|Letters from Wiltshire #20|
Written by wessex_exile on Saturday, 5th Dec 2020 16:00
And finally, for now, we see football supporters return to stadia to watch elite football…well, those that aren’t in Covid-19 Tier 3 anyway. After some of the more recent performances, there are no doubt many of the faithful that would question the moniker ‘elite’, so let’s hope the U’s respond with some pride and passion today. With Essex in Tier 2, that would allow up to 2,000 in attendance, but Robbie (sensibly in my opinion) has currently restricted capacity to just 1,000 whilst he assesses how effective the measures that have been put in place will be to ensure fans stay safe. Whether we get 1,000 in remains to be seen – when the restriction was announced we had 540 season permit holders, I don’t know if we’ve sold any more since, and I severely doubt all of the permit holders we already have will attend. But, whether its 100 or 1,000, it’ll be refreshing to at least hear some crowd noise on the iFollow stream.
[b]Sheffield Wednesday v Colchester United
Maybe we all need a bit of a lift after Crawley and Exeter, so I’m delighted that the random match selector has chosen what I’m pretty sure was my first trip to Hillsborough, as Letters from Wiltshire #20 goes back to the very start of the 2004/05 campaign. This was Phil Parkinson’s second full season in charge at Layer Road, and after steering us away from relegation on arrival in February 2003, his first full season had shown considerable promise, with a couple of decent cup runs in the FA Cup (5th Round) and LDV Vans Trophy (Area Final) thrown in for good measure, so expectations were reasonably high for 2004/05 amongst the travelling faithful.
[b]Who put the Grim in Grimsby?[/b]
Grimsby are considered the most successful of the three sides from the historic county of Lincolnshire, alongside Lincoln and Scunthorpe, winning (amongst numerous minor honours and play-offs) Division 2 twice, Division 3 once, Division 3 North twice, Division 4 once, and the Football League Trophy once. Not a bad set to be honest, and a trophy cabinet we’d be more than happy to have, but it isn’t all roses. With fluctuating but overall declining fortunes throughout their history, when they were relegated to the Conference in 2010 they became only the fourth club (after Carlisle United, Oxford United and Luton Town) to have played in all five top divisions – Leyton Orient and most recently Notts County have now also joined that group.
[b]“[i]Grimsby on a Tuesday night…[/i]”[/b]
It’s one of those Friday night matches at Layer Road that I recall particularly fondly, a crisp chilly evening in November 1974. I was 12 at the time and had been taken to Layer Road with my eldest sister, her boyfriend (to become my brother-in-law) and I think his Uncle Flash and a few others, and we were in the Barside. Anyone who was never out on a Friday night at Layer Road, I can’t even begin to describe what you missed. This was one of those nights, floodlights penetrating the misty gloom, the heady aroma of woodbines and wintergreen filling the air, and the ever-present roar of the crowd interspersed by savage terrace humour directed at both opposition supporters and players, and frequently match officials too.
It’s too far back to remember many details clearly, but I know thanks to Graeson’s www.coludata.co.uk website that John Froggatt got us off to a blistering start in the 4th minute, and doubled the lead in the 12th minute. When strike partner Bobby Svarc made it three in the 16th minute, I honestly thought it was going to be double figures by the end. But Grimsby steadied themselves, and ground things out until big John got his first and only hat-trick for the U’s half-way through the second half to make it 4-0. And then came the moment that in my mind I can still see today – with only a few minutes left on the clock a cross came in virtually along the 18 yard line, and there was diminutive Bobby Svarc bravely diving in to drill a header like an arrow from the edge of the box to make it 5-0. What a night!
[b]Owls about that then![/b]
Saturday morning, and after a bracing mid/late-morning breakfast, we headed over to the match, pausing for a few starters in the nearby Hillsborough Hotel. We weren’t the only ones either, with not only many Wednesday supporters, but quite a few of the U’s faithful doing likewise. I guess we simply weren’t on Sheffield Wednesday’s radar as a club to be wary of (even if we’d done the double over them the previous season), so there was nothing much apart from good-natured banter around the pub. Phil and Tess, willingly too, had donned U’s shirts for the afternoon, Phil in one of my spare blue and white stripes, and Tess in the dayglo orange away shirt.
Parky’s side lined up that day:
[b]New Kids on the Block[/b]
With over 24,000 in the ground, including what must have been nearly 500 of the faithful, there was certainly a decent atmosphere when the Wednesdayites found their voice, though with large sections of unoccupied seating inside the enormous stadium, when things quietened it felt strangely atmosphereless. Not that we let that get too much in our way and did our best to drive the team on in a game that on paper looked like a tricky way to start the campaign.
