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Matches of Yesteryear - Millwall v U's 14/4/99
Written by wessex_exile on Saturday, 25th Apr 2020 14:25

And so here we are, at what would have been the last match of the domestic season, at home to FGR, and almost certainly still in with a shout of making the play-offs – maybe even already guaranteed by now. As I look out this morning, it’s a beautiful sunny day, and I would almost certainly already be on the first leg of a train journey to be amongst the faithful at the Jobserve Community Stadium. Given the location of our opponents, I’d probably be sharing the journey with a few hundred FGR supporters too, but they’ve always been a friendly bunch whenever I’ve met them, so I wouldn’t have been too concerned about that. Instead, we sit and wait to see how and when the season may (or may not) finish – strange times indeed…

Millwall v Colchester United

Wednesday 14th April 1999

Nationwide League Division 2 (Tier 3)

Attendance 4,686

Match #56 of the Matches of Yesteryear series, and for now at least, the last one for this season – we wait to see whether there will be any more. If there are more matches, the series will of course return to cover them, and if all else fails will return next season (whenever that may be). I had hoped that the random match selector would have chosen a real humdinger to bow out on, but chance being the capricious mistress that it is, it has instead chosen one of my more miserable experiences following the U’s. Heyho, those unfortunately are the breaks, and I’m certainly not planning to tinker with fate by overruling the choice.

This was our first season back in the third tier of the football league, and it had been quite a struggle for the U’s. With Steve Wignall falling on his sword in January, deeming he had taken the club as far as he could (I disagreed, if I’m honest), we were managed by Mick Wadsworth, who was just about doing enough to keep us away from relegation. Going into this match, with seven games to go, we were on 45pts, and five points clear of relegation, so whilst it was looking optimistic that we’d avoid relegation, it was by no means certain. Millwall were doing considerably better, three places outside the play-off zone, but in truth the 12-point gap was almost certainly too big a deficit to overcome.

I’m not certain why this match was played on a Wednesday evening, there aren’t many other matches I can remember that had been. Piecing together the evidence available, and without anything definite to corroborate it, I imagine this fixture should have been played on Saturday 17th April, but with Millwall getting through to play Wigan in the Auto Windscreens Shield Final at Wembley on Sunday 18th April, our match had to be rearranged. I guess they chose the Wednesday as a suitable mid-point between the AWS final and Millwall’s previous match at York City on 10th April. Who knows, but there we were, playing on a Wednesday night in South London.

Back then, I was directing excavations in advance of the construction of HS1 (we knew it then as the Channel Tunnel Rail Link). Specifically, at this time we were excavating a nice Late Bronze Age site known as Little Stock Farm, near Mersham in Kent, and whilst we were there also excavating machine-cut evaluation trenches immediately to the east in fields next to Park Wood Cottage farm. I was supervising the main excavation that day, whilst one of our Project Officers was in the next field cutting the evaluation trenches. Mid-afternoon, and my phone rings – disaster! The machine had sliced through a water pipe, which was flooding everywhere.

I dashed over, and sure enough there was the evidence – a somewhat mangled blue plastic water pipe pissing everywhere, and somewhat ominously looking like it ran from the mains along the road straight across the field to the farmhouse – yep, we’d cut through their water supply. Now, I should add, we had done everything in advance that we should have, including checking plans with all utility suppliers, and carrying out a full CAT & Genny scan – but utility companies rarely map local supplies such as these, plastic water pipes are notoriously difficult to detect, and whoever had laid the pipe (probably the farmer himself) hadn’t buried it particularly deeply, nor laid any form of warning tape over the pipe to indicate its presence. However, it didn’t change the fact we’d cut off their water supply, so we had to do something.

The water board didn’t want to know, it was a local supply on private land, not their problem to fix, so it most definitely became our problem to fix. The pipe had been completely mangled by the machine bucket, so my only option was to dash off to the nearest plumbers merchant, pick up a length of replacement pipe, some couplers, and a hacksaw to trim up the broken ends and cut the replacement to fit. I was back within the hour and set-to effecting a repair. Cutting the downflow end of the broken pipe was easy enough, as was fitting the coupling and connecting that end to the replacement section. Now we came to the tricky bit, trimming off the upslope section of the pipe, which of course was still absolutely pissing water.

