|Letters from Wiltshire #15|
Written by wessex_exile on Tuesday, 10th Nov 2020 18:22
Well, there’s a turn up for the books, the mighty U’s unceremoniously dumped out of the FA Cup by lowly Marine AFC, four tiers below us in the league pyramid. These things happen, and we’ve done it to others on more than a few occasions, but the manner of the result on Saturday is what rankles the most. Virtually our strongest line-up available, but the complete lack of any urgency right from the outset was dreadful to see. Even as we reached squeaky bum time into the 2nd half, having drawn level, still we ponderously passed aimless triangles in midfield for far too long. Someone has to pay for that debacle, so let’s hope it’s the auld enemy Southend tonight in the Pointless Trophy…
[b]Colchester United v Southend United
A brief history of time…[/b]
I’m afraid this will have to be a mercifully brief blog, as time has rather run away with me with work, and I have less than an hour to do this ahead of kick-off tonight. With so little time available, it’s not going to be much more than a crunching some numbers in the long and sometimes ‘tense’ relationship with our South Essex cousins. In that context, I was particularly pleased to find the programme cover photo above on the internet, given it was a match I was at and remember very well indeed.
Following our formation in 1937, there were a handful of non-competitive friendlies and such like against Southend, with the very first a 2-1 win for the U’s on 10th May 1939 at Layer Road in the [i]Colchester Challenge Cup Final[/i] – no idea what that was about, never heard of that competition at all. Our paths didn’t cross in a competitive match until we were elected into the Football League South – the very first league match played out on 14th October 1950, back when Southend were playing at the Southend Stadium greyhound track. We lost 2-4, our goals scored by Turner and Curry, and in front of a crowd of 18,358! This remains the largest crowd for a match between the two sides.
Southend moved back to Roots Hall in 1955, originally being evicted when the site was designated for storage at the outbreak of the First World War, and according to my records (and Graeson’s) our first visit to Roots Hall was 11th April 1955. This conflicts with the font of all knowledge Wikipedia, which states Roots Hall wasn’t re-opened until August 1955, so I’m not sure which one is correct. However, if that April ‘55 date was our first match at Roots Hall, we lost that one 2-4 as well ☹.
Overall, we’ve played each other 79 times in various competitions, and as we’d probably expect, the WDL ratios are fairly even, with Southend victorious 33 times, the U’s 29 times, and 17 games drawn. Goals for and against are pretty even to, scored 118 and conceded 124.
Over the years, there have been one or two significant victories for the U’s. Our highest score was winning 5-2 at Roots Hall back in January 1985 (Adcock, and two each for Groves and Bowen), and our largest margin a 4-0 victory in November 1968 at Layer Road (Oliver, Simpson, Gibbs and Dyson). We’ve also won 4-1 twice (January 1972 and January 1986, the latter in the Associate Members Cup) and 4-2 once (October 1985).
The shoe has been on the other foot on a fair few occasions as well. Twice Southend have beaten the U’s 6-3 – in 1964 at Roots Hall, and depressingly at Layer Road in 1955. Twice they’ve beaten us 4-0, at Southend Stadium in 1953 and Roots Hall two years later, and there have been a handful of 4-1, 4-2 and even one 4-3 defeats as well. One of those 4-1 defeats back in November 1956 was our first meeting in the FA Cup, and to rub salt in the wounds, it was at Layer Road in front of 11,280 as well. Would that sting any more than losing to Marine AFC – probably, if I’m honest.
As for streaks, our longest streak for consecutive victories was five matches between November 1984 and February 1986, and with three draws either side of these victories, our longest undefeated streak is eight matches from April 1984 to October 1986. Southend United clearly liked playing the U’s in the early years, and for the first 15 matches they won eleven of them (and drew one). However, they never really exerted total dominance, and have never achieved more than three consecutive victories in a row. After those first 15 matches, the head-to-head record until quite recently very much favours the U’s.
Just a brief comment on the Boxing Day 1989 match at Roots Hall (programme cover above). I don’t have this programme in my collection, but me and my brother-in-law were at the match. By the time we arrived, the police weren’t letting U’s fans into the away end, so we decided to take up seats in the main stand amongst the Southend support.
We weren’t wearing colours, so initially it wasn’t a problem, but it did become a bit tense once the U’s took the lead through Grainger in the 65th minute, and those around us started to suspect they’d been infiltrated. When English put us two up just four minutes later, we just couldn’t help ourselves I’m afraid 😊. To be fair, although there was some blue-rated ‘bantz’ going back and forth thereafter, no one actually did anything, and the stewards were content to leave us where we were.
You will all remember that this was the season we were relegated to the Conference, and I’m pretty certain Southend were promoted (possibly as champions?). It is somewhat ironic, given the current form of the Blues, that we also play each other on Boxing Day this season. What are the chances of history, in reverse, kind of repeating itself?
