Thinking about it, Bradford have an FA Cup replay on Tuesday night against Shrewsbury. Though they probably won’t, if they lose, couldn’t we play our rearranged league game against them on the 30th? Alternatively, Stevenage also have a replay at Posh on Tuesday - if they lose (much more likely), can we schedule our EFL Trophy match for the 30th?
...or do we stick with it as the U’s traditional Christmas shopping day for the WAGS?
Interesting that on the eve of our Mickey Mouse game against Ipswich, the match selected is from 1994, when we were managed by George Burley. We know a song about him…
Colchester United v Gillingham Saturday 5th November 1994 Endsleigh League Division 3 (Tier 4) Attendance 3,817
Match #25 of the series, and we go right back to November ’94, and our third season since returning from the Conference. After two seasons under Big Roy, the chairman George Parker had decided that enough was enough, and George Burley was appointed to take over as manager. It hadn’t started well, with six straight defeats on the bounce (including two in the League Cup) leaving the U’s at the bottom of the league by the end of August. However, Burley started to turn things around, and after shooting up the league following a further five victories, one draw and one defeat, we went into this match in sixth place.
Gillingham were having a tough time both on and off the pitch, the team only two points outside the relegation zone, and the club beset with financial problems as well. So much so that both Burley and programme editor Jim French commented sympathetically in programme notes about their plight – Jim writing “you will have probably read in the press that Gillingham are presently facing an uncertain future, with a financial cloud hovering over them…we trust that they will overcome their latest problems and that we can look forward to many future tussles”.
This happened to be only my second match of the season, which was surprisingly few for me, but a quick glance at the previous matches shows that the fixture computer hadn’t been exactly kind to us south west exiles – even our game at Exeter had been a Tuesday night, so my only previous game had been a 3-3 draw at Torquay (I don’t have a programme or ticket for that one, so it won’t feature). My next game after this match? Away at Yeading in the FA Cup one week later, but that’s one that may well feature in the future, so no more on that for now…
The U’s lined up: 1….John Cheesewright 2….Simon Betts 3….Tony English 4….Peter Cawley 5….Gus Caesar 6….Adam Locke 7….Trevor Putney 8….Steve Brown 9….Steve Whitton 10..Mark Kinsella 11..Chris Fry (Paul Abrahams)
Given the relative proximity of the two clubs, it won’t be a surprise that there were quite a few connections between us – even George Burley had formerly played for the Gills. Names on the pitch that Saturday included Joe Dunne at no. 2 and Robbie Reinelt at no. 10, both of whom would go on to play for the U’s. There was of course also Scott Barrett, on the bench as their reserve goalkeeper that day, and Andy Arnott in the squad (though not taking part in this match). They were managed by Mike Flanagan, in his day an exceptional striker, but also home to a quite exceptional mullet…
Remember remember the 5th of November – well, it’ll come as little surprise that I really can’t remember much at all about this game, other than me and my brother-in-law were there on the barside, after a few refreshments in a very lively Drury beforehand, and with a decent away following supporting the Gills despite their ongoing troubles.
They were cheering loudest first too, with Robbie Reinelt putting them ahead after just eight minutes. It didn’t get much better for a while after either, as Chris Pike doubled their lead after 27 minutes. Incidentally, for everyone’s inner football nerd, Chris Pike is Gareth Bale’s uncle!
Under the cosh right from the start, Twiggy gave us hope just two minutes later, pulling one back for the U’s, and less than ten minutes later Peter Cawley had the chance to level the scores from the penalty spot at the Clock End. Sadly, whilst I can’t remember if he missed or it was saved, he didn’t, and at half-time Gillingham were holding on to their lead, and a valuable 3pts to ease their relegation worries.
However, Mark Kinsella had other ideas, and about ten minutes into the second half, he levelled the score 2-2…and that’s how it finished. To be honest, I can’t remember whether that was a fair result or not, but relieved as I was to see the U’s come back from 2-0 early on, I do remember thinking it was an opportunity lost to really push on as promotion contenders.
Colchester United 2 (Chris Fry 29’, Mark Kinsella 53’) Gillingham 2 (Robbie Reinelt 8’, Chris Pike 27’)
Although dropping two points at home against a relegation contender was a bit of a set-back, we were still on a bit of a roll under Burley, so much so that coming up to Christmas we were in the play-off places, and well poised to push on in the New Year.
