Yeates and dear old Brian Launders!

Those hazy crazy days
Here’s an interesting fact – we’ve played on October 3rd twelve times in our history, and never drawn a single match – won six and lost six. We’ve even played Oldham Athletic on this date, losing 1-0 at Boundary Park in 1998. It’s less optimistic if we look at just matches on Saturday 3rd October, played eight, lost five – and if we filter down to only home matches, it’s even worse, played three, lost two. Our best performance, without doubt destroying QPR 4-2 at Layer Rd in 2007 and those heady days in the Championship. The pits? Probably our very first match on this date, losing 3-1 at Gay Meadow in 1953.

Get on with it!
Anyway, back to The U’sual. In Daniel’s editorial , having first introduced the concept of why a new fanzine, went on to reflect on matters that were pertinent to the U’s faithful at the time – such as the shortage of fit centre-halves at the time, why Whitton didn’t seem to want to pick Alan White in that role, and the perennial problem of a mis-firing strike-force (sounds familiar – again!). The benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing, so reading material on Dean ‘he does it in training’ Morgan does make me chuckle.

There’s a summary of line-ups and scores for our pre-season friendlies (including the ‘never played’ 1-1 draw with West Ham – goal scored by Dean Morgan 😊), useful directions to upcoming awaydays, and a comparison of ticket prices in our league that season. Prompted by ticket prices rising, and the club maintaining we were still “…amongst the cheapest in Division 2…”, the summary list showed that at £289 our most expensive season ticket did look fairly cheap compared to others (Oldham were one of the lowest at £270), but our cheapest at £211 considerably more expensive than many – the reader was invited to draw their own conclusions.

There were contributions from names who will be familiar to many of us on here, including Old Phart’s Best XI, a round up of the U’s Ladies (back when we had a U’s Ladies team) by Sparky, and Episode 1 of The Misadventures of Betty Swollox. However, the main article was an excellent Q&A interview with club legend Micky Cook. There are six pages of it, and at times it’s quite in-depth (top work Daniel!), so I can't summarise it all here, but I will pick up on a couple of interesting replies.

On most appearances, when asked if he thought anyone would break his record of 700 appearances in all competitions for the U’s, he thought even back then that Doogie might have a chance of doing so. Although Doogie fell short with a paltry 471 appearances, that wasn’t a bad shout to be honest. When asked about when he thought the U’s were at their peak during his time at Layer Rd, Micky went back to my pre-exile late 70s and early 80s heroes, specifically name-checking Trevor Lee in the process.

Apart from his longevity at the club, Micky cited his role in supporting and coaching Lua Lua as one of his biggest achievements whilst at the club – and for £2.25m who wouldn’t! He did go on to mention in passing “Lomana is still to prove in the Premiership that he has that consistency factor, but certainly he can do stuff that nobody else can, that’s for sure”. Sums up Lua Lua’s carrer pretty succinctly to be honest.

All in all, a cracking read, and more importantly Daniel would go on to produce The U’sual fanzine for more than three years, a prodigious effort give it was pretty much a solo effort for most of it – well done Daniel!

To finish, how about remembering our most recent match against Oldham, and a trip to Boundary Park in August last year – the return fixture lost out to lockdown.

I’ll take one of these again quite happily…



Up the U’s
[Post edited 3 Oct 14:28]
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Letters from Wiltshire #06
at 17:41 29 Sep 2020

Here we are again, back in the (now) much-maligned EFL Trophy and a home tie against West Ham United U21s, and I think probably our last chance to stay in the competition? Robbie’s most recent rallying cry has been to “buy, buy, buy” when it comes to iFollow streams, and with the likelihood of supporters getting to matches receding, making streaming probably our only viable revenue stream, who can blame him. As an exile, I was never expecting I’d have many opportunities to see the U’s in the flesh this season, so he’s rather preaching to the converted as far as I’m concerned, but I do like the loyalty scheme he’s put together.
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Letters from Wiltshire #06
at 17:41 29 Sep 2020

Here we are again, back in the (now) much-maligned EFL Trophy and a home tie against West Ham United U21s, and I think probably our last chance to stay in the competition? Robbie’s most recent rallying cry has been to “buy, buy, buy” when it comes to iFollow streams, and with the likelihood of supporters getting to matches receding, making streaming probably our only viable revenue stream, who can blame him. As an exile, I was never expecting I’d have many opportunities to see the U’s in the flesh this season, so he’s rather preaching to the converted as far as I’m concerned, but I do like the loyalty scheme he’s put together.

