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U'sual Champions League 2020 - Round of 16
at 13:34 19 Jan 2020

First off, congratulations to the qualifiers for this season's competition. The ever trustworthy random number generator has drawn you into the following four groups:

Group A: BFG (holder), noah4x4 and mfb_cufc
Group B: Sector4, sevebalo and Lewis_1
Group C: Daniel, thrillseeker and blueeagle
Group D: Blue4U2, basher2010 and concordman

The first legs are still someway off, but I thought I'd get this rolling now, to give you all plenty of time to start researching the form of the various sides in this season's competition. I will bump this thread nearer the time to remind anyone yet to post.

The fixtures are:
First Legs
18/02/2020...Atletico Madrid v Liverpool
18/02/2020...Dortmund v Paris
19/02/2020...Atalanta v Valencia
19/02/2020...Spurs v Leipzig
25/02/2020...Chelsea v Bayern Munich
25/02/2020...Napoli v Barcelona
26/02/2020...Lyon v Juventus
26/02/2020...Real Madrid v Man City

Second Legs
10/03/2020...Leipzig v Spurs
10/03/2020...Valencia v Atalanta
11/03/2020...Paris v Dortmund
11/03/2020...Liverpool v Atletico Madrid
17/03/2020...Juventus v Lyon
17/03/2020...Man City v Real Madrid
18/03/2020...Barcelona v Napoli
18/03/2020...Bayern Munich v Chelsea

The rules are as before.

Three points for a spot-on, one point for the correct outcome.

There will be no first-to-post tie-break decider this round, only most spot-ons. However, please remember you are only allowed one exact match prediction with each one of your group members for this entire round (1st and 2nd legs together), so first to post may be a factor in this regard. If I spot too many exact matches I will do my best to give advance warning, but please don't rely on me to do this - you must watch this one yourselves too.

All predictions are the result at the end of normal time, extra-time and/or penalties will not count.

Prediction deadline is kick-off for any match, and all matches kick-off at 8pm.

Top two from each Group go through.

The Group qualifiers will then form two mini-leagues of 4, and play off against each other predicting all of the Quarter-final matches. Mini-leagues will be comprised as follows: Winner A, Runner-Up B, Winner C, Runner-up D and Runner-up A, Winner B, Runner-up C, Winner D.

The top two from each mini-league will then be drawn from a hat to play off in head-to-head matches, all predicting the semi-final matches.

The finalists will play-off predicting the Champions League Final, this will include predicting different aspects of the game, not just the score - and will be submitted as concealed bids (via PM to me).

Good luck everyone!
Prediction Logged by at 13:03:26
Colchester United v Macclesfield Town prediction logged
Matches of Yesteryear - U's v Lincoln 27/10/18
at 12:59 18 Jan 2020

Firstly, my apologies that this is a bit later than usual – it’s been a pretty hectic week at work, and by the time I got home last night, I was ready for a few beers and not a lot more. As we approach a vital double-header at home for the U’s promotion challenge, and on 12 games unbeaten, we come right up to date with an equally vital home game from last season.
Matches of Yesteryear - U's v Lincoln 27/10/18
at 12:59 18 Jan 2020

Firstly, my apologies that this is a bit later than usual – it’s been a pretty hectic week at work, and by the time I got home last night, I was ready for a few beers and not a lot more. As we approach a vital double-header at home for the U’s promotion challenge, and on 12 games unbeaten, we come right up to date with an equally vital home game from last season.

Colchester United v Lincoln City
Saturday 27th October 2018
Sky Bet League 2 (Tier 4)
Attendance 4,962

Match #37 of the series, and we’re at home against the league leaders Lincoln City on a bright crisp October afternoon - the second time a home game against Lincoln has featured in the series. The Imps were 3 points clear at the top, we were 5th, and with one or two familiar faces from this season around us (namely Exeter in 3rd place, and Forest Green Rovers just behind us in 6th place). Today’s opponents Macclesfield were rock bottom, and already 5 points from safety, with surprise package of this season Cheltenham keeping them company in the relegation zone – puts their current success into somewhat sharp focus.

Lincoln were of course managed by Danny Cowley at the time, assisted by his brother Nicky. Many of us here lamented Robbie not taking the opportunity to snap the Cowley brothers up after their very successful 2015/16 season managing Braintree Town. Who knows, maybe he tried and they weren’t interested, or Lincoln City made a better offer, or maybe Robbie just wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to give John McGreal his first chance at full-time management? Who knows (apart from Robbie), but whatever the reason, it didn’t happen and that’s that.

Barring one or two notable exceptions, the U’s lined up with a squad bearing some close similarities to the likely starting XI today:

25..Rene Gilmartin
2….Ryan Jackson
22..Kane Vincent-Young
6….Frankie Kent
5….Luke Prosser (captain)
4….Tom Lapslie
8….Harry Pell
10..Sammie Szmodics (Tom Eastman 84’)
7….Courtney Senior (Mikael Mandron 89’)
45..Frank Nouble
9….Luke Norris

Not wanting to get back too late, and without the convenience of the shuttle buses to rely on, I decided to drive over for this one with Alfie, so no beers for Dad on this trip (well, maybe just the one pre-match whilst Alfie devoured a plate of chips). As always, we parked in the park ‘n’ ride and hiked across the wasteland to the ground – yes I know it’s not the officially sanctioned route, traffic hazards etc etc etc, but whilst my knees last, it’s so much quicker. I’d also taken advantage of the Early Bird discount and bought the tickets in advance for printing at home (well work, but don’t tell them).

Going into the game, the U’s had been a bit up and down, struggling to find some consistency – I offer as evidence thumping Crewe 6-0 on a Tuesday night, before wimping out to lose at home against lowly Northampton the following Saturday. October had followed that pattern, great victories against Yeovil, Crawley and Morecambe, tainted with defeats at Stevenage (damn you Guthrie) and the previous Tuesday night at Grimbsy. Lincoln, on the other hand, had only been beaten twice all season, albeit they had drawn their previous two games prior to this match, at home to both Cambridge United and then Carlisle United. Is this a record, three successive matches against all three CUFC’s?

This game is so recent that there are still plenty of reports, accounts, videos etc. available online to read, so I’ll try and restrict this to my perception of the game. There was a very good attendance that day, with S1 in excellent voice (we were in S3), and certainly buoyed by a sizeable and vocal away following of well over 1,000 Imps filling out the North Stand.

Lincoln City fans in the North Stand

As for the game, one of the more enjoyable matches I’ve watched in recent years, between two teams who at least try to play the right way, notwithstanding personal skill permitting. Lincoln showed their intent after just five minutes, with a effort long-range effort that was fortunately straight at Gilmartin. This was to become a feature of the day that I remember quite vividly, neither side showing any reluctance to fire in long-range shots on goal (take note 2019/20 U’s!). The U’s gradually eased into the game, and after 10 minutes or so KVY was really starting to torment the Lincoln defence, going close after a twisting turning jinking dribble into the box.

