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Letters from Wiltshire #47
Written by wessex_exile on Sunday, 2nd May 2021 13:35

Here we are, at the penultimate game of the season, and our last game in front of the cardboard U’s faithful at the JobServe. It has been a long, difficult, and definitely strange season, which frankly I’ll be glad to see the back of. That’ll we’ll be here again in August is definitely going to be something to celebrate, but I suspect we’re facing a summer of significant rebuilding both on the pitch, and possibly off it too. I won’t be the only one, but the biggest oddity for me has been being able to watch every single game – not always easy viewing, but something I’ve never done before, and probably never will again. But it doesn’t really make up for not being there in person, the long train journey away-days, meeting fellow U’s and other supporters, and of course sharing a beer or three. Fingers-crossed we can return to the terraces in 2021/22.

[b]Peterborough United v Colchester United
Tuesday 11th March 1997
Auto Windscreens Shield (Area Final First Leg)
Attendance 4,556[/b]

Letters from Wiltshire #47 returns to the random match selector, this time selecting our 1997 Auto Windscreen Shield area semi-final first leg match against Peterborough United at London Road. A much-maligned competition these days, and not without good reason, back then this was a competition genuinely worth taking seriously for lower league clubs who fancied a day out at Wembley.

[b]”[i]It’s not the destination, it’s the journey[/i]”[/b]
So said American essayist, lecturer, philosopher, abolitionist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, and I firmly believe that with remarkable precognition he was thinking about our 1996/97 Auto Windscreens Shield campaign. It had certainly been a challenging journey for the U’s, and a clear testament to how seriously Steve Wignall and the U’s were taking the competition.

We started with a tricky first round visit to fellow 3rd Division rivals Cambridge United, with the U’s triumphant following an 89th minute winner from Steve Whitton. The second round draw did us no favours at all, away again, this time at 2nd Division Millwall. However, the U’s hadn’t read the script, and despite going behind early, got to the end of normal time drawing 2-2 thanks to a brace from Rooster, the second in the 88th minute. Three minutes into extra-time, Paul Buckle blasted the U’s straight into the quarter-finals with our third, and this time golden, goal.

Into the quarter-finals, and again the U’s were drawn away, this time at high-flying 2nd Division Brentford. No last-minute theatrics this time, with a solitary goal from Paul Abrahams in the 35th minute taking the U’s through to the Area semi-finals. Finally, a home tie came out of the hat, against Northampton Town. In front of nearly 4,000 at Layer Road, U’s ‘keeper John Vaughan was red-carded after barely 20 minutes, with Richard Wilkins taking over in goal until half-time. He made it without conceding too, at which point Chris Fry was sacrificed so that Pater Cawley could come on and take over in goal. The deadlock was finally broken when David Greene put the U’s into the lead just after the hour mark, only for David Martin to level less than a minute later. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, and Millwall hero Paul Buckle scored our second with 15 minutes to go, and the U’s were through to the Area Final.

Under new manager Barry Fry, 2nd Division Peterborough’s journey had been easier – a bye in the first round and a comfortable 2-0 home win over Walsall in the second round. They similarly eased through the quarter-final winning 1-0 away at 3rd Division strugglers Exeter City, before a trickier 1-0 victory at fellow 2nd Division rivals Watford in the semi-final. They needed the distraction of a cup run too, because they weren’t having a good season in the league. As Barry Fry commented in his programme notes ahead of our London Road match “[i]incredible isn’t it? One minute we are fighting for our Second Division lives and the next aiming for a place at Wembley[/i]”.

[b]The Bridge away fan pub, shortly after closure[/b]

Having had a taste of the Wembley experience already at our FA Trophy victory over Witton Albion back in 1992, I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to get behind the U’s and hopefully cheer them on to another appearance there. So, moving stuff around in my diary as best of possible, there I was late on the Tuesday afternoon driving over to Peterborough for the match. Meeting up with my brother-in-law in the Bridge before kick-off for a quick one (just the one mind), we then took our place on the Moy’s End terrace amongst what must have been about 500 of the U’s faithful, in an otherwise surprisingly poor crowd of 4,556.