Colchester United v Scunthorpe
Saturday 11th September 1999
Nationwide Football League Second Division (Tier 3)
Attendance 3,280


From the sublime of winning a Wembley final in LfW05, we revert to the ridiculousness of emerging from the post-Wadsworth era. Letters from Wiltshire #06 picks up the original random match selector from my memorabilia collection, with a home tie against Scunthorpe relatively early in our 1999/2000 season. Mick Wadsworth had departed two weeks earlier, taking a coaching role at Crystal Palace to be closer to his family ties in the north east, leaving Steve Whitton to try and pick up the pieces and fix the mess he’d left us in.



Who are ya!
However, before I get to the match report, I want to first touch on the ‘never met’ question. In previous musings, and upon further reflection, I actually think we are now down to just three clubs in the current 92 who we have never played in a competitive match – Liverpool, West Ham United and Harrogate. Provided the season at least makes it to 24th October, we’ll be ticking Harrogate off that list, so the big question is does West Ham count for tonight?

It’s a difficult one, and my instinct tells me because they have “U21” as a suffix to their name tonight, probably not. But still it is a competitive match, in a fully professional competition, so why not? I can foresee a scenario where, for instance, we could be playing against West Ham in an early round Carabao cup game, with for them an important league game coming up at the weekend, and their line-up not necessarily being too dissimilar to what it will be tonight. I’d be interested to know your thoughts – will the club historians count this as our first competitive game against West Ham or not?

Interestingly, if so, and with Harrogate less than a month away, that leaves just Liverpool. If the FA Cup survives a second wave, and we’re fortunate enough to get through to the 3rd round and draw Liverpool, that would mean we have for the first time in our history played every single other club in the football league. Given Harrogate have never got passed the 2nd round of the FA Cup, I sincerely doubt many outside League 2 will have played Harrogate, so would that make us unique as the only club to have played everyone else at least once? Lots of ifs, buts and maybes in that, but it’s fun to speculate.

So, we meet again Moriarty
However, never mind who we haven’t played, who do we always play? I crunched some numbers this morning, and they probably need a through sense-check, but as far as I can tell, we have most often met up with Gillingham, playing 101 times in all competitions to date. Not surprisingly, another local side in Peterborough come equal second with 85 matches, but surprisingly alongside my near-neighbours Swindon Town. There is actually quite a strong south west representation here, with Exeter City fourth (83 matches), then of course Southend United (79 matches), Northampton Town (77 matches) and distant Torquay (72 matches).

So, who do we like playing most? Looking at those that we have played sufficiently regularly to be meaningful (more than 40 matches), top of the list is actually Stockport County (played 46 times, won half of them), followed very closely by Crewe Alexandria (played 59 times, won 29 of them). And the least? Using the same 40 match cut-off, bottom of the list is Brighton and Hove Albion (played 45 times, won just ten), followed by – you guessed it – today’s match report opponents and bane of copy-editors everywhere, Scunthorpe United (played 63 times, won just 16 matches).

Enough already
And so to September 11th 1999 and today’s report for the Scunthorpe match. The U’s were in disarray, freefall almost, and Whitton was struggling to do anything about it. Wadsworth had decimated the squad during the summer, filled back up with (largely) mercenary recruits through the Barry Silkman agency, and then jumped ship. Managing Director Steve Gage had also resigned at the very start of the season. None of this made for a particularly happy camp, and my abiding memories of this era was quite how dismal things seemed at the time.

However, that was never a good reason to stop supporting the U’s, and with my youngest sister having a house-warming in her new Southend home that evening, time then to drive over to Essex with the kids, see my dear old mum and take in a U’s match before heading back to South Essex for an overnight stop.

Kind of wished I hadn’t…

The horror, the horror!!
I went to the match with my daughter, brother-in-law and his son, and although I still had driving to do in the evening, allowed ourselves the luxury of a quick drink in the Drury. Considering the situation Colchester United was in, there was actually quite a decent and vociferous crowd that day on the barside – possibly buoyed by the fact that Wadsworth had finally departed? With young’uns in tow, we had seats in the Family Enclosure.



Leading up to the match, Whitton had called for a ‘…blue-and-white brick wall…’ for Scunthorpe to run into, particularly given the 5-2 mauling we’d received at Bury in the previous match. Off the pitch, striker Tony Lock – one of those cast aside by Wadsworth – had recovered from a back injury and had asked if he could return to Layer Road to train. Joey Keith was also in a race towards fitness and managed to climb out of his sick-bed to play. As an added bonus, David Greene had also asked to discuss a contract extension with Steve Whitton to stay at the club – so some (ahem) greene shoots there 😊.