“[i]Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way
Oh what fun it is to see United win away![/i]”
Up the U’s
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Letters from Wiltshire #35 by wessex_exile
As many were predicting, time finally ran out for Steve Ball mid-week, after the U’s lost 2-1 at home to Exeter City. Although a considerable improvement in score-line compared to the 6-1 thrashing they handed out at St James Park earlier in the season, apart from the first 10-15 minutes and very brief glimpses throughout the remainder of the game, it was a poor performance, leaving Robbie Cowling with no choice. After a brief interlude, Robbie named Wayne Brown as our new Interim Head Coach (that’s caretaker as far as I’m concerned), and after an even briefer interlude, Robbie and Wayne in a joint statement put to rest any lingering concerns about Wayne’s attitude to race. If Wayne can show the same sort of leadership on the training ground and in the dressing room as he used to show for the U’s on the pitch, I am certain he’s going to do very well in the job.
Letters from Wiltshire #34 by wessex_exile
I won’t dwell on Robbie’s latest message to the supporters – we’ve all read it, and we’ve all probably drawn our own conclusions about what it doesn’t say as much as what it does. To me, bottom line, I suspect the clock is now ticking for Steve Ball (at least), turn around this terrible form pretty damn quick, or start clearing out your locker. Regardless of personal opinions on any of the individuals concerned, I would like to think none of us actually wants to see people made redundant in the current climate. But, these are difficult times that require tough decisions. If Steve Ball is up to the job and can turn this around, I’ll be more than happy to support him. If he’s not, he has to go before irreparable harm is done…and we all know what that will look like, we’ve been there before…
Letters from Wiltshire #33 by wessex_exile
Today we face a trip to Crawley, not usually a venue that bears fruit for the U’s it has to be said. In nine visits we’ve only won once in the league, and once in the League Cup. Of course, we’ll all remember that League Cup victory, indeed many of us were probably there to see us progress through to 5th round and the dream fixture against Manchester United at Old Trafford. All of our goal-scorers that night, Luke’s Norris and Gambin, and Cohen Bramall (okay, technically an O.G.), are no longer with us, so let’s hope at the very least that recent departee and subsequent returnee Frank Nouble can bag another like his late equaliser against Mansfield. Steve Ball commented during the week about how tight the league is at the moment, and he’s right that a couple of back to back victories would see us move significantly up the table away from danger – but we’ve got to win them first Steve – something we’ve failed to do since our 1-0 victory at Scunthorpe on December 8th.
Letters from Wiltshire #32 by wessex_exile
Fifty years ago yesterday, Colchester United of the 4th Division pulled off the greatest cup giant-killing ever, beating 1st Division Leeds United 3-2 at Layer Road. Watched by 16,000, and the Match of the Day cameras, Dick Graham’s U’s, a rag-tag band of mostly aging journeymen, defied the odds to defeat arguably the greatest club side in Europe at the time. “The greatest cup giant-killing ever” is a bold claim, and over the years various football magazines and websites have run their own polls of which was the greatest. Whilst that day at Layer Rd always features, as the years have gone by other feats fresher in the memory have been put forward as a candidate – we probably all remember Ronnie Radford’s screamer against Newcastle, Sutton’s exploits, or even Bradford City quite recently at Stamford Bridge – but these pale into insignificance when you pause to reflect on the Don Revie side that we beat that day. Sprake, Cooper, Charlton, Hunter, Lorimer, Giles etc – all full internationals, all household names – the only one missing was Billy Bremner, and that was because he was injured. By comparison, all we had to offer was Ray Crawford – at his peak arguably on a par with some in the Leeds side, but that peak had been ten years earlier playing for Ipswich and England. Eleven heroes didn’t just try and hold out against Leeds United, they took the game to their illustrious opponents with such tenacity, grit and no small amount of flair, and before we knew it, the U’s were 3-0 in the lead. As legs tired, Leeds got back into the game with goals from Hunter and Giles, but we held firm – typified at the death by Graham Smith pulling off an impossible save to ensure the U’s achieved [b][u]the greatest cup giant-killing ever![/b][/u]
Letters from Wiltshire #31 by wessex_exile
And so the dust settles on another transfer window closing, and despite (my) expectations that the possibility of incoming business was going to be remote, we have instead seen a veritable flurry of activity, with no less than three coming in. Big Frank Nouble, making a very welcome return on loan from Plymouth Argyle, of course needs no introduction. Neither really does feisty Brendan Sarpong-Wiredu, here on loan last season, and this time signed full-time from Charlton Athletic for an undisclosed fee. Actually paying hard cash for someone did come as a surprise, presumably offset by the sale of Cohen Bramall to Lincoln for a similarly undisclosed fee. However, the fact that the Addicks have insisted on not only a sell-on clause, but a rarely used buy-back clause too, suggests (a) Wiredu’s signing fee probably wasn’t too high, and (b) Charlton are protecting those finances with these clauses. The last one, which would have been a complete surprise for me were it not for a contact leaking me the news earlier yesterday, is left-back Josh Doherty on loan from Crawley. Josh was only announced once outgoing left-back Bramall was confirmed, and presumably his loan is directly related to part-time fashion model, TV and radio celeb and former left-back Mark Wright signing for Crawley on a non-contract game-by-game basis in December. We have also released seven from the academy, Ollie Kensdale, Miquel Scarlett, Sammie McLeod, Michael Fernandes, Ollie Sims, Danny Collinge and Matt Weaire, and I’m sure we all wish them the best for the future.