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Colchester United v Bolton Wanderers prediction logged
Letters from Wiltshire #04
at 16:14 18 Sep 2020

After last weeks’ solid point away against Bradford City, tipped by many to be strong promotion contenders, we now face another stern test against fallen giants Bolton Wanderers. Okay, giants may be stretching it a tad, but these guys have won the FA Cup four times, the League Cup twice, and the Charity Shield and Football League (Sherpa Van) Trophy once apiece. Christ, they were in the Premier League just eight years ago. But, they are where they are for a reason, and Saturday is all about 11 v 11, literally on a level playing field…
Letters from Wiltshire #04
at 16:14 18 Sep 2020

After last weeks’ solid point away against Bradford City, tipped by many to be strong promotion contenders, we now face another stern test against fallen giants Bolton Wanderers. Okay, giants may be stretching it a tad, but these guys have won the FA Cup four times, the League Cup twice, and the Charity Shield and Football League (Sherpa Van) Trophy once apiece. Christ, they were in the Premier League just eight years ago. But, they are where they are for a reason, and Saturday is all about 11 v 11, literally on a level playing field…

Bolton Wanderers v Colchester United
Friday 11th December 1987
Barclays League Division 4 (Tier 4)
Attendance 1,725

In preparing for this Letter from Wiltshire, I thought first and foremost to have a look at some of our previous matches with Bolton. I knew there couldn’t be many (I couldn’t remember any), but I was also pretty sure Bolton weren’t one of our very few ‘never played’ sides (West Ham, Liverpool, Harrogate…any others?). It turned out our paths have only crossed once in the league, during the U’s topsy-turvy 1987/88 season, the only previous occasion that Bolton Wanderers have been in the basement.

Programme image courtesy of www.coludata.co.uk

By a curious coincidence, we find ourselves in the very same season as the previous Letter from Wiltshire (Bradford v Ipswich), and therefore yours truly still living in West Yorkshire. With Christmas fast approaching, there was no way I could afford a separate trip just for this game – that would have to wait until I came down to see family, and the U’s take on Cardiff at Layer Rd on 28th December. It was a shame too, because it looks like I missed a real cracker against (even then) big boys Bolton Wanderers. I’ll get to the match stats in a moment, but it’s worth first of all reflecting on that attendance – just 1,725 for a Friday night match at Layer Road! An outsider looking in would rightly consider that pitiful, and they wouldn’t be wrong. But context is everything, and diehard U’s supporters of a certain age will know only too well we were in the Jonathan Crisp years.

Crisp was an ‘erratic’ chairman at best and had decided without bidding to introduce a members-only scheme for attendance at Layer Rd this season, with all away supporters banned. Attendances plummeted, with only 1,372 bothering to turn up for our first home match of the season against Torquay (we lost 1-0), only very rarely managed to exceed 2,000 all season, and very occasionally even dipped below 1,000. Mind you, I would imagine lower league sides would give their eye teeth for 1,000 paying attendees right now, if it could be done safely. It will be interesting to see how the eight test events fare this weekend (Luton and Morecambe pulling out at the last minute).

With more time, and lots of research, there’s a fascinating story to tell I’m sure about Jonathan Crisp, but one I’m certainly not qualified to write. One of the OMB regulars posted a link last month to the obituary of his father Bob Crisp, a quite remarkable man by any measure. It is well worth a read if you want, perhaps, a glimpse of some of the influences that might have helped form Jonathan Crisp ( https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2013/mar/05/the-spin-bob-crisp-amazing-life ).

Under Mike Walker as manager, we’d got the season off to a flyer, winning 3-0 at Burnley, but thereafter had struggled for most of August and September. Walker had been working on effectively rebuilding the U’s, and had already brought in Mario Walsh, Trevor Lake, Dale Tempest, Gary Smith, and loans for Graham Benstead and Mark Walton. On 29th September the tide started to turn, with a 2-1 home victory over Swansea City, ironically in front of our record lowest league attendance ever of just 1,140. Under Walker, the resurgent U’s just couldn’t be stopped, winning six out of seven matches on the trot, and getting a point for the seventh.

You couldn't make it up
By the end of October we were third, so of course the perfect time for Crisp to unceremoniously sack Mike Walker on 1st November. Over the years there have been various (occasionally salacious) rumours circulating about why Walker was sacked, but I’m not going to go into that here. Suffice to say that after a brief caretaker manager spell for Steve Foley (winning his one game 4-1 at Rochdale), Roger Brown was appointed on 6th November. Ironically, on the same day, Mike Walker was named Manager of the Month, with the U’s top of the table, and having already been sacked by the club he had been managing to win the award in the first place!

Brown kept the win streak going with his first match, winning 2-1 away at Halifax, but came a cropper at home to Wolves in the next, losing 1-0 in front 2,413 supporters, unusually one of our larger home crowds of the season. The reason was simple, literally hundreds of Wolves fans signed up to Crisp’s members-only scheme to get a ticket for the match, Crisp finally realised the futility of his actions, and the scheme was scrapped with immediate effect. Brown could only draw the next match, away at Stockport, so we come to the Bolton game needing to do something to get the promotion push back on track.

The match
Anyway, to the match, and all I have to go by primarily are the match stats from Graeson’s www.coludata.co.uk website, and our remarkably good suite of Wikipedia pages (thanks, whoever you are).

The U’s lined up:
1….Mark Walton
2….Paul Hinshelwood
3….Rudi Hedman
4….Nicky Chatterton
5….Colin Hill
6….Keith Williams
7….Winston White
8….Richard Wilkins
9….Dale Tempest
10..Tony English
11..Stephen Grenfell

The two subs, Mario Walsh and Mark Radford, were unused. The Bolton team, managed by Phil Neal no less, no doubt contained many names who are very familiar to their supporters even today, but there are one or two worthy of mention for non-Trotters. Firstly, Phil Neal was acting as a player-manager at the time, and turned out as the no. 3, alongside the one and only, everyone’s bete noire, Robbie Savage. I honestly had no idea Robbie had graced the turf at Layer Road until now, so I’d be interested to know whether he ever did again (if anyone knows?). They also had Trevor Morgan on the bench, who would go on to play a season for the U’s two years later. Bolton had signed him from Bristol City, who themselves had remarkably signed him from fierce local rivals Bristol Rovers. Remarkably, because a cross-Bristol move doesn’t happen very often at all, and for nearly 30 years he was the last player to do so until Matty Taylor repeated it in 2017.

