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When Saturday Comes #21
Written by wessex_exile on Sunday, 9th Jan 2022 14:45

Here we are then, what should have been the first home game of 2022, and I discover seconds before posting this that the game is called off because of a waterlogged pitch. Having gone to the trouble of writing this, even though we’re not playing I’m going to post it anyway – it’s not like you’ve got anything else to do this afternoon.

Whenever we do next have a game in this league, we must hope for a better result than our first two fixtures of the New Year, albeit the performance against high-flying Sutton United in the Pizza Slice Trophy deserved more than a 2-1 defeat. Certainly, my New Year’s Day trip to Crawley witnessed a significantly below par performance against just an average Crawley Town, taken apart with ease on three occasions to hand the 3pts over on a plate. Even then though, it was so frustrating that for prolonged periods in the second half, admittedly when we were chasing the game, we seemed to have Crawley at sixes and sevens, but apart from our long awaited first away league goal since Barrow, just couldn’t convert any of the chances.

In the wider world, the judge in the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial has handed down sentences to his killers, Travis McMichael, father Gregory McMichael and William ‘Roddie’ Bryan. All were facing a mandatory life sentence, that was already known, the only uncertainty was whether the judge would listen to pleas for clemency and allow any or all an entitlement to parole after 30 years.

Not so for Travis McMichael who blasted Arbery with his shotgun at point-blank range, nor his father Gregory McMichael, neither of whom will ever see freedom again and will die in prison. Roddie Bryan, the only one who has shown even a shred of remorse, and who was not armed that day, will be entitled to parole in 30 years, but at 52 years of age whether he reaches that point is another matter. In a chilling and emotionally charged ruling, the judge made the courtroom sit in silence for just one minute of the five minutes the three men chased down Arbery in their trucks, in his words to put in context just how long he fled for his life.

The three men still face hate crime charges because of the compelling racial element to this case. One might wonder, what’s the point, they can’t serve any longer in prison than they’re going to anyway – but that’s missing the point. In a society riven by racial injustice, in a community policed by those who would do nothing about the vigilante lynching of black Ahmaud Arbery by three white men until Bryan’s video of the murder was leaked two months later, it is vital that the potential racial motivation for this dreadful crime is scrutinised, and if proven, the perpetrators sentenced.

Closer to home, and in its way intimately related, the so-called Colston Four, Sage Willoughby, Rhian Graham, Milo Ponsford, and Jake Skuse (no relation, I assume?), were found not guilty of causing criminal damage for their role in toppling the statue of slave trader Edward Colston and, after a black man in the crowd knelt on the neck of the statue for 8 minutes and 48 seconds – the same length of time that Derek Chauvin knelt on the neck of George Floyd until Floyd died, unceremoniously rolling the statue into Bristol harbour.

Notwithstanding this was a show trial almost demanded by Priti Patel, given a police witness in the case had testified that literally thousands had been involved in toppling the statue, appearing as a witness for the prosecution, Bristol Council head of Culture and Creative Industries Jonathan Finch had admitted under cross-examination that there had been efforts to have the statue removed as far back as the early 20th century, with concerted campaigns from at least the 1990s onwards.

Efforts that were constantly thwarted and/or ignored by the Council, often with the support of the wealthy elite of the Society of Merchant Venturers, responsible for the erection of the statue in the first place. Indeed, many believe erecting Colston’s statue, a man responsible for the enslavement of an estimated 84,000 Black people, including 12,000 children, and the deaths of 19,000, 170 years after his death, was in direct response to the erection of a statue of Anglo-Irish statesman, economist and philosopher Edmund Burke, a noted opponent of the slave trade, and often cited as the source of the famous quote “[i]The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing[/i]”.

Tom Wainwright, defence barrister for Milo Posford, summed the case up eloquently.
“[i]If you have a cancer like Colston festering in your city, you cut it out. Even a new plaque would only have been a sticking plaster. Cutting it out will leave a scar, so that people remember what was there in the past and make sure it doesn’t return, but only once it is gone can the body heal. You have heard during this trial of the positive impact this action had, in prompting action where there was lethargy, promoting understanding where there was ignorance, provoking discussion where there was silence. Not just in this city, not just in this country but around the world. Bristol, like its tower, is no longer weighed down by the name of Colston but is a beacon showing how to bring communities together[/i]”.

[b]U’s World[/b]
Closer to home, and with the January transfer window opening, we have seen the first flurry of activity at the JobServe. Not the rumoured Ryan Loft, he’s gone to Bristol City instead, nor so far the departure of Brendan Sarpong-Wiredu to Nottingham Forest, or anywhere else for that matter. One of the small rays of sunshine on New Year’s Day was seeing him out on the Crawley pitch warming up – I was certain if he was off he wouldn’t be played. Of course, there’s still a lot of January to go, so I’ll be pleasantly surprised if he’s still with us when the transfer window closes.