After 28 minutes our increasing pressure had its reward, when a near post corner for the U’s had the Lincoln defence at sixes and sevens, and after his first effort was fumbled by the goalkeeper, Frankie Kent clipped it over the prone keeper and into the net – cue bedlam around the ground, and particularly the South Stand. Naturally, this spurred Lincoln on, and for much of the remainder of the half were bringing the game to the U’s from all angles. Senior picked up a yellow card from some ‘agricultural’ defensive work, though to be fair Lincoln were no slouches in that department, and Pett joined him in the referee’s little black book not long after. Despite the pressure, the U’s were still playing some beautiful one-touch passing football, and always carried a goal threat throughout – a threat that Lincoln were well aware of. 1-0 to the U’s at half-time, and time for some refreshments – one look at the queue, screw that, Alfie can have a McDonalds drive thru’ on the way home.

Second half wasn’t really more of the same, it was more…err…more the U’s really imposing themselves in the game, and for large parts of the second half keeping the league leaders penned in their own half, throwing bodies on the line to block the goal attempts that were being fired in. This rather left the only option open to Lincoln City was to revert to type, and overly rely on hoofball to create the few chances they had second half. Decent efforts by Sammie, Frank, Chuck, Senior and Jacko all deserved more, but last-ditch defending and decent goalkeeping denied them all.

With 15 minutes to go, Danny Cowley tried a virtual double-substitution, bringing on Matt Rhead and then straight after Matt Green, to try and turn things around. With time running out, tempers started to fray a bit, with Wilson picking up another booking with eleven minutes to go…and then substitute Green just four minutes later. McGreal’s game management started to come into effect too, replacing Sammie with erstwhile striker Tom Eastman with six minutes to go, and then replacing hard-working Senior (Man of the Match) with Mikael Mandron with just one minute to go – and a well-earned standing ovation from the U’s faithful. Three minutes into injury-time, and a tussle between Frank and Jason Shackell saw them both booked, followed by Eastman a minute later (I think for verbals?). Not to be outdone, Luke decided the referee wanted his name too with seconds of extra-time to go – but the “You Can’t Fix Stupid” award for this match goes to Matt Rhead, booked after the final whistle had blown, for what appeared to be a frank exchange of views with the match officials.

Colchester United 1 (Frankie Kent 28’) v Lincoln City 0

Without a doubt, not just an absolutely vital three points against a promotion rival, but a thoroughly entertaining game in which the U’s showed that they were more than a match to the champions-elect Lincoln City. Remarkably, because it wasn’t a dirty game at all, just two teams who were fully committed, there were ten bookings, five of which were handed out in extra-time. The U’s were hitting a bit of a purple patch, and following an identical victory against Swindon the following Saturday, got themselves into the automatic promotion places, and more or less stayed there right up to Christmas.

Lincoln probably decided they really didn’t like playing CUFC teams, after drawing two and losing one in succession. However, they recovered, and only lost one more game between then and confirming their promotion in mid-April. Of course, once that was done and dusted, the wheels came off a bit, culminating in a humiliating 3-0 home defeat on the last day of the season, against the mighty U’s. Not enough it turned out to get us into the play-offs, but a pyrrhic victory of sorts – the only team in the league to do the double over the champions.

Macclesfield, incidentally, after spending virtually the entire season in the relegation zone, clawed their way out at the beginning of April, and just managed to stay out on the last day of the season, with a draw at home to Cambridge.

There’s a good quality highlights video of our game against Lincoln City on YouTube, so enjoy…

Up the U’s
Prediction Logged by at 05:28:00
Morecambe v Colchester United prediction logged
Matches of Yesteryear - Cheltenham v U's 22/2/03
at 19:25 10 Jan 2020

The U’s travel to the Globe Arena tomorrow, aiming at the very least to keep the unbeaten run going – though in truth after three somewhat disappointing draws against Exeter, Crawley and Stevenage, surely nothing less than three points is acceptable? Ahead of this trip, the Matches of Yesteryear random number generator has chosen a match which for me has a particularly bitter-sweet poignancy.
Matches of Yesteryear - Cheltenham v U's 22/2/03
at 19:24 10 Jan 2020

The U’s travel to the Globe Arena tomorrow, aiming at the very least to keep the unbeaten run going – though in truth after three somewhat disappointing draws against Exeter, Crawley and Stevenage, surely nothing less than three points is acceptable? Ahead of this trip, the Matches of Yesteryear random number generator has chosen a match which for me has a particularly bitter-sweet poignancy.

Cheltenham Town v Colchester United
Saturday 22nd February 2003
Nationwide League Division 2 (Tier 3)
Attendance 3,607

Match #36, and for the first time in the series a trip to Whaddon Road, home of Cheltenham Town. Cheltenham had been in the football league since gaining promotion from the Conference in 1999, and following a successive promotion via the play-offs at the end of 2001/02, this was the very first season we were to play each other in the football league (we had of course already met in both of our Conference seasons). This wasn’t quite my first visit to Whaddon Road, we’d also been drawn away at Cheltenham earlier in the season for a 1st round LDV Vans Trophy match on a freezing night in October, for which I had made my first trip to Whaddon Road. Rather wished I hadn’t in some ways, after the U’s were trounced 4-1 mainly as a result of a Richard McKinney horror-show which concluded on 45 minutes conceding a penalty for their first goal, with the bonus of a straight red for his troubles.

Cheltenham, managed by Bobby Gould at the time, were finding life in the third tier a bit of a struggle, and at the time of this match were bottom of the league, albeit only by one point and still well in touch with those above them, and with only five points separating the bottom nine clubs. The U’s were one of those nine, only two points above the relegation zone, and looking to make some serious progress away from danger and towards the relatively hallowed ground of mid-table obscurity (and safety). Our poor start to the season had lead former manager Steve Whitton to conclude he could do no more for the U’s, and he resigned on 29th January following a home defeat against Blackpool that saw us deep in the relegation mire. As a result, for this game we had Geraint Williams as caretaker manager – his first spell in charge of the U’s – and he wasn’t doing too badly either, getting a decent point at Stockport, victory at Ashton Gate, and then a home win against Mansfield.

The U’s lined up:
1….Simon Brown
25..Sam Stockley (Micky Stockwell 45’)
5….Scott Fitzgerald
19..Alan White
18..Liam Chilvers
7….Karl Duguid
10..Kem Izzet
6….Thomas Pinault
3….Joe Keith
23..Gareth Williams (Dean Morgan 63’)
9….Scott McGleish

My in-laws lived just outside Cheltenham, and my father-in-law particularly was a proper football supporter – born and bred within sight of Old Trafford, and a genuine Manchester United fan as a result (unlike the hordes from the Home Counties etc.). He would take any opportunity to get to a match, and was therefore delighted when his daughter hooked up with the sort of football fanatic who was always trying to get to any games that were possible. This was our second visit together to Whaddon Road, as he had braved the elements to be there with me for the dreadful LDV game too. We were never happier than with a glass of scotch or two watching Match of the Day on a Saturday night, marvelling at the skill, and howling with laughter at the incompetence in equal measure. Over the years we shared many excellent trips together to watch football, mainly Colchester United, sometimes Gloucester City, and even Salisbury City on occasion, before he was tragically taken from us by cancer at far too young an age. I can genuinely say he was one of the finest people I have had the privilege to meet, and I miss him terribly to this day. My trip to Old Trafford was tinged with the regret that he wasn’t there with me – he would have loved it.