However, you don’t need to be a Colchester United historian to know what happened next – coming off the back of an impressive 2-1 victory at high-flying Doncaster, George Burley walked out on the U’s for the managerial hot-seat at Poorman Rd. Dale Roberts looked after the U’s until Steve Wignall was appointed, but we never recovered those lofty heights, and finished in 10th place. Gillingham went into administration in January ’95, but these were the days before any form of sanction would be imposed by the FA, and they clung on to finish fourth from bottom to avoid relegation (Exeter finished bottom, but weren’t relegated because Conference champions Macclesfield’s stadium didn’t meet capacity requirements).
Incidentally, on March 4th of that 94/95 season, at home to Darlington, the U’s decided to throw the doors open for all to attend free of charge, including the Darlington supporters. In front of a bumper crowd of 6,055 the U’s won 1-0.
Whilst there appears to be a complete dearth of match reports about this game on t’internet, bizarrely I have found a grainy low-resolution video on YouTube of the corresponding fixture that season in April ’95, so I’ll leave you with that to enjoy…
Another busy week, so apologies this has had to wait until today. Once again the random match selector throws a curve ball – with the cheers from our imperious victory at Field Mill last Saturday still fresh in the memory, we return to Field Mill (aka The One-Call Stadium) for this one.
Another busy week, so apologies this has had to wait until today. Once again the random match selector throws a curve ball – with the cheers from our imperious victory at Field Mill last Saturday still fresh in the memory, we return to Field Mill (aka The One-Call Stadium) for this one.
Mansfield Town v Colchester United Saturday 18th August 2018 Sky Bet League 2 (Tier 4) Attendance 3,909
Match #24 of the series, and my one and only trip to Field Mill so far, and just over a year or so ago near the start of our 2018/19 campaign. Not my first match of this season, I’d already travelled to Notts County on the opening day, coming away thinking 0-0 at one of the likely promotion contenders wasn’t a bad point at all – and look how that turned out...
My years following the U’s have almost always been beset by one constant banana skin, the oft fallibility of our rail network. I therefore approached this one with a certain amount of trepidation – nearly five hours each way, with three changes there and back to negotiate. Plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong, bad enough that I could miss kick-off, but far worse the possibility of not actually getting home that night. If proof was needed, as I departed that morning, I was still wrangling with GWR for a refund after significant delays getting back from Notts County a fortnight earlier.
This is a match for which I don’t have the programme, though do still have the matchday ticket – slightly disappointed that I didn’t cop a freebie for this one and had to pay face value. Also, baffled why the instructions were “Turnstiles 9-12 vs Carlisle United” – wrong CUFC Stags…
Despite my concerns, the four-leg journey to Mansfield (via Bristol, Birmingham and Nottingham) was completely trouble-free (insomuch as a near 5-hour journey can be trouble-free), and with plenty of refreshment during the journey, I arrived in good spirits to hopefully see the U’s maintain their solid start to the season. I joined a modest throng of what must have been about 200 of the faithful in the North Stand, still in good voice though.
Other than being managed by David Flitcroft, there really weren’t many names in the Mansfield squad that day that meant much to me. For the U’s, Norris was on the bench again, yet to make his league debut, though he had played (and scored) in the previous match at Cheltenham in the League Cup (we lost 5-6 on penalties). Mind you, Mansfield had put down a marker of their own the same night, smashing six past Accrington Stanley.
For the first half, the U’s were clearly more than happy to sit deep for the most part, soaking up any pressure that Mansfield could exert. That turned out to be very little to be honest, quite surprising considering they blew Stanley apart in their previous match, and there was more than a suspicion that we were watching two teams that were far too wary of each other to show any real commitment to have a go. That’s not to say there weren’t chances, fairly early on CJ Hamilton cut in from the right and let fly from outside the box, but it never looked likely to trouble Dillon Barnes. On 18 minutes, a rare U’s foray forward earned a corner, and from Dickenson’s corner to the far post, Prosser’s header bought a good save from Conrad “who ate all the pies” Logan. Still, by and large an eminently forgettable first half of unimaginative football saw the game 0-0 at half-time. A welcome boost for me was spotting Durham and Gerry off to the right as I headed for my half-time Bovril, good to see them both and share a friendly wave.
