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Letters from Wiltshire #27
at 12:26 16 Jan 2021

Welcome (finally) to 2021, and hopefully a vaccine-driven start to a much better year for everyone – which as you can guess was going to be my introduction two weeks ago. From a selfish perspective, hopefully an improved year for the U’s as well that sees us cement at the very least a play-off spot, but why stop there – don’t mess around with the lottery of play-offs, go straight for it with automatic promotion (who am I kidding). First up in that quest is a tough match against {Tranmere Rovers} Cambridge United, and no longer with Chuck to help us out. Still, set up for Jevani to put one over on his former club.

Exeter City v Colchester United
Saturday 5th May 2018
Sky Bet League Two (Tier 4)
Attendance 4,615




The opponents for today’s Letters from Wiltshire #27, Exeter City, know all about the lottery of the play-offs, appearing as losing finalists in 2017, (spoiler alert) 2018 and of course 2020. Being a local trip from here, Exeter City also feature prominently in my memorabilia collection, and this isn’t the first blog I’ve written from St James Park. This should have included our three most recent visits, but on 25th January 2020 a trackside fire put paid to my journey at Tiverton, the pandemic prevented a visit for last season’s play-off match, and again for our most recent 6-1 mauling – though in truth I’m glad I wasn’t there for that one.

Grecians?
The nickname for Exeter City is a matter of considerable debate. St James Park is located in the parish of St Sidwells (named after St Sidwella, allegedly a native of Devon who was martyred through beheading by reapers at the behest of her own mother-in-law – nice!). The parish is located outside the city walls, and some believe the nickname is a Homerian classical reference to the Greeks laying siege outside the walls of Troy, and/or that the association more specifically relates to antipathy between city boys and St Sidwells boys during the beating of the bounds.



There are a number of etymological suggestions as well: that it is a corruption of the derogatory term “Greasy ‘Uns” for children from St Sidwells, or perhaps based on the Welsh name for Exeter, Caerwysg. This derived from the Roman fort at Exeter, as Caer = fort and Wysg = Exe, and thus people from Exeter would have been known as ‘Caer Iscuns’ (which at a stretch, if repeated enough times, could morph into ‘Grecians’ over time). A slightly more prosaic explanation could simply be because a jeweller’s shop on Sidwell Street had a clock hanging outside with the name Grecians on its face

It’s not the despair…
I may have mentioned previously, but where possible I always try and do the first and last match of each season, and although this had really been a season to forget, there me and Alfie were driving down to Exeter on a beautifully warm sunny May day. Well, I say a season to forget, but in truth it had been a season that’s difficult to remember, it had been that underwhelming.

An exceptionally poor start to the season saw the U’s down near the relegation zone by the end of September, and knocked out of the League Cup in the first round at home to Aston Villa in front of the Sky Sports cameras (albeit it was a spirited performance). Although our league form rallied somewhat after that, in rapid succession we went out of the FA Cup in the first round at home to non-league Oxford City, and three days later went out of the EFL Trophy at the group stage, losing 2-0 at Southend United of all places.

However, we did seem to be capitalising on our opportunity to ‘concentrate on the league’, and with only one defeat from then through to the new year, we managed to climb into play-off contention. It wasn’t to last though, and a catastrophic dip in form through to mid-March realistically put paid to any lingering hope of the play-offs, even if mathematically it was still possible. Typical U’s, that despair gave way to faint hope after three wins on the bounce: at Stevenage, home to Luton, and at Forest Green Rovers, the latter including one of the fastest goals I’ve seen scored by a U’s player, as Drey Wright poked home a Sammie Szmodics cross after just 16 seconds.



However, as we know, hope is a capricious mistress, and all that good work was undone by three more successive defeats, at home to Accrington Stanley and Notts County, and away at Lincoln City, followed by a drab 0-0 at home to Swindon, ended any lingering dreams of an unlikely and ill-deserved play-off spot. That defeat at Lincoln would also turn out to be 7’ tall Sam Walker’s last game for the U’s, in technically his third spell at the club.