Prior to kick off, as neither of us were wearing colours, we popped into the large home-only Cat and Fiddle pub on Whaddon Road for a pre-match beer. This is another football pub that has since disappeared, converted into flats in 2009, and subsequently demolished and rebuilt as some form of housing facility – not sure, but it looks like warden-assisted flats or some such now? I can only assume calling this new-build “Arkells” is in reference to the former pub that occupied the site?

The Cat and Fiddle shortly after closure

Back in 2003, away supporters were housed at the south end of the Wymans Stand – the new Whaddon Road End stand where we gather these days wasn’t built until 2005. I don’t recall it being a huge U’s following that day, probably no more than about 150-200 I’d guess, but we were in good voice hoping to see the positive uplift in results continued. Unfortunately, we’d barely warmed our seats when giant striker Julian Alsop headed home his tenth goal of the season after just 90 seconds. Although a massive set-back right at the outset, I always console myself in these situations with the belief that we still had plenty of time to put things right.

Cheltenham were proving to be no slouches on the pitch, despite their lowly position, but the U’s gradually began to impose themselves in the game as the first half went on. We rightly received our reward following good approach work by Joey Keith, when Gareth Williams drilled home an equaliser just before half-time. This was the first goal scored for the U’s by Williams, who had signed on loan from Crystal Palace a month earlier, along with Liam Chilvers from Arsenal. They were, I think, the last two players bought into the club by Steve Whitton – not a bad brace to finish on I reckon.

Both managers changed things around at half-time to try and gain an advantage. Gould replaced McAuley with David Bird, and George brought on Micky Stockwell for Sam Stockley (incidentally, it had been Micky Stockwell who was sacrificed following McKinney’s red card in the LDV, to allow benched Simon Brown to go in goal). The second half was just as evenly contested, with both teams well-matched on the pitch. Gould mixed it up further after 58 minutes, bringing on Damian Spencer for Tony Naylor, which was countered by George five minutes later, replacing goal-scorer Gareth Williams with Dean Morgan. The final roll of the dice was Bobby Gould’s, replacing Devaney with Marvin Brown with just over twenty minutes to go, but to no avail, and the match finished without any further goals.

Cheltenham Town 1 (Julian Alsop 2’) Colchester United 1 (Gareth Williams 44’)

Geraint Williams had finished his caretaker manager spell with two wins, two draws and no defeats, and had rightly put himself forward to become the new permanent manager. Peter Heard interviewed George and two other (then unknown) short-listed candidates in London – the Evening Gazette at the time reported on the Sunday that the interviews had taken place the day before (on the matchday!). I can’t believe that to be the case, it must have been either Friday 21st February, or Monday 24th February, and on Tuesday 25th February the relatively unknown (and completely untested) Phil Parkinson was announced as the new manager. Without the benefit of hindsight, I thought that was unfortunate for George, who I believed had earned his chance. But Parky clearly recognised the value of Geraint Williams as well, and moved swiftly to get him signed up as his assistant – and the rest, as they say, is history.

Cheltenham were to continue to struggle to adjust to life at this level, and although they did climb off the bottom eventually, they couldn’t escape the relegation zone, and finished fourth from bottom in May. Although it took a few seasons, it was our very own John Ward who eventually steered them back into League 1 via the 2006 play-off final.

Off the field, it was being widely reported that the broadcaster ITV Digital was in serious financial trouble, beset by low audience figures, piracy issues and a frankly unaffordable broadcasting rights multi-million pound deal with the Football League. This was proving to be a serious financial problem for many clubs, who based on the hype surrounding the broadcasting deal, had budgeted on the expectation of substantial revenue from the arrangement. Bradford City and Barnsley both went into administration, clubs were forced to cut staff and sell players, and ticket prices were increased to mitigate the shortfall in revenue from broadcasting. In all, 14 clubs went into administration in the four years following the collapse of ITV Digital, and many believe it was a major factor in most of these cases. Fortunately, the ever-wise and ever-prudent Peter Heard had refused to believe the hype surrounding ITV Digital, had never budgeted more than the U’s could afford, and as a result we were largely unaffected by the collapse.

Up the U’s
Matches of Yesteryear - Newport v U's 14/1/17
at 16:07 3 Jan 2020

Ahead of tomorrow’s match at Stevenage, the Matches of Yesteryear random match selector has chosen one with some familiar faces in, one or two of whom we will see tomorrow, and one we probably won’t.
Matches of Yesteryear - Newport v U's 14/1/17
at 16:06 3 Jan 2020

Ahead of tomorrow’s match at Stevenage, the Matches of Yesteryear random match selector has chosen one with some familiar faces in, one or two of whom we will see tomorrow, and one we probably won’t.

Newport County v Colchester United
Saturday 14th January 2017
Sky Bet League 2 (Tier 4)
Attendance 2,397

As with Match #11 of the series, we return to Rodney Parade almost exactly three years ago for Match #35, and a game against Newport County. At the time Newport County were managed by journeyman manager Graham Westley, who began his somewhat controversial managerial career at the youthful age of just 28, steering Kingstonian away from relegation in his relatively short spell at the club before being dismissed. Since then, he has exclusively managed at non-league and lower league level, including three previous spells at Stevenage. In terms of relatively high-profile appointments, he did have spells in charge at both Preston North End and Peterborough whilst they were both League 1 sides, though neither ended particularly well. On the 15th December 2019, Westley rejoined Stevenage for a fourth spell as their manager – the club where he has probably enjoyed most of his success in management.

Being a relatively easy trip from where I’m based, me and my youngest took the train over for this match, and just three weeks before I moved from Warminster to Calne. I don’t have a programme for this match, just my ticket stub, though therein is another story. You may recall I pointed out in the previous Newport County blog (for our game in November 2018) that I’d managed to blag complimentary tickets for that game – well this appears to be another one for which a freebie was received, though in this case just my ticket – had to pay for Alfie’s ☹. I don’t recall the circumstances with absolute certainty, but I’m fairly certain this was one the ticket cabin staff were holding for the right looking sort to benefit from – they must have liked my face!

At the time of this match, and after losing eight on the bounce, the Exiles were already adrift at the foot of the table, six points from safety behind Notts County. In typical Westley style, the manager had decided sweeping changes were needed, and during January either signed or loaned-in 12 players, whilst releasing seven during the same period. Eight of his new signings either started or were on the bench on this day, five of them as debuts, so they could be forgiven for maybe not knowing too much about each other. The U’s were riding high at the time, on an unbeaten run of eight games stretching back to mid-November, winning seven of them. This run had propelled the U’s from the relegation zone to sixth place, and it was probably no coincidence that this turnaround in form had coincided with the recall of Big George Elokobi from his loan at Braintree. Incidentally, for those that might be wondering, Frank Nouble was yet to arrive at Rodney Parade – he was to be signed at the end of the season.

