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Matches of Yesteryear - Barnet v U's 10/5/98
Written by wessex_exile on Friday, 27th Sep 2019 19:28

Barnet v Colchester United

Sunday 10th May 1998

Nationwide League 3 (Tier 4)

Attendance 3,858

Match #15 of the series, and another first as we visit Barnet at their old Underhill ground for the first leg of the Nationwide Division 3 play-off semi-final in May 1998. As befits the play-offs, we had the slightly odd kick-off arrangement of 1.30pm on a Sunday afternoon. The other semi-final first leg, between Scarborough and Torquay, was kicking off at 3pm that afternoon. Incidentally, Scarborough at the time were managed by none other than Mick “bigger b’stard than Mick Wadsworth” Wadsworth.

As I’m sure you will all remember, we were managed at the time by Steve Wignall, taking over in January 1995 after George Burley’s Christmas defection up the A12. This was our second attempt at the play-offs under Wignall, after losing out to Plymouth in the 1996 semi-finals. Wignall had also taken us to our second Wembley appearance in 1997, losing the AutoWindscreen Trophy final to Carlisle on penalties.

The U’s lined up:

1….Carl Emberson

2….Joe Dunne

3….Simon Betts

4….Aaron Skelton

5….David Greene

6….Guy Branston

7….Steve Forbes

8….Paul Buckle

9….Mark Sale

10..Neil Gregory

11..David Gregory

There are two definite names of note in the Barnet line-up that day, not least our very own Scott McGleish, who had already completed a successful loan spell with us back in 1995/96, with 17 appearances in all competitions, scoring five times. Scott signed for Barnet in 1997, and would go on to rejoin the U’s during the 2000/01 season. The other big name, certainly in the lower leagues, was prolific goal-scorer Sean Devine. Devine had joined Barnet in late 1995, and in 1996 he caught the eye of Premiership West Ham United, and probably would have completed the transfer if he hadn’t been struck down with groin/ hernia problems. He would go on to be Barnet’s leading goal-scorer three seasons running, eventually breaking their league goalscoring record.

I travelled up for this one on the train, and as a result allowed myself the pleasure of a few pints amongst lively vociferous company in the big pub right next to the ground (can’t remember its name though?). After which, on what was a bright sunny day, joining what must have been close on a thousand U’s fans jammed into the tiny Underhill ground. This is another match that I still have the ticket for as well – only £10, what a bargain!

I honestly can’t remember too much about the game, not necessarily because of the beer, it was just a long time ago. As is often the case for these sorts of matches, and what I do recall, was that it was very tense, and also quite feisty as well, with yellow cards being handed out like sweets by referee Eddie Wolstenholme. In particular, our loanee Guy Branston was giving Devine a torrid time, and had already been yellow-carded for his troubles. Half time arrived with no goals scored, but within a few minutes of the restart defender Greg Heald put the Bees 1-0 ahead. Thereafter, it’s a bit of a blank, other than Barnet couldn’t increase their lead, nor could the U’s reduce it. Tony Lock came on in the 75th minute, but I don’t know who he replaced – probably Buckle or Sale I reckon?

Then, in the 82nd minute, the seminal game-changing moment arrived.

As mentioned, Guy Branston had been tormenting and goading Devine all match, to the point at which Devine finally snapped, and a bout of strenuous fisticuffs ensued. Wolstenholme had no choice, and both players were shown a straight red for violent conduct. For Devine, this meant an immediate three-match ban and therefore not being eligible for the mid-week second leg at Layer Rd. For Branston, it meant nothing at all – his loan spell came to an end at the end of this match, and he was returning to his parent club Leicester City – the three-match ban was their problem, not ours. It is widely believed by many (including me) that this was an entirely premeditated action, Branston literally taking one for the team knowing full well it would keep Devine out of the frame for the second leg. In researching this match, I found posts on various Barnet unofficial forums to this day still maintaining this to be the case.

Despite the double red card, this didn’t offer any opportunities for either side to alter the score. So, Barnet travelled to Layer Rd on Wednesday 13th May 1998 for the second leg with a slender 1-0 lead, but without star striker Sean Devine.

Barnet 1 (Heald 48’) Colchester United 0

The U’s would go on to overcome their one goal deficit at Layer Rd, eventually winning 3-1 after extra time (and another red card for Barnet, this time Lee Howarth), progressing to Wembley to face Torquay – and the rest, as they say, is history. This was very much a parting of the ways for the U’s and Barnet – although we were to meet on a couple of occasions in the FA Cup and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, it would be another 18 years before we played again in the league, by which time they had moved out of Underhill to the Hive.

If Eddie Wolstenholme thought this match, and particularly Branston and Devine’s punch-up, was a bit feisty, it was nothing compared to four years later when he refereed Sheffield United v West Bromwich Albion, a match known as the Battle of Bramall Lane. This was discussed on the forum quite recently, a match during which Sheffield United had three players sent off (two of them, Santos and Suffo, substitutes who had only just come on). With Michael Brown taken off injured in the 79th minute, and then Robert Ullathorne in the 82nd minute, Wolstenholme had no choice but to abandon a game that WBA were winning 3-0. Santos and Suffo never played for Sheffield United again.

Post-match, WBA’s manager Gary Megson stated “There will be no replay. If we are called back to Bramall Lane we shall kick-off and then walk off the pitch. I've been in professional football since 16 and I'm 42 now. I've never ever witnessed anything as disgraceful as that. There is no place for that in any game of football, let alone professional football”. Fortunately, the Football League saw sense, and decided to award WBA the 3-0 victory, rather than see the match replayed. The ‘highlights’ (lowlights surely – Ed.) are worth a watch for those that haven’t seen them.

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