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Letters from Wiltshire #43
Written by wessex_exile on Saturday, 10th Apr 2021 14:46

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!

[b]Salisbury City v Hull City
Saturday 14th November 1998
FA Cup (First Round)
Attendance 2,570[/b]

Letters from Wiltshire #43, and the random match selector has chosen one of the few non-U’s matches in my memorabilia collection, and the visit of Hull City to my then home-town of Salisbury, back in the First Round of the FA Cup in November 1998. This was a rare feat for the Whites, and as a result was quite a big thing in the town – particularly in an area more traditionally associated with rugby.

No doubt many of you will have read that perma-tan Phil Brown has taken over from Mark Molesley as manager of our beleaguered South Essex rivals Southend United. This will be his second spell at Roots Hall, his first stint starting well with three Wembley appearances and eventually promotion to League 1 via the play-offs, but ending with the ignominy of being placed on ‘gardening leave’ (why not just sacked?). It is therefore intriguing that the random match selector has chosen a match involving Hull City – the club where he forged his managerial reputation, eventually taking them to the dizzy heights of the Premier League.

[b]”[i]To manage Southend United once, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to do it twice looks like carelessness…[/i]”[/b]

Never mind managing Southend United twice, it’s worth reflecting that the Colchester United Phil Brown connection is significantly more entwined than that. When Brown arrived at Hull City, it was of course as assistant to newly appointed Phil Parkinson, after Parky walked out on the U’s following our own promotion to the Championship. Needless to say, despite their bluff and bluster, Peter Heard rinsed Hull City for a tidy sum in compensation on the steps of the High Court. Brown stepped up to be joint caretaker manager alongside Colin Murphy when Parky was sacked less than four months into his new job, the final straw being their 5-1 demolition at Layer Rd.

[b]Salisbury in one paragraph[/b]
The original Salisbury grew up within and around the ramparts of Old Sarum, an Iron Age hill fort which probably saw a bit of Roman on Briton action for a while also. The hill fort was refortified in the Saxon period, eventually forming part of Alfred’s [i]Burghal Hidage[/i] defences, a network of fortifications designed to give the Vikings a right kicking. Always a poor location for a settlement, New Sarum (modern-day Salisbury) was established in the valley below by Bishop Roger in 1220, after the army refused him entry to the fort after curfew, and he had to spend the night sleeping in the ditch. Old Sarum survived as one of the original Rotten Boroughs, continuing to elect a member of parliament until 1832, despite there only being three houses and seven electors at the time. In 1221 work started on the cathedral, the main body of which took 38 years to construct – that’s actually quite quick for cathedrals. Apparently, the foundations were formed on just 18 inches of f’aggots on a gravel bed – society was considerably less tolerant in those days. Since then, there’s been riots, bloody assizes, rebellions, plagues, all the usual stuff you expect in medieval and post-medieval Britain. I arrived on the day of the 1990 World Cup final – oh, and Russian nerve agent assassins were out and about quite recently.

[b]The Big Day[/b]
So as I said, the magic of the cup and all that meant there was considerable interest from the local population for this one. Generally one of the better-supported non-league sides at their level (at the time Salisbury were a reasonably well-established Southern League Premier Division side), they had moved from Victoria Park in the city (literally a park pitch) up to the purpose-built Raymond McEnhill Stadium (known locally as just the Ray Mac) a year earlier. With significantly increased capacity as a result, this allowed a record 2,570 to attend the game, including a few coach-loads from Hull and myself and my daughter Lauren for her first football match ever.

[b]On the day[/b]
The teams lined up as follows:

Mr Brown had yet to arrive at Hull City, who at the time were managed by Warren Joyce as caretaker manager. He was caretaker manager because Mark ‘Attila’ Hateley had been sacked as manager during the preceding week, after an exceptionally poor start to their 1998/99 Third Division campaign had seen 12 defeats in 18 attempts which left the Tigers well and truly adrift at the bottom of the table. Amongst their line-up that afternoon was Gregor Rioch, son of Bruce, and an accomplished lower-league defender on his day. Salisbury, on the other hand, were having a reasonable season in the 6th tier of the Football League, definitely holding their own as a solid mid-table outfit.

Although the official capacity for the Ray Mac is currently 3,740, a sizeable proportion of that is just grass bank down one side of the ground and a chunk of the south end behind the goal. The terrace forming the remainder of the south end was occupied by the Hull supporters, which left most of the remainder crammed in on the main covered terraces at the north end and down the west side of the ground. It was, therefore, surprisingly cramped, so finding a vantage spot that Lauren could see the game from proved tricky, and we ended up down at the front near the north-east corner flag.

Salisbury City were at the Tigers from the outset, and clearly were in no way over-awed by their league opponents. Aidy Randall in particular was having a whale of a time in the midfield, chasing down everything, and really giving the Hull midfield and defence a torrid time. It was also clear to see why Hull were struggling at the wrong end of the league, and there was clearly expectation in the crowd that an upset could be on the cards. However, as we know only too well, if you don’t take your chances, then the chances are you’ll eventually be punished.

The game reached half-time goalless, and so despite the crowd, it was time to treat Lauren to her first taste of football concourse food – I think it was a hotdog, bottle of water and bag of crisps, and she was loving it all – particularly chuckling at the (ahem) docker’s banter from the terrace around her. I seemed to be spending quite a bit of time reminding her not to repeat anything she heard when she got home!

Into the second half, and I suppose it’s fair to say that the fitness levels of the professional side were starting to show through. The Whites were still having a decent go, but now starting to find themselves under sustained pressure at times too. Eventually, and I’d still say against the run of play on balance, Hull City took the lead with an effort from Gregor Rioch. As gutting as it was, the heads of the Salisbury City side didn’t drop, and for the next 10-15 minutes again they had Hull City on the back-foot. This included a cast-iron certain penalty, which referee Rob Styles inexplicably waved away.

About halfway through the second half came what remains one of my comedy gold moments watching football. A couple of Hull City chavs with a flag, clearly believing they were so much harder than a bunch of non-league yokels, decided to try and ‘take’ the home terrace behind the goal. Now, they kind of hadn’t figured that yokels spend most of their day performing hard manual labour out in all weathers, are generally tough as old boots, and have hands the size of shovels – they soon realised they’d made a terrible mistake. They were eventually dragged out (aka rescued) by the police, battered, bruised and minus a Hull City flag, with bellowing laughter from the agricultural sorts ringing in their well and truly boxed ears.

Anyway, back to the match, and having been denied a certain penalty for Salisbury City, inevitably Hull City then doubled their lead with just over 10 minutes to go. This one really did knock the stuffing out of the Whites, many of whom were already running on empty, and some game management substitutions from Warren Joyce saw Hull City over the line and into the Second Round of the FA Cup.

[b]Salisbury City 0 Hull City 2 (Gregor Rioch 55’; Brian McGinty 79’)[/b]

Despite their dreadful league form, Hull City got through the Second Round too, winning 2-1 away at Luton Town. Their reward was a trip to Aston Villa in the Third Round, and though they lost 3-0, they would have done very well out of their share of gate receipts for an attendance of nearly 40,000.

This cup run also seemed to be the catalyst for a remarkable turnaround in their league form, winning ten and drawing eight of their 22 matches in the second half of the season, comfortably avoiding relegation out of the league – that honour befell Scarborough. Hull City supporters to this day still refer to that season as [i]The Great Escape[/i].

Incidentally, whilst me and Lauren were showing support for my adopted home-town in the FA Cup, the U’s were up at Bedlington Terriers – I reckon I had the better day of it…

Up the U’s

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When Saturday Comes #10 by wessex_exile
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