The U’s lined up at Rodney Parade:
1….Sam Walker
6….Frankie Kent
18..Tom Eastman
15..George Elokobi
2….Richard Brindley
11..Brennan Dickenson
24..Craig Slater (Tarique Fosu-Henry 88’)
4….Tom Lapslie
22..Owen Garvan
28..Kurtis Guthrie (Denny Johnstone 78’)
9….Chris Porter (captain)

This was my first visit to Rodney Parade (owned by the Welsh Rugby Union), and whilst I had an inkling what to expect, given the pitch was used for not only football, but rugby as well (both the Dragons regional rugby union side, and Newport RFC rugby union club played there), nothing quite prepared me for the quagmire that day. Admittedly, mid-January is never a good time for sports pitches, but this was frankly shocking, and it didn’t bode well for the free-flowing passing game the U’s fans had been enjoying in recent months. Our current form clearly a contributing factor, an impressive 312 had made the long trip from Essex for this game, including three coachloads – so many in fact that the paltry block of seats allocated weren’t sufficient to accommodate us all comfortably. With our more vociferous S1 choir and drummer wanting to stand, not enough seats in the first place, and tempers fraying between those wanting to stand and those wanting to sit, the stewards had no choice but to open the terraced area at the east end of the south stand. Normally I’d have joined those on the terrace quite happily, but with Alfie accompanying me it was far better to stay in the seats for this one.

As for the match, with Prosser injured Chris Porter was captain for the day, and the U’s fielded a strong line-up (injuries permitting). Right from the outset, it was clear that the dreadful pitch was going to be the consummate leveler between play-off and relegation zone teams. The bounce was so unpredictable that the U’s more often than not had to resort to a more aerial approach to our game. Given they played on it every other week, this wasn’t a problem for Newport – in fact it was clear that it was their usual modus operandi (not unexpected from any side managed by Graham Westley). Newport also had a considerable physical aspect to their game (again, not unexpected from any side managed by Graham Westley), but it was pleasing to see the U’s stand-up to that sort of nonsense and give as good as they got.

Early on, Dickenson was getting a reasonable amount of joy down the left wing, despite that being the worst part of the pitch, giving David Pipe (no slouch when it comes to ‘ahem’ physicality) a torrid time. Brennan went close after just a few minutes, only just failing to get on the end of an excellent cross from Garvan. As we struggled to cope with the conditions adequately, Newport slowly grew into the game – not surprisingly with much of that threat also coming down the worst side of the pitch that they’d be most familiar with. However, we were still a threat, and with about 15 minutes gone, Porter raced through into the area from an excellent Guthrie pass, only to tumble over under a hefty challenge – I wasn’t convinced, sadly neither was referee Michael Salisbury, who waved play-on. Unfortunately, not long after Newport took the lead, as we failed to deal adequately with a Nelson long-throw, allowing Sheehan to drill low into the far corner past Walker – who I honestly thought should have done better from the view I had of it at the time.

However, the U’s weren’t daunted, continued to press the home side, and on 35 minutes received their reward after Guthrie intelligently nodded the ball into the box, raced through to pick up his own pass, and was unceremoniously blocked off in the box. Porter slotted home the resultant penalty, though not the most convincing of spot-kicks by my reckoning. Had the goalkeeper gone the right way, it would have been an easy save, but they all count when they hit the back of the net. From then to half-time the match became more and more fractious, ironically with the home crowd becoming increasingly incensed that the U’s were perfectly happy to mix up if that’s how the Exiles wanted to play it.

The second half mostly became a war of attrition, with both teams having spells in control, but neither side managing to break the deadlock. Just after the hour, Williams fired in a low shot that Walker saved comfortably, and Walker went one better a few minutes later, brilliantly tipping over a shot from newly arrived substitute Owen-Evans. Again Walker came to the rescue with 15 minutes to go, easily saving Reid’s header from an excellent Butler cross, but that was pretty much the last serious effort on goal for Newport. With Denny Johnstone replacing Kurtis Guthrie on 78 minutes, the U’s found another gear, and spent the remainder of the game pegging Newport back in their own half, and very nearly claiming the victory. Probably our best chance fell to Johnstone, after Porter had excellently closed down a clearance, but his snap-shot was dragged agonisingly wide, and that’s how the match finished.

Newport County 1 (Josh Sheehan 23’) Colchester United 1 (Chris Porter 35’p)

On balance, at the time I thought that wasn’t a bad point, even if we were playing the team at the bottom of the league. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it already, but the pitch was atrocious, so to escape with a point and our unbeaten run continued felt okay to me on the journey home. Of course, with the benefit of hindsight it proved to be a bit of a turning point in our season, and from hereon in our form was patchy, seeing the U’s slip out of the play-off zone for the last time at the end of February.

As for Newport and Westley, they parted company a month and a half later, with Newport County an even further 11 points adrift at the foot of the table. To say it was an acrimonious parting of the ways was an understatement – club secretary Graham Bean had already resigned in December, stating Westley was “…an impossible man to work with...he needs to learn some manners and start treating people with some respect”. When the board had finally had enough of Westley’s controversial approach to man-management, it transpired they had actually consulted with not only the players but the supporters as well in advance of making their decision. Newport-born Mike Flynn, one of the 12 signed in January by Westley, was appointed caretaker manager, and miraculously managed to steer the Exiles clear of relegation, winning seven of the final 12 matches of the season. The dreadful Rodney Parade pitch was removed in its entirety in the close season, and they now play on a hybrid pitch made of both natural grass and artificial fibres, which can stand up much better to the relentless battering it receives from three different teams.

For the U’s, this was one of the better games for Guthrie, who was to miss out the final few months of the season through an ankle injury sustained in March. He made a brief return in September of the following season, but after some increasingly frustrated outbursts through social media (and, I’d personally say, not helped by having a far bigger opinion of his ability than was matched in reality), Guthrie’s contract was terminated by mutual consent in March 2018. This followed an on-field altercation with Szmodics about who was going to take a penalty against Yeovil. Guthrie was snapped up by tomorrow’s opponents Stevenage, and of course he had a comedy-villain pivotal role in our match their last season. However, t’internet rumours suggest he won’t be there tomorrow, even if Graham Westley will be, as it is reported he’s gone to Brizzle Rovers – we shall see.

at 11:03 3 Jan 2020

Reportedly gone to Bristol Rovers according to the Stevenage Borochat forum, and they don’t seem too disappointed either.

Can’t say I’m sorry either, he’d be nailed on to score if he was playing tomorrow.
Matches of Yesteryear - Notts County v U's 21/3/98
at 18:23 31 Dec 2019

And so we come to the end of 2019 – halfway through a season that promises much, so it seems appropriate that we dip into the 1997/98 season for this blog. May I take the opportunity to wish you all a very Healthy, Prosperous and most of all Happy New Year, starting of course with three points for the U’s against Crawley tomorrow.
Matches of Yesteryear - Notts County v U's 21/3/98
at 18:22 31 Dec 2019

And so we come to the end of 2019 – halfway through a season that promises much, so it seems appropriate that we dip into the 1997/98 season for this blog. May I take the opportunity to wish you all a very Healthy, Prosperous and most of all Happy New Year, starting of course with three points for the U’s against Crawley tomorrow.

Notts County v Colchester United
Saturday 21st March 1998
Nationwide League Division 3 (Tier 4)
Attendance 6,284

Match #34 of the series, and we travel to Meadow Lane, home of Notts County, towards the tail-end of what was to be a very auspicious season for the U’s. Our previous encounter in the league had been back in 1970/71, so I’m pretty certain this was the first of what would prove to be numerous visits to Meadow Lane over the years.