Without wishing to appear cynical, I think we’ve largely given up hope that McGreal will deliver a morale-boosting kick-up-the-arse team talk at half time, and this game did not appear to buck that trend. The second half started in much the same vein as the first half finished, neither side really putting either under consistent pressure, and the U’s particularly looking more and more happy to hold on to a point. Flitcroft was the first to realise things needed to be changed if he was to get anything from the match, bringing on Craig Davies approaching the hour mark. On 72 minutes McGreal changed things around, taking off Senior (who was being constantly manhandled without any protection from ineffectual referee Michael Salisbury) and replacing him with Luke Norris for his league debut. However, my hope that this would change our approach to the game, in fact the game full-stop, proved somewhat optimistic. Flitcroft clearly saw the same too, and five minutes later tried a double-substitution, bringing on both Neal Bishop and Danny Rose.
Finally, with less than ten minutes to go, the dour deadlock was broken. Davies had a right-footed attempt blocked on the edge of the box, picked up the rebound, and instantly lashed a left-footed absolute pile-driver past the despairing dive of Dillon Barnes. A match like this really didn’t deserve a goal of that quality, it was an absolute rocket (reminiscent of Crawley’s opener in the Carabao cup), and Barnes had no chance. And that looked to be that – the U’s, devoid of any attacking intent all match, were suddenly trying to find third and fourth gears we had hardly used all game. However, we did give it a go, and for the remainder of the match it was Mansfield more than happy to sit deep and soak up wave upon wave of U’s attacks. With less than five minutes to go, McGreal brought on Eastman, and then Mandron, to try and rescue something from the game. Hope came with the announcement of four minutes of extra-time, but still Mansfield kept us at bay.
In the final seconds of extra-time, Mandron picked up a half-way line long throw from Jackson, cut across the edge of the penalty area and unleashed a ferocious left-footed shot, which Logan did well to palm away for a throw-in near the corner flag. Four minutes were already passed, this clearly was going to be our one last chance – Jackson hurled it long, right into the six-yard box, and inexplicably Logan made no attempt to jump for it at all, letting it slip between his hands for Sammie to stab home from point blank range.
We went absolutely mental, talk about last gasp! I’m not even sure the referee restarted the game, it was that close to the end.
Mansfield Town 1 (Craig Davies 81’) Colchester United 1 (Sammie Szmodics 95’)
As gratifying as it was to snatch a point in that manner, and it probably was the fair result, there was no disguising it hadn’t been a good performance by the U’s, and with worrying signs of things to come for that season. Still, it did mean we all went home reasonably happy.
As for my journey home, everything went well until I reached Bristol for my eighth and final train back to Chippenham – I’ll leave you to work out which train on the destination board was my one…
Well, after a tremendously exciting week for U’s fans everywhere, what better way to calm things down than remembering the daily grind of league football.
Tranmere Rovers v Colchester United Saturday 12th January 2002 Nationwide League Division 2 (Tier 3) Attendance 8,387
Match #23 of the series, and we have a visit to Prenton Park to watch the U’s play John McGreal’s former club Tranmere Rovers. This has been a fairly frequent destination for me over the years, with very good friends (Ange and Chris) and their family living in the north west, and Chris a Tranmere supporter as well. With the U’s previous visit to Prenton Park almost exactly 13 years earlier (before we had met), this was the first opportunity for us to attend a match between our two sides, so I travelled up on the train Friday evening to be collected by Chris at Manchester Piccadilly, for a relaxing evening of beer and good company. Saturday morning, we all drove out to Prenton Park, picking up a couple more of his mates on the way, and arrived in good time for a few pints at the Mersey Clipper before kick-off. Another great pub by the way!
Under Steve Whitton, we were settling into an indifferent season in the league. We’d started well, in and around the play-offs for most of August and September (even top after the first match beating Chesterfield 6-3) – we’d even beaten Tranmere 2-1 in the corresponding home fixture. However, by the start of 2002 we’d slipped back to mid-table, and needed to raise our game if we wanted to again challenge the play-off spots. Tranmere had been relegated from Nationwide League Division 1 the previous season, along with Huddersfield and QPR, and most expected them to be one of the stronger sides this season. However, they too were struggling to adjust, and were only 1 point better off than the U’s going into the match. They did have the slight distraction of an ongoing FA cup run as well, and after despatching Southend United 3-1 at Roots Hall just five days earlier, had been drawn at home to fellow Division 2 side Cardiff City in the 4th round later in January.