The U’s lined up:
1….Simon Brown
2….Richard Wilkins
3….David Greene
4….Karl Duguid
5….Joe Keith
6….Warren Aspinall (KK Opara 86’)
7….Fabrice Richard
8….David Gregory
9….Brian Launders (Steve Germain 74’)
10..Jamie Moralee (Craig Farley 66’)
11..Lomana Tresor Lua Lua

Scunthorpe were managed by Brian Laws at the time and were having a poorer start to the season than even the U’s, failing to score in the first five matches of the season. Cameroon striker Gui Ipou had improved matters, signed on a free transfer from Bristol Rovers, and they also had Lee Hodges in the team. Hodges was already a reasonably well-known name back then, who’d been twice round the houses whilst on loan from tonight’s’ opponents West Ham (including Ipswich and Southend), before eventually landing permanently at Scunnie at the start of the season.

Green(e) shoots or not, this was very poor entertainment from start to finish for the long-suffering faithful. Although marginally better in the first half, we never looked like scoring from start to finish, in to be honest what was a fairly drab encounter all round. The only highlight, if that’s the right expression, was Lee Hodges drilling home from a tight angle, beating Simon Brown far too easily at his near post. This was early in the second half, and despite Whitton using all three substitutes (including a debut for Craig Farley) thereafter, frankly we did not possess the guile or craft to try and breakdown a resilient rear-guard action from Scunthorpe. Let’s be honest, they were just as desperate for points as we were and defended accordingly.

Colchester United 0 Scunthorpe 1 (Hodges 49’)

Thankfully, this would be the last time Brian Launders pulled on a U’s shirt, and he was sacked shortly after for gross misconduct. Silkman tried and failed to take the U’s to court, and in the process kind of revealed quite how much influence agents had (and still have) over the game. Peter Heard had certainly seen enough, and immediately banned any further involvement with agents for Colchester United.

With echoes of the Bolton manager’s sour grapery last week, Whitton reported after the match “… It's too easy just to point a finger at Simon, Hodges should not have been allowed to get into that position in the first place. It was another soft goal, the sort of thing we had been working hard to cut out in training. The game had a draw written all over it until that mistake, but we've got to look at all the positive things and I thought we were the better side in the first half.

To cut a long story short, and spare you the misery of dwelling on our struggles, it took pretty much until Christmas for Whitton to really start improving things, and by the end of the season we had clawed our way to safety in 18th place, three places and six points away from the relegation zone. Scunthorpe weren’t so lucky, and finished second from bottom – joining Chesterfield, Blackpool and Cardiff City in the basement.

The horror, the horror…Part Deux
As a final postscript, after the match we headed over to Southend for the house-warming party, and despite the misery of the match, a cracking time was had by all. In the wee small hours, I found myself with my sister, her hubby and a couple of others watching a ‘moody’ copy of the recently released “Blair Witch Project”. It was the sort of copy where at one point the silhouette of someone else in the cinema appears on the way to the toilet, that sort of thing.

Still not as terrifying as the U’s performance though…

Up the U’s
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The Chairman speaks...again...
at 19:51 28 Sep 2020

Robbie's thoughts on iFollow streaming, a loyalty scheme to recognise use, and how he can reward that loyalty. Given anything is better than nothing, and clearly he's not expecting significant revenue other than through streaming, I have to say it's not a bad package.

https://www.cu-fc.com/news/2020/september/robbie-on-ifollow/
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Letters from Wiltshire #05
at 13:46 26 Sep 2020

Matchday #3, and Robbie’s not happy. I know opinion is divided, but I have considerable sympathy with the Chairman on this one. I don’t want this to be necessarily a political comment, but many are looking on with bemusement as the government seem to lurch from one knee-jerk reaction to another during this crisis, and I would be saying this of any government, regardless of their political persuasion. The nub of Robbie’s comments is quite simple, what’s the point in having a panel of experts working closely with responsible club owners to plan supporter’s safe return to essentially open air stadia, investing in alterations, changes to layout, developing detailed procedures etc. to then have the rug pulled out from under their feet? I know why, a second wave seems to be coming, and frankly it looks like people simply can’t be trusted to follow the rules – but why then are pubs still open, or does the virus only come out after 10pm?
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Letters from Wiltshire #05
at 13:45 26 Sep 2020

Matchday #3, and Robbie’s not happy. I know opinion is divided, but I have considerable sympathy with the Chairman on this one. I don’t want this to be necessarily a political comment, but many are looking on with bemusement as the government seem to lurch from one knee-jerk reaction to another during this crisis, and I would be saying this of any government, regardless of their political persuasion. The nub of Robbie’s comments is quite simple, what’s the point in having a panel of experts working closely with responsible club owners to plan supporter’s safe return to essentially open air stadia, investing in alterations, changes to layout, developing detailed procedures etc. to then have the rug pulled out from under their feet? I know why, a second wave seems to be coming, and frankly it looks like people simply can’t be trusted to follow the rules – but why then are pubs still open, or does the virus only come out after 10pm?