No, the first addition is Tom Dallison – a centre back/ left back defender of indeterminate height from Crawley. A product of the West Ham youth set-up, and latterly Arsenal, Dallison began his professional career at Brighton, and then spent the next five years out on loan at Dartford, Braintree, Crawley, Cambridge United and Accrington Stanley. In a somewhat odd move geographically, when he was released by Brighton in 2018 he moved to Falkirk, before returning after one season to sign for Crawley Town three years ago, a contract Crawley were happy to renew last January. Welcome Tom, I hope you have a long and productive stay at the U’s.

[b]Welcome Tom![/b]

The other news, which has sent ripples throughout the Colchester United community, is the permanent signing of former Solihull Moors loanee Cameron Coxe. Now, I will be the first to admit that I haven’t been too impressed with some of Coxe’s performances so far this season, though as [b]Noah[/b] has pointed out, he actually had a very good game at Sutton on Tuesday night.

If we can find the right position and formation for Coxe, I for one will be delighted and more than prepared to forgive and forget some of his previous gaffs. The point has already been made elsewhere, he’s a young lad and deserves the chance to prove his doubters wrong. Having met his mates post-match in a Swindon pub earlier in the season, mates who were prepared to travel over from Cardiff to support Cameron, I feel somewhat emotionally-invested in Cameron Coxe.

[b]Good luck to you lad, do us proud![/b]

[b]Stat attack[/b]
We’ve played today’s opponents Rochdale 49 times in the league so far, including our Friday night 1-1 at Spotland earlier this season. This was a specially rearranged match to mark the centenary celebration of their football league status, joining the Third Division North in 1921.

[b]2021 commemorative programme for the U’s match[/b]

Overall, the U’s have won 18 matches, drawing 18 and losing just 13. Notable victories include a 4-0 at Layer Road under Cyril Lea back in 1983, and a couple of 4-1 victories under Allan Hunter in 1982 and Roger Brown in 1987, the latter remarkably at Spotland. On the flipside, one of our earliest visits to Spotland back in 1969 resulted in a 4-0 tonking for Dick Graham’s U’s, and there have been a couple of 5-2 defeats as well, both under Roy McDonough and both in 1993 – the September 1993 result was actually at Layer Road too. Roy is also responsible for one of the more entertaining games too, entertaining if you’re not a defensive coach that is, a 4-4 draw at Layer Road in November 1992.

However, all of those league results pale into insignificance when compared to our two vital FA Cup games. In the 4th round of the 1970/71 FA Cup Dick Graham’s Fourth Division U’s forced a replay with a spirited 3-3 draw against Third Division Rochdale at Spotland on 23rd January, no thanks to two very late goals from Lewis (85’) and Simmons (87’). In the replay two days later at Layer Road and knowing the U’s faced Leeds United in the 5th Round, the U’s blew Rochdale away with a 5-0 demolition, courtesy of goals by Lewis (42’), Simmons (44’), a Parry own goal (50’), Crawford (70’) and Mahon (76’) – and the rest as they say is history.

[b]Match of the Day
[i]Exeter City v Colchester United
25th January 2020
Sky Bet Football League Two (Tier 4)
Attendance 4,745[/i][/b]

[i]Match of the Day[/i] for WSC21 is again from the random match selector, and a slightly odd one from my perspective, as it’s kind of in my memorabilia collection, but actually not for reasons that will become apparent. We go back just over two years ago for the visit of Colchester United to one of my regular local stomping grounds, Exeter City.

It’s also worth recalling that leading up to this game some enterprising Col U scallies broke into St James Park on the Friday evening and stole the banner of the Exeter Ultra group Red Legion. It seems us and Exeter flags are a bit of a thing, made all the more hilarious by then boasting about it on Twitter, portraying the banner upside down apparently to demonstrate Red Legion’s humiliation and dishonour. All a bit silly really, but even sillier that Red Legion then announced that by the ethical code of Ultra groups, as they had ‘lost their colours’ they had to disband. The banner was eventually returned, I believe in exchange for an agreed charitable donation, but an amusing sidenote to the match.

At the time the U’s were on a prolonged run of unbeaten games going all the way back to a 0-0 at Crewe Alexandra on 22nd October 2019, and whilst many of the more recent results had been drawn, we were still firmly in the play-off zone, and perhaps an outside (but fading) chance for automatic promotion. Even if we weren’t so well placed, I rarely pass on the chance for a visit to St James Park, so me and Alfie set off in good time from Chippenham for the train journey down to Exeter.

With Em dropping us at the station, the journey for the most part was unremarkable, a short hop over to Westbury to meet our connection from there down to Exeter St David’s. Passing through the picturesque town of Castle Cary we rumbled on to our penultimate stop at Taunton. Alfie was happily playing on his phone, I was zoned out with a beer and music on, so it took a while to realise that we were still sat at Taunton train station far longer than normal.

