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Letters from Wiltshire #35
Written by wessex_exile on Sunday, 28th Feb 2021 14:59

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.

[b]U’s Caretaker Managers
A performance review[/b]

To mark the occasion, Letters from Wiltshire #35 is another ‘special’, this time looking back at the record of our previous caretaker managers over the years, and specifically their first matches in the role. I won’t be doing an in-depth report of each match, there just isn’t the time (even with the 5.30pm kick-off), just a short summary accompanied by a bit of narrative about what was going on with the U’s at the time. To clarify, for the most part I am using the Wikipedia page for Colchester United caretaker managers and their performance record, with Graeson’s excellent ColUData website to fact-check where there appears to be inconsistencies.

So, without further ado, and from most recent backwards, here goes…

[b]Steve Ball (W-0; D-0; L-1)


In charge: 4th – 8th May 2016
First game: U’s v Rochdale (08-05-16)
Sky Bet Football League Division 1 (Tier 3)
Attendance 3,435[/b]

We start back at the very end of 2015/16. The U’s were already relegated, and Rochdale out of the running for a play-off spot, so it was one of those pointless end-of-season occasions. The previous manager Kevin Keen had ‘left by mutual consent’ once relegation was confirmed, and David Wright was supposed to be caretaker for the last two matches. However, following a family bereavement, the role of caretaker for the very last game was handed to Steve Ball. Our new John McGreal had already been appointed, but he chose to take up the reins once the season had finished.

For a meaningless end-of-season fixture, and with the U’s already relegated, there was a surprisingly good crowd that afternoon, bolstered by a couple of hundred from Greater Manchester. Ball handed a debut to goalkeeping understudy James Bransgrove, after Dillon Barnes got stuck in traffic on the way to the match. Rochdale took the lead, after a neat one-two between Mendez-Laing and former U’s Ian Henderson saw Mandez-Laing slot home with ease. Shortly after half-time Joe Edwards levelled the score with a sweet strike, served up on a plate by Chris Porter. However, Rochdale restored their lead when Calvin Andrew curled in a lovely finish after some penalty area ping-pong.

[b]Colchester United 1 (Joe Edwards 53’) Rochdale 2 (Nathaniel Mendez-Laing 18’; Calvin Andrew 69’)[/b]


[b]David Wright (W-0; D-1; L-0)


In charge: 26th April – 4th May 2016
First game: Barnsley v U’s (30-04-16)
Sky Bet Football League Division 1 (Tier 3)
Attendance 12,021[/b]

Another caretaker manager for 2015/16, and this time David Wright. As noted above, Keen had left Colchester United on 26th April once relegation was confirmed, so David Wright took over for the next game – a very tough fixture away at play-off contenders Barnsley. It turned out to be a fantastically spirited performance, and maybe a few more like that might have seen us avoid relegation. In front od a huge home crowd (and a fair few from Essex), the U’s took the game to their high-flying opponents, and two minutes before half-time, Elliot Lee drove at the flat-footed Barnsley defence before squaring to Moncur, who finished superbly.

Barnsley came back at the U’s in the second half, and two goals from Fletcher, the second with just ten minutes to go, seemed to have wrapped things up for the Tykes. Our cause wasn’t helped by ‘keeper Elliott Parish being stretchered off injured in the 80th minute, and with all substitutes already used, Macauley Bonne of all people had to go in goal. However, no one had reckoned on the tenacious spirit of diminutive Tom Lapslie, who in the 8th minute of injury-time dived in to head home Joe Edwards’ cross for a deserved equaliser.

