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When Saturday Comes #4
Written by wessex_exile on Saturday, 4th Sep 2021 19:16

I start with an apology for the no-show last weekend, but for all the right reasons. My nephew and his fiancé finally managed to tie the knot on Friday, at the fifth time of asking (previous four attempts falling foul of covid restrictions unfortunately). It was a fantastic afternoon and evening over in Essex, but meant it just wasn’t possible to get a blog produced. A significant proportion of the wedding party were U’s supporters, including the groom, but any thought of live-streaming the Rochdale game at the evening celebration might have resulted in the fastest divorce on record, so we contented ourselves with surreptitious glances at the BBC Sports updates – and what an own goal it was! Different circumstances, but I was (painfully) reminded of Aidan and Kevin’s howler at Blackburn – golden rule, never, ever pass the ball directly towards your own goal.

Out in the real world obviously the big news has been the withdrawal from Afghanistan, but as promised I’m not going to say any more on that other than it’s done now, and we wait to see how the Taliban lives up to its claim to be the new progressive voice for the Afghan nation.

On Thursday, England strengthened their World Cup qualification prospects with an eventually comfortable 4-0 victory over Hungary at the Puskas Arena, all goals scored in the second half following a distinctly mediocre first half. However, the match was overshadowed by a toxic atmosphere of repeated racial abuse from the Hungarians, particularly aimed at Raheem Sterling and Jude Bellingham. Objects, including a flare, were thrown on the pitch and specifically at players, and Gareth Southgate pelted with ice during his post-match interview.

UEFA had already imposed a 3-match supporter ban on Hungary for similar discriminatory behaviour during Euro 2020, but the World Cup is a FIFA competition, who therefore decided that the ban didn’t apply to their own competition. Needless to say, FIFA are now investigating this most recent incident – one hopes that investigation includes understanding why they chose to ignore the warning signs that everyone else could see and allow supporters to attend. Gareth had it right when he commented post-match “[i]the world is modernising and although some people are stuck in their ways of thinking and their prejudices, they're going to be the dinosaurs in the end because the world is changing[/i]”.

FIFA have vowed to take “[i]adequate actions[/i]”, so that’s a relief…

[b]Closer to home[/b]
For the U’s, the big news has to be the deadline day signing of Armando Dobra on a season-long loan from our feeder club up the A12. Not the tried and tested out-and-out 20-goal per season striker we were hoping for, but given those beasts appear to be as rare as hens teeth, I’m very happy as a consolation prize to see highly-rated attacking midfielder/ winger Dobra arrive. Others were after him too, including League 1 sides Gillingham, Shrewsbury and AFC Wimbledon, as well as a bunch of fellow League 2 sides, so another feather in the cap for the recruitment team I say – or does that constitute fishing 😊?

[b]Welcome to the U’s Armando![/b]

Born in England, Dobra qualifies to play for Albania through his father’s side, already representing both the U19 and U21 Albanian national sides and scoring once (the consolation goal in a 5-1 defeat against Greece in a Euro 2020 U19 qualifier). Although I’m relying on Wikipedia here, I don’t think he’s scored a domestic goal yet in his professional career, so I would imagine he’s going to break that duck soon enough whilst at the U’s – hopefully in front of the iFollow cameras on Saturday.

[b]Stat attack[/b]
Tomorrow we face league new boys Sutton United, though for the U’s, they are by no means strangers. We first met in our unsuccessful attempt to escape the Conference in 1990/91, winning 1-0 home and away for one of many league doubles that season under Ian Atkins. It could be argued Sutton had their revenge, albeit a somewhat pyrrhic one, later the same season beating the U’s 2-0 at the Borough Sports Ground in the Conference League Cup (aka the meaningless Bob Lord Trophy), ultimately going on to win the trophy that season.

The real revenge however was to come two years later, when we met in the first round of the FA Cup at Layer Road. In a tense end-to-end game (that I had the misfortune to witness), Sutton charged into a 2-0 lead, we pulled it back to 2-2, they took the lead again in the 84th minute, we again equalised in the 86th minute, and when we were all coming to terms with the likelihood of a somewhat embarrassing replay against non-league opposition, Ollie Morah spared our blushes by scoring the winner for Sutton United in the 88th minute.

Their reward was a second round trip to Torquay, and to show they weren’t to be underestimated, won that 1-0. This earned a third round draw against Endsleigh Division 1 side Notts County. To their credit, Sutton United made a game of it, eventually bowing out with a narrow 3-2 defeat at Meadow Lane – denied a deserved replay by a 94th minute penalty for the Magpies. All the more impressive when you consider Notts County finished the season just one place and three points outside the play-offs for the Premier League, also reaching the final of the Anglo-Italian Cup (losing 1-0 to Brescia) – oh how the mighty have fallen.