The match stats are pretty straightforward – Richard ‘Mr Colchester United’ Wilkins put the U’s in front in the 29th minute, and in the second half Winston White added a brace (68th and 81st minute) to round of what appears on paper as a very comfortable home win against one of our fellow promotion contenders. Although a poor crowd by normal standards, with the member-only scheme scrapped, fans were slowly returning to Layer Road, and at least for this evening most went home happy (apart from maybe those of a north west persuasion who might have travelled down for a Friday night match).

Colchester United 3 (Richard Wilkins 29’; Winston White 68’, 81’) Bolton Wanderers 0

From here…
Although the result got our promotion challenge temporarily back on track, and we stayed top through to the end of the year, winning every game, January and February were disastrous months, and by the end of the season we could only manage 9th place, three points short of the play-offs. Bolton gained revenge over the U’s, thrashing us 4-0 at Burnden Park on the penultimate game of the season, helping them to gain automatic promotion in 3rd place behind champions Wolverhampton Wanderers and Cardiff City, with Swansea City promoted via the play-offs.

Newport County were relegated out of the league, and were declared bankrupt, expelled from the Conference and had gone out of business by February of the following year. They were reformed in June 1989 by 400 supporters, and as we know eventually returned to league football 25 years later in 2013.

…and finally
However, it was Winston White that really piqued my interest from this match report, as he wasn’t a name I was familiar with at all. Okay, so his playing career with the U’s coincided with my time in West Yorkshire, so I wasn’t watching the U’s anywhere near as much as usual, but still a surprise, so I checked him out.

Winston White at Leicester City

Born Eric Winston White, Winston started his serious football career as a 16-yr old apprentice and then youth player for his hometown club Leicester City, under then manager Jimmy Bloomfield. His preferred position was out on the wing, and with bags of pace, plenty of tricks and a good eye for goal, it didn’t take long for Winston to graduate to the Leicester City first team under new manager Frank McLintock.

McLintock was sacked in 1978, to be replaced by our very own U’s man Jock Wallace. Jock, as we well know, had a reputation for preferring hard work, an uncompromising approach to the beautiful game, and very much an army-like mentality to his management style. He had precious little time for a fleet of foot, skilful flair player, so it was no surprise that in 1979 Winston was sold to Hereford for £15,000.

Winston stayed at Hereford for four years, and did well there too, but with Hereford finishing bottom of the Football League in 1983, his time was over. Knowing that Bury were after him, but had to move some other players around to make room, Winston temporarily played for Hong Kong Rangers, and on his return to the UK even had brief loan/trial spells with Chesterfield, Port Vale and Stockport, before eventually signing for Bury in December. He stayed with the Shakers for four seasons, racking up 145 appearances in all competitions, with a decent return of scoring 13 goals in the process (plus four appearances on loan to Rochdale in 1986), before joining the U’s on a free transfer in March 1987.

It baffles me how to this day I knew nothing about Winston White, considering his record whilst at Layer Road. From March ’87 he appeared 16 times for the U’s through to the end of the season, scoring once. In 1987/88 he was almost ever-present, scoring 11 times (include the brace here), and racked up another ten appearances in 1988/89 before we sold him to Burnley for £17,500. Although nowhere near our record as far as transfer fees were concerned (we had, after all, recently sold Rooster to Man City for £75k and Chamberlain to Everton for £80k), that was still a pretty decent transfer fee – particularly given we’d signed Winston on a free.

However, when looking into the career of Winston White, one particular chapter (for me) stands head and shoulders above the rest, and for that we go back to 1979. West Bromwich Albion wanted to hold some sort of benefit match or event for Len Cantello, one of their longest serving players.

Some bright spark came up with the idea of a Blacks v Whites football match!

Yep, you read that correctly…

Cyrille Regis and Len Cantello at kick-off

In modern times, this would probably be considered very very odd at the least, downright unthinkable to some, and if nothing smacks of patronising tokenism in its worst form. But we lived in a different world back then, and it was actually considered a quite progressive, even avant garde idea. Adrian Chiles, a lifelong WBA supporter, wrote an excellent article about the match, and the backdrop of prevalent racism within football at the time, which is well worth a read ( https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-37924448 ).

What’s even more interesting is that many of the top black players at the time, including people like George Berry, Bob Hazell, Garth Crooks, Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham, Remi Moses and of course our very own Winston White, were more than happy to take part…in a benefit match…for a white man…at a time when the level of racist abuse from the terraces was at a simply horrific level. For goodness sake, they even put the black players in an all-white kit!

Back row left to right: Ian Benjamin, Vernon Hodgson, Brendon Batson, Derek Richardson, Stewart Phillips, George Berry, Bob Hazell, Garth Crooks. Front row: Winston White, Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham, Remi Moses, Valmore Thomas

Incidentally, the game finished Blacks 3 Whites 2, with Laurie Cunningham, Garth Crooks and Stewart Phillips scoring for the Blacks. In the link to Adrian Chiles’ BBC article there’s an embedded clip that shows footage from the game, but the YouTube interview below with Chiles and particularly some of the black players, is also well worth watching.

Up the U’s
[Post edited 18 Sep 16:21]
Macclesfield Town wound up by HMRC
at 13:12 16 Sep 2020


Terrible shame, and a real kick in the teeth for everyone associated with the club and their supporters, but sadly not really much of a surprise either. Awful truth is this is probably just the beginning...
[Post edited 16 Sep 13:13]
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Colchester United v Oldham Athletic prediction logged
Letters from Wiltshire #03
at 12:47 12 Sep 2020

So here we are, the drôle de guerre is over, the real battle is about to begin. Can we take any positives from the opening exchanges so far? I think so, the style is good, albeit Noah is right that the work in the final third needs considerable improvement if we are going to capitalise on our tippy-tappy triangles in midfield. But we’ve played some decent sides, far better sides than we should expect to face in League 2, and we haven’t been beaten out of sight yet, so let’s see what today brings against a side I think will be there or thereabouts come May next year.
Letters from Wiltshire #03
at 12:45 12 Sep 2020

So here we are, the drôle de guerre is over, the real battle is about to begin. Can we take any positives from the opening exchanges so far? I think so, the style is good, albeit Noah is right that the work in the final third needs considerable improvement if we are going to capitalise on our tippy-tappy triangles in midfield. But we’ve played some decent sides, far better sides than we should expect to face in League 2, and we haven’t been beaten out of sight yet, so let’s see what today brings against a side I think will be there or thereabouts come May next year.