All caught up
And so there we were, me and Alfie driving down the M5 for a meaningless match for the U’s, with nothing to play for but pride. Exeter City, on the other hand, were already guaranteed a play-off place, it just remained to be determined where exactly, and therefore how the draw might favour them. 4th place was obviously the priority, giving them second leg home advantage over whoever finished in the final 7th place slot, so I was expecting a tough match against a team with quite a bit still to play for.

With Sam Walker expecting to leave at the end of the season, John McGreal’s side lined up that day

25..Dillon Barnes
2….Ryan Jackson
22..Kane Vincent-Young
6….Frankie Kent
5….Luke Prosser (captain)
14..Brandon Comley
16..Sean Murray (Tom Lapslie 76’)
10..Sammie Szmodics
11..Ryan Gondoh
20..Courtney Senior (Drey Wright 76’)
19..Mikael Mandron (Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe 46’)



Just to emphasise, it really was a beautiful day, not just warm but for early May actually hot. St James Park was undergoing renovation, with the old open away terrace behind the goal demolished, and a new stand under construction on the railway side of the ground opposite us. There was a decent following from the U’s too, with the drum coming along for the ride as well, and our own Durham making up what must have been nearly 200 of the faithful that afternoon, including Brennan Dickenson taking the opportunity to sit with the fans.

Least said the better to be honest
In truth, considering Exeter had a lot to play for, when combined with the heat on the day, the match started with a distinct lack of any urgency from both sides, and it almost had a pre-season friendly feel to it. Maybe at the back of their minds, Exeter players weren’t subconsciously holding back to a degree, not wanting to risk injury with the play-offs approaching? Maybe for the U’s players, they just didn’t want to crash and burn on the final day, and would be happy to play out a dull 0-0? Who knows, but it took nearly 15 minutes for the first meaningful action of the match.

Slopping defending from Frankie Kent allowed Liam McAlinden to nip in on the left, loft the ball over the advancing Dillon Barnes and run on to his own ball for what really should have been an open goal – only he chose to cross the ball instead of score, and Robbie Simpson shanked his chance up and over the bar. It was a considerable let-off for the U’s, and should have been a wake-up call, but we hit the snooze button and slumbered on.

Dillon Barnes, who wasn’t to be honest filling me with confidence, did reasonably well diving full-length to keep out a curling long-range shot from Ryan Harley, but it was the sort of regulation save you would expect any ‘keeper to make. It was his dithering with ball in hand that was bothering me most – often racing out looking for the early throw to put the U’s on a counter-attack, but then failing to decide which of the options presented to him to take.

Barnes was beaten late on in the first half, from a looping Simpson header that just evaded him and nestled in the bottom corner, but we were saved by the lineman flagging for offside. We were more or less in line with it, and I’ll be honest it looked very close, but to be fair the Exeter players didn’t protest too much, so I guess it was the correct call. Our only meaningful contribution all half had been a tame effort from Ryan Gondoh (making his full debut) which goalkeeper Christy Pym watched go safely outside the post.

Into the second half, and still no one appeared to really want to give it a go, until we were thrown a very unlikely life-line. Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe had replaced Mikael Mandron at half-time, and was proving to be a bit of a livewire in the box. Going down under a clumsy challenge from Sweeney, the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Sammie Szmodics claimed the chance for himself, but I really wish he hadn’t. Pym dived to his right, but Sammie’s effort was weak and straight down the middle, and gave Pym the chance to clear it with his trailing foot.

https://flic.kr/p/2kofvs7
My video of that penalty

That just about summed up our day to be honest, and barely ten or so minutes later we were to pay for the miss. Having already hit the post from a Dean Moxey effort, Sweeney then did well down the Exeter right, sending an inviting cross into the box. Frankie Kent looked in two minds, perhaps expecting Barnes to come out and claim it. Barnes stayed rooted to his line presumably expecting Kent to deal with it, and Simpson took full advantage to run in between and head home easily. It was no more than we deserved to be honest.