Notts County were managed at the time by none other than Big Sam Allardyce, who had arrived half-way through the previous season, though too late to save them from relegation to the basement. His previous managerial role had been at Blackpool, where he had guided them to the First Division play-offs, only to lose out to Bradford City in the semi-finals. Remarkably, despite bringing considerable success to Blackpool, chairman Owen Oyston sacked Allardyce shortly after the play-off defeat. Now in truth I’ve never been a big fan of Sam Allardyce, but Oyston (who was in prison when he sacked Allardyce, sentenced for the rape of a 16-year old girl) is an odious reptile by any measure, and makes Big Sam look like St Francis of Assisi.

Under Allardyce, Notts County were sweeping everyone before them this season, banging in goals for fun, and running away with the league title. Going into this match, they were a whopping 16 points clear of second place Torquay, and only needed one more victory to be mathematically certain of promotion. This would be no mean feat – not since the Second World War has a team achieved promotion in March – and it was clear that Sam wanted this record for him and Notts County. Part of my antipathy towards Sam Allardyce, apart from the repeated corruption allegations, the relatively one-dimensional tactics his teams tended to employ, and the big gob, was that I’m absolutely certain at some point around this game, before or after, he had some fairly uncomplimentary things to say about Colchester United. I honestly can’t remember the words, nor can I find any reference on the internet, but I’m sure it was focused on the usual big club little club sort of thing.

The U’s lined up:
1….Carl Emberson
2….Joe Dunne
3….Simon Betts
4….Aaron Skelton
5….David Greene (programme lists David Gregory)
6….David Gregory (programme lists Paul Buckle)
7….Richard Wilkins
8….Paul Buckle (programme lists Steve Forbes)
9….Mark Sale (programme lists Tony Lock; Steve Forbes 76’)
10..Tony Lock (programme lists Tony Adcock)
11..Paul Abrahams (programme lists Nicky Haydon; Karl Duguid 62’)

Never mind Notts County, the U’s under Steve Wignall weren’t having too bad a season either, and after thumping Macclesfield 5-1 at Layer Rd the previous Saturday, were sat in 7th place with 57 points (on goal difference), just inside the play-off zone. There was still a lot to do though, Peterborough United and Rotherham United were also on 57 points, with three and four games respectively in hand on the U’s.

I traveled up on the train for the match, which allowed time to meet my brother-in-law for a beer beforehand at the Trent Navigation Inn. I can’t remember exactly how many of the U’s faithful made the trip up, but I’d say it was about 250-300, and we were definitely in good voice. Back then, away supporters were given the cavernous Kop Stand (as it was called then), which could accommodate 5,438 if needs be, so we had plenty of room! I couldn’t help but be impressed with the ground, particularly given they had replaced three of the four stands in the 1992 close season (apparently at a cost then of £8m). I must admit, I always thought that the original Meadow Lane was one of Archibald Leitch’s, with the replica gable above the new-build Jimmy Sirrel stand an homage to Leitch – but it turns out he wasn’t the designer after all.

Jimmy Sirrel Stand

I have virtually no detailed recollections of the game, rather a more general clear memory of a decent game of football, which the U’s controlled for long periods. Notts County were clearly a good side, but whether it was the significance of the occasion (given they could achieve promotion with a victory), or we were just too good that day, but they never really troubled the U’s. I certainly do remember the half-time pie, that’s for certain, which as football food goes, was right up there at the top alongside the old Abbey Stadium bacon rolls.

The second half was more of the same, and in fact we began to look the more likely to break the deadlock and score – which I’m certain would have been the winner had we done so, and really wouldn’t have been undeserved either. Wignall had already introduced Doogie and Steve Forbes during the second half, but on 84 minutes I witnessed something I don’t think I’d seen before, not possibly ever since. With one last desperate roll of the dice, Allardyce made a triple substitution, bringing on Shaun Cunnington, Justin Jackson and Tony Lormor. However, to no avail, as we comfortably saw out the remaining minutes to earn an invaluable point towards our promotion challenge at the champions-elect.

Notts County 0 Colchester United 0

Although the U’s had prevented Notts County from gaining a March promotion at the first attempt, Leyton Orient weren’t able to do likewise the following Saturday 28th, losing 2-1 at Meadow Lane. With results elsewhere going their way, this also confirmed Notts County as champions. They would go on to amass 99 points, scoring a whopping 82 goals, and with a +39 goal difference. They were only beaten five times all season, one of which was at Layer Rd. There were only three teams in the league that they failed to defeat at least once, Macclesfield Town (promoted in second place), Peterborough United, and of course Colchester United, and there was only one team in the entire league that they failed to score a single goal against – you guessed it, Colchester United!

As for the U’s, well I’m sure you all know that we had a storming finish to the season, winning five and drawing one of our final seven matches, to finish top of the play-off zone. Our first-leg play-off semi-final at Barnet has already featured in the Matches of Yesteryear series (Match #15), and needless to say our day out at Wembley to come may well feature in the future, so I’ll say no more than that for now.

Finally, often football supporters will talk about that most elusive of beasts, a 20-goal per season striker. Not that I wouldn’t say no if one came along, but it’s worth reflecting on our 1997/98 season. The joint top league goal-scorers for the U’s were Aaron Skelton, Paul Abrahams, Neil Gregory and Mark Sale, with just seven goals each! Even taking in all competitions, David Gregory was our top goal-scorer, with just ten to his name. It just goes to show, with a stout defence and goals shared out across the entire squad, you can still achieve greatness.

Up the U’s
Matches of Yesteryear - Brighton v U's 27/10/01
at 13:38 29 Dec 2019

A little later than usual for this one, as I was actually in Colchester yesterday seeing family. Not particularly good timing given the U’s are at home today, but we’re all fairly far flung these days, so the opportunity to get a sizeable amount of the family in one place at the same time couldn’t be overlooked lightly.
Matches of Yesteryear - Brighton v U's 27/10/01
at 13:38 29 Dec 2019

A little later than usual for this one, as I was actually in Colchester yesterday seeing family. Not particularly good timing given the U’s are at home today, but we’re all fairly far flung these days, so the opportunity to get a sizeable amount of the family in one place at the same time couldn’t be overlooked lightly.

Brighton & Hove Albion v Colchester United
Saturday 27th October 2001
Nationwide League Division 2 (Tier 3)
Attendance 6,531

Match #33 of the series, and we travel to the Withdean in 2001, temporary home of Brighton & Hove Albion at the time. Following sale of the Goldstone Ground in 1997, for two dismal seasons Brighton played their ‘home’ fixtures at the Priestfield Stadium in Gillingham, a distance of over 70 miles. However, this was clearly untenable tong-term, and in 1999 an agreement was reached to allow BHAFC to return to Brighton, playing at the Withdean Athletics Stadium. To accommodate the football spectators, a bank of temporary seats was erected as the South stand, with existing facilities designed for athletics meetings already in place for the North stand. Away supporters were housed on another temporary bank of seats at the east end of the ground, and with the curvature of the running track to accommodate, a considerable distance from the action.

South Stand viewed from the East Stand

Brighton were riding high in the league at the time, under new manager Peter Taylor, and were currently second. Taylor had been appointed at the beginning of the season, after former manager Micky Adams had left to become Assistant Manager at Leicester City. The U’s, managed by Steve Whitton, weren’t going too badly either, and thanks to some excellent home form, were eighth. However, gaining points away were proving to be problematic, and we hadn’t won away since the opening day 6-3 thrashing of Chesterfield.

