|Letters from Wiltshire #04|
Written by wessex_exile on Friday, 18th Sep 2020 16:14
After last weeks’ solid point away against Bradford City, tipped by many to be strong promotion contenders, we now face another stern test against fallen giants Bolton Wanderers. Okay, giants may be stretching it a tad, but these guys have won the FA Cup four times, the League Cup twice, and the Charity Shield and Football League (Sherpa Van) Trophy once apiece. Christ, they were in the Premier League just eight years ago. But, they are where they are for a reason, and Saturday is all about 11 v 11, literally on a level playing field…
Bolton Wanderers v Colchester United
Friday 11th December 1987
Barclays League Division 4 (Tier 4)
In preparing for this Letter from Wiltshire, I thought first and foremost to have a look at some of our previous matches with Bolton. I knew there couldn’t be many (I couldn’t remember any), but I was also pretty sure Bolton weren’t one of our very few ‘never played’ sides (West Ham, Liverpool, Harrogate…any others?). It turned out our paths have only crossed once in the league, during the U’s topsy-turvy 1987/88 season, the only previous occasion that Bolton Wanderers have been in the basement.
Programme image courtesy of www.coludata.co.uk
By a curious coincidence, we find ourselves in the very same season as the previous Letter from Wiltshire (Bradford v Ipswich), and therefore yours truly still living in West Yorkshire. With Christmas fast approaching, there was no way I could afford a separate trip just for this game – that would have to wait until I came down to see family, and the U’s take on Cardiff at Layer Rd on 28th December. It was a shame too, because it looks like I missed a real cracker against (even then) big boys Bolton Wanderers. I’ll get to the match stats in a moment, but it’s worth first of all reflecting on that attendance – just 1,725 for a Friday night match at Layer Road! An outsider looking in would rightly consider that pitiful, and they wouldn’t be wrong. But context is everything, and diehard U’s supporters of a certain age will know only too well we were in the Jonathan Crisp years.
Crisp was an ‘erratic’ chairman at best and had decided without bidding to introduce a members-only scheme for attendance at Layer Rd this season, with all away supporters banned. Attendances plummeted, with only 1,372 bothering to turn up for our first home match of the season against Torquay (we lost 1-0), only very rarely managed to exceed 2,000 all season, and very occasionally even dipped below 1,000. Mind you, I would imagine lower league sides would give their eye teeth for 1,000 paying attendees right now, if it could be done safely. It will be interesting to see how the eight test events fare this weekend (Luton and Morecambe pulling out at the last minute).
With more time, and lots of research, there’s a fascinating story to tell I’m sure about Jonathan Crisp, but one I’m certainly not qualified to write. One of the OMB regulars posted a link last month to the obituary of his father Bob Crisp, a quite remarkable man by any measure. It is well worth a read if you want, perhaps, a glimpse of some of the influences that might have helped form Jonathan Crisp ( https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2013/mar/05/the-spin-bob-crisp-amazing-life ).
Under Mike Walker as manager, we’d got the season off to a flyer, winning 3-0 at Burnley, but thereafter had struggled for most of August and September. Walker had been working on effectively rebuilding the U’s, and had already brought in Mario Walsh, Trevor Lake, Dale Tempest, Gary Smith, and loans for Graham Benstead and Mark Walton. On 29th September the tide started to turn, with a 2-1 home victory over Swansea City, ironically in front of our record lowest league attendance ever of just 1,140. Under Walker, the resurgent U’s just couldn’t be stopped, winning six out of seven matches on the trot, and getting a point for the seventh.
You couldn't make it up
By the end of October we were third, so of course the perfect time for Crisp to unceremoniously sack Mike Walker on 1st November. Over the years there have been various (occasionally salacious) rumours circulating about why Walker was sacked, but I’m not going to go into that here. Suffice to say that after a brief caretaker manager spell for Steve Foley (winning his one game 4-1 at Rochdale), Roger Brown was appointed on 6th November. Ironically, on the same day, Mike Walker was named Manager of the Month, with the U’s top of the table, and having already been sacked by the club he had been managing to win the award in the first place!
Brown kept the win streak going with his first match, winning 2-1 away at Halifax, but came a cropper at home to Wolves in the next, losing 1-0 in front 2,413 supporters, unusually of one of our larger home crowds of the season. The reason was simple, literally hundreds of Wolves fans signed up to Crisp’s members-only scheme to get a ticket for the match, Crisp finally realised the futility of his actions, and the scheme was scrapped with immediate effect. Brown could only draw the next match, away at Stockport, so we come to the Bolton game needing to do something to get the promotion push back on track.
Anyway, to the match, and all I have to go by primarily are the match stats from Graeson’s www.coludata.co.uk website, and our remarkably good suite of Wikipedia pages (thanks, whoever you are).
The U’s lined up:
The two subs, Mario Walsh and Mark Radford, were unused. The Bolton team, managed by Phil Neal no less, no doubt contained many names who are very familiar to their supporters even today, but there are one or two worthy of mention for non-Trotters. Firstly, Phil Neal was acting as a player-manager at the time, and turned out as the no. 3, alongside the one and only, everyone’s bete noire, Robbie Savage. I honestly had no idea Robbie had graced the turf at Layer Road until now, so I’d be interested to know whether he ever did again (if anyone knows?). They also had Trevor Morgan on the bench, who would go on to play a season for the U’s two years later. Bolton had signed him from Bristol City, who themselves had remarkably signed him from fierce local rivals Bristol Rovers. Remarkably, because a cross-Bristol move doesn’t happen very often at all, and for nearly 30 years he was the last player to do so until Matty Taylor repeated it in 2017.