McGreal changed things around a few minutes later, bringing on Lapslie and Wright for Murray and Senior in a double substitution, and it did at least inject a bit of urgency into the U’s. A speculative (mishit or deflected possibly?) cross from Ogedi-Uzokwe looked to be sneaking under the crossbar, which required Pym to palm it over the bar, and a half-chance for Prosser required a defter touch than he had to successfully lob Pym in the dying seconds – that one finished on the roof of the net.

And that was that, bowing out of our 2017/18 campaign with a whimper in 13th place and our worst league finish for 23 years…

Exeter 1 (Robbie Simpson 71’) Colchester United 0

With their victory, Exeter claimed top slot in the play-offs, and after a comfortable 0-0 away at Lincoln, and then a resounding 3-1 victory in the second leg, went on to play Coventry City in the final in front of over 50,000 fans. Coventry had finished 6th, five points behind Exeter, but it didn’t show as they comfortably beat the Grecians 3-1 in the final – the Exeter consolation coming in the last minute of the game.

Sam Walker did indeed leave in the summer for a bench-warming appointment at Championship side Reading. Over the following two seasons he made just 14 appearances for the Royals, half of which were as the ‘rotation’ goalkeeper for cup matches. However, just before Christmas he joined Blackpool on a one-week emergency loan after Blackpool’s goalkeeper Chris Maxwell tested positive for coronavirus, and this was extended by another seven days on 30th December, so he’ll be playing in their match at Bristol Rovers today (alongside Luke Garbutt as it happens).

If you can bring yourself, here are the Exeter City highlights from YouTube.



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Letters from Wiltshire #26
at 18:18 29 Dec 2020

Well, after a piss-poor Xmas period so far for the U’s, culminating in the Roots Hall horror show on Boxing Day, let’s hope the U’s have burned off those festive calories and are raring to go. They’ll certainly have to be at their best against a Cheltenham side aiming to force their way into the automatic promotion places. In other news, we now finally have confirmation that there will be a trade deal in place with the EU once Brexit arrives in 2021. It remains to be seen whether it’s a good deal or not, and more to the point, who for, but at least it’s not the economic uncertainty of no-deal.
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Letters from Wiltshire #26
at 18:17 29 Dec 2020

Well, after a piss-poor Xmas period so far for the U’s, culminating in the Roots Hall horror show on Boxing Day, let’s hope the U’s have burned off those festive calories and are raring to go. They’ll certainly have to be at their best against a Cheltenham side aiming to force their way into the automatic promotion places. In other news, we now finally have confirmation that there will be a trade deal in place with the EU once Brexit arrives in 2021. It remains to be seen whether it’s a good deal or not, and more to the point, who for, but at least it’s not the economic uncertainty of no-deal.

Colchester United v Huddersfield Town
Tuesday 24th September 1996
Coca Cola Cup (2nd Round, 2nd leg)
Attendance 4,095




And so, for our last match of 2020, the random match selector for Letters from Wiltshire #26 has chosen the very first League Cup match in my memorabilia collection. Certainly not my first League Cup match by any measure, that goes right back to at least the 4th Round home game against Southampton in the 1974/75 League Cup, but this is the furthest back that I still have a matchday programme for. As with pretty much all League Cup matches, for all time, this was a midweek fixture, at home to Huddersfield Town in the 2nd leg of the 2nd Round.

How so?
As I’ve mentioned previously, midweek matches at Layer Road are always slightly incongruous as far as my memorabilia collection is concerned. By rights, given both the travelling distance involved, and invariably needing to work both on the day before the evening kick-off and again the following day, evening games really shouldn’t be a possibility for me normally. However, context is everything, and this match happened to coincide with the first phase of a very large archaeological excavation at Imperial College Sports Ground, Harlington – just north of Heathrow. We were staying up in London during the week, using self-catering accommodation in Maidenhead, which just about put me in range of Layer Road following a full day on site.