The U’s lined up: 1….Simon Brown 19..Alan White 12..Scott Fitzgerald 6….Simon Clark 3….Joe Keith (Dean Morgan 78’) 10..Kem Izzet 17..Bobby Bowry (Thomas Pinault 45’) 7….Karl Duguid 20..Micky Stockwell 9….Scott McGleish 11..Graham Barrett
There were a few names in the Tranmere line-up that resonated, not least Achterberg in goal, Mickey Mellon, Welsh international Jason Koumas and journeyman striker Wayne Allison. The one name missing from the teamsheet that day was long-throw specialist Dave Challinor. He is listed in the programme as no. 5 in the squad, but either had already or was just about to sign for Stockport County. Curiously, considering most teams seem to rely on a long-throw specialist these days (take a bow Jacko), I recall back then he was considered something of a freak by supporters of other clubs, his ability almost akin to cheating by some.
Me, Ange and Chris had considered seating arrangements already, and decided for this one we’d part ways to our respective ends, to meet up again at full-time. In matches to come, more often than not we all would sit in the away end, always tricky for Chris particularly when Tranmere scored.
As goal-less matches go, overall it actually wasn’t too bad a game. The first half was fairly pedestrian, not necessarily poor, just solid and unimaginative from two teams that rather cancelled each other out. In the circumstances, at half-time I was probably the happier of our party, a point at a recently relegated Division 1 side certainly not to be sniffed at, if we could hold on. At half-time, Whitton decided to bring on the attacking flair of Pinault for the more defensively-minded Bowry.
In the 52nd minute the game really did come to life, as Joe Keith raced clean through on goal, only to be scythed down by Graham Allen. I’ve found a very grainy photo of the aftermath, the look on Allen’s face clearly showing he knew what was coming – and sure enough, a straight red card was shown by referee Mike Pike.
However, despite the numerical advantage, we simply couldn’t break through a resolute Tranmere defence. With just over 10 minutes to go, Dean Morgan came on as a last-ditch attempt to get something from the game, and he forced not one but two brilliant saves from Achterberg in those final few minutes, but then again Brown also kept us in it, doing well to keep a Jason Price effort out after a wicked deflection off Fitzgerald. Right at the death in injury-time Tranmere really should have won it. Firstly, as our defence went missing, Koumas latched on to an excellent pass from Price, but fired straight at Simon Brown, and then secondly a Clint Hill header was cleared off the line.
In that context, even though playing against ten men, those late close calls gave the 0-0 result a bit more of a positive blessed relief feel to it, and I was quite happy with the point. We all collectively agreed post-match that it was just about the right result too, so it wasn’t just me.
Tranmere Rovers 0 Colchester United 0
The pack chasing the play-offs at the time was incredibly close, with just one point separating Oldham in 7th and the U’s in 12th, so despite only gaining one point, we actually jumped two places to 10th after this result. Though we weren’t to know it at the time, that was as high as we managed from then to the end of the season, eventually finishing in 15th place. As a fair reflection on the match outcome, Tranmere also finished mid-table, in 12th place.
Tranmere easily brushed Cardiff aside in the FA Cup 4th round, winning 3-1, to earn a plum home tie against Tottenham Hotspur in the 5th round, which they lost 4-0
How embarrassing for them, couldn’t even beat Spurs…
Prediction Logged by at 18:48:27 Mansfield Town v Colchester United prediction logged
With school half-term upon me, and with much to do before leaving early for Crawley on Tuesday, I’m going to have to post this one a bit early I’m afraid.
Colchester United v Doncaster Rovers Friday 8th January 1993 Division 3 (Tier 4) Attendance 4,402
Match #22 of the series, and we go right back to those best of times, a Friday night game at a packed Layer Rd. I can’t for the life of me remember why I was in Colchester for an evening game, there are no family birthdays around that time, it was too late to be a Christmas visit, but still, there I was! Of course, the simple answer to that question was it would be a long wait if I only went to Layer Rd for Saturday matches back then – there were only eight scheduled all season, I’d already been to one of them (home to Lincoln first match), and one (Maidstone on April 3rd 1993) was destined never to happen – more of that later…but why Doncaster in early January, god only knows.
After two seasons in the Conference, we were finally back in the Football League, and under Big Roy’s somewhat unique style of management, not having too bad a season of it overall. Mind you, it certainly hadn’t started well, as we struggled to adjust, and after losing six of our first eight matches we were uncomfortably close to relegation straight back to the Conference. However, Big Roy gradually started to turn things around, and by this match we were in 10th place, and still in with a decent chance of the play-offs. Not bad when you consider our struggles to find a permanent goalkeeper.