Bradford City v Ipswich Town
Saturday 7th May 1988
Second Division (Tier 2)
Attendance 16,017

Yep, you’ve read that right, another variant on the new look, with Letters from Wiltshire #03 going right back to 1988, when I was still living in West Yorkshire. Technically, this would qualify as one of the Matches from Yesteryear, in that I was there, but if I had a programme, I certainly don’t now. Given today’s opponents, I’ve chosen this match for obvious reasons, and there is even more synergy – this was the last match of the 1987/88 domestic season for Bradford City, and today is their (and our) first match of the 2020/21 domestic season.

To put this into context, and apologies to those who have heard this before, I moved to Bradford in 1981 to study at the University. I’d already been exiled from Essex for a year, roaming the lands as an itinerant archaeologist, and during those travels met many who had already passed through the corridors of Bradford University, and who raved about not only the institution, but the place as well – and they weren’t wrong, I loved both with equal measure.

Even with my full university grant, I was poor as the proverbial church mouse for the four years of study and couldn’t drive either (not that I could have afforded a car even if I could). In Bradford, and West Yorkshire in general, that didn’t really matter, because public transport was so ridiculously cheap. Even once I’d graduated, a week-long travel pass for all public transport (buses and trains combined) was just over a fiver! But still, that left few opportunities to see the U’s play, which were predominantly restricted to my relatively infrequent trips home to see family – my long-suffering mother would often laughingly enquire whether the U’s were at home when I’d ring and say I’d be turning up – they usually were 😊.

Anyway, all that meant that whilst I was obviously aware of the existence of Bradford City, we remained strangers to each other. I didn’t even see the U’s play at Valley Parade on the one occasion they did during my time in West Yorkshire – it was September 1981, and I had literally only just arrived to start my degree. I guess that really started to change on 11th May 1985…

I wasn’t in Bradford that day, I’d travelled home to see my mum for the weekend, not in time unfortunately to see our end of season match on the Friday night, thrashing Crewe 4-1 to finish 7th in the Fourth Division. We watched appalled as the footage unfolded on television that horrible Saturday afternoon, and I returned to a completely transformed Bradford the following day. In times of great adversity, great acts of kindness and courage usually follow, and the Bradford fire was no exception – numerous accounts of personal bravery and selflessness emerged in the days, weeks and months to follow, with eventually over 50 people receiving awards and commendations for their bravery. But the impact was more widespread than that, it galvanised the city as one community, breaking down many of the ethnic and religious divides that existed, and the university population was no exception – even the far-out trendy left-wing intelligentsia were caught up in doing what they could to help and support the club, the victims and the families of the victims. I lost count of the number of fund-raising events I took part in during that time.

Anyhow, Valley Parade was being rebuilt, so temporarily City tried out playing at Leeds Road and (whisper it) even Elland Road, but it didn’t sit well, so in September 1985 they moved into Odsal Top – a vast soulless bowl of a place it is said. They stayed there until December 1986, before moving back into the rebuilt Valley Parade. Not surprisingly, given the circumstances, Bradford were struggling in the Second Division, and so dispensing with the services of Trevor Cherry in January 1987, the board appointed Terry Dolan as manager – initially as caretaker. This was an inspired move in my opinion – Dolan was a local lad, had played for both Park Avenue and City, and it really seemed to capture the feeling of ‘we’re all in this together’ community spirit that was still very strong. That was my first trip to Valley Parade, to see Dolan’s debut in charge against high-flying Oldham Athletic in the FA Cup. It was an incredible night, the passion from everyone both on and off the pitch clear to see, and Oldham were brushed aside in a resounding 5-1 victory for the Bantams – Dolan’s appointment was made permanent shortly after.

And that was that – although the U’s remained my first love, for the next few years if I couldn’t get to see them play, I’d find myself walking down Manningham Lane to watch City at Valley Parade more often than not. Dolan turned their 1986/87 season around and steered away from the relegation battle they were in towards a comfortable 10th place finish. For 1987/88 he went even better, galvanising an amazing array of talent, probably one of the best club sides I’d had the pleasure of watching, in a concerted push for promotion to the First Division.

…and there we are up to speed, Valley Parade on the last day of that season, with Bradford City still in the hunt for automatic promotion to the First Division.

To set the scene, after 43 matches, the top of the table was this:

Millwall were already confirmed as champions, and whilst Blackburn could be caught by Crystal Palace, they couldn’t realistically move up the table because of their inferior goal difference. That left Middlesbrough, Aston Villa and Bradford City fighting it out for second place. Middlesbrough were in pole position and faced a home match against mid-table Leicester City. Aston Villa had a slightly trickier prospect travelling to (also) mid-table Swindon. Ipswich, on the other hand, hadn’t had too bad a season, and had at times threaten to challenge for the play-offs. Bradford City’s goal difference meant that if either Middlesbrough or Villa won, there was no chance of second place. An unenviable position which we know so well (PNE at home for example), realising whatever you do, it might not make a jot of difference to the outcome.

Normally I’d list the line-up, but in truth I have no idea from that far back exactly who played for Bradford City that day, and remarkably I can’t seem to find it listed anywhere on the internet either! What I do know is the squad that Terry Dolan assembled included some remarkable players, such as Paul Tomlinson in goal, Dave Evans, Brian Mitchell, Gavin Oliver and Lee Sinnott in defence, Greg Abbott, John Hendrie and Stuart McCall (today’s manager) across the midfield, and the likes of Ron Futcher, Mark Leonard and Ian ‘Stick’ Ormondroyd banging them in up front. I’d be amazed if that wasn’t very close to the actual line-up (though I have a nagging feeling someone, perhaps Hendrie, was injured that day?).

If I can’t remember the Bradford City line-up, I’ve no chance of remembering who played for Ipswich, but it’s worth reminding ourselves that they did have some very familiar names in their squad – Ian Atkins, Dalian Atkinson, Jason Dozzell, David Gregory, Tony Humes (seriously!), Chris Kiwomya, Micky Stockwell, and of course John ‘porn-tache’ Wark.

