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Matches of Yesteryear - Stoke v U's 28/4/07
Written by wessex_exile on Tuesday, 17th Dec 2019 19:25

So here we are, on the eve of probably one of the most important matches in the history of Colchester United for many years. Fitting then, I think, that the random match generator has chosen another very significant match in the history of the U’s.

Stoke City v Colchester United

Saturday 28th April 2007

Coca Cola Championship (Tier 2)

Attendance 20,108

Match #30 of the series, and we are at Stoke City for the penultimate game of our first season in the Championship (that’s the Second Division in old money). With Parky leaving for Hull in the summer, the U’s were managed by former assistant Geraint “George” Williams for our first historic season at this level. Stoke City were managed by Tony Pulis, who like George had taken over at the beginning of the season.

The U’s lined up:

13..Dean Gerken

7….Karl Duguid

12..Pat Baldwin

5….Wayne Brown

18..Chris Barker

14..Richard Garcia (Kevin McLeod 71’)

10..Kem Izzet

6….Kevin Watson

24..Hogan Ephraim (Jamie Guy 75’)

8….Jamie Cureton (George Elokobi 81’)

11..Chris Iwelumo

Before we get to the match itself, I think it’s important to reflect on our first season in the Championship, the league table on the morning of the match, and the possibilities that faced us.

Just take a moment to drink that in – with two matches to go, we were 1 point outside the play-offs for a place in the Premier League! Streets ahead of clubs like Cardiff, Palace, Ipswich, Burnley, Norwich, QPR, Leicester and so on. Spare too a thought for sorry Southend United, promoted as champions the season before, to be relegated as chumps this season. Much of our success was down to dear old Layer Rd, clearly an uncomfortable place for the big-time Charlies of the Championship to cope with – and certainly with the deadly duo of Cureton and Iwelumo on fire, and backed up by one of the meanest defences in the league, marshalled by Wayne Brown.

Given the success we’d enjoyed, it came as no surprise that somewhere in the region of 1,600 U’s supporters had made the trip to the Britannia that afternoon, including our new owner Robbie Cowling, who was sat amongst the faithful just a few seats away from me. I travelled up from Warminster on the train, and met up with my brother-in-law and family in the sports complex right next to the stadium (can’t remember what its name was then, but it’s now a Powerleague venue). Given the well-deserved reputation Stoke City fans used to have for their violent behaviour, I’m pleased to report that supporters of both clubs mingled and chatted quite freely, without a hint of animosity – not bad when you consider what was at stake for both teams.

I’d normally focus on one or two opposition players that were either note-worthy, or who had some form of direct connection with Colchester United. There aren’t too many of those in the Stoke City line-up that day, nor even in their squad, but the charmless Lee Hendrie is definitely worth a mention. Possessed of a face that instantly makes you want to slap it, at half-time at the corresponding fixture at Layer Rd, Hendrie had asked Kemi Izzet whether he’d like to wash his Ferrari. Perhaps not the smartest of moves – the U’s were already 2-0 up, and went on to win 3-0. Post-match, Kemi stated “I don't think Hendrie helps himself sometimes. He should concentrate on his game. He sometimes gets caught in the moment. That's why he is where he is at the moment. There was no real problem in the tunnel. He was just being a bit patronising towards me. It was all talk. I just tugged his hair a little”.

The other obvious name to mention is of course Chris Iwelumo, who played for Stoke City from 2000 to 2004 (though including a number of loan spells elsewhere). Although he never quite nailed down a place as a first XI regular, his honest hard-working approach made him a firm fans favourite at Stoke City, and it was nice to see a warm round of applause from all sides when his name was announced in the line-up pre-match. The programme also featured a double-page spread interview with Iwelumo, not only reflecting on his career and time at Stoke City, but also on how things were going for him at Colchester United.

The football community had been saddened during the week leading up to this game following the untimely death of Alan Ball, tragically suffering a heart attack whilst trying to put out a garden fire. Alan Ball had a close connection with both Colchester United and Stoke City, serving as Assistant Manager for both clubs, and then taking over the management of Stoke City from 1989 to 1991. It therefore came as no surprise that the minute’s applause before kick-off in his memory was celebrated by all supporters. If I’m honest, I’m not a massive fan of the applause thing, far prefer a proper silence – there is nothing more evocative and poignant than the ability of an entire stadium of fans to bring a lump to your throat through deafening silence…and nothing more spine-tingling than the guttural roar at the referee’s concluding whistle. However, sadly in this world there are jerks, the sort who like nothing more than to metaphorically shout “look at me, I’m a jerk” during silence, which does make a minute’s applause much safer.