[b]Match of the Day
[i]Partick Thistle v Colchester United
Saturday 29th July 1989
Pre-season friendly
Attendance 1,500[/i][/b]

With thanks to fellow messageboarder [b]pwrightsknees[/b], today’s [i]Match of the Day[/i] is a WSC special which comes right out of leftfield, as we go back to the season before we first met Sutton United. However, and pretty much for the first time, [i]Match of the Day[/i] is a pre-season friendly, away at Partick Thistle – the first time the U’s had ever played in Scotland. The match report combines both personal recollections from PWK and online accounts of the game.

The backstory here is that PWK and his family had been living in Scotland for the previous six years, at the time only a few miles from Firhill, so when the rare opportunity to watch the U’s came along (and just a couple of weeks before PWK’s birthday), his son decided to treat Dad to birthday tickets to go and see the match. As PWK comments, lower league English football didn’t (probably still doesn’t) have much of a draw in Scotland, so after six years of being starved of U’s news and views, he was really looking forward to running the rule over the team.

As a further lovely twist, for some reason they didn’t buy a programme on the day, so the same son recently scoured the internet and eventually found a copy on Ebay, which was presented to PWK at his most recent birthday – many belated happy returns PWK! Through a herculean effort, PWK has sent me photographs of all the pages of the programme – no mean feat when you consider that for a pre-season friendly, this was a full-on 40-page proper programme, and all for the princely sum of just 60p.

But why Partick Thistle, why a tour of Scotland?

As we all know, back in 1989 the U’s were managed by legendary firebrand Jock Wallace Jnr, who had just successfully guided the U’s away from relegation to the Conference. Jock Wallace was a legend in Scottish football, particularly for Rangers supporters who still look on him as one of their greatest ever managers. I am led to believe that when the U’s visited Darlington in that vital relegation 6-pointer at the tail end of the 1988/89 season, the massed ranks of U’s who made the long trip north were swelled by Rangers supporters travelling south just to see and support Big Jock. Given his strong Scottish connections, it came as no surprise therefore that Wallace organised a pre-season tour of Scotland. The trip to the “Jags” was the first one on the itinerary, to be followed by games against Raith Rovers (lost 3-0), Stranraer (drew 0-0) and Cumnock Juniors (drew 1-1).

As one would expect from a pre-season friendly, the matchday programme didn’t know in advance what the line-ups for each team were going to be. However, from a match report also provided by PWK, we know the U’s lined up:

1….John Grace
2….John Pollard
3….Clive Stafford
4….Eamonn Collins
5….Steve Hetzke
6….Scott Daniels
7….Ian Allinson
8….Tony English
9….Richard Wilkins
10..Bob Scott
11..Mark Kinsella

Our subs are listed as Rodney Rooke, Robbie Devereux, Lee Hunter and Mark Radford, but I can’t find any record that any of them actually made an appearance – not just a rarity, almost unheard of these days. The noteworthy names in the U’s line-up were the summer arrivals of Irish trio John Grace (undisclosed fee from Tolka Rovers), Eamonn Collins (free transfer from Portsmouth) and of course Mark Kinsella (free transfer from Home Farm).

I’m not sure whether there were many others of the U’s faithful at the match (anyone?) but given Kinsella must have only just arrived (he’s not listed in the squad or round-up of U’s players in the programme), I would imagine this would make PWK part of a very small and select group to have witnessed probably Kinsella’s first appearance in a U’s shirt. Comparing dates, Graeson’s coludata website lists Kinsella signing for the U’s on 26th August 1989, whilst Wikipedia suggests 18th August 1989, so about 3-4 weeks after this match. I’d imagine it would have been somewhere about those dates, which must mean Kinsella was only a triallist for the Scottish tour.

Partick Thistle, despite their name, haven’t played in Partick since 1908. They play their matches at Firhill Stadium in the Maryhill district of Glasgow and have done since moving there in 1909 after a season spent homeless. Their “Jags” nickname is a reference to the club thistle badge, and is derived from the Scottish expression [i]jaggie[/i] (i.e. prickly). From their formation back in 1891, right the way through to the early 80s, they were predominantly a top-flight side, though have been on a bit of a roller-coaster ride up and down the leagues since then. At the time of the U’s visit, the Jags were plying their trade in the Scottish First Division. Until April 1989, the club was under the ownership of none other than Ken Bates, apparently trying to use the Jags as a feeder club for Chelsea. It was an experiment doomed to failure, and in April Bates was bought out by a local group of businessmen led by Jim Donald.