When I look back, this was in reality quite comical, but if you’ve never tried to hacksaw through a live pressured water pipe, you cannot begin to imagine what it’s like. The best I can compare it to is trying to cut through a pipe whilst someone aims a power-washer straight into your face. I had to take breaks just because I couldn’t hold my breath long enough, for fear of actually drowning. When the end was finally trimmed, and the replacement pipe coupled up (and that wasn’t easy either), to say I was wet is a considerable understatement – everything, and I mean literally everything I was wearing was absolutely soaked, nothing was spared.

Worse still, by then I had no time left to get back to the accommodation to change, I was due to rendezvous with my brother-in-law en route to the match and was already running late. All I had thrown into the car that morning was a U’s shirt, a change of socks and some shoes, so pausing briefly to order a slap-up takeaway for the farmhouse by way of apology, of I had to go – sat in a puddle of misery on the drive into London. We’d arranged to meet at a big sprawling pub we knew alongside either the A2 or the A20 – not sure which, can’t remember its name, nor exactly where it was, but I can definitely still picture it in my head – I’ve had a thorough search on Google Map and streetview, and can’t find anything that looks like I remember, so maybe this is yet another pub lost to the world? We just about had enough time to grab some food and a pint, leave my car in the pub car park, and carry on to the New Den in his car.

The U’s line-up that evening was:

1….Tamer Fernandes

2….Fabrice Richard

3….Stephane Pounewatchy

4….Geraint Williams (Karl Duguid 44’, Paul Abrahams 66’)

5….David Greene

6….Paul Buckle

7….Richard Wilkins

8….David Gregory (Neil Gregory 45’)

9….Jason Dozzell

10..Lomana Tresor Lua Lua

11..Warren Aspinall

This was a slightly different line-up to the matchday programme, particularly Fernandes in goal instead of former Millwall keeper Emberson, who had broken a finger ahead of the match. This was indirectly caused by Richard Wilkins in training the day before, as it was his shot which had done the damage. However, most notably there was the complete absence of Joe Dunne, listed as no. 3 in the programme – was this a portent of things to come, only we didn’t realise it at the time? Nope, he’d broken his arm as it happens. This was also Richard Wilkins’ 250th league game for Colchester United, and in an interview building up to the game “Mr Loyalty” said “…every landmark you reach is very pleasing, but I lost my first-ever game for the club, 2-0 against Preston – I want to make sure that’s not going to happen tonight…[and with Millwall facing a trip to Wembley at the weekend]…so it is very important that we get stuck into them early to find out what their attitude is like tonight”. In researching this match, I also realised this is another game that I still have my ticket for.

Millwall, player-managed by Keith Stevens at the time, were littered with familiar names, including 41-year old veteran Nigel Spink in goal, and of course Bobby ‘Sideways-Bob’ Bowry, Scott Fitzgerald and Leke Odunsi, all of whom would end up playing for the U’s in the future. It is worth reflecting here, Millwall made ELEVEN changes for this match – yep, they fielded virtually an entire second string side, resting every one of the side due to run out for the club’s first game at Wembley – the only survivor from that evening’s line-up was Bobby Bowry, who would be an unused sub on the bench at Wembley. If other teams in and around the U’s with relegation worries were annoyed about this, they really needn’t have been.

What followed was one of the more abject performances by a U’s team it’s been my misfortune to witness, and dare I remind you, endured in a miserably sodden state. Things started very badly for the U’s, when after just 34 seconds we gifted Millwall a 1-0 lead. Aspinall and Green made a complete pigs-ear of what should have been a simple back pass, allowing Kim Grant to break through the middle and slot home easily past Fernandes. With the wind in their sails, the Lions’ makeshift squad continued to press the U’s, until, very much against the run of play, we were thrown an 11th minute lifeline. Millwall player-manager Keith Stevens tripped Aspinall in the box, and up stepped our penalty maestro David Gregory to bring the U’s level. Sadly, replacement keeper Spink hadn’t read the script, and rolling back the years dived superbly to his left to keep Gregory’s rather tame effort out.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Millwall showed how it should be done just four minutes later, to double their lead. Green and Hockton got into a bit of a wrestling match in our penalty area, Greene adjudged to have committed the foul (and booked for his troubles), and Grant stepped up to make it 2-0, sending Fernandes the wrong way. 2-0 down after just 15 minutes, against a second string line-up, and needing every point we could get to stay clear of relegation – could it get much worse? Well, yes and no – finally stung into action pretty much thereafter through to half-time it was all U’s. Both Buckle and Lua Lua went close, both from Dozzell lay-offs, and even when we managed to get anything on target, a towering point-blank header from Pounewatchy and an angled drive from Aspinall, there was Spink throwing any part of his body in the way to keep the U’s out.