On to the match itself, which turned out to be a very keenly contested affair in every way. The U’s started by far the better, and for much of the first half laid siege to the Stoke City goal – on the whole denied by an excellent performance from goalkeeper Steve Simonsen, who pulled off a series of smart saves to prevent the U’s being out of sight by half-time. All of this was to the backdrop of one of the loudest proudest performances by the U’s faithful it has ever been my pleasure to be part of – we just didn’t stop singing at all! Eventually, the pressure had to give, and when Salif Diao brought down Iwelumo in the box, he picked himself up and side-footed the penalty perfectly into the bottom right corner, just outside the despairing dive of Simonsen. It was no more than the U’s deserved, and the massed ranks of the away end went ballistic. Halftime came with the U’s still 1-0 up.

Now Tony Pulis has a bit of a reputation as being of the Ferguson hairdryer style when it came to the changing room, so it came as a bit of a surprise to hear Darel Russell revealing post-match “The gaffer surprised me at the break, he told us to stay relaxed and keep doing good things”. Even more so when you consider they hadn’t scored second half in 14 of their previous 17 matches. What’s even more surprising is that the team clearly ignored him and came out for the second half like a group possessed. I choose that word carefully, because not only were they half a yard faster than the U’s, they were also happily practising the dark arts of cynical fouls, theatrics and haranguing Graham Salisbury over every decision he made against them.

In nine short minutes, the game had been turned on its head. Russell headed home a Sidibe cross for the equaliser on 53 minutes, and four minutes later were in front when Sidibe fired a Lawrence through ball past the despariring dive of Gerken into the bottom corner. Their third came from a corner, flicked on by Ricardo Fuller for Higginbotham to score with a diving header. Sixty-two minutes gone, and there was no way back for the U’s, though there was time for Chris Barker to give Hendrie a well-deserved elbow to the face – even if it meant a red card, we enjoyed it. This was to be Chris Barker’s last appearance for the U’s, and also Iwelumo’s last goal for the U’s.

But here’s the thing – throughout all of this, the U’s faithful never let up for one minute, with a constant barrage of vociferous support for their heroes. “Georgey Williams’ Blue and White Army (WHUMP) (WHUMP) (WHUMP) (WHUMP)” we chanted – sometimes fading almost to the sort of whisper that cuts through anything, then rising in a crescendo with 1,600 full-throated voices in unison – but never ever letting up. Even as the home fans’ cheers after each goal faded, there it was, ringing out across the Britannia, relentless, unending, indefatigable. We may have been watching our dreams of a Premier League play-off place fading, but this was one of my proudest moments as a U’s fan.

Stoke City 3 (Darel Russell 53’, Mama Sidibe 57’, Danny Higginbotham 62’) Colchester United 1 (Chris Iwelumo 38’p)

It is a bit of a foot slog back to the train station from the Britannia, alongside for the most part a not particularly picturesque canal, but if I was to get the next train home, I couldn’t hang about after applauding our boys off the pitch. My train was at about quarter to six, the service from Manchester Piccadilly, which as I reached the station breathless was already at the platform. I made it, only just, and settled down for the journey home, chatting away happily with a couple of Stoke fans on the same train. It was only as we were sat on the platform at Stockport waiting to depart that I suddenly realised something was horribly wrong – “shit, I’m on the wrong train” was all I could blurt out to my companions, and dived for the door seconds before we pulled out.

It turned out in my haste I’d jumped on the 5.45 to Manchester, not the 5.45 from Manchester. Now I had a more serious problem, could I even get home to Warminster at all, given the time lost heading unnecessarily north for 40 miles? On paper, no – closest I could get was Westbury, but thankfully the inadequacies of our rail network came to my rescue for once, because my last connection at Bristol was delayed, and I made that with barely five minutes to spare.

I’ll leave you with two final comments – in his matchday programme interview, the last question to big Chris was a score prediction, to which he replied “I think it’s going to be 3-1 and that could go either way. It will be 1-1 and then whoever gets the other goals will go on to win it 3-1”. Sadly it wasn’t the U’s, but quite prophetic otherwise.

I wonder what Chris’s prediction for tomorrow night would be, knowing there won’t be 1,600 U’s faithful cheering us on, but 5,500!

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