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When Saturday Comes #20
Written by wessex_exile on Saturday, 1st Jan 2022 16:45

Finally, When Saturday Comes…and the U’s (for now at least) have a match to play. Mind you, I’m writing this on Friday afternoon, so there’s still time yet for yet another Covid/ injury postponement, I guess. I certainly hope not, as I’m planning on heading over to Crawley for this one. Mind you, now that the EFL have decreed there will be no on the day testing to eliminate the possibility of last-minute cancellations, I think I’ll defer buying a train ticket until this evening. Needless to say, a repeat of our last visit to Broadfield (The People’s Pension Stadium under the terms of a sponsorship deal) would do very nicely indeed.

Ghislaine Maxwell, socialite daughter of noted media mogul and fraudster Robert Maxwell, has been rightly convicted of sex-trafficking underage girls for the gratification of paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, herself and no doubt many others. Notably the ‘others’ might include Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, who is facing a civil case brought against him by Virginia Roberts Giuffre, one of those trafficked by Maxwell when she was only 17.

Maxwell will be sentenced in due course, but for the crimes she’s already been convicted of faces up to 65 years in prison. I’d like to think she’ll never see another day of freedom and die in prison, but the wealthy always seem to have a way of dodging these things, so let’s see. She also faces more time in court, fighting two perjury charges related to her 2016 deposition in the Giuffre case. Commentators have observed that Maxwell now faces a difficult decision, keep schtum and spend the rest of her days behind bars, or start naming names of others involved for a reduced sentence. I’d imagine there are more than a few wealthy depraved old men out there currently shaking like a sh’tting dog.

In a related matter, the BBC has apologised for broadcasting an interview with Epstein’s lawyer Alan Dershowitz following the Maxwell verdict. Despite also being cited as an offender in the Giuffre case, and only introducing him as a “constitutional lawyer” without mentioning his connection to Epstein, the BBC have since admitted that he was not “[i]a suitable person to interview as an impartial analyst[/i]” and that the interview “[i]did not meet the BBC’s editorial standards[/i]”.

In a retweet that really should have won them the internet for the day, the Sunday Sport hilariously responded…

[b]U’s World[/b]
To say the Covid pandemic has been occupying the U’s headlines is something of an understatement, with swathes of matches being postponed and the fixture list decimated throughout most of December, as the Omicron variant sweeps through the population (over 145,000 new cases yesterday alone). Whether our own cases or others, and compounded by an injury crisis, as a result we haven’t played a game since 11th December, and that the particularly dispiriting 3-0 defeat at Warsaw.

Inevitably we’ve slipped a few places in the table as a result, to within 3pts of the relegation zone. If there is a silver lining, we do have a significantly better goal difference than the four below us, and of course games in hand over pretty much everyone around us. Obviously, games in hand mean jack if you don’t win them, give me the points any day of the week and twice on Sundays. Crawley are in a very similar position, 3pts ahead of the U’s and also just 20 games played. What will be more galling to the Red Devils was they were on quite a good run prior to the Covid disruption, so fingers-crossed the hiatus has messed that up for them.

As for who emerges blinking into the sunlight from the Col U squad mini-lockdown remains to be seen, but chances are it won’t include Brendan Sarpong Wiredu even if he’s fit and raring to go. With strong rumours he’s off in the January transfer window – front-runners currently reported to be Nottingham Forest – there’s no way that he’ll be put at risk of injury this close to what should be a pretty big money deal. Quite how big is moot, and no doubt Charlton Athletic (who wanted a first dibs buy-back option) will get a decent sell-on slice, but whatever the return is, I’ve no doubt it’ll go someway to improving the club finances.

As most have been clamouring for throughout most of the first half of the season, transfer rumours also suggest that we are about to spend some of the cup run and TV money on a striker. Perhaps not the big name some might have been hoping for, but the current name in the frame appears to be 6’ 3” striker Ryan Loft at Scunthorpe for a rumoured fee of £50k.

[b]U’s bound?[/b]

Opinions are mixed on the Iron Bru messageboard ( ), some bemoaning it’s a pittance to receive, his recent improved form but frustrating inconsistency, but also suggesting he should be aiming his sights higher at League 1 level. If the sale of Loft to the U’s goes ahead, Scunthorpe have the dual problem of being one of eight clubs under a transfer embargo at the moment, after taking advantage of an EFL Monitored Loan to see them through the financial impact of Covid last season (remember, Robbie’s ‘kicking the can down the road’ analogy). One of the general principles of the loan is that it couldn’t be used to fund transfer fees or wages, so whoever Scunthorpe replace Loft with, they’ll have to be free transfers.

[b]Stat attack[/b]
A New Year and fresh start for us all, so let’s take a look at New Years Day fixtures over the years. Since 1937 we’ve played 27 times on New Years Day, 16 times away and 11 at home. As usual with the festive period fixture lists, these are generally against relatively local sides, certainly for the last 30 years or so. Our home form has been solid, winning and drawing five apiece, and losing just once (ironically to Scunthorpe United back in 1988).

[b]One year on, and just as relevant…[/b]

Away is a bit more hit and miss, with six victories, three draws and seven defeats, and we have to go back to 2008 at the Valley for our last New Years Day victory on the road. In fact, from 2008 onwards it’s kind of been all about the “C’s”, playing Cambridge United once, Charlton Athletic twice and of course tomorrow’s opponents Crawley Town three times. Only MK Dons mess up that pattern, but they mess up everything…

Our record victory was our very first New Years Day match, beating Barry 6-1 at Layer Road in 1938, matched closely by a 1977 5-0 home win over Newport County. Honourable mention must also go to a comprehensive 4-2 victory at Gresty Road in 1972. At the other end of the spectrum, Jim Smith presided over a 1975 4-1 battering at Charlton Athletic, and there have been a couple of 3-0 defeats also – the Scunthorpe game at Layer Road mentioned above, and of course most recently at Broadfield against Crawley in 2013.

[b]Match of the Day
[i]Coventry City v Colchester United
11th September 2002
Worthington Cup (1st Round)
Attendance 6,075[/i][/b]

[i]Match of the Day[/i] for WSC20 is back to the random match selector, as we go back nearly 20 years to a Wednesday evening League Cup first round fixture at Highfield Road (the League Cup sponsored by Worthington at the time). Not quite our last visit to Highfield Road, that would come two years later in the fourth round of Parky’s 2003/04 FA Cup run, but it was certainly my first and only visit to Highfield Road.

Although Highfield Road was eventually demolished and redeveloped for housing in 2005, the tale of Coventry City’s move to a new home is an ongoing and sorry one to say the least. The new ground should have been ready for the 2001/02 season, but a combination of relegation, financial problems, withdrawal of both financiers and contractors, and not least England’s failure to land the 2006 World Cup competition required significant downsizing of the previous very ambitious plans for the new stadium.

Originally sponsored by local car manufacturer Jaguar, they pulled out before the stadium had even been opened, to eventually be replaced by Ricoh. Construction delays forced Coventry City to play their first three matches of the 2005/06 season away from home, eventually opening their doors on 20th August 2005 against QPR. The previous financial constraints meant that Coventry City did not own the stadium and had to pay rent to stadium managers Arena Coventry Limited, always a very difficult relationship, and further complicated when Wasps Rugby Club became the lease holder in 2012, and effectively therefore Coventry City’s landlord. This relationship was further strained with abrasive London-based Hedge Fund SISU in control of Coventry City.

By 2013 Coventry City had had enough and announced contingency plans to move out of the Ricoh for the upcoming 2013/14, promoting petitions sent to all 72 Football League clubs urging them to reconsider. Eventually, and with the club facing administration at the time, ACL offered to let Coventry City remain rent-free, at least until they were no longer in administration. However, things were so toxic by then the offer was rejected, and Coventry started the 2013/14 season ground-sharing at Sixfields. In August 2014 an uneasy agreement was reached to allow Coventry City to return to the Ricoh, with none other than Frank Nouble scoring the only goal in a 1-0 victory in front of 27,306.

And still the unease continued – in 2016 news broke that Coventry City were looking at a groundshare arrangement with Coventry Rugby Club, a concept eventually buried by the rugby club who confirmed there would be no deal whilst SISU remained in charge. In 2019 talks between SISU and Wasps over a new lease broke down, and out went Coventry City again, this time to groundshare at St Andrews, eventually returning at the start of this season. Still though they haven’t settled and have already announced plans to co-develop a new stadium in partnership with the University of Warwick.

All in all then, and with the benefit of hindsight, Coventry City fans must be wondering whether they should have ever left Highfield Road in the first place – a city centre venue famed for its hostile intimidating atmosphere. Still, not something for Steve Whitton to worry about as the U’s lined up:

31..Richard McKinney
4….Gavin Johnson
19..Alan White
24..Pat Baldwin
10..Kem Izzet
6….Thomas Pinault (23..Leke Odunsi 45’)
20..Micky Stockwell
17..Bobby Bowry
3….Joe Keith
9….Scott McGleish
11..Dean Morgan (26..Lloyd Opara 66’)

This was of course a bit of a home-coming for Steve Whitton, after spending the first five years of his professional career at Coventry City. At the time, Coventry City were a First Division side, and although struggling to break into the play-off zone, still had players of a calibre such as the G-Men Gary Caldwell, Gary McSheffrey and player-manager Gary McCallister available. They also had David Pipe on the bench too – not a big name to me then, but someone who many years later I’d watch tear Brennan Dickenson a new one at Newport County, in a face-off that the Geneva Convention should have had something to say about.

I drove up for this game, and after a bit of a struggle trying to find street-parking anywhere within walking distance of the ground, I eventually took my place amongst quite a sizeable (and definitely vocal) following of what must have been 2-300 of the faithful from Essex in an otherwise poor crowd of just over 6,000. Before the match a respectful silence was observed for the first anniversary of the Twin Towers attack, a moment also commemorated on the front cover of a remarkably slim programme.

Good job I got there in time too, because 14 seconds after kick-off the U’s were 1-0 down. A calamitous rash challenge from Alan White was easily evaded by Dean Gordon, who racing away swung in a perfect cross for Gary McSheffrey to volley into essentially an empty net. Not the best of starts, and with their tails up Coventry continued to press and show why they were a division above the U’s. After 15 minutes player-manager McAllister demonstrated his class by curling in a 20-yard free kick, awarded for a soft foul by Pat Baldwin pulling the shirt of captain John Eustace.

And that, I thought, was that – we didn’t look likely to be able to get back into the game, and far more likely to completely fold and concede a hatful. But the U’s rallied, and having already gone close with a swivelled shot from Micky Stockwell that the Sky Blues ‘keeper Fabien Debec did well to stop, started to get a foothold in the game. I wouldn’t say we were dominating, but certainly holding our own without really carving out any clear-cut chances. We weren’t helped on occasion by officials who seemed to be struggling with the ‘you can’t be offside from a throw-in’ rule, but it would be wrong to suggest that was the only reason we were losing.

Into the second half Whitts subbed Odunsi for Pinault to try and stiffen up the midfield, and whilst it kind of worked, still we weren’t really carving out any decent chances. It was turning into a bit of a battle off the pitch too, with a solitary Coventry City supporter inviting the lairier elements of our following to come and join him on the other side of the netting separating us – an invitation our own were keen to try and take up, though thwarted by said netting…and eventually the stewards.

As the half wore on, our efforts to try and get back into the game grew more and more frantic, inevitably leaving gaps at the back as a result. Dean Morgan was replaced by livewire Lloyd Opara, which briefly made a difference – only to be countered shortly after by the introduction of David Pipe. Eventually, with six minutes to go a gap in the U’s defence was exploited, with that man Pipe swinging in a peach of a cross for Lee Mills to make no mistake with a far-post header. And that was that, we’d made a valiant effort, and the 3-0 score line was a little harsh, but still it was the right result and the U’s departed the Worthington Cup.

[b]Coventry City 3 (Gary McSheffrey 1’; Gary McAllister 15’; Lee Mills 83’) Colchester United 0[/b]

As if that wasn’t bad enough, this game was the start of a run of six successive defeats through September and into October for Steve Whitton’s U’s, by the end of which we found ourselves in the relegation zone. Steady improvement from there through to nearly Christmas saw the U’s climb back up to lower mid-table, and whilst there was still some ups and downs to come, an excellent run through February to April saw the U’s finish in a respectable 12th place.

I’ll be more than happy with a repeat of that in 2022, so Happy New Year everyone, and fingers-crossed I’ll see some of you somewhere on our travels before the end of the season.

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