I can’t find an account of the match either, so I am reliant on only the very haziest of memories for the game itself. It was a sell-out, naturally, and me and a mate had been fortunate enough to get a ticket each, only in the Holywell Ash Lane end of the ground (I’d normally stand up the back of the massive Spion Kop). Ipswich only had a small ticket allocation, probably less than a thousand I’d say, and I think they were over to the right in the same stand?

It was one of those incredibly tense games that we’ve all been through, which never seem to work out well for those burdened with great expectations. I can’t remember the precise sequence of goals, but I think it was one of those they score one, we pull one back scenarios. In the days before smartphones, the only source for feedback from the other matches was via those with radios, and relatively speaking it wasn’t good – both Middlesbrough and Villa were struggling – perfect technically for Bradford City, but not if they didn’t beat Ipswich.

The full-time score was Bradford City 2 Ipswich Town 3, with Abbott and McCall scoring the goals for the Bantams (so they were definitely on the pitch at least). Worse still, elsewhere it finished Swindon 0 Aston Villa 0 and Middlesbrough 1 Leicester City 2 – in any other world perfect results, but only if City had beaten Ipswich. Aston Villa nicked second place with their goalless draw, Blackburn Rovers thrashed Millwall 4-1 to finish level on points with Bradford City, with Middlesbrough one point ahead in the top play-off spot. The other team in the play-offs would be Chelsea, who finished fourth bottom of the First Division.

I won’t dwell on the play-offs, suffice to say Middlesbrough knocked out Bradford City in the semi-final (losing 2-1 at Valley Parade – I was back on the Kop for that one, before winning 2-0 after extra-time in the second leg), and then went on beat Chelsea in the two-legged final, consigning them to the Second Division.

This was the beginning of the end for that glorious Bradford City side – inevitably both John Hendrie and Stuart McCall left in the summer, and the club gradually started to slip back from that temporary high as time went on. They finished 14th in 1988/89, with Terry Dolan sacked in the January, and were relegated the following season, more or less at the same time I eventually left Bradford for the South West.

Up the U’s

[Post edited 12 Sep 12:47]
Letters from Wiltshire #02
at 13:27 8 Sep 2020

Three days on from our early Carabao Cup exit at the Madjeski, we prepare to start the next cup competition at Fratton Park – at least we can’t be out of this one by full-time – well, not tonight anyway. For those that gain perverse pleasure from such things, had we prevailed against Reading, only Luton Town would have stood between us and another match against Manchester United! Of course, we wouldn’t have done, because we’d be in a completely different strand of reality, and thus a completely different cup draw, but no harm in a bit of Whatiffery.
Letters from Wiltshire #02
at 13:26 8 Sep 2020

Three days on from our early Carabao Cup exit at the Madjeski, we prepare to start the next cup competition at Fratton Park – at least we can’t be out of this one by full-time – well, not tonight anyway. For those that gain perverse pleasure from such things, had we prevailed against Reading, only Luton Town would have stood between us and another match against Manchester United! Of course, we wouldn’t have done, because we’d be in a completely different strand of reality, and thus a completely different cup draw, but no harm in a bit of Whatiffery.

Barnet v Colchester United
Saturday 24th January 1998
Nationwide League Division 3 (Tier 4)
Attendance 2,471

Letters from Wiltshire #02, and we dip again into my matchday memorabilia collection, this time the random match selector pulling out the U’s trip to Barnet back in the winter of 1998. This wasn’t to be my last trip to Underhill that season, the second visit already featuring way back in Matches of Yesteryear #15. If memory serves, it was a windy cold day, and I headed up to London on the train as usual. This was also FA Cup 4th Round day – Hereford had ended our interest in that competition, winning a 2nd Round replay on penalties. Eventual winners Arsenal were away at Middlesbrough, whilst their opponents in the final Newcastle were set to play a tricky fixture at ever-charmless Stevenage in front of the cameras on Sunday.

Never mind the FA Cup though, some of the matches in Division 1 (that’s Championship in old money) that day are worth considering, including:
Bradford City v Swindon
Oxford v Portsmouth, and
Port Vale v Crewe
There’s hope for us yet…

Steve Wignall was managing the U’s at the time, and had just passed his third anniversary in the role. Going into the game, we were in a run of indifferent form, and although we’d won the last two on the bounce (home to Torquay and Cardiff City), were struggling to really challenge for promotion. Barnet, on the other hand, were having a very good season in 4th place. Whilst there was very little likelihood that anyone would catch Notts County, already ten points clear at the top, 2nd and 3rd place were in easy reach for Barnet.

I always enjoyed my trips up to Underhill to be honest – invariably a very good and vociferous turnout from the U’s faithful, good opportunities for pre- and post-match beers both in Barnet and London town, and a pretty straightforward journey up from the South West. This one was no exception, and with nothing spoiling back home, no need to fret and rush for connections either. The crowd that day wasn’t particularly massive by Barnet’s standards (they’d jammed in 3.5k on Boxing Day against Posh), but certainly helped by what must have been close to 400 from Essex.

The U’s lined up that afternoon:
1….Carl Emberson
2….Joe Dunne (programme lists Nicky Haydon)
3….Scott Stamps (Nicky Haydon 14’)
4….Aaron Skelton
5….David Greene
6….David Gregory
7….Richard Wilkins
8….Steve Forbes (Tony Lock 66’)
9….Neil Gregory
10..Mark Sale
11..Paul Buckle (Steve Whitton 86’)

Barnet were managed by John Still, in his first season in charge at Underhill following an unsuccessful spell in charge at Peterborough United in 94/95. As managers tend to do, Still set about signing a clutch of players he knew from his time at Peterborough, which included the notable Ken Charlery and our very own Scott McGleish – well, I say our own, but it would be three years before Scotty followed up his successful 1996 loan with a permanent move to the U’s. The other two names in the Barnet line-up that need no introduction were Sam Stockley (listed under his full name Stockley-Phillips on the https://www.coludata.co.uk/ website), and of course goal-machine Sean Devine, at the time already with eleven goals in his name.