Steve Wignall’s U’s lined up pretty much as listed on the back of the programme, the key difference being the absent Paul Abrahams at no. 11, replaced for this match by that master of ‘sh*thousery’, Karl Anthony Duguid. I think Abrahams must have been injured during our previous match, a 1-0 defeat at the Abbey the previous Friday – that would certainly explain why he wasn’t even on the bench. Either that, or the yellow card he received at Cambridge forced a one-match suspension – did they have that rule back then?

1….Carl Emberson
2….David Gregory
3….Joe Dunne
4….Tony McCarthy
5….David Greene
6….Paul Buckle
7….Chris Fry (Mark Sale)
8….Adam Locke
9….Steve Whitton
10..Tony Adcock
11..Karl Duguid (Paul Gibbs)

Despite their poor league form, Barry Fry’s Posh were still a division above the U’s and had players in their line-up that showed it. Bart Griemink in goal is a very good example, and outfield players like Craig Ramage, and of course talented strike duo Ken Charlery and on-loan Ricky Otto. However, the name to highlight looking back on this match from where we are now is their no. 2, listed on the programme as “Adrian Boothroyd”. Yep, former U’s manager Aidy Boothroyd had signed for Posh the previous year, after three successful seasons with Mansfield Town. He would unfortunately and prematurely finish his playing career at Peterborough too, picking up an injury that forced his retirement in 1998.

With the U’s faithful in good voice, everyone was pinning their hopes on making sure we had a target to aim at for the decisive second leg at Layer Road. Don’t get tonked, score a goal, maybe even hold out for a draw – pretty much any of these would have to be considered a reasonable result with home advantage for the second leg. Straight from the kick-off that clearly was going to be a tough ask, with the U’s penned back in their own half.

[b]Ricky Otto in the previous round at Watford[/b]

Wave after wave of attacks from Peterborough finally breached the U’s rearguard, when that man Ricky Otto put the Posh into a 15th minute lead. If that wasn’t bad enough, playing as if this competition was going to make or break their season, Peterborough didn’t let up, and 20 minutes later, Otto’s partner-in-crime Charlery made it 2-0. We looked like we were going to be due a right thumping, and Wembley dreams were evaporating all around me.

But you see, it’s Waldo’s journey that made us, not the destination, and the steel, grit and determination that had brought us to this point started to show through. We got through to half-time without any further damage, to emerge in the second half with fire in our belly and a dogged refusal to lay down in front of our higher league opposition. Suddenly it was Peterborough United on the back foot, clearly more desperate to hold onto their 2-0 advantage than try and add to it.

The U’s laid siege to the Posh goal for most of the second half, with ‘keeper Griemink on good form to keep the U’s out when called upon. Second half substitutions by Wignall, bringing on big Mark Sale and not-so-big Paul Gibbs kept the pressure on, but try as we might the U’s just couldn’t find that elusive away goal, and the first leg finished with Peterborough holding a decent 2-0 advantage to defend at Layer Road the following Tuesday.

[b]Peterborough United 2 (Ricky Otto 15’; Ken Charlery 35’) Colchester United 0[/b]

Of course our journey wasn’t over, and on an emotional night at Layer Road a week later (which sadly I couldn’t be at), the U’s showed their true dominance, taking a 1-0 lead through Twiggy Fry in the 38th minute, courtesy of a somewhat fortunate rebound from a drilled clearance it has to be said (and his last goal for the U’s).

A moment of catastrophic buffoonery saw Ken Charley sent off for deliberate handball, and Paul Buckle took the game to extra-time with a stunning drive with ten minutes to go. Ten minutes into extra-time, substitute Paul Abrahams (now back in the squad) probably scored the goal of his career, with a long-range blaster that had Griemink caught all ends up, and a golden goal to take the U’s to Wembley.

To add insult to injury, Peterborough United also failed in their bid to avoid relegation, joining the U’s in the 3rd Division the following season.

There is a short YouTube clip showing the highlights of the second leg, which is definitely well worth a watch.

Up the U’s

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