Karl Duguid was out injured, so the captaincy was given to Wayne Brown and it was clear right from the start he was going rise to the responsibility, constantly talking too, haranguing, bossing even his back line, leaving Sheffield Wednesday barely scraps to feed on. As often happens, before too long this started to affect the home support, with cries more of frustration than celebration ringing out, as the Owls failed to establish any sort of hold on the game. It wasn’t just a defensive masterclass either – as the U’s comfortably withheld almost everything Sheffield Wednesday had to offer, so they grew and grew in confidence as an attacking force. Craig Fagan was a constant thorn in their side, and his ding-dong battle with man-marker Patrick Collins would eventually earn both a yellow card.
As half-time arrived and the match still at 0-0, there were even a few boos and jeers from the home support, and if I’m honest, probably mild frustration amongst the away support that we weren’t actually in front – not that we’d created too many clear-cut chances to be fair. Chatting at half-time, the main worry was could we keep this up for the second half, or would Sheffield Wednesday eventually get into their stride? More importantly, if it was offered would we take the 0-0 right now, more than a few would answer yes to that one.
[b]Oh ye, of little faith[/b]
Parky countered the increased pressure with a double substitution of his own, replacing Gavin Johnson and Wayne Andrews with Jamie Cade and Ben May respectively on 72 minutes. Slowly, inexorably, as the second half wore on, it really looked like we were going to hold on for a very and thoroughly deserved valuable point away at Hillsborough.
And then something magical happened…
[b]Pinch me someone[/b]
Maybe, maybe not, but Sam Stockley decided he wasn’t going to take any chances, and with a minute to go latched on to another inch-perfect pass from Kevin Watson, raced forward into the Sheffield Wednesday half, and from all of 30 yards let rip an almighty thunderbolt of a shot. It was like time stood still as we held our breath watching as it arrowed towards the goal, past the despairing dive of Lucas to bury itself in the back of the net – and then we literally exploded!
Stockley said after “[i]as the ball left my foot I just knew it was going in. I looked up after I struck it and saw the keeper was struggling to get across and I just started running to celebrate in front of the U's fans in the stand behind the goal. I'm glad that stand was there actually, because I was so fired up I think I would have kept running right out of the ground[/i]”.
Now we definitely could relax, there was no way we could let a 2-0 lead slip…was there? Clearly Sheffield Wednesday supporters didn’t think so, and the trickle leaving after Fagan’s opener turned into a flood. And still we pressed, so fired up by the two goals there was no question of sitting back. As the match entered the last minute, Fagan tormenting their defence yet again earned a free-kick on the edge of the box. Up stepped Joey Keith with an absolutely sublime free-kick, curling around the wall and into the corner of the net, leaving a hapless David Lucas flapping at thin air in its wake, and the U’s faithful in dreamland.
[b]Sheffield Wednesday 0 Colchester United 3 (Craig Fagan 85’; Sam Stockley 89’; Joe Keith 90’)[/b]
Not surprisingly, the result took us to the top of the table. Parky was suitably calm after the match, stating "[i]we will enjoy this win, but we are not going to get carried away. To come to Sheffield Wednesday and win by this margin is a great achievement, but we have to remain focused. I'm really pleased for the guys who scored, and I thought the two new boys were good as well, both Aidan Davison and Kevin Watson did really well on their debuts[/i]".
We’d go on to win the next two matches as well, with home victories over Stockport County and Peterborough United, to stay top of the league. But, inevitably, we started to slip back, and a run of poor form through to late October saw us slip back out of the promotion race. In fact, by March we were actually starting to glance nervously over our shoulders at the wrong end of the table, but we ended strongly with 11 games unbeaten stay comfortably mid-table for another season.
However, on the evening of Saturday 7th August all we cared about was celebrating, so straight back to the Hillsborough Hotel for a few more celebratory beers. Again to their credit, there were plenty of Wednesday supporters in there as well, and all more than happy to admit we thoroughly deserved it. I used to have quite a few photos of that evening in the Hillsborough, but all I can find these days is this one of me grinning like a fecking eejit post-match.
However, that’s not quite the end of the tale. Two years later and leading up to the 2006 World Cup final, the company Sixty6Art put a plea out through social media etc. that they wanted photographs of football supporters to use in a montage banner depicting the classic scene of Bobby Moore holding aloft the Jules Rimet Trophy. I think the idea was the banner would be taken to England matches in the World Cup, though I’m not certain this did actually happen?