Following a few beers and some cheery ‘bantz’ with the locals at the nearby Old Red Lion, which at one point threatened immediate expulsion by the doorman, the U’s faithful gathered on the South Stand open bank of temporary seats – not ideal on a cold January afternoon (that’s at the bottom of Barnet’s infamous sloping pitch). The Old Red Lion is worth a mention – always a popular destination for away supporters visiting Underhill, but much like our own Drury, once Barnet moved to their new ground at the Hive, the days were numbered for the pub, and it eventually served its last pint on 28th February 2015. It was demolished shortly after, the site now occupied by some remarkably bland indifferent flats.

Buoyed by pre-match libations, we were still in good voice when after just four minutes Aaron Skelton popped up to put the U’s 1-0 up, with the celebrations briefly threatening to spill over on to the pitch – the perfect start! We continued to dominate for the next ten minutes, threatening to add to our lead, when came what was probably the first turning point in the game. On 14 minutes Scott Stamps went down under a heavy tackle, which eventually forced the defender off injured, replaced by Nicky Haydon – originally listed to start instead of Joe Dunne. This clearly unsettled the backline, and from then on Barnet started to take a hold of the game.

I was hopeful that we could hold out to half-time and then regroup, sadly Sean Devine had other ideas, and with a minute of the first half to go, equalised for Barnet – bugger, the second turning point. There was always hope though, given we seemed to hold a bit of an Indian sign over the Bees (we’d won or drawn the last seven matches against them) – it all rather depended how we came out second half really.

Not particularly well so it turned out. Buoyed by their late equaliser, it was all Barnet going into the second half, and before too long we were 3-1 down, with goals in rapid succession by (you guessed) Scott McGleish and a second for Sean Devine. In danger of having our arses whipped, and needing to do something to effect change, Wignall immediately replaced Forbes with Tony Lock, which seemed to have the desired effect – or at least got us back on to a level footing with Barnet. In fairness, they also started to look quite happy with a 3-1 lead, and were sitting back somewhat. However, they woke up a bit in the 83rd minute when we grabbed a deserved second goal through Richard Wilkins, and more or less immediately brought on Steve Whitton for Paul Buckle to push for the equaliser. By now Barnet were backs to the wall, but try as they might the U’s just couldn’t find a way through, and the match finished 3-2 to the Bees.

Barnet 3 (Sean Devine 44’, 65’; Scott McGleish 59’) Colchester United 2 (Aaron Skelton 4’; Richard Wilkins 83’)

Walking back to High Barnet tube station after the match, I had to reflect on what had been an okay performance against a good side in our division, clearly looking good enough to maintain their challenge for promotion. We clearly had work to do if we were going to do likewise, but with other results favourable, we had lost little ground on those ahead.

Little did I know that our period of indifferent form was coming to an end, and after a decent point away at Scarborough, and a disappointing home defeat to Swansea as our next two matches, we embarked on a remarkable run of good form that propelled the U’s to 4th in the table, and a place in the play-offs – the first match in the play-offs naturally being a trip back to Underhill…and the rest, as they say, is history.

Elsewhere, Newcastle (and pretty much everyone else) had assumed their FA Cup game against Stevenage would be switched to St James’s Park on safety grounds. That is, until Stevenage Chairman Victor Green got wind of the fees Sky would be paying to televise the match. After that, he was having none of it, Newcastle were furious, and engaged in some fairly shabby underhand tactics to try and discredit Stevenage and their ground to have the venue switched – all to no avail. The match went ahead, with on loan Giuliano Grazioli cancelling out Shearer’s early goal – ironically meaning there would be a match at St James’s Park after all (which Newcastle won 2-1, albeit there remains considerable debate whether their first actually crossed the line – judge for yourself below).

Up the U’s

Letters from Wiltshire #01
at 14:41 5 Sep 2020

Here we are then, at the start of a new season, curiously this time already well into September. I plan to continue (time permitting) writing blogs for each matchday, but with the season already considerably compressed, and matches as a result coming thick and fast, my apologies in advance if I don’t make it for every single game.
Letters from Wiltshire #01
at 14:40 5 Sep 2020

Here we are then, at the start of a new season, curiously this time already well into September. I plan to continue (time permitting) writing blogs for each matchday, but with the season already considerably compressed, and matches as a result coming thick and fast, my apologies in advance if I don’t make it for every single game.

This season, as well as continuing the Matches of Yesteryear concept, I hope to mix things up a bit with other articles, perhaps related to notable fixtures against opponents, or notable matches on that date, plus anything else that springs to mind. I already have a cracker lined up courtesy of PWK, and know exactly when I plan to publish that. Any other thoughts and observations from you all on content, ideas etc. will be gratefully received.

For today, here’s a look back over the history of the U’sual Champions League, with some stats and observations.

A Brief History of Time
The U’sual Champions League competition began back in 2011, and if memory serves I think the original concept was Pete’s? As always, qualifiers are drawn from the top scoring competitors in the domestic Prediction League at the end of each calendar year. The original format back in 2011 was somewhat different, with just 8 taking part (our founder members are MFB, Gate, Ethics, myself, Durham, TheNet, Tropical_U’s and Daniel) split into two groups, though there was an optional Group C for anyone who wanted to take part for the fun of it (Thrillseeker, BFG and Pete decided to do so).

I’ve been running the competition from the outset, but following some tense off-air discussions after the 2011 group round, the final technically became ‘unofficial’. However, as the alternative ending has never been ratified, it remains the official record of the first competition. Our worthy first champion was MFB, beating Gate in a closely fought final. Thereafter, the competition has pretty much followed the exact same format, albeit coronavirus did enforce some tweaks this year.

Are you on the list?
Over the ten years that I’ve been running this competition, there have been 36 different qualifiers, with Gate and MFB joint top of the leaderboard on 8 appearances each, closely followed by BFG (7) and Tropical_U’s, GSY and Thrillseeker (6 each). I say 36, but that doesn’t preclude the possibility that participants have re-registered on the U’sual under different usernames (but I’m pretty sure I have a handle on the various manifestations of both Haps and Pete over the years).

Following a stewards enquiry post-2012, from 2014 onwards the qualifiers have automatically included the previous champion, these days known as the Noah Amendment. Noah also courted controversy when withdrawing from the competition back in 2018, but Gate wasn’t complaining, qualifying as the 13th man as a result.