Turning my music off and starting to pay a bit more attention to my surroundings, and indeed the announcements from the guard, it became apparent that there was something further down the line holding us up. A quick google, particularly looking on the Exeter City unofficial forum Exeweb, soon identified the problem, a trackside fire on the outskirts of the city that had temporarily closed the line.

The guard was reasonably upbeat that eventually the train would continue on its way to Exeter, just he had no idea when. This left us in a bit of a quandary – (a) would we now get to the game on time, and (b) more importantly, would we actually be able to get back. It was decision time, a decision that was kind of forced on us by the realisation that approaching from the opposite direction was the last train out of Exeter to Bristol before the fire blocked the track – effectively for the time being our last train home. That was the clincher, so me and Alfie dashed across to the other platform and managed to squeeze ourselves into a very full train back to Wiltshire via Bristol.

Hence, this match is kind of in my memorabilia collection, but at the same time not – it’s my Schrodinger’s Cat match I guess.

Remarkably, with excellent connections and a mercy dash pick up by Em from Chippenham station, we actually managed to get home to dial into the iFollow commentary moments before kick-off. Hence this [i]Match of the Day[/i] report is derived mostly from that commentary, the Evening Gazette archives, supplemented of course by Graeson’s ColuData website and Wikipedia.

John McGreal lined up his charges as follows:

1….Dean Gerken
2….Ryan Jackson
21..Ryan Clampin
18..Tom Eastman
5….Luke Prosser (captain)
8….Harry Pell
14..Brandon Comley
26..Luke Gambin (24. Ben Stevenson 81’)
49..Kwame Poku
15..Callum Harriott (7. Courtney Senior 70’)
13..Theo Robinson (9. Luke Norris 89’)

Frank Nouble was out with a back injury, to be replaced by Luke Gambin in the no. 10 role, with Kwame Poku switching out to the right flank. Like the U’s, Exeter were riding high in the league, and a tough game was expected – an expectation that didn’t disappoint right from kick-off. Exeter came out of the traps at a sprint, and with less than a minute on the clock nearly took the lead with a shot from Nicky Ajose that had Gerken at full stretch but flashed just outside the near post. A few minutes later, that constant thorn in our side Ryan Bowman found himself through on goal with only Gerken to beat but snatched at his shot and dragged it wide of the goal.

Slowly though the U’s started to grab a foothold in the game, and on 15 minutes Harry Pell stung the hands of ‘keeper Jonny Maxted with a fierce 25-yard drive. Still though the pace and movement of Exeter was creating problems for the U’s, with only a perfectly timed challenge in the box from Poku preventing Archie Collins from scoring a break-away goal. On the half hour mark, after Prosser had headed over a half-chance from a free-kick, Gerken did well to save a low shot from Exeter captain Jake Taylor. However, from there through to half-time the U’s came into their dominance, and should really have scored from a close-range Callum Harriot shot that was remarkably blocked on the line by Pierce Sweeney.

We started the second half as we’d finished the first, though Robinson’s weak effort after creating his own chance early in the half was easily saved by Maxted. As the half wore on, I got the feeling that both sides were becoming just as anxious about risking defeat as winning the game, and it became much more of a midfield battle. Exeter were still creating occasional chances, Jayden Richardson blazed an effort across the face of the goal, Bowman saw his shot deflect up and over the bar, and following the introduction of Senior for the tiring Callum Harriott, Parkes fired over the bar when he really should have done better.

We were still in the game though, and with a long throw from Jackson creating mayhem in the Exeter City penalty area, Ryan Clampin failed to capitalise on the confusion, drilling his shot wide of goal. In the dying seconds a flurry of chances for Exeter City saw a shot from Law deflect narrowly wide, and in the dying seconds Gerken did well to save a fierce shot from Collins – and the U’s held on for a hard-earned point.

[b]Exeter City 0 Colchester United 0[/b]

Short highlights of the match are still available on YouTube for those that care to remember when we last competed at t’other end of the table.

A credible point kept both the U’s and Exeter in the promotion race, and whilst our unbeaten run would finally come to an end at the Shabby a week later, further victories against Plymouth at home, Salford away (both of which I was at) and finally and most significantly Carlisle United away meant that when the 2019/20 season was curtailed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we had just about earned enough points per game to qualify for the play-offs in 6th place.

Exeter had too, though they were probably more disappointed they didn’t have the chance of carrying on their more realistic challenge for automatic promotion. The U’s were drawn against Exeter City in the two-legged semi-final, taking a narrow 1-0 lead from the home leg following a beauty from Cohen Bramall with less than ten minutes to go.

However, in the return leg, after drawing level on aggregate with a Senior goal on 78 minutes to make it 2-1, and 2-2 on aggregate, that man Bowman did the damage with a 111th minute winner to make the score 3-1 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate. Exeter City would go on to be utterly dismantled in the final, losing 4-0 to Northampton Town, the team that had finished bottom of the play-off zone.

McGreal departed following this disappointment, and the guts of the team dismantled to meet costs resulting from the financial impact of Covid-19, and something we still seem to be dealing with to this day.

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