Goal-scoring hero Scott Barrett had left for Gillingham in the close season, so we started with Paul Newell on loan from Leyton Orient. He went back in November, to be replaced by Ron Green on loan from Kidderminster Harriers, but he returned in December, to be replaced (also on loan) by Carl Emberson from Millwall. By the end of the season we would have played six different goalkeepers, also including Fred Barber (10 games), Alasdair Monk (2 games) and Nathan Munson (1 game) – not exactly the stability you want for such a key position. Mind you, stability was a problem throughout the team, with 16 players listed as having debuts for the U’s this season, though that includes Peter Cawley twice – once on loan (vs Wycombe in the pointless Conference Shield), then again (vs Wrexham) once we had signed him.
The U’s lined up: 1….Carl Emberson 2….Martin Grainger 3….Paul Roberts 4….Mark Kinsella 5….Peter Cawley 6….Simon Betts – programme lists Tony English 7….Jason Cook (replaced by Steve Ball) 8….Gary Bennett (replaced Paul Abrahams) – programme lists Tony Sorrell (who!?!?) 9….Dean Martin – programme lists Roy McDonough 10..Steve McGavin 11..Nicky Smith
Before we turn to the match (which isn’t going to take long), it’s also worth pausing to reflect on the structure of the Football League this season, and particularly the make-up of our league. First off, 1992/93 was the inaugural season for the new Premier League, hence Tiers 2, 3 and 4 were Divisions 1, 2 and 3. Prior to that, in March 1992, Aldershot were declared bankrupt, expelled from the league and their record expunged (is there any other context other than football when that word is used?). To offset this, there was no relegation at the end of the season (Carlisle the fortunate beneficiary), whilst the U’s were promoted from the Conference. Not long after, after failing to fulfil their opening fixture of the 1992/93 season and in severe financial problems, Maidstone United resigned from the league and subsequently folded.
The original plan was for 22 teams in the Premier League, with 94 teams overall competing in the four tiers. However, with the demise of Aldershot and Maidstone, this plan was dropped, and it was decided to carry on with a 22 team Premier League, with 70 in the remaining three tiers. As a result, for Division 4 at the end of 1990/91 season five were promoted, three relegated from Division 3, and one (Barnet) promoted from the Conference, resulting in a 23-team league in the 4th tier. As a result, with Maidstone folding at the start of the season and thus only 22 teams competing in our league, the fixture list in the programme is a little odd, with our away and home fixtures against them on 9th March and 3rd April respectively as empty slots.
The other two empty slots were, optimistically, for the League Cup Second Round first leg (23rd September) and League Cup Third Round (28th October) – we went out against Brighton in the first round, and they were never needed.
As for the match, other than I was in the Drury and then barside with my brother-in-law, I’ve got nothing I’m afraid, can’t remember a bloody thing about it at all. All I know is that Graeson’s excellent stats ( https://www.coludata.co.uk/item.php?pg=match&pd=1022&sort=sdate&order=asc&fsea=a ) show that we left it late, with Grainger scoring in the 81st minute, and McGavin making sure with a second two minutes to go, and I can only imagine our celebrations resulting from those two late strikes.
So, a bit of audience participation time is needed here – if anyone can remember anything about this match I’d love to hear your memories – who knows, it may jog some of my own.
Colchester United 2 (Grainger 81’, McGavin 88’) Doncaster Rovers 0
The U’s were blowing a bit hot and cold all season, and this victory turned out to be our last until the end of February, when we turned it on again to win seven out of the next eleven. Eventually, we finished the season pretty much exactly where we were going into this match, tenth in the league, three places and four points from the play-offs – a solid return to the Football League.
Following the demise of Aldershot FC, a group of supporters set up new club Aldershot Town FC in spring 1992. They started in the Isthmian League Division 3, five tiers lower, and eventually got back to the Football League in 2008 (though then relegated in 2013).
Maidstone United were technically never reformed. Instead, the core of those at Maidstone United took over Maidstone Invicta, originally a youth club. Without a suitable ground to play at, Maidstone Invicta dropped seven levels to join the 4th Division of the Kent County League in 1993/94. They changed their name to Maidstone United in 1995, and whilst they’ve never got back into the Football League, they did reach the National League in 2016 (though relegated back to the National League South at the end of last season).
Freaky coincidence, Aldershot’s last competitive win before going out of business – away at Maidstone United on 28th December 1991.