Single appearances as a qualifier include Lewis this year, Ghughes and Oxfcolu last year, but the remainder (GoonerDes, Brightspurs, Hellasblue and BluenWight) appear to have disappeared off the radar in recent years. Of the regulars who haven’t drifted away, Tropical_Us and myself have probably gone the longest without qualifying, both last appearing in the competition back in 2017.

Scores on the Doors
Across all rounds of the competition, the highest scoring year was back in 2014, with a whopping 232pts scored by all competitors, and the lowest point haul of just 130 back in 2016 – surprisingly lower even than the original format competition in 2011, when there were considerably fewer competitors and scoring opportunities.

Not surprisingly, given how often they have featured in the competition, MFB tops the overall scoring table with 169pts, with Gate just two behind on 167pts. No one has failed to score any points at all, but Burnsie and ColuKev came close on just 1pt each back in 2016.

The highest individual scorer in any one year is Thrillseeker, who earned a massive 40pts just this year, followed closely by BFG with 37pts back in 2012, and Gerry with 35pts in that free-scoring year of 2014. Remarkable, despite scoring so heavily, neither BFG nor Gerry won the competition those years.

Highest scorers at each stage are as follows:
Round of 16: In the previous format, Gate (23pts in 2011) still holds the record. In the current format, it’s a tie between Ethics (20pts in 2014 and 2017) and Thrillseeker (20pts this year).
Quarter-final: Basher (13pts in 2019)
Semi-final: a tie between Burnsie and MFB (both with 8pts in 2017)
Final: BFG (9pts in 2019)

Marching on Together
The usual suspects dominate the list of those who manage to get through from the initial Round of 16, though even giants MFB (once) and Gate (twice) have fallen at the first hurdle on occasion. The list of those who have never failed to get through the Round of 16 is inevitably dominated by many who have only appeared once or twice in the competition, but hats off to BFG who has progressed through the Round of 16 on each of the seven times he has taken part in the competition.

Special mention also goes to GSY, who has done likewise for each of the six times he’s taken part. GSY’s record on progress is fascinating, because thereafter he hasn’t gone any further than the quarter-finals. On the few occasions I’ve qualified for the competition (four), my record in the Round of 16 is pretty poor, failing to get through on two occasions, and even when I did, I’ve never got past the semi-finals.

There a few other bridesmaids and never the bride like me. I’ve already mention GSY’s six quarter-final appearances, and there are some other big hitters in that group too, including Ethics, Sevebalo, Tropical_U’s, MrHappy and Durham. Not surprisingly, the select few that manage to get through to the final are dominated by MFB, BFG, Noah and Gate, with 8 final appearances amongst them.

We are the Champions
MFB and BFG have both won the competition twice, BFG in back-to-back seasons 2018 and 2019, MFB in the inaugural competition, and again in 2013 (surely long-overdue another one?). The closest final? Well, with scoring usually fairly low, these are often very close, but none closer than both 2016 and 2017, when the tie-break was required – Jonestones (2016) and Burnsie (2017) prevailing on those occasions. For real tension, and end-to-end stuff, surely nothing matches the 2012 ding-dong between Noah and BFG, which Noah eventually won 8-7. The biggest landslide has to be Gate’s 7-1 demolition of TheNet back in 2015.

The roll of honour for all seasons is as follows
2011: MFB (runner-up Gate)
2012: Noah (runner-up BFG)
2013: MFB (runner-up Thrillseeker)
2014: Pete (runner-up Gerry)
2015: Gate (runner-up TheNet)
2016: Jonestones (runner-up Concordman)
2017: Burnsie (runner-up MFB)
2018: BFG (runner-up RS)
2019: BFG (runner-up Noah)
2020: Thrillseeker (runner-up Blueeagle)

Yesterday’s Jam
These things are very temporal, one season you’re a champ, then next a chump, but if you held a gun to my head and forced me to declare, I’d say our current Champion of Champions has to be mfb_cufc – and the stats back this up: equal most appearances, twice champion, once runner-up, record point scorer of all time. However, there are plenty of regulars on his shoulder, with Prediction League giants and former champions BFG, Gate, Thrillseeker and Noah looking for their opportunity to move ahead – let’s see what this season brings…

Up the U’s
U'sual Champions League 2020 - Final
at 11:43 20 Aug 2020

Good morning everyone, here we are at the final of the somewhat extended U'sual Champions League final. The actual final will be PSG v Bayern Munich, to be played at Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica in Lisbon, kick-off 8pm on Sunday 23rd August.

The U'sual matches are as follows:

Final - thrillseeker v blueeagle
3rd Place - Lewis_1 v noah4x4

With the Covid-19 abbreviated one-off matches in the quarter-finals and semi-finals now behind us, the competition can revert to its traditional format. As such. all competitors are asked to predict the following nine categories. You may PM your predictions to me if you wish, which I will reveal once all predictions are registered, or you can put them up here straight away - your call.

A) Result
B) Goal-scorer
C) Attempts on target
D) Attempts off target
E) Corners
F) Fouls
G) Yellow cards
H) Red cards
TB) Tie-break

For the result, it is the usual three points if spot-on, one point for the correct outcome. You will also receive one point for each goal scored by your nominated goal-scorer. For categories C-H, as usual there will be two points if someone is spot-on, or one point for whoever is closest (or one point each if equidistant). For cards, a straight red is only one red, but two yellows will count as two yellows plus one red.

The tie-break prediction is the minute for the first substitution, closest (either side) wins. Previous rules for calculating the minute of the first substitution will apply. Note that for the final alone, a spot-on result does not count as part of the tie-break, it's just the total points scored.

All predictions will be for the normal time match, extra-time or penalties will not count. The only questions you can't match exactly on are (A), (B) and (TB), so whilst there is no other advantage to predicting first, predicting last may mean having to change one or more of those predictions. 

All stats will be taken from the BBC Sport website, just in case there are discrepancies elsewhere.

Good luck everyone!
Shamal George offered contract
at 08:35 20 Aug 2020

Not the striker hoped for, but with Ethan moving to Lincoln, still a smart move in my opinion - hope he signs.