The second half was very much more of the same, albeit both Geraint Williams and David Gregory were taken off injured, to be replaced by Duguid and brother Neil respectively. Doogie made an immediate impact, pinging a lovely ball across the face of Nigel Spink’s goal – a simple touch from anyone would have finished it, but no one could reach it. The U’s continued to press, but never looked completely in control, and Grant missed an excellent opportunity to complete his hat-trick, breaking clear from his own half but missing his one-on-one chance. After about 20 minutes of the second half, another setback when substitute Duguid had to be substituted himself because of injury – it’s one of the few occasions I can actually recall this happening, and a real shame, as he was making a big difference. Neil Gregory went on to slice a 12-yard sitter wide, provided by an incisive pass from Pounewatchy, then fired an almost carbon-copy straight at Spink, Buckle and Aspinall went close with efforts that on another day they would have at least got on target, and with only two minutes to go Spink somehow managed to save a close-range header from an unmarked Dozzell.

And that was that, for all their efforts for 75 minutes, against a team of reserves, the U’s were undone by 15 minutes of ineptitude – in truth, it had been a very poor performance, and all I wanted to do was go back to the accommodation, peel off my still decidedly damp attire, and go to bed…

Millwall 2 (Kim Grant 1’, 15’p) Colchester United 0

Sadly, Richard Wilkins’ somewhat prophetic words pre-match had returned to haunt us this game. However, as mentioned in previous blogs in the series that have covered this season, we did eventually avoid relegation, reasonably comfortably too. Likewise, Millwall didn’t amass the unfeasible points haul they needed to have a chance of the play-offs and finished upper mid-table.

If, like me, you care little for Millwall, then you’ll probably be faintly amused that having rested their entire squad for their upcoming first visit to Wembley, they ended up losing the final 1-0 to Wigan Athletic. In gut-wrenching fashion too – conceding in the 3rd minute of injury-time when extra-time looked on the cards, and in front of a crowd of 55,349 – it was estimated that about 47,000 of these were Millwall supporters. Shame 😊

This would turn out to be the last appearance for Geraint Williams in a U’s shirt, though of course he would return as Assistant Manager the following season, eventually taking over the reins post-Parky in our first Championship season in 2006. By coincidence, the colu_official YouTube premiere this afternoon is our final game of the 2005/06 promotion season at Yeovil, which I’m certainly looking forward to.

Up the U’s

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Letters from Wiltshire #09 by wessex_exile
Letters from Wiltshire #08 by wessex_exile
Lots of discussion this week on football forums, including here, on two subjects – the petition to lobby parliament to allow limited numbers of supporters back into football grounds, and of course the return of that old chestnut from Man City Chief Executive Ferran Soriano, introducing Premier League ‘B’ teams into the EFL. First off, I don’t mind admitting I’ve signed the petition ( https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/552036 ), as have 192,779 others at the time of writing, though I don’t actually think it’ll make any difference. I can completely understand why some do not think this is a good idea, as second-wave spikes of coronavirus infection pop up all over the country (mainly because – let’s face it – some people are dicks and can’t be trusted to sit the right way on a toilet). But to me, the two go hand in hand (not dicks and toilets) – whilst football clubs throughout the country struggle financially without spectators, we are always going to be under threat of this sort of ‘B’ team nonsense as a condition of financial support from the Premier League fat cats. They got their way in 2016 with the EFL trophy, who’s to say they won’t again when the financial squeeze really starts to tighten its grip without paying customers through the turnstiles? Robbie has featured prominently in this debate in recent weeks, and looks like he will again on Sky tomorrow if this tweet from Sophy Ridge is anything to go by - https://twitter.com/SophyRidgeSky/status/1313874336118341632
Letters from Wiltshire #07 by wessex_exile
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