With the new owners making their mark, the Jags boasted quite a few new faces at the club, but it was established midfielder Chic Charnley who was causing the U’s the most trouble right from the outset. With barely six minutes on the clock he struck a great effort in on goal, which just cleared both Grace’s dive and fortunately the bar as well. Straight after he linked well with striker Flood, the latter shooting wide of the post with English and Wilkins in close attendance.

I’m not sure who was responsible, but shortly after Charnley went down injured following no doubt a crunching tackle, but fortunately (for Partick Thistle) was able to continue after treatment. Albeit online accounts are mostly from a home team perspective, it seemed to be all Partick Thistle in the opening exchanges, including a header from Gallagher that went narrowly wide. Eventually though the pressure told, and in the 24th minute Flood and Charnley worked well together to set up a chance for Gallagher, who made no mistake from 10 yards.

Partick Thistle weren’t done either, McCoy nearly made it two with a cheeky overhead kick that nearly caught out Grace. However, the U’s were slowly starting to get into the game themselves, though the Jags defence were generally dealing with any pressure reasonably comfortably. On 38 minutes Grace had to be alert to danger and rushed 40 yards out to clear a chance put through from Charnley into the path of Flood. Right on the stroke of half-time the U’s really should have equalised from a clever lob by Richard Wilkins which beat goalkeeper Murdoch, but sadly hit the post rather than nestling in the back of the net.

Not too downhearted from that missed opportunity, the U’s started much brighter in the second half, with Ian Allinson forcing a fine save from Murdoch within minutes of the restart. On 55 minutes the U’s finally got the reward their improved performance deserved. A long throw into the penalty area created havoc in the Partick Thistle defence, and whilst many of the U’s players appealed for what looked like a clear handball, Bob Scott took full advantage of the distraction to tuck a shot past Murdoch and into the corner of the net.

Now more evenly balanced, both sides had half-hearted chances to take the lead, with big central defender Alex Kennedy (recently signed from Motherwell) in particular making a set-piece nuisance of himself amongst the U’s defence. On 67 minutes Partick Thistle finally broke the deadlock, with a well-worked goal inevitably involving man of the match Chic Charnley again. It was his clever lob that caught both Grace and Hetzke at sixes and sevens, allowing Peebles to nip in and drill home what would turn out to be the winning goal.

PWK’s post-match analysis reflects the online accounts available – it was a solid performance, the U’s gave a good account of themselves, but ultimately 2-1 to the Jags was about the right result.

[b]Partick Thistle 2 (Brian Gallagher 24’; Gary Peebles 67’) Colchester United 1 (Bob Scott 55’)[/b]

Chic Charnley was to go on to become a cult hero at Partick Thistle, playing for them on no less than four separate occasions between 1988 and 2003, coached them for one season, and needless to say is a member of their Hall of Fame. In another interesting parallel with the U’s around this period, Charnley picked up an impressive 17 red cards during his 20-year professional playing career, still a way short of Big Roy’s record tally of 22 though.

The least said about the approaching 1989/90 season for the U’s the better, suffice to say it was match #7 before we finally won a game (4-1 at home to Maidstone) and it would be Boxing Day before we did again – though given it was our 2-0 victory at Roots Hall, probably worth the wait. Relegation, the Conference and Sutton United [i]et al[/i] beckoned…

Sadly, Jock Wallace was forced to retire just before that Roots Hall match through ill-health (as a result of the degenerative effects of Parkinson’s disease, though that wasn’t public knowledge at the time) and passed away from a heart attack aged just 60 in 1996. Although one or two openly expressed their distaste for his Sergeant Major approach to training, the vast majority of Wallace’s players throughout his managerial career adored him. Certainly the U’s players did, affectionally referring to him and assistant Alan Ball as [i]Bawl and Ball[/i].

His reputation as a tough disciplinarian was certainly well-deserved. A terrified Gary Lineker once recalled when Wallace was manager of Leicester City that Big Jock “[i]…pinned me against the dressing room wall at half-time and called me a lazy English this and that. We were 2–0 up and I'd scored both goals. I didn't score in the second half – I was still shaking![/i]”. However, many who knew him well also understood that beneath the granite exterior, Big Jock may well have had a gruff growl but it masked a soft centre.

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