Prediction Logged by at 19:08:14 Colchester United v Newport County prediction logged
Well here’s a first, the random match selector has chosen the very next match I was at following Shrewsbury in the FA Cup back in December 2005 – spooky.
Brentford v Colchester United Saturday 31st December 2005 Coca-Cola League 1 (Tier 3) Attendance 6,397
Match #21 of the series, and we’re at my favourite away ground, Griffin Park, home of Brentford FC, with its pub on every corner. This being a New Years Eve match, kick-off was at 1pm, which still gave me and my mate Jon ample time for our customary lap of the ground, starting at the Royal Oak and finishing at the Griffin.
I also enjoy trips to Brentford because I’m a big fan of Robert Rankin’s ‘Brentford Trilogy’ (now ten books) and the adventures of drunken layabouts Jim Pooley and John Omally. Rankin sets his work in and around real locations in Brentford, his Flying Swan pub actually the Bricklayers Arms, which is (or at least was) a good pub just down the road from the ground. The Bricklayers was converted to three houses about ten years ago, but I was delighted to see that the occupant of 67a has recognised the literary significance of their property.
As for the match, if you read the FA Cup Shrewsbury blog you’ll recall the U’s were doing rather well at the time. Following victory at Shrewsbury, we had gone on to equal the club record of eight consecutive wins, then drew 1-1 at Swansea followed by beating MK Dons 2-0 at home. The only ‘blip’ in an otherwise excellent two months for Parky and the team was our most recent match, a 1-0 defeat at Swindon on Boxing Day (Cureton couldn’t play as part of his loan agreement). To put that into context, that was our first away defeat since losing the first three away matches of the season back in August. Brentford were top of the league, having lost only two matches at home all season, so this was going to be a tough game for the U’s, who were in 6th place at the time. The U’s fans, and there must have been about 5-600 of us that day (many in fancy dress), were housed on the old Ealing Rd Terrace, which in those days was an open terrace – fortunately it wasn’t raining that day (unlike other drenchings I’ve had there in the past).
For Brentford at the time there are a few players worthy of mention. Starting for the Bees was Sam Sodje, one of the many Sodje boys playing professional football at the time, and brother of (very briefly) former Colchester loanee Efe Sodje. After a loan spell in 2004, Brentford had also signed Scott Fitzgerald from us, though he wasn’t playing for this match. By a curious coincidence, they had two Scott Fitzgeralds in their squad, with Scott P Fitzgerald at no. 32 – I don’t think they are related? Ade Bankole, our former goalkeeping coach, was their reserve ‘keeper that day, with Isaiah Rankin another unused substitute. Rankin had been on loan with the U’s for a short spell back in 1997, and really did look the real deal to me (scoring five goals in 12 appearances). However, although he did eventually get a handful of Premier League matches whilst at Bradford City, he never really fulfilled the promise I thought he had.
As for the match, well what a brilliant game of football it was. It started somewhat cautiously, both sides clearly wary of the threat their opponents posed, but before too long the U’s really started to impose themselves on the match, and Mad-Dog Allen’s Brentford were struggling to contain us. Yeates, who was getting the bird a bit from the home supporters (I was never sure why), latched on to a lovely Chilvers free-kick, cut inside from the left and drilled a fierce low drive past Nelson in the Brentford goal to give the U’s a well-deserved lead…and then promptly booked for his somewhat exuberant goal celebrations. The U’s weren’t done with the first half yet, and decent efforts from both Halford and Yeates threatened to extend the U’s lead. However, Brentford were still a very good side, and reminded us all of that just on half-time, when Davison pulled off a reflex save to deny Owusu’s point-blank header.
If the first half had been a brilliant performance (it had), the second half would turn out to be even better. This was rip-roaring end to end stuff, played at a frenetic pace for the entire 45 minutes. Ryan Peters, who came on at half-time, stung Davison’s hands with his first touch of the match – a blistering shot from the edge of the box. Although Brentford were starting to dominate possession, in truth the U’s always looked more likely to score another. Nelson did very well to tip another Yeates effort over the bar, and then the outstretched leg of Sodje was all that stopped Danns scoring after a mazy run into the box. Davison was still being kept busy, but when Iwelumo rose to head home from a whipped Halford cross, we were already celebrating – sadly too soon, as from six yards out he buried it into ground and up and over the bar.