The U’s lined up:
29..Andy Woodman
7….Karl Duguid
4….Gavin Johnson
5….Ross Johnson
6….Simon Clark
10..Kem Izzet
20..Micky Stockwell
17..Bobby Bowry
15..Thomas Pinault (Joe Keith 62’)
9….Scott McGleish
21..Kevin Rapley (Dean Morgan 79’)

I don’t remember this match being all-ticket, but I do know the relationship between Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club and the local residents of Withdean was very strained to put it mildly, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it had been a requirement to ensure the number of fans attending was closely monitored. Maybe, but whatever the reason, I have a receipt for a ticket that was purchased during the week leading up to the game: not something I’d normally do, so there must have been some sort of need.

Aside from manager Peter Taylor, there were one or two names in the Brighton squad at the time, Michael Kuipers in goal for instance, but no one with as big a reputation as Bobby Zamora. Following a successful loan spell at the back end of the 1999/2000 season (six goals in six matches), Brighton signed Zamora permanently in 2000/01. He proceeded to dominate the goal-scoring charts, netting 31 goals in 48 matches across all competitions, not surprisingly taking Brighton to promotion from the Nationwide League Division 3 as champions. Zamora hadn’t had a bad start to 2001/02 either, already with ten goals to his name, and we were barely a third into the season.

I travelled over to this one by train on what was a very wet day, and after a few beers at pubs around the station, caught the shuttle bus out to the ground. As with our own stadium, there were severe restrictions on street parking around the ground on matchdays – basically you couldn’t, and the programme even warned offenders that “individuals who do park in the restricted zone are liable to have their season tickets revoked”. Harsh, but with little or no alternative options for Brighton to play at, it was essential they kept the local residents as content as possible – I won’t say happy, because they were never going to be happy about sharing their leafy suburb with a bunch of football yobs.

My arrival at the ground, much to amusement of onlookers, was accompanied by slipping on the last step leading down into the concourse and landing arse-first in a puddle – not the best of starts, but fortunately the only damage was to my dignity. As for the game, what can I say – probably the best I’ve seen the U’s play and come away with nothing. I recall there was a match at Layer Rd, against Brentford I think, that the U’s were utterly brilliant in, did absolutely everything right, just couldn’t score and the match finished 0-0. Well this was similar, but against a very good team in Brighton, but they somehow nicked it 1-0.

Brighton manager Peter Taylor, put it very succinctly after the match when he admitted "the best team lost". He went on “I've got to give Colchester a lot of credit, they didn't let us have the ball. They were a very lively side, exactly as we expected. They created several first-half chances and should have taken the lead, but when you've got a keeper as good as Michel and a good scorer like Bobby you're always in with a chance”.

After just 90 seconds Kuipers saved well from a Kevin Rapley. Micky Stockwell crossed from the wing, and following a defensive slip, Rapley had the goal at his mercy, but Kuipers raced off his line to block the fierce shot. A few minutes later, after a driving run forward, Duguid blasted inches wide, and on 15 minutes Kuiper again pulled off a brilliant save to keep out a Scott McGleish diving header. We were to rue those missed chances a minute later, when Paul Watson fired a free-kick into the U’s penalty area, and with Ross Johnson caught out, there was Zamora to toe-poke in from close range. Very much against the run of play, but the U’s just got right back at it: Izzet blasted a shot into the side-netting, and Duguid, Raply, Izzet and McGleish all forced further fine saves from the Dutchman Kuipers, who was having the game of a lifetime between the sticks.

Second half the pace slackened a bit, but still very much the U’s continuing to take the game to Brighton. There was the constant threat of Zamora and fellow front-man Lee Steele, and with Brighton very much playing on the break, their pace and skill was something to be very wary of. Woodman in particular would take much credit from diving at the feet of Zamora as he broke clear to try and score a second, blocking a fierce angled drive from Gary Hart at the second attempt, and a fantastic double save to deny Zamora and then Paul Brooker in injury-time. However, at the other end we just couldn’t get past Kuipers, and the game finished 1-0 to Brighton.

Brighton & Hove Albion 1 (Zamora 16’) Colchester United 0

Given the festive season is upon us, and mention of Brighton’s temporary exile to the Priestfield Stadium, some of you may have been unfortunate enough to have been amongst the 2,647 present at the 1997 Boxing Day game against Brighton? Rankin, Adcock and then Rankin again had raced Colchester United to a 3-0 lead with less than 30 minutes on the clock, only for Paul Emblen to smash in a 20-minute hat-trick in the second half to bring it back to 3-3. Scott Stamps put the U’s ahead 4-3 with fifteen minutes to go, but with only four minutes to go Jeff Minton despatched a penalty for Brighton to complete a quite remarkable come-back.

Bobby Zamora would go one better in 2001/02, scoring 32 goals in 46 matches, and again a crucial contribution in Brighton winning back-to-back promotions as champions, with Reading and Stoke via the play-offs joining them in the Nationwide League Division 1. The U’s slipped away from their early promise, but still finished reasonably comfortably lower mid-table, well clear of any serious relegation concerns. After a long career playing at the highest level, including a couple of caps for England, Zamora bowed out with one final season at Brighton & Hove Albion in 2015/16, and showed he still had it netting a very respectable seven goals in 26 matches.

Finally, this wasn’t quite the last that Colchester United heard of Zamora. In 2017 The Legacy Foundation, co-founded by Bobby Zamora, Mark Noble and Rio Ferdinand, were in discussions with the council to develop a brownfield site at the Hythe. The foundations aim was “… to deliver schemes for local authorities that not only reduce the pressure on affordable housing and community services, but will empower their tenants through onsite community and sporting facilities”. Unfortunately, the council were unable to unlock a necessary £10m grant from the government’s Homes and Communities Agency, and with decontamination costs prohibitively expensive, in 2019 the Legacy Foundation abandoned interest in the Hythe option.

Up the U’s
[Post edited 29 Dec 2019 13:42]
Prediction Logged by at 10:28:24
Colchester United v Exeter City prediction logged
Matches of Yesteryear - Bees v U's 6/5/00
at 16:37 25 Dec 2019

First and foremost, let me take the opportunity to wish all the U’sual ‘boarders and occasional visitors, lurkers and alike a very Merry Christmas, and hope you all have a healthy, wealthy and happy New Year! Unseasonably, for the time of year, the random match selector for the first game of the 2019/20 festive period has chosen a match from the balmy end of the football calendar, when shirt-sleeves and shades are very much the order of the day.
Matches of Yesteryear - Bees v U's 6/5/00
at 16:35 25 Dec 2019

First and foremost, let me take the opportunity to wish all the U’sual ‘boarders and occasional visitors, lurkers and alike a very Merry Christmas, and hope you all have a healthy, wealthy and happy New Year! Unseasonably, for the time of year, the random match selector for the first game of the 2019/20 festive period has chosen a match from the balmy end of the football calendar, when shirt-sleeves and shades are very much the order of the day.