U's 0 Ipswich 4
at 19:46 18 Aug 2020

First 75 minute friendly has finished. Always going to be a tricky game against a side that will definitely be challenging for promotion to the Championship, and it showed. Ipswich clearly dominated, and for a lot of the game we were chasing shadows, and to be fair they could have scored more (KVY particularly guilty in that regard). Still, some reasonably positive things to come out of it - Tommy Smith looked fairly solid, and good going forward, even if he was guilty for the penalty. Gambin looked lively, with some good link-up play at times, and should have scored his chance. Brown was predictably isolated for much of the game, but also showed some decent touches, and definitely should have scored his unexpected chance from a defensive blunder.

Heyho, it's all about game-time and trying things out - next 75 minute match coming up at 8pm.
U'sual Champions League 2020 - Semi-finals
at 17:40 16 Aug 2020

The semi-final line-up for the Champions League is as follows:
18th August 2020: RB Leipzig v PSG (Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica)
19th August 2020: Lyon v Bayern Munich (Estádio José Alvalade)

As with the quarter-finals, these will be one-off head-to-head matches, not played over two legs. Both will kick-off at 8pm, and as with the quarter-finals, both will be played at neutral venues in Lisbon.

The U'sual Champions League qualifiers have been drawn from a hat (you'll have to trust me on this one, there wasn't time to do it any other way), as follows:
thrillseeker v Lewis_1
blueeagle v noah4x4

With so few points available, in addition to score predictions, please continue with predicting two goal-scorers as well. Three points for a spot-on prediction, one point for the correct outcome, and one point for each goal scored (including own goals) by either of your nominated goal-scorers. Score predictions will be for the end of normal time, extra-time and/or penalties will not count. If competitors can't be separated by number of spot-ons, for a tie-break please also predict the minute of the first substitution in the Lyon v Bayern Munich match. As before, half-time subs are 46th minute, injury-time substitutions will be either 45 or 90 minutes. If there are no substitutions at all, closest to zero will win.

As has always been the case at this stage in the competition, none of your predictions (score, goal-scorers or tie-break) can match your opponents.

Good luck everyone!
U'sual Champions League 2020 - Quarter-finals
at 14:41 9 Aug 2020

First off, the U'sual Champions League qualifiers for Groups 1 and 2 are as follows:

The format for the Champions League has had to be altered because of the coronavirus pandemic, and all quarter-finals will be played as one-off matches, there will be no second-legs. Needless to say, matches will go to extra-time and even penalties if necessary, to ensure there is a result after each game. All matches will be hosted at a neutral ground, in this instance at Lisbon in Portugal, and will kick-off at 8pm on consecutive nights starting Wednesday 12th August.

The matches to predict are therefore as follows:
12th August 2010: Atalanta v PSG
13th August 2020: RB Leipzig v Atletico Madrid
14th August 2020: Barcelona v Bayern Munich
15th August 2020: Man City v Lyon

Predictions will be based on the result at the end of normal time, extra-time and/or penalties will not count. As always, you can only exact match one score prediction with each member of your qualifying group.

With so few points available, for this season I have introduced two new predictions for this round.

1) Choose two goal-scorers for each match, only one of whom can have already been chosen by anyone else in your group. You will receive a bonus point for every goal they score (including own-goals should it happen). Technically, this does allow all members of a group to chose the same goal-scorer, so long as none of your second choices match.

2) For a tie-break, please predict the minute for the first substitution in the last match (Man City v Lyon). If there are no substitutions during normal time the winner will be closest to zero. Half-time substitutions will be counted as the 46th minute, and substitutions in extra-time will be counted as either 45 minutes or 90 minutes. Obviously competitors cannot predict the same minute for a tie-break.

I will monitor predictions and advise if amendments are needed, but please be aware that life sometimes gets in the way, and I cannot guarantee how promptly I may spot if changes are required. If competitors prefer, you may PM me your predictions, which I will only reveal once all competitors in a group have submitted valid predictions. At that point, all predictions will be locked - no further amendments allowed.
Latest statement from Robbie
at 07:57 1 Jul 2020

For anyone who hasn’t seen it already, link below to Robbie’s latest and superb statement.


Each to their own, and given these are difficult times for everyone financially, and probably won’t improve any day soon, I wouldn’t begrudge anyone who needed a refund on their unused season tickets, match credits etc. Personally, I love the idea of Club United, and will be gladly transferring my match credit refund into it. I bought the match credits to have priority for Spurs tickets, and they continued to serve me well for Crawley and Man U, plus a couple of match tickets too, so they’ve served their purpose - the club can have the rest.
New grounds
at 19:18 26 Jun 2020

Accepting we don't quite know the full line-up for next season, as things stand these are on my never-been list:

Bolton (pretty sure, can't remember if I have)

Doesn't matter who wins the play-off final, obviously I've been to both. As for the National League play-offs (are they actually happening, I thought they were?), Boreham Wood, Halifax, Harrogate or Stockport would be new additions to the list.

Obviously Bolton will be the big attraction for many, so what's the betting it'll be early in the season with lockdown still in force.

Matches of Yesteryear - Cardiff v U's 11/4/98
at 13:51 21 Jun 2020

Here we are then, after a reasonably solid but distinctly dull semi-final first leg lit up by a moment of sheer brilliance by Bramall, just one match away from a socially distanced Wembley play-off final. We may have a slight advantage, but there is of course still much to do, and I can’t imagine for a moment that Exeter will be that shot-shy again at t’other St James’ Park. It’s all about the result though, performance is irrelevant, so I’ll take an even duller 0-0 every day of the week and twice on Sundays. I hope you’re all keeping safe and well, and for those of you blessed with progeny – Happy Father’s Day!
Matches of Yesteryear - Cardiff v U's 11/4/98
at 13:51 21 Jun 2020

Here we are then, after a reasonably solid but distinctly dull semi-final first leg lit up by a moment of sheer brilliance by Bramall, just one match away from a socially distanced Wembley play-off final. We may have a slight advantage, but there is of course still much to do, and I can’t imagine for a moment that Exeter will be that shot-shy again at t’other St James’ Park. It’s all about the result though, performance is irrelevant, so I’ll take an even duller 0-0 every day of the week and twice on Sundays. I hope you’re all keeping safe and well, and for those of you blessed with progeny – Happy Father’s Day!