With five minutes to go, all hell broke loose. The Bees were swarming all around our penalty area, and somehow Davison parried Eddie Hutchinson’s close-range shot, which sat up perfectly for Owusu to head the equaliser. Defying the laws of physics, Wayne Brown (who was having an excellent game) managed to get a small deflection, and the ball hit the inside of the post and spun out across the face of the goal and to safety. The premature goal celebrations of the Brentford supporters were still echoing around the ground as Yeates, picking up the ball from Iwelumo on the break, just ran and ran and ran like an arrow towards Nelson in the Brentford goal. Clearly with no other intention, on the edge of the box he superbly drilled an angled shot past Nelson into the far corner of the net, and we were in uproar!
There was no way back from that for Brentford, and to a tumultuous ovation (including applause from the home support), Yeates was subbed a minute or so later, and the U’s recorded a vital 2-0 victory to keep their promotion challenge going.
Brentford 0 Colchester United 2 (Yeates 30’, 86’)
For those who weren’t there, it’s difficult to come up with enough superlatives to emphasise just how good the U’s were that day. If you look at the line-up, that is clearly a very good side, but they were so much more than that on the day – quite unstoppable, and lest we forget, against a very good side in Brentford FC. Leaving Griffin Park that afternoon, and with plenty of opportunities to chat with the friendly natives, the response was unanimous – without doubt the best side they’d seen at Griffin Park all season.
Chris Lightbown of the Times, in his post-match report, stated “There is some superb football being played in this division and particularly in the tightening pack of teams on Swansea City’s tail. Whether it is enough to bridge the discernible gap between the top of Coca-Cola League One and the lower reaches of the Championship is another matter, but on this sort of form, either of these sides would happily play anybody”.
Not only were these Mark Yeates’ first league goals for the U’s (he had also scored one in the Leamington FA Cup game), this was also Jamie Cureton’s last match of his loan spell, and by the following Saturday he was in the starting XI for the Robins (away at Hartlepool – they drew 1-1, and Cureton was subbed halfway through the second half). By April, and with Swindon facing certain relegation, he was back on the bench.
It's very poor quality (apart from Matt Hudson’s excellent voice-over), but I’ve managed to find a video clip on YouTube, which includes highlights of the game (starts at 2'45'').
Periodically, my Matches of Yesteryear random match generator throws out something that seems somehow appropriate, and given the 2019/20 FA Cup 1st Round draw has just been made, this is no exception.
Shrewsbury Town v Colchester United Saturday 3rd December 2005 FA Cup (Second Round) Attendance 3,695
Match #20 of the series, and we’re back in the FA Cup for my one and only trip to Gay Meadow – and during a cup run that we’ll all remember very well. This was the 2nd Round match, following the U’s thrashing of Leamington Spa 9-1 at Layer Rd in the 1st Round, albeit the Brakes probably scored the goal of the match. I wasn’t at the Leamington game, so this was my first FA Cup match of the 2005/06 season. Incidentally, Shrewsbury had faced Braintree Town in the 1st Round, comfortably dispatching the Iron 4-1 at Gay Meadow.
The immediate build-up to the match was dominated by two things – one of which for the U’s was the weather. It had poured down in the days running up to the match, and more rain was expected on the Saturday. As a result, there were two pitch inspections, the first on the Friday afternoon, which was just about passed, with a second scheduled for Saturday late morning/ midday (I can’t remember the exact time). This was a bit of a challenge for me, because to have any chance of getting there on the train in time, I had to set off before I knew if the game was on or not. Worse still, without the benefit of a smart phone those days, if the match was abandoned I wouldn’t know until arrival, instead of having the chance to bail out of the journey early and head home.
Fortunately, Webmaster Daniel to the rescue, who kindly sent me a text confirming it was game on whilst I was en route, and so I rolled into Shrewsbury ready for the match, albeit a bit bleary following a works do the night before. Ready for a hair of the dog, I popped into a couple of ale houses on the short walk from the station to the ground – I can’t remember what they were called, but pretty sure both were on Abbey Foregate, and definitely remember there were plenty of U’s fans in both.
The other thing? In the wider world of the global football family, we had also lost George Best the week before this game, and the match programme contained a very fitting obituary to George, which was nice to see.
