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Matches of Yesteryear - Wycombe v U's 23/3/02
Written by wessex_exile on Friday, 24th Jan 2020 16:18

Ahead of another vital match in our bid for promotion back to League 1, this time at t’other St James’ Park in Devon, we return to our previous spell at that level, and dip again into one of the odder football rivalries (given that over 100 miles separates us from them).

[b]Wycombe Wanderers v Colchester United

Saturday 23rd March 2002

Nationwide Football League 2 (Tier 3)

Attendance 6,737[/b]

Match #39 of the Matches of Yesteryear series, and a first trip (in this series) to Adams Park, home of the auld enemy Wycombe Wanderers. Not my first trip by a long stretch, that was back in September ’91 to witness Scott Barrett score the winner from about 90 yards, and every visit since has always been a feisty affair. In truth, I’ve been to Adams Park so often that the trips are starting to merge into one, and it’s difficult to recall one from another – there have of course been visits to the infamous White Horse and its dubious delights, I’ve even had beers in the Hour Glass before, not that we’ve been able to do that any time recently.

However, for this trip I’m absolutely certain I had driven over, and met up with my brother-in-law at a Hungry Horse on New Road for some lunch before the match, a pub which was recommended in the [i]Football Fans Guide[/i]. Try as I might though, in researching this blog I was struggling to find mention of the pub anywhere. However, after much digging and following a trail of breadcrumbs through t’interweb, I eventually discovered that it was yet another football pub that had slipped away, converted into a Tesco Express at some point in about 2009 or so. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, there must be mileage in a book remembering the lost football pubs of the UK?

We left my car at the pub, and drove down to one of the enterprising local businesses that were charging for parking on the Hillbottom Road – I certainly don’t remember which one, but I do remember it spared us the interminably long walk from the Hour Glass roundabout, which looks like it ought to be a short five minute stroll, and feels like a half hour trudge. As always, there was a decent turnout from the U’s faithful, considering it hadn’t been the best of seasons for the U’s, with just over 500 in attendance (I think the official figure was 505).

At this point, with six games to go, the U’s managed by Steve Whitton were 16th and all but safe on 49 points, and Wycombe were slightly higher mid-table with all thoughts of moving in either direction gone for another season. That may well have been a factor, because frankly this was probably the most uneventful match I’ve witnessed between Wycombe and Colchester – and that extended to the terraces as well (at both ends). Lawrie Sanchez was in charge of Wycombe at the time, of Ecuadorian descent, but actually played international football for Northern Ireland. Sanchez was a reasonably gifted midfielder in his day, with long playing careers at both Reading and Wimbledon, as well as his three international caps. Like many who don’t know the history, even he was slightly perplexed by the rivalry between the U’s and Chairboys. In his programme notes he comments “[i]it has always been a mystery to me how this clash is described as a ‘local derby’ considering the distance between the two clubs[/i]”.

There is a somewhat more controversial reflection on our mutual relationship by ‘Ted’ on page 46 of the programme, which to be honest I’m impressed he managed to get past the copy-editor. Special mention to our very own [b]Essex Girl[/b], former visitor to these shores though…

The U’s lined up:

1….Simon Brown

20..Micky Stockwell (Alan White 88’)

3….Joe Keith

??..Con Blatsis

12..Scott Fitzgerald

10..Kem Izzet

15..Thomas Pinault

8….David Gregory

11..Graham Barrett (Karl Duguid 40’)

9….Scott McGleish (Adrian Coote 19’)

21..Kevin Rapley

Signed on a non-contract basis on 15th March, this was only Australian Con Blatsis’s second appearance for the U’s, after making his debut in the 3-1 home win over QPR the Saturday before. He was so recent that he didn’t make the matchday programme squad list, so I’ve no idea what number he had on his back (though I’d hazard a guess it was 33?). Also in the line-up was popular Arsenal loanee Graham Barrett. Barrett was due to return to Arsenal in May, but coming into this fixture Whitton had already made enquiries about the possibility of keeping him through to the 2002/03 season, though in his own words “[i]I’m not very hopeful but had to ask the question[/i]”. For the Chairboys that day, plenty of players that we’ll all be familiar with through the enmity between our two clubs, including the wonderfully named Jermaine McSporran, Sean Devine, Andy Rammell, Keith Ryan (on the bench) and Steve Brown. However, the name to pick out from this match has got to be Danny Bulman in midfield. If you’re thinking that name sounds familiar, yep – it’s the same Danny Bulman who 18 years later blasted in Crawley’s opening (and ultimately consolation) goal in our 4th round League Cup match.