The match stats are pretty straightforward – Richard ‘Mr Colchester United’ Wilkins put the U’s in front in the 29th minute, and in the second half Winston White added a brace (68th and 81st minute) to round of what appears on paper as a very comfortable home win against one of our fellow promotion contenders. Although a poor crowd by normal standards, with the member-only scheme scrapped, fans were slowly returning to Layer Road, and at least for this evening most went home happy (apart from maybe those of a north west persuasion who might have travelled down for a Friday night match).
Colchester United 3 (Richard Wilkins 29’; Winston White 68’, 81’) Bolton Wanderers 0
Although the result got our promotion challenge temporarily back on track, and we stayed top through to the end of the year, winning every game, January and February were disastrous months, and by the end of the season we could only manage 9th place, three points short of the play-offs. Bolton gained revenge over the U’s, thrashing us 4-0 at Burnden Park on the penultimate game of the season, helping them to gain automatic promotion in 3rd place behind champions Wolverhampton Wanderers and Cardiff City, with Swansea City promoted via the play-offs.
Newport County were relegated out of the league, and were declared bankrupt, expelled from the Conference and had gone out of business by February of the following year. They were reformed in June 1989 by 400 supporters, and as we know eventually returned to league football 25 years later in 2013.
However, it was Winston White that really peaked my interest from this match report, as he wasn’t a name I was familiar with at all. Okay, so his playing career with the U’s coincided with my time in West Yorkshire, so I wasn’t watching the U’s anywhere near as much as usual, but still a surprise, so I checked him out.
Winston White at Leicester City
Born Eric Winston White, Winston started his serious football career as a 16-yr old apprentice and then youth player for his hometown club Leicester City, under then manager Jimmy Bloomfield. His preferred position was out on the wing, and with bags of pace, plenty of tricks and a good eye for goal, it didn’t take long for Winston to graduate to the Leicester City first team under new manager Frank McLintock.
McLintock was sacked in 1978, to be replaced by our very own U’s man Jock Wallace. Jock, as we well know, had a reputation for preferring hard work, an uncompromising approach to the beautiful game, and very much an army-like mentality to his management style. He had precious little time for a fleet of foot, skilful flair player, so it was no surprise that in 1979 Winston was sold to Hereford for £15,000.
Winston stayed at Hereford for four years, and did well there too, but with Hereford finishing bottom of the Football League in 1983, his time was over. Knowing that Bury were after him, but had to move some other players around to make room, Winston temporarily played for Hong Kong Rangers, and on his return to the UK even had brief loan/trial spells with Chesterfield, Port Vale and Stockport, before eventually signing for Bury in December. He stayed with the Shakers for four seasons, racking up 145 appearances in all competitions, with a decent return of scoring 13 goals in the process (plus four appearances on loan to Rochdale in 1986), before joining the U’s on a free transfer in March 1987.
It baffles me how to this day I knew nothing about Winston White, considering his record whilst at Layer Road. From March ’87 he appeared 16 times for the U’s through to the end of the season, scoring once. In 1987/88 he was almost ever-present, scoring 11 times (include the brace here), and racked up another ten appearances in 1988/89 before we sold him to Burnley for £17,500. Although nowhere near our record as far as transfer fees were concerned (we had, after all, recently sold Rooster to Man City for £75k and Chamberlain to Everton for £80k), that was still a pretty decent transfer fee – particularly given we’d signed Winston on a free.
However, when looking into the career of Winston White, one particular chapter (for me) stands head and shoulders above the rest, and for that we go back to 1979. West Bromwich Albion wanted to hold some sort of benefit match or event for Len Cantello, one of their longest serving players.
Some bright spark came up with the idea of a Blacks v Whites football match!
Yep, you read that correctly…
Cyrille Regis and Len Cantello at kick-off
In modern times, this would probably be considered very very odd at the least, downright unthinkable to some, and if nothing smacks of patronising tokenism in its worst form. But we lived in a different world back then, and it was actually considered a quite progressive, even avant garde idea. Adrian Chiles, a lifelong WBA supporter, wrote an excellent article about the match, and the backdrop of prevalent racism within football at the time, which is well worth a read ( https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-37924448 ).
What’s even more interesting is that many of the top black players at the time, including people like George Berry, Bob Hazell, Garth Crooks, Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham, Remi Moses and of course our very own Winston White, were more than happy to take part…in a benefit match…for a white man…at a time when the level of racist abuse from the terraces was at a simply horrific level. For goodness sake, they even put the black players in an all-white kit!
Back row left to right: Ian Benjamin, Vernon Hodgson, Brendon Batson, Derek Richardson, Stewart Phillips, George Berry, Bob Hazell, Garth Crooks. Front row: Winston White, Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham, Remi Moses, Valmore Thomas
Incidentally, the game finished Blacks 3 Whites 2, with Laurie Cunningham, Garth Crooks and Stewart Phillips scoring for the Blacks. In the link to Adrian Chiles’ BBC article there’s an embedded clip that shows footage from the game, but the YouTube interview below with Chiles and particularly some of the black players, is also well worth watching.
Up the U’s
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