Gay Meadow was everything I was expecting, a proper old-fashioned ramshackled lower league ground, described seven years earlier in the excellent Football Fans Guide as nearing its sell-by date, and fast (Williams et al 1998, 226) – I loved it! The main throng of U’s fans were housed on the Station End terrace, which was partly roofed, with more in allocated seating in the main stand to the left. All in all I reckon there must have been 350-400 there that day, not bad considering the distance (and the weather), and we were in excellent voice too. I took the opportunity before kick-off to wander to the end of the terrace and enjoy the view out over the Severn, but sadly didn’t spot a chap in a coracle on the river ready to gather wayward footballs.
There weren’t many in the Shrewsbury set-up that day that resonated with me, other than Assistant Manager Mick Wadsworth obviously, and perhaps Mark Stallard, a proper journeyman striker who always seemed to score goals wherever he went (Wycombe and Notts County particularly). The U’s were in the middle of a bit of a purple patch at the time, winning six out of six coming into this game. It wasn’t a coincidence that this run of success coincided with Jamie Cureton arriving in October on loan from his bench-warming exploits at Swindon Town, and forming a potent partnership with Big Chris when he arrived. It therefore also wasn’t a coincidence that many of the U’s faithful that day were sporting makeshift home-made “Sign him up!” posters, though I don’t think Parky needed much persuading on that front. Not surprisingly given the weather, the pitch was what would be somewhat generously described as ‘heavy’. Not quite 1970s Baseball Ground heavy, but certainly not a pitch designed for the beautiful game, rather roll your sleeves up and get ready to battle.
Shrewsbury were having a decent mid-table season in Coca-Cola League 2, and with home advantage as well, were not be taken lightly by a U’s side riding high in Coca-Cola League 1. It was therefore no surprise that Shrewsbury started stronger, putting the U’s under considerable early pressure. Ben Smith in particular was putting himself about a bit, blasting over the bar early on when he should really have tested Davison (who was already showing an alarmingly tendency to stay on his line a bit too often). Gradually, however, the U’s started to do exactly what was needed, roll their sleeves up and get stuck in, and in the 23rd minute Cureton fired home to give the U’s a 1-0 lead. I wouldn’t say it was against the run of play, but it was certainly an even game at the time, and Shrewsbury would have felt aggrieved about falling behind.
With more rain falling and the pitch cutting up badly, the battle continued, with the U’s clearly hoping to hold on to their slender lead through to half-time. However, David Edwards had other plans, and on the stroke of half-time scored an equaliser for Shrewsbury. Still, it had been a combative and entertaining performance from the U’s, and I remember thinking that we were just as likely to win the game second half. Time for a half-time comfort break – very (ahem) Layer Rd if you get my drift. There’s not too much detail I can remember from the second half, apart from Iwelumo powering a trademark 50th minute header into the net to restore the lead in front of the celebrating U’s faithful.
With the game more and more becoming a dour battle in the mud, Parky replaced Yeates with Doogie halfway through the second half, countered shortly after by a double substitution from Shrewsbury manager Gary Peters. However, the U’s were now keeping Shrewsbury at arms-reach, and also happy to practice the dark art of game-management (aka time-wasting) whenever the opportunity presented itself. This went largely unpunished by a woefully poor referee in Steve Tanner, who at times appeared to lose all control of what was quite a feisty match, with players squaring up on and off the pitch at times.
Parky shored things up with Izzet and Garcia coming on as defensive substitutes with less than ten minutes to go, and the U’s held on to go through to the 3rd Round.
Shrewsbury Town 1 (Edwards 45’) Colchester United 2 (Cureton 23’, Iwelumo 50’)
After the match, Parkinson said “If you want to be a good team you have to adapt and play the game for the situation that is presented. Last week we showed our attacking flair [beating Gillingham 5-0], this time round we had to roll up our sleeves and battle it out. We had to weather a bit of a storm for the first ten minutes, but in the end that extra bit of quality we had was evident.”.
We all know how this FA Cup run progressed, and as there are matches to come that may well feature later in the Matches of Yesteryear series, I’ll leave it at that for now. Shrewsbury were to get their revenge in 2007, when we returned (to the New Meadow) in the League Cup as a Championship side, only to lose 1-0 after extra-time.
In January, and despite our appeals to “Sign him up!”, Cureton’s loan spell came to an end and he sadly returned to Swindon – mainly because Swindon wouldn’t let him go. They were struggling at the bottom of our division that season, and much of the online chat amongst the Robins was along the lines of “we don’t want him, but don’t let him go to a league rival”. Hilariously, Swindon were still relegated, so activating a relegation clause in his contract Cureton left Swindon and joined us anyway – and for free too!