[b]Barnsley 2 (Andrew Fletcher 57’, 80’) Colchester United 2 (George Moncur 42’; Tom Lapslie 90+8’)[/b]


[b]Wayne Brown (W-1; D-0; L-2)


In charge: 2nd – 21st December 2015
First game: U’s v Altrincham (06-12-15)
FA Cup (Second Round)
Attendance 2,592[/b]

Yep, another from the 2015/16 season, and this time none other than our present incumbent Wayne Brown. Tony Humes had been sacked in November, and initially the caretaker role was given to Richard Hall and John McGreal as a sort of tag-team duo. However, Wikipedia goes with Richard Hall as nominally in charge, so I’ll go with that. There tenure didn’t go well, nor last long, so Wayne Brown was appointed in time for our FA Cup Second Round match against Altrincham.

It didn’t start well, with Altrincham going into a 3rd minute lead with an exquisite 30-yard lob from Jake Moult. However, deft footwork from Callum Harriott levelled the scores shortly after, catching the defence napping to slide his shot under ‘keeper Adam Griffin. Altrincham restored their lead literally straight after half-time, with big striker Michael Rankine finishing well after a bout of midfield head tennis – after just 18 seconds! Tom Lapslie pulled the U’s level less than ten minutes later, heading in an inch-perfect cross from Marvin Sordell. Despite conceding twice, Griffin was actually playing a blinder, keeping out numerous clear-cut chances, but he could do nothing about Harriott’s winner deep in injury-time, blasted in after leaving his marker for dead on the edge of the box.

[b]Colchester United 3 (Callum Harriott 14’, 90+4’; Tom Lapslie 53’) Altrincham 2 (Jake Moult 3’; Michael Rankine 46’)[/b]


[b]Richard Hall (W-0; D-0; L-1)


In charge: 26th November – 2nd December 2015
First game: Burton Albion v U’s (28-11-15)
Sky Bet Football League Division 1 (Tier 3)
Attendance 2,893[/b]

As above, Richard Hall was our previous caretaker manager once Humes had been sacked, technically alongside John McGreal, but as above I’ll stick with just Richard Hall for this one. On reflection, I’d rather it hadn’t been, because this was dreadful. It was, to be fair, a thoroughly demoralised squad, staring down the barrel of relegation, but in a season of many lows, this was right down there, away at promotion hopefuls Burton Albion

It started brightly, with that man Callum Harriott putting the U’s into an early lead with an excellent 25-yard drilled strike, beating Burton ‘keeper Jamie Jones at his far post. However, that was very much the high point that afternoon. El Khayati equalised for the Brewers midway through the first half, with Duffy making it 2-1 less than ten minutes later. Into the second half, and the U’s just fell apart, with goals from Naylor, Akins and Thiele emphasising just how porous our defence was, and how much trouble we were in.

[b]Burton Albion 5 (Abdenasser El Khayati 25’; Mark Duffy 34’; Tom Naylor 51’; Lucas Akins 72’; Timmy Thiele 81’) Colchester United 1 (Callum Harriott 4’)[/b]


[b]Joe Dunne (W-1; D-1; L-2)


In charge: 18th August – 1st September 2009
First game: U’s v Gillingham (18-08-09)
Coca-Cola Football League Division 1 (Tier 3)
Attendance 4,849[/b]

After a stunning opening fixture under then manager Paul Lambert, thrashing Norwich City 7-1 at Carrow Road, followed by shady shenanigans by the carrot-crunchers, Lambert cooked up a deal worthy of Delia and walked out on his contract with the U’s to take over at Carrow Road. Needless to say, Robbie hosed them for compensation, but this still left a managerial vacancy to fill. Step forward U’s legend Joe Dunne, who took over as caretaker in time for our third match of the season, at home to Gillingham.

Needless to say, the U’s were top of the league following the first two matches, and showed in in this game. Curtis Weston snatched an early lead for the Gills, but Scott Vernon soon levelled the score for the U’s, set up beautifully by Lisbie. Into the second half, and there was Vernon to return the complement, inviting Kevin Lisbie to drill home an impressive goal to make it 2-1 on the night, and consolidate the U’s position at the top of the table. Although a very bright start for Joey as caretaker, Robbie Cowling eventually decided on a more experienced manager, appointing Aidy Boothroyd at the start of September.

[b]Colchester United 2 (Scott Vernon 38’; Kevin Lisbie 66’) Gillingham 1 (Curtis Weston 11’)[/b]


[b]Kit Symons (W-2; D-0; L-3)


In charge: 22nd September – 9th October 2008
First game: Tranmere v U’s (26-09-08)
Coca-Cola Football League Division 1 (Tier 3)
Attendance 5,713[/b]

After a poor start to the season, our first following relegation from the Championship, incumbent manager Geraint Williams was struggling, with only one win from the first six league games. Robbie decided a change was needed, which personally at the time I thought was too hasty. However, dispensing with the services of George, Robbie appointed Kit Symons as caretaker manager, in time for a tricky mid-week visit to Prenton Park. It turned out to be an absolute thriller, with Symons immediately staking a strong claim for the permanent position.

The U’s got the ball rolling in the 4th minute, with slick one-touch passing from a Gerken roll-out cutting right through Tranmere, with Perkins on hand to finish superbly. Tranmere levelled soon after, a deep cross which Kay headed in past a stranded Gerken. Were we downhearted – were we heck as like. Three minutes later our lead was restored when Yeates curled in a superb 25-yard free-kick. Not to be outdone, with five minutes to go before half-time Clive Platt made it 3-1, expertly controlling a Yeates pass with his back to goal, before swivelling and blasting home.

Into the second half, and as if 3-1 wasn’t enough, Johnnie Jackson made it 4-1 straight after the break, blasting home a peach of a left foot shot from outside the box. Inevitably, with the U’s sitting back on their lead, Tranmere pressed forward relentlessly, but it took a Gerken howler, letting a speculative 35-yard effort squirm through his hands and into the net, to throw Tranmere a lifeline. They gratefully grasped it, with Shotton blasting home an absolute thunderbolt for their third – and this time there was nothing that Gerken could do. However, we tightened up defence and stifled any further chance of Tranmere getting an equaliser. Although Kit Symons went on to win another of his five matches as caretaker, Paul Lambert was eventually appointed as full-time manager…and we all know how that worked out.

[b]Tranmere 3 (Anthony Kay 12’; Andy Taylor 76’; Ryan Shotton 78’) Colchester United 4 (David Perkins 4’; Mark Yeates 15’; Clive Platt 40’; Johnnie Jackson 47’)[/b]


[b]Geraint Williams (W-2; D-3; L-0)


In charge: 29th January – 25th February 2003
First game: Stockport County v U’s (01-02-03)
Nationwide Football League Division 1 (Tier 3)
Attendance 4,011[/b]

After a difficult start to the season, which left the club in the relegation zone by January, chairman Peter Heard, with some regrets for his long-serving friend, decided he’d seen enough and had to let manager Steve Whitton go. Whilst looking for a replacement, Geriant Williams, Whitton’s assistant, was appointed as caretaker. He did a damn fine job of it too, starting with a trip to Stockport, lower mid-table at the time. It was a solid performance from the U’s too, so when Luke Beckett shot the Hatters into the lead in the 34th minute, it was definitely against the run of play. Try as the U’s might, Stockport’s deep defence looked like it was going to hold out to preserve a much-needed 3 points for the Hatters, until that is Joe Keith fired home a richly-deserved equaliser with just two minutes to go.

George would go on to oversee three victories and another draw to finish his caretaker term undefeated, one of the best records for a caretaker in the history of the U’s. However, the die had been cast, and an unknown former player from Reading Football Club, Philip Parkinson, was appointed manager – and the rest is history.

[b]Stockport 1 (Luke Beckett 36’) Colchester United 1 (Joe Keith 88’)[/b]


[b]Steve Whitton (W-0; D-1; L-0)


In charge: 21st January – 28th February 1999
First game: U’s v Stoke City (23-01-99)
Nationwide Football League Division 1 (Tier 3)
Attendance 12,507[/b]

Our first season back in the third tier of the Football League, following the play-off victory over Torquay. After a fairly decent start to the season, the manager who had guided us to that promotion, decided unexpectedly that had taken the U’s as far as he could, and stood down. Whilst Peter Heard looked around for a replacement, Steve Whitton was given caretaker control, for just one match as it would happen, away at high-flying Stoke City.

In a thrilling end-to-end match, the U’s took the lead in the 9th minute through Simon Betts. An unfortunate David Gregory own goal got the Potters back into it, an opportunity they took full advantage of scoring two more before half-time to make it 3-1. However, right on the half-time whistle, David Gregory made amends for the OG with another at the right end to make it 3-2. The second half was hard work against a well-organised Stoke City defence, and always carrying considerable threat up front, but with ten minutes to go Jason Dozzell grabbed the equaliser, and a very commendable first point for Steve Whitton’s side.

In a rare error of judgement, Peter Heard unfortunately decided to appoint external Mick Wadsworth to the managerial position instead of Whitton, though Steve would get his chance later the same year when Wadsworth walked out.

[b]Stoke City 3 (David Gregory OG 30’; Kyle Lightbourne 34’; Larius Sigurdsson 42’) Colchester United 3 (Simon Betts 9’; David Gregory 44’; Jason Dozzell 80’)[/b]


[b]Dale Roberts (W-1; D-1; L-3)


In charge: 24th December 1994 – 12th January 1995
First game: U’s v Northampton Town (26-12-94)
Endsleigh League Division 3 (Tier 4)
Attendance 5,064[/b]

Our third season back in the Football League after the Conference promotion, and we were going well under manager George Burley…and then, out of the blue (no pun intended), Burley walked out on the U’s to take up the manager position at Ipswich Town. Burley had rescued the U’s from a poor start, and as Christmas approached we were in the play-offs. Few will forgive Burley for his treachery, but it fell on Dale Roberts as caretaker to pick up the pieces.

His first game was Boxing Day against near-neighbours Northampton Town, at the time struggling in lower mid-table. However, clearly unsettled by Burley’s departure, and in front of a bumper 5k crowd at Layer Road, the U’s slipped up, losing 1-0 to a Darren Harmon first half penalty. Although Roberts guided to the U’s to a win in his second game, away at promotion hopefuls Fulham, and drew two of the next three, it wasn’t enough to convince chairman Gordon Parker, who appointed Steve Wignall as manager. Tragically, Dale died of cancer in 2003, aged just 46.

[b]Colchester United 0 Northampton Town 1 (Darren Harmon 35’p)[/b]


[b]Steve Foley (W-2; D-0; L-1)


In charge: 20th December 1989 – 2nd January 1990
First game: Southend United v U’s (26-12-89)
Fourth Division (Tier 4)
Attendance 5,563[/b]

This was a very difficult season for the U’s, always struggling at the wrong end of the table. Despite that, chairman Jonathan Crisp may well have stood by manager Jock Wallace, who had saved us from relegation the previous season, but Wallace had to stand down because of ill health. Whilst Crisp looked for a replacement, Steve Foley stepped forward for his second spell as caretaker, and what a way to start, away at Southend, challenging for promotion into the Third Division.

This was one match I was definitely at, and belying our low-lying position, took the game to Southend United throughout. It was no more than we deserved when Martin Grainger and then Tommy English scored in rapid succession in the middle of the second half to give us a well-deserved and most-welcome 2-0 victory at our Essex rivals. Foley’s team would go on to secure another victory on New Years’ Day, 3-1 at home to Hartlepool, but the full-time position went to Ipswich legend Mick Mills. Despite Steve Foley’s efforts, who holds the record for points per game for a caretaker manager, the U’s were relegated to the Conference, and Southend were indeed promoted to the Third Division.

[b]Southend United 0 Colchester United 2 (Martin Grainger 65’; Tommy English 69’)[/b]


[b]Steve Foley (W-8; D-5; L-9)


In charge: 21st October 1988 – 12th January 1989
First game: U’s v Cambridge United (21-10-88)
Fourth Division (Tier 4)
Attendance 2,138[/b]

Unofficially, Steve Foley’s first spell in charge as caretaker manager at Colchester United commenced pretty much on the final whistle of our infamous 0-8 defeat at Leyton Orient, replacing the inept Roger Brown, but officially he wasn’t in place until the following Friday night fixture at home to Cambridge United. It is a lasting urban myth that the U’s threw that Orient game deliberately to have Brown sacked, but I have no idea whether there’s any truth in that or not? The U’s were needless to say struggling at the wrong end of the table, whereas Cambridge were in the hunt for promotion.

After a tense goalless first half, Cambridge United finally broke the deadlock midway through the second half, with a goal from Anderson, who added a second with just over ten minutes to go. Although Tony English grabbed one back with a couple of minutes to go, it wasn’t enough and t’other U’s returned to the Abbey with the win. Although a disappointing start, Foley would go on to preside as caretaker manager over another 21 matches in all competitions, with a fairly impressive overall record of 8 wins, 5 draws and 9 defeats (impressive in that we were a poor team at the wrong end of the table at the time).

As Christmas approached, Crisp persuaded the legendary Jock Wallace out of retirement, with Alan Ball as assistant alongside. The effect was instantaneous, and Wallace steered the U’s clear of relegation.

[b]Colchester United 1 (Tony English 88’) Cambridge United 2 (Doug Anderson 65’, 79’)[/b]


[b]Dennis Mochan (W-1; D-4; L-6)


In charge: 8th September – 1st October 1972
First game: U’s v Crewe Alexandra (08-09-72)
Fourth Division (Tier 4)
Attendance 2,767[/b]

This is one of the more controversial and dare I say unsavoury moments in the history of Colchester United, involving our then manager and U’s legend Dick Graham. At a tense shareholders annual general meeting held in September, Graham found himself facing significant criticism from shareholders, and particularly a personal attack from police sergeant Alan Frost (who ironically had won his five shares in a raffle). Dick Graham was both incensed and shattered, coming so soon after the Leeds victory, and indeed our subsequent Watney Cup triumph, and walked out with immediate effect. While the club worked hard to try and persuade Graham to change his mind, Dennis Mochan was installed as caretaker.

He certainly didn’t do his cause for consideration any harm, immediately turning around a fairly poor start to the season with a thumping 5-1 victory over Crewe Alexandra, with goals from Dave Simmons (a hat-trick), Mick Mahon and John McLaughlin. Although emphatic, it would turn out to be his only victory whilst in charge, and having failed to persuade Dick Graham to change his mind, chairman Roy Chapman appointed ‘Bald Eagle’ Jim Smith as manager of Colchester United.

[b]Colchester United 5 (Dave Simmons 8’, 58’, 71’; Mick Mahon 55’; John McLaughlin 88’) Crewe Alexandra 1 (Terry Nicholl 66’)[/b]

[b]…and finally[/b]
So what does this all tell us? To date, Colchester United caretaker managers have never go on to be appointed as the full-time manager straight away. Steve Whitton, George Williams, Joe Dunne and Steve Ball have done so eventually, just not promoted direct from a caretaker role.

Out of twelve debut matches for caretaker managers, the overall record is fairly even, with five victories (Dennis Mochan, Steve Foley’s 2nd spell, Kit Symons, Joe Dunne and Wayne Brown), three draws (Steve Whitton, Geraint Williams and David Wright) and four defeats (Steve Foley’s 1st spell, Dale Roberts, Richard Hall and Steve Ball).

Does this bode well for Wayne Brown and the U’s this afternoon? I certainly hope so…

Up the U’s




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