Colchester United v Witton Albion
Sunday 10th May 1992
Vauxhall FA Trophy (Final)
Attendance 32,254


Letters from Wiltshire #05 returns to happier times, and the U’s first visit to the twin towers of Wembley. There have been a lot of column inches in recent weeks throughout the media on the triumphant return of today’s opponents Barrow to the football league – even Durham’s excellent match preview looks back on some of the previous encounters between the two sides, so I have chosen the FA Trophy Final very specifically, as the very next match after we claimed the Conference title with a convincing 5-0 victory over Barrow the previous weekend.

I’d imagine most of you have one of these at home, mines getting a bit dog-eared now…


Auld lang syne
Before we get into the match, let’s reflect briefly on our on-off relationship with Barrow. They were formed in 1922, 15 years before we even existed, but we didn’t cross paths until November 1961, with a 1-1 draw at Layer Road. For a few seasons, the Ziggers (as they were then) were a bit of a bogey team for the U’s, and it would take until September 1967 before we finally won a match – 3-2 at Layer Rd, with Dennis Mochan scoring his first for the U’s that day. There have been several notable names who opened their U’s goal-scoring account against Barrow, including Ray Crawford in August 1970, Watney Cup hero Phil Bloss on his debut in April 1971, and Mark Kinsella no less in August 1991.

Parting of the ways…
Going back to the 1971/72 season, infamous in the collective memory of Barrow AFC, the U’s had an average season in Division 4, finishing mid-table. Grimsby won the league, with Southend, Brentford and Scunthorpe promoted alongside them. Back then there was no automatic relegation, clubs had to apply for re-election, and usually got it too. Barrow finished third from bottom, 8pts ahead of Crewe at the foot of the table (in the days of only 2pts for a win as well), and only a point from avoiding relegation altogether.

The precise detail of the re-election process is dealt with in a very good article by Ged Scott on the BBC website ( https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/52283009 ), which I recommend. In essence, the old boys network came together to decide who to sacrifice to make way for Hereford, very much in the limelight at the time thanks to Mr Radford. Sadly, unfashionable, unfancied and in particular isolated Barrow, despite finishing 8pts clear of the bottom, were voted out on a second ballot going head to head with new boys Hereford.

A brief romance…
It would take Colchester United suffering the same ignominy to be reunited with Barrow, when we too were relegated into the Conference in 1990, albeit this time there was no vote, this was straightforward off you go stuff. We drew 2-2 at Holker Street, and won narrowly 1-0 at Layer Rd (Mario Walsh scored in both games for the U’s). In the intervening years, Barrow had even slipped as far as the Northern Premier League for a few seasons, but in 1990/91 they were a reasonably solid mid-table outfit.

Much less so the following season, and whilst the U’s were sweeping everyone aside on our march back into the football league, Barrow were fighting a losing battle at the other end. Much has been written about that fantastic day at Layer Rd on Saturday 3rd May 1992, when a Mike Masters hat-trick, and goals by Nicky Smith and Big Roy in front of 7,193 saw the U’s promoted ahead of fierce rivals Wycombe Wanderers and a hilariously dejected Martin ‘Sour Grapes’ O’Neill on goal difference. Barrow weren’t so lucky, and although technically relegated back to the Northern Premier already, were officially so at the final whistle, alongside Cheltenham Town (relegated to the Southern League).

All caught up
So there we have it, Barrow’s role in our past, and context for today’s match report, our very next competitive fixture, our first trip to Wembley, and a chance to do the non-league double. I wasn’t at the Barrow game, I’d already travelled over for the FA Trophy home leg semi-final against Macclesfield, and got my pass for the Final, so I had to follow that one on Ceefax.

As this was clearly going to be a day when beer was to be taken, I travelled up bright and early on the train from Salisbury for the match. We knew that ticket sales for U’s fans had been going extremely well, so it was no surprise to start bumping into blue and white shirts even on the train up from the West Country. More so at Waterloo, and the tube journey across London, and by the time I arrived at Wembley Park (I think it was) it was blue and white everywhere. Witton Albion had been allocated the West side of Wembley, and therefore the fans favourite Green Man as their designated pub. The U’s were on the east side of Wembley, and so I headed for the Torch to meet my brother-in-law, and a whole bunch of other friends and family who’d made the trip.