The archaeology bit
Forgive the brief indulgence, but Imperial College Sports Ground (site code IMC96) turned out to be one of the more important, and certainly archaeologically significant archaeological investigations it has been my pleasure to direct. The site was a large gravel quarry right opposite Chelsea’s former training ground on Sipson Lane, and so we were getting pretty blasé about bumping into the likes of Petrescu, Lebeouf, Vialli, Wise, Di Matteo, Zola, Gullit etc. We were also still there when Matthew Harding died in the helicopter crash less than a month after this match, and witnessed the hundreds of scarves, shirts, flowers and other mementoes that were festooned on their gates by supporters.



This was a large quarry, and the IMC96 site eventually ran for five consecutive seasons before being exhausted, finishing in 2000. By this time we had uncovered an incredible complex of archaeological remains including Neolithic and Early Bronze Age enclosures, barrows and other monuments (red), a Later Bronze Age field system and water holes (mustard yellow), Late Iron Age (dark blue) and Romano-British (lilac) settlement focused on a hitherto unknown Roman Road heading north west from Londinium, and both Saxon (cyan) and medieval (lime green) settlement and field systems.

On a lighter note, Marcus Brigstocke also decided to film one of his We Are History episodes at the site in 1998, whilst we were excavating the three Early Bronze Age barrows more or less central within the site. If you haven’t seen these, they could best be described as an affectionate parody/ homage of Time Team, but you can of course decide for yourself, as the IMC96 episode (including your truly) is still available on YouTube.



The journey to here
Literally – I drove over for the game straight from work, which only gave me ten minutes to pop in for a quick coffee with my Mum before the match. Driving back straight to our accommodation in Maidenhead after the match meant for once I had to forgo the pleasure of a pint or two in the Drury, so after parking up on Gladwin Road, I met up with my brother-in-law Steve on a reasonably full Barside terrace.

Figuratively – as a Third Division side at the time, our 1st Round two-legged draw was a tricky one against First Division West Bromwich Albion. It looked even trickier when they beat us 3-2 in the 1st leg at Layer Road (I wasn’t there), and no one really gave us much hope of turning things around at the Hawthorns. However, in a blistering 2nd leg display that I’m really sorry I missed, we were 3-0 in the lead less than ten minutes into the second half, and although WBA did get one back with seven minutes to go, we held on for an unlikely 5-4 aggregate victory. The real story of the night, however, was our then ‘keeper Canadian Garrett Caldwell had to go off injured at half-time (tore his thigh muscle taking a goal kick), and without another goalkeeper on the bench, Steve Whitton volunteered to go in goal for the second half.

The 2nd Round draw wasn’t much kinder, again against First Division opposition, this time against our shirt donors Huddersfield Town. Drawn away for the 1st leg, a goal a-piece either side of half-time gave the U’s a very respectable 1-1 draw at the new McAlpine Stadium, to set things up nicely for this 2nd leg match. As Chris Hazlehurst (CUSA) commented in the programme “…as far as the match at Huddersfield was concerned it proved to be another splendid team effort and most travelling fans found difficulty naming a man of the match”.

The match
Our line-up for the 2nd leg was for once exactly as listed on the back of the programme:

1….Carl Emberson
2….Joe Dunne (David Gregory)
3….Simon Betts (Steve Whitton)
4….Tony McCarthy
5….David Greene
6….Peter Cawley
7….Adam Locke
8….Robbie Reinelt
9….Chris Fry
10..Tony Adcock (Karl Duguid)
11..Richard Wilkins

Huddersfield were managed at the time by Brian Horton, who had joined the Terriers a year earlier after two seasons managing Manchester City. Their line-up that evening was pretty much a first XI, and included their record £1.2m signing Marcus Stewart (from Bristol Rovers), recently signed Andy Payton (from Burnley, for a not inconsiderable £325k), and experienced midfielder Paul Reid. Breaking news for the U’s was the eventual and inevitable sale of Mark Kinsella to Charlton Athletic at the end of the previous week. At the time the fee was undisclosed, but it was eventually announced (leaked?) to be £150k. Obviously at the time a sizeable fee for a club of our size, but with