As for the match, certainly one of the duller encounters between the rivals, seemingly played out by two teams who were more just going through the motions waiting for the end of the season, rather than if there was anything really at stake. As one commentator on the original unofficial WWFC Gasroom website said “[i]the only previous 0-0 draw between the two sides had come at Layer Road in November 2000 but at least that had the excitement, albeit controversial, of a sending-off and a mass brawl between players to liven up the proceedings[/i]”.

In a fairly even encounter, Wycombe were the first to show any really scoring intent, with Currie blasting high wide and handsome twice in the first quarter of an hour. It wasn’t all Wycombe though, with Rapley forcing a decent save from Taylor in goal after a jinking run into the box. This was actually after we’d lost Scotty with just 19 minutes on the clock, taken off injured and replaced by Adrian Coote. Things didn’t improve on that front, and after 40 minutes Graham Barrett was also taken off with a knee injury, to be replaced by Karl Duguid. I don’t remember it being a particularly physical game, just seemed bad luck really. Right on the stroke of half-time, Andy Rammell decided to liven up the atmosphere, with a beautiful 9.5 swan dive in the box, claiming he was pushed. Needless to say, the referee was having none of it, much to the dismay of the baying home fans (and of course our delight), and the first half finished 0-0.

Not much to report at half-time, other than one enterprising chap deciding he couldn’t be bothered to wait in the lengthy queue for the loo, and nipped into the ladies instead. I suspect he regretted that decision when he was soundly rounded on by one of the better-known (and fiercest) U’s ladies when he emerged, and given the haranguing of his life – certainly made me chuckle anyway.

Although Wycombe again started the brighter in the second half, with Devine just missing with an angled drive early on, the U’s began to really get on top thereafter, and for most of the second half looked far more likely to score what I’m certain would have been the winner. Coote in particular was causing no end of problems, including leaving Taylor in a heap that earned him a yellow card (and Taylor needing a new shirt). On 80 minutes we thought we’d finally got the breakthrough, as Coote poked home from close range to send the faithful into delirium. Unfortunately, some were still celebrating as Wycombe took the free-kick for offside, and so the match finished 0-0. Overall, it was the fair result, both teams could have snatched it, but to be honest neither team really deserved to. I certainly went home reasonably happy, knowing we’d reached the magical 50 point mark.

[b]Wycombe 0 Colchester United 0[/b]

Though we didn’t know it at the time, Graham Barrett’s injury meant this was his last appearance in a U’s shirt. The following season he went on loan to Brighton, and following his release from Arsenal, signed for Coventry City in 2003. Although a very gifted player, including a handful of international appearances for the Republic of Ireland, Barrett was dogged by injury problems throughout his career, and eventually retired from football at the relatively young age of 28.

However, his wasn’t the only final appearance for the U’s that day – it also marked the end of legend David Gregory’s playing days for Colchester United. A talented midfielder, he had started at Ipswich, but struggled to break into the first team, and after a brief loan spell at Hereford and a handful of matches at Peterborough when Ipswich released him, Colchester United snapped him up in 1995. In the following seven years at Layer Rd, stalwart David made 226 league appearances, scoring 19 times in the process, for a year or so playing alongside his brother Neil.

Leading up to the Wycombe game, Greggors had cracked a bone in his foot (Wikipedia reckoned it was against Port Vale, but I don’t think he played in that game?), which ultimately brought an end to his distinguished playing career for the U’s. After a couple of years in non-league for both Canvey (teaming up with brother Neil again) and then Wivenhoe, he retired from playing, and joined Matt Hudson in the Colchester United media department, where he remains to this day (now almost ever-present as the voice of Colchester United in the match commentary team).

In April 2013 Greggors was deservedly inducted into the Hall of Fame, not least for scoring the winning (and let’s be frank, dreadfully scuffed) penalty to achieve play-off success against Torquay in the 1998 Wembley final – happy days, so thank you David!

Up the U’s

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Letters from Wiltshire #24 by wessex_exile
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