The place was absolutely heaving, I’d never seen so many U’s fans crammed into one boozer. Queuing at the bar was 3-4 deep at times, and with the chanting going on, absolutely deafening as well. We took to getting double rounds, just to avoid too much essential drinking time being lost at the bar, but everything was very good natured – even with quite a few Witton Albion fans clearly reckoning they’d have more fun at our pub than theirs (and I think they did).

The abiding memory, however, was the coaches – wave after wave of packed out U’s coaches steaming past down Bridge Road towards Wembley, each one greeted with a roar from the assembled throng in the pub car park, flags waving, scarves twirling – I’d never seen anything like it in all my years following Colchester United, and it’s a memory I’ll cherish for ever.

For once, enjoy the U’s line-up as it was published in the commemorative programme:


If I thought the Torch had been mental, nothing prepared me for the sight as we walked up Wembley Way to take our seats – a sea of blue and white flags, banners, scarves all around, and the noise! To be fair, given their usual level of support, Witton Albion hadn’t done too bad either, and there must have been 6-7,000 of their supporters on the east side, and definitely playing their part to create an atmosphere. However, with an estimated 25,000 U’s fans in full voice opposite them, they had to pick their moments to be heard. The roar as Roy McDonough led out Colchester United sent shivers down my spine, and still brings me out in goosebumps when I think of it today.



We were still in full voice when Mike Masters put the U’s 1-0 up after just five minutes, and in doing so became the first American professional footballer to score at Wembley. For the next 15 minutes, we just passed it around, fully in control, and it came as no surprise when Nicky Smith doubled our lead in the 19th minute. I still see Nicky Smith around at U’s away games, in his role as whatever the modern-day equivalent of a police ‘spotter’ is called, and he’s always got time for a chat – providing we’re on best behaviour of course. Halftime, and the U’s were comfortably in control, and thoughts of refreshments – one look at the jammed concourse had me deciding to tough it out for another 45 minutes and grab a pint or two after the match in town.

Witton hadn’t been completely overawed and had come close on a few occasions in the first half. They came out even brighter for the second half, and whilst I never felt we were under too much pressure, they were enjoying far more of the ball. In the 57th minute that pressure told, with Lutkevich scoring a fine glancing header that looped beyond the reach of the despairing dive of Scott Barrett. Whilst this gave Witton Albion and their supporters a considerable lift, still the U’s weren’t to be overrun, and comfortably weathered wave after wave of Witton Albion forays. Shortly after their goal, Roy subbed himself for Gary Bennett, really a like for like substitution, but obviously on much younger legs 😊.

The turning point, if there was going to be one, might have been Jason Cook’s reckless challenge in the 81st minute, which earned a straight red card. Whilst very sad for Jason, and his family watching on, you couldn’t really argue with the decision – though it broke your heart to watch him trudge off dejected. But the U’s were made of sterner stuff, and roared on by the blue and white army, refused to buckle and took the fight to Witton Albion for the last ten minutes. We were rewarded with a minute of normal time to go, when McGavin scored the third to put the result beyond doubt, and set up incredible celebrations from the U’s Army in the stand!

Colchester United 3 (Masters 5’; Smith 19’; McGavin 89’) Witton Albion 1 (Lutkevich 57’)



The rest really is all a bit of a blur, I can remember Roy holding the trophy aloft to tumultuous roars, the lap of honour, the dancing, hi-jinks and stuff, the obligatory wearing of the lid as a hat – I also remember Jason Cook, boots in hand, being dragged out to take part by team mates. It was a peculiarly spiteful twist that red carded players weren’t eligible for a winners’ medal – so step forward unused sub Eamonn Collins – a little man with a BIG BIG heart – who gave his medal to Jason Cook!

…and finally
Amidst all the celebrations, do spare a thought for the poor old Colchester Hippodrome – shirt sponsor for the U’s all the way to the Wembley final, and then ousted on their biggest day by the fat wallets of The Sun newspaper – never one to miss a trick when it came to cheap advertising.

Whilst celebrating our own FA Trophy Wembley triumph, I should also give a shout out to Barrow – they had already got FA Trophy winners medals themselves two years earlier. They’d go on to do it again in 2010, becoming the only side to win the FA Trophy at both old and new Wembley – bravo Bluebirds, and welcome back!

Up the U’s
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