Brentford v Colchester United
Saturday 6th May 2000
Nationwide League Division 2 (Tier 3)
Attendance 5,297

Match #32 of the series, and we return to Griffin Park for the very last match of the 1999/2000 season. I say return, but in truth apart from a few cup matches, our previous visit to Griffin Park in the league had been twenty years earlier – coincidentally on Boxing Day 1980 (we won 2-1). As a result, I’m pretty certain this was my first ever visit to Griffin Park, a ground I was quickly going to conclude was as close to the perfect matchday experience that one could have.

The U’s lined up:
1….Simon Brown
24..Ross Yorke-Johnson
3….Joe Keith
6….Joe Dunne
8….David Gregory (Gavin Johnson 74’)
11..Jason Dozzell
30..Steve McGavin
18..Chris Keeble
23..Aaron Skelton (Barry Ferguson 46’)
19..Tony Lock (Kelechi ‘KK’ Opara 64’)
15..Lomana Tresor Lua Lua

And so we came to the end of Steve Whitton’s first full season in charge of the U’s, well more or less, taking over when Wadsworth left at the end of August ’99 for a new role closer to his native Pontefract…at Crystal Palace! It had been a difficult start for Whitton, not helped by having the playing squad (and team spirit) decimated by Wadsworth as pretty much his last action before leaving, and populated instead by a clutch of highly paid players primarily through the agency of Barry Silkman, and who’s motivation appeared focused more on their bank balance than the concerns of Colchester United. Whitton quickly reinstated ostracised players like Tony Lock and Richard Wilkins, and re-signed Joe Dunne and Steve McGavin, but by mid-September we were in the relegation zone, and were to stay there until early December.

However, with Steve McGavin finally finding his scoring boots, and emerging star Lua Lua also banging them in for fun, the U’s gradually began to pull away from the relegation zone towards mid-table mediocrity. A particularly good run through from December to the end of February even gave some faint hopes of perhaps sneaking the play-offs, but realistically survival was the name of the game for me this season. We effectively confirmed our survival easing past Cambridge United 3-1 at Layer Rd earlier in April, and by the final game at Brentford we were already safe – as were Brentford, both of us on 51 points and ten points clear of the relegation zone.

For Brentford that day, apart from the prolific goal-scorer Lloyd Owusu, there was really only one name worth talking about – Jimmy Glass in goal. Glass, as I’m sure you will all recall, was the goal-scoring hero at Carlisle at the end of the previous season. Needing a home victory against Plymouth Argyle to avoid relegation out of the football league and drawing 1-1 with just ten seconds of extra-time remaining, Glass came up for a corner. BBC Radio Cumbria commentator Derek Lacey picks up what happened next most eloquently:

So ... deep, deep, deep, I make it sixty seconds. Jimmy Glass knocks it long. It comes now to Bagshaw. Bagshaw back to Anthony. Up to Stevens ... and the ball goes out now for a corner to Carlisle United – will they have time to take it? Referee looks at his watch ... and here comes Jimmy Glass! Carlisle United goalkeeper Jimmy Glass is coming up for the kick – everyone is going up ... there isn't one player in the Carlisle half! Well, well ... and the corner kick comes in ... and ... the goalkeeper's punch ... oh ... Jimmy Glass! Jimmy Glass! Jimmy Glass, the goalkeeper, has scored a goal for Carlisle United! There's a pitch invasion! There is a pitch invasion! The referee has been swamped – they're bouncing on the crossbar!

His goal has received numerous accolades, including 72nd greatest sporting moment ever by Channel 4, 7th in The Times list of the 50 most important goals in football, 15th in the ITV 20 Goals That Shook the World, and the Puma boots that he scored the goal with were donated to the National Football Museum in 2014. Whilst a remarkable moment in the history of football, do spare a thought for the supporters of Scarborough, already on the pitch celebrating after believing their 1-1 draw with Peterborough had been enough to avoid relegation. Despite saving Carlisle from relegation, Glass couldn’t secure a contract for 1999/2000 (he was on loan from Swindon at the time), and after a spell at Cambridge United (without playing any matches), he ended up at Brentford, this game only his second for the Bees.

I travelled up from Salisbury on the train, with the intention of meeting my brother-in-law and nephew at what was then the Royal Oak (now The Brook) for a few pre-match beers. Well, that was the intention, and certainly what I achieved, but they’d had no end of travel nightmares getting over from Newbury Park on the tube, and arrived eventually with barely enough time for a swift one before kick-off. At the time, away supporters were housed in the odd two-tier Brook Rd stand, the lower tier terracing and upper tier seating.

As for the match, well first of all it was hot – man was it hot, even for late spring. Football is very much a cold weather sport, doesn’t feel right played in sunshine and hot weather, and with neither team having anything to play for, this somewhat had the feel of a pre-season friendly. Fortunately, we were comfortably in the shade in the lower tier. I think there were supporters in the seating above, certainly sounded like it, and there must have been at least 5-600 on the terrace, and all in very good voice too. It was a chance to celebrate survival, and we were clearly keen to do so.

What was more surprising was that whilst I can’t remember too much detail from the game, what I do recall was that it was a game played at a pretty decent tempo, with plenty of attacking intent from two teams who were very well matched on the day. Lua Lua in particular was everywhere, causing no end of problems for the Brentford defence. Halfway through the first half, cutting in from the left, he clipped the ball over the advancing goalkeeper for what we were already celebrating was going to be the opening goal. Agonisingly, it came back off the inside of the post, and managed to avoid the onrushing U’s players who were looking to capitalise on the rebound. Tony Folan, who came on for the Bees in the second half, tried almost a carbon-copy of Lua Lua’s effort, but Simon Brown was equal to it and saved comfortably.

Other than that, it was a hot day out in West London, watching a decent game of football, secure in the knowledge that we were safe for another season, and actually beginning to show some promise as a developing side – and we didn’t lose!

Brentford 0 Colchester United 0

Preston North End, Burnley and Gillingham via the play-offs were promoted at the end of the season, with Cardiff City, Blackpool, Scunthorpe United and Chesterfield relegated. Despite not having Jimmy Glass to bail them out this time around, Carlisle again narrowly avoided relegation out of the football league, finishing joint bottom with Chester City on 39 points, but with a marginally better goal difference (-33 to Chester’s -35).

Though we weren’t to know it, the U’s at Brentford was Jimmy Glass’s penultimate league appearance of his career. In 2000/01 he transferred to Oxford United, played once for them, and then drifted into non-league football before eventually retiring from professional football at the relatively young age of 27.

Whilst Jimmy Glass’s career was heading south, Lua Lua’s was on the brink of entering the stratosphere. Having already rejected a derisory bid of £300k from then Newcastle manager Ruud Gullit, when Bobby Robson upped that to £2.25m early in 2000/01, the club had no option but to accept.

Let’s finish by remembering our very own goal-scoring goalkeeper hero, and arguably the goal which won us the Conference title, whilst enjoying some wonderful sour-grapery from Whinger O’Neill…

Prediction Logged by at 09:19:55
Colchester United v Carlisle United prediction logged
Matches of Yesteryear - Bournemouth v U's 27/3/99
at 15:54 20 Dec 2019

After our memorable trip to Old Trafford mid-week, we’re back to earth with a bump this weekend, with a visit from one of our fellow CUFC’ers – Carlisle United…and to keep in step, The Matches of Yesteryear series does likewise and returns to the daily grind of being at the wrong end of a lower league table.
Matches of Yesteryear - Bournemouth v U's 27/3/99
at 15:53 20 Dec 2019

After our memorable trip to Old Trafford mid-week, we’re back to earth with a bump this weekend, with a visit from one of our fellow CUFC’ers – Carlisle United…and to keep in step, The Matches of Yesteryear series does likewise and returns to the daily grind of being at the wrong end of a lower league table.