Anyway, I dug around in my photo archive, and found and sent in another photo from our post-match session back in the Hillsborough Hotel that evening, taken by Phil of me and Tess. To my amazement, they used the photo, and for every photo they used, they sent out a print of the montage. I still have the print on my wall, and if you look really close, seventh column in from the right, just about level with Bobby’s forehead, there’s me and Tess.
Up the U’s
Please report offensive, libellous or inappropriate posts by using the links provided.
You need to login in order to post your comments
Blogs by wessex_exile
Blogs 31 bloggers
Letters from Wiltshire #45 by wessex_exile
Tonight, Colchester United face Southend United in what may not necessarily be the most important game of our respective histories (though it’s certainly very close), but is almost certainly the most important Essex derby ever. However this season pans out, by the end of it there’ll either be only one team in Essex, or worst case scenario, none at all. If the U’s win, then Southend will be 9pts behind with just three games to go, and a minimum of a -12 goal difference to overturn if they want to overtake us. Certainly mathematically possible, but that would rely on a remarkable turnaround in their form, form that they’ve shown precious little sign of achieving so far this season. The stalking horse is Grimsby, with their game in hand, who have rather belatedly shown an improvement in form, so their match against automatic promotion chasing Morecambe tonight is equally important, particularly if we want to avoid the unthinkable, with both Essex clubs dropping out of the league.
Letters from Wiltshire #44 by wessex_exile
So here we are, as the nation mourns the passing of His Royal Highness, Duke of Edinburgh, the U’s face the first of two season-defining moments, with our late kick-off match at home to Walsall. Before then, no doubt many will have been focused on events elsewhere, not least the early kick-offs for Grimsby (at home to promotion-chasing Bolton Wanderers), and particularly Essex rivals Southend United, who faced a tricky visit to Exeter City – still very much in the hunt for at least a play-off spot. As I finalise this blog, I know that Grimsby have beaten Bolton 2-1, and Southend earned a credible 0-0 draw in the West Country. More to the point, the U’s will know this too. Whilst I can’t help but feel that will ought to be to our advantage, it surely must also put additional pressure on a squad whose confidence is paper-thin. We must hope that Hayden Mullins, assisted by Paul Tisdale, get their heads right, and send the lads out this evening fired up with self-belief.
Letters from Wiltshire #43 by wessex_exile
Well, that has been a lively week for Colchester United in the press, and not least for Robbie Cowling, with not one, or two, but kind of three club announcements in rapid succession to try and put the record straight. First, we had Tribunalgate, which certainly looked very poor according to the initial press reports, but which on closer inspection when some of the ‘fact gaps’ were filled in wasn’t anywhere near the story that some would have us believe. Then of course we had the ‘leak’ that the U’s were about to go into administration, despite all the reassurances we’d been given in previous statements from Robbie. Not so said Robbie again, and particularly angry at what he believed to be the source of the story. Hence statement #3, repeating his assurances, but this time after passing through the lawyer filter to remove his thoughts on the source. To paraphrase Robbie’s conclusion to that statement, let’s hope we can all have a day off from this sort of media shenanigans and enjoy our game at Oldham tonight!
Letters from Wiltshire #42 by wessex_exile
Well, these sure are strange times at Colchester United, particularly for a club (nor a Chairman) not usually associated with the ‘managerial revolving door’ approach. With results not matching expectations or even minimum requirements, and a brief spell after being appointed Interim Head Coach, Wayne Brown has been released to return to the Jammers, for whenever their pandemic-interrupted football restarts. In comes not one, or two, but three new ‘appointments’. Hayden Mullins steps up as Head Coach to the end of the season, Joe Dunne apparently comes back to the U’s in a sort of unofficial coaching/ team-spirit sort of role, and exceptionally experienced lower-league former Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale arrives to provide Hayden with advice and support – crikey!
Letters from Wiltshire #41 by wessex_exile
This afternoon the U’s take on Bradford City in a bid to gather sufficient points to stay clear of the bottom two. It’ll be a tough gig though, even if (as I suspect) Bradford City have left it a bit too late to challenge the play-off spots. They were on a decent run of form, that is until defeats at Newport, Carlisle, Scunthorpe and a goalless draw at home to Oldham put paid to any lingering promotion hopes. For us, it’s simple, to stay out of the bottom two, for all intents and purposes we only need to gain half (or more) of the points that Grimsby or Southend do. Sounds easy, just wish I felt more confident we will…