Cardiff v Colchester United
Saturday 11th April 1998
Nationwide League Division 3 (Tier 4)
Attendance 2,809

Match #58 of the Matches of Yesteryear series, and appropriately the random match selector has chosen one of our later matches in the 1997/98 season, the last time we gained promotion out of this league (via the play-offs – just saying like). We are at proper old skool Ninian Park for a mid-April match against Cardiff City. Back then, Ninian Park was a crumbling behemoth of a ground, desperately in need of a major uplift, and with the Bluebirds struggling that season, looking even poorer with less than 3,000 turning up for the match. If memory serves, at least 250 of those travelled over from Essex, but I don’t think we were on the Grange End terrace – pretty sure we were in the Bob Bank stand, for what I guess must have been the last season before they switched away supporters to the Grange End?

Steve Wignall was managing the U’s at the time, and a run of four undefeated matches stretching back to mid-March had propelled us into the play-off zone. Only just though, we were 6th, with Peterborough in 8th just one point behind us, so we needed a good result to keep the momentum going. Cardiff on the other hand were having a poor season, albeit 6th from bottom and on 49 points would normally be a reason to expect that safety was virtually guaranteed. However, this was no normal season in the 4th tier, with hopelessly inept Doncaster Rovers so far adrift at the bottom on 19 points that Cardiff had been mathematically safe for several months already (Cardiff had smashed them 7-1 at Ninian Park less than a month earlier). It was a foregone conclusion at the other end too, with Notts County already champions of the league, and had been since March.

Cardiff City has always been a relatively easy ground to get to, but one I’ve always approached with considerable caution. My battered much-travelled Football Fans Guide sensibly advised “…it’s an extremely good idea not to wear colours outside the ground, or to have any showing in cars. This applies to all games, not just high profile or local derby matches”. The in-laws were visiting for the weekend, so the Father-in-Law and I were afforded an afternoon pass so that they could do some Mum and Daughter stuff, which worked for us.

We took the train over to Cardiff in plenty of time, and walking from the station popped in to The Cornwall on the way for a couple of pints. The Cornwall is, or certainly was, one of the few reasonably friendly pubs that away fans could use anywhere near the ground – it was almost as if the decent Cardiff City supporters in there felt the need to over-compensate for the generally poor reputation of Cardiff City fans in general. Whatever the psychology, they were all very pleasant, and I wasn’t the only U’s fan in there that day either (my Father-in-Law was an avid follower of football, but without any particular allegiance – perhaps mainly Kettering if he had to choose). Suitably refreshed, we headed to the ground.

The U’s line-up that afternoon was exactly as listed on the back of the programme, which is somewhat of a rarity based on my experiences writing these blogs:

1….Carl Emberson
2….Joe Dunne
3….Simon Betts
4….Aaron Skelton
5….David Greene
6….Guy Branston (Paul Abrahams 24’)
7….Richard Wilkins
8….Paul Buckle
9….Mark Sale (Nel Gregory 73’)
10..Tony Lock (Karl Duguid 89’)
11..David Gregory

There aren’t too many names in the Bluebirds line-up that register with me – I’d heard of midfield duo Tony Carss and Jason Fowler, but not in the context of being household names who’d go on to do great things in football. Probably the biggest name in their squad that day, with the benefit of hindsight, was a youthful Robert Earnshaw on the bench. Earnshaw had joined the youth set-up the year before and had made his league debut for the Bluebirds just two weeks earlier, coming on as a substitute in a 0-0 draw with Brighton and Hove Albion (the programme cover photo is from that match).

So, given I can’t remember with any certainty which stand we were in, it won’t come as too much of a surprise that my memories of the match itself are also pretty hazy. The U’s were certainly playing with confidence, and causing problems for Cardiff City, but suffered a set-back with Branston going off injured after 24 minutes. Cardiff City had two bookings that day, but I’m not sure if either were associated with this? Incidentally, for anyone who oft associates Cardiff City with a ‘robust’ style of play, we had four bookings that afternoon of our own, so certainly no choirboys ourselves.

Paul Abrahams replaced the injured Branston, which turned out to be a fortuitously inspired move, as he blasted the U’s into a 1-0 lead just after half-time. If anything, this spurred Cardiff City on, and for the next ten minutes or so kept us penned in our own half, defending resolutely. The siege was broken in emphatic style, with David Gregory breaking free on the hour mark to put the U’s into what we hoped would be an unassailable 2-0 lead.

This prompted a flurry of substitutions on both sides, with first off Robert Earnshaw coming on for Carss. It was clear the lad had bags of pace and talent, and when Chris Roberts came on a few minutes later, we were again under considerable pressure. In response, Wiggy swapped Sale for Neil Gregory, with Gregory playing deeper in more of a midfield role, and then for a bit of game-management to run the clock down, brought on Doogie for Tony Lock in the last minute of normal time. It worked too, and for all Cardiff’s later pressure, the U’s held on reasonably comfortably to win 2-0 and keep our promotion challenge on track.

Cardiff City 0 Colchester United 2 (Paul Abrahams 48’; David Gregory 60’)

I had taken the advice of the Football Fans Guide sort of to heart – albeit I had a shirt on, but had also made sure I had the sort of coat that could be zipped up to keep all colours hidden for the walk back to the station. We were amongst a larger group of U’s fans, but also interspersed with a fair few Cardiff City supporters. One of our number hadn’t bothered to cover his shirt and ended up on the wrong end of some Welsh verbals, but that was all, and the walk back to the station and journey home was otherwise uneventful.

Zambian born Earnshaw would go on to become a cult hero not just for Cardiff City (he played for them between 1998 and 2013 in two separate spells), but for the entirety of Wales – making 59 appearances for the national side. His background is quite remarkable, particularly his mother Rita, who was not only a professional footballer in Zambia, but later went on to be a professional boxer! If that wasn’t enough, his English-born father David was manager of a gold mine. Rita moved the family to Bedwas near Caerphilly in 1990 (to be near her sister) after David contracted and died from typhoid fever, and Robert grew-up on the streets as mates with near neighbour David Pipe.

And finally, I mentioned for Match #57 how I was looking forward to seeing my place amongst John McGreal’s Cardboard Army last Thursday. Well I wasn’t quick enough to spot myself during the broadcast itself, but thanks to a photo on one of the Col U Facebook pages, I have now. 10 points for anyone else who can 😊

Up the U’s
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