AFC Bournemouth v Colchester United
Saturday 27th March 1999
Nationwide Division 2 (Tier 3)
Attendance 6,442

Match #31 of the series, and we have a third trip to Dean Court, back in the day before it was redeveloped. The U’s were managed at the time by Mick Wadsworth, following Steve Wignall’s resignation in January, and a very brief spell with Steve Whitton as caretaker manager (one game, though a very creditable 3-3 draw at Stoke City). Wiggy felt he had taken the U’s as far as he could, and resigned after losing four out of five which left us perilously close to the relegation zone. However, he had seen sense to give talismanic Lua Lua his debut in the week leading up to his resignation, so it wasn’t all bad.

The U’s lined up:
1….Carl Emberson
2….Joe Dunne (Simon Betts 77’)
3….Fabrice Richard
4….Geraint Williams
5….David Greene
6….Paul Buckle (Lomana Tresor Lua Lua 45’)
7….Warren Aspinall
8….David Gregory
9….Brian Launders
10..Neil Gregory (Paul Abrahams 63’)
11..Stephane Pounewatchy

The Cherries were managed by experienced Mel Machin, and were firmly embedded in the play-off zone going into this game. Manager-in-waiting Eddie Howe played at no. 4 on the day, as well as hat-trick hero James Hayter at no. 10, the latter only just starting to ease his way as a regular into the first XI. For the U’s, we were beginning to see the influence of Wadsworth taking effect – and more to the point, the influence of his best buddy football agent Barry Silkman – with debuts for no less than Warren Aspinall (following a loan spell), Brian Launders (on loan) and Fabric Richard. We had also already seen the arrival, and almost immediate departure in an Essex ambulance, of Fumaca, in the $ky TV pay-per-view game against Man City the weekend before. Unlike Fumaca, I can remember the Man City game very clearly (watched at a mate’s house in Warminster, as he was the only person I knew at the time who actually had $ky), my recollections of the Bournemouth game are nowhere near as good. I do know I travelled down to this one on the local bus service, and had a couple of beers in the Queens Park Hotel beforehand, but not a huge amount otherwise, bar one notable incident.

As mentioned above, Bournemouth were going well at the time, and we were struggling at the wrong end of the table, only four points outside the relegation zone. A tough game was expected as a result, so imagine my surprise after early pressure from the Cherries, up popped David Greene to head home a Warren Aspinall corner after just 20 minutes. Very much against the run of play, but the U’s fans there that day weren’t complaining. Despite taking the lead, the U’s continued to soak up considerable pressure from Bournemouth, pressure which eventually told after 35 minutes when Christer Warren fired a well-struck shot past Carl Emberson.

Mind you, if that one was well-struck, Richard Hughes’ thunderbolt five minutes before the interval was worthy of not just goal of the season, but goal of the millennium. Following a well-coordinated set-piece routine that clearly originated on the training ground, Hughes let fly a howitzer from 25-yards which gave Emberson no chance at all. Hughes should have been playing that weekend for Scotland U21 against Bosnia (as they were then), but for reasons I can’t discover the game had been postponed – much to our dismay…

Mick Wadsworth made changes second half, bringing Lua Lua on at half-time, and then Paul Abrahams and Simon Betts as the second half progressed, but to no avail. Bournemouth appeared content to keep the U’s at bay for most of the half, rather than put the game out of sight with a third. With players like Eddie Howe in defence, they never looked too threatened second half, although Lua Lua and his bag of tricks caused a few problems. Eventually, Machin shored things up a bit in the midfield to try and stifle supply to Lua Lua, replacing Frenchman Willie Huck with Mike Dean (not the referee), and the game finished 2-1 to Bournemouth.

However, the real moment of the game must have been when Warren Aspinall (a former Cherry) received a very firmly driven football to the family jewels not once, but twice in rapid succession. Now us chaps know that there is absolutely nothing funny when this happens, but honestly, the entire stadium (home and away) were in hysterics – even Aspinall managed a wry smile, once he could actually stand that is.

Don’t rub ‘em, count ‘em” came the shout from someone in our end 😊.

AFC Bournemouth 2 (Christer Warren 35’, Richard Hughes 40’) Colchester United 1 (David Greene 20’)

My feelings on Wadsworth are well-known, and I suspect probably shared by many, and I don’t look back on his time at Colchester United with any pleasure at all. In fact, Wadsworth’s career appears littered with misfortune for the clubs he has been involved with, though in some cases it could be argued that he was the victim of circumstance, or there was just a degree of unfortunate coincidence involved. What is true though, is that he never really achieved much, or indeed held down any single job as a manager for too long, and more often than not moved on in somewhat acrimonious circumstances. Even at the U’s, which might be considered one of his better performances as a manager, he walked out on us claiming the commute from Pontefract was too far…and then ended up at Crystal Palace! – not that I was complaining.

It has been argued that in taking over from Steve Wignall, he saved us from relegation – that may or may not be true, but we’ll never know how the second half of the season may have panned out if (for instance) Wignall hadn’t resigned, or Whitton had stayed in charge following his caretaker role. What I do know, because the stats don’t lie, is that Wignall left us in 18th place in the league, and we finished in 18th place in the league. Certainly some of the players Wadsworth signed were okay – I quite liked Warren Aspinall and Stephan Pounewatchy, and Fabrice was okay too – but Brian Launders, Steve Germain, Fumaca, Bradley Allen?! What certainly marked out a Wadsworth signing, good, bad or indifferent, was they generally didn’t hang around for long.

Bournemouth missed out on the play-offs by one place on goal difference – largely thanks to the U’s gaining revenge by beating them 2-1 at Layer Road exactly a month later on a Tuesday in late April. I was also at that game and remember it well for the excellent atmosphere rocking around Layer Road that night, with a result that guaranteed our survival for another season (that and the inflatables being bounced around amongst the away fans). Incidentally, including the League Cup, we ended up playing Bournemouth four times that season – W 2, D 0, L 2, F 6, A 7.

Finally, leaving the humour of Aspinall’s family jewels to one side, I feel I should finish on the post-football struggles that Warren has been through. His time at Colchester United was close to the end of his career, and following a final short spell at Brighton, Warren retired as a result of an ankle injury in 2000. In doing the Matches of Yesteryear series, I have researched many different players, and it is very sad and alarming to see quite how many fall on hard times once their playing careers are over, often with alcohol, drugs or gambling involved. Unfortunately, Warren was no exception, with both alcoholism and a gambling addiction wiping out his savings (estimated at £1m), and bringing him to the brink of suicide. Thankfully, after a spell at the Sporting Chance clinic (set up by Tony Adams), Aspinall turned his life around, and became an advocate for the Samaritans and their “Men on the Ropes” campaign, talking openly and honestly about his addictions to try and help other sporting males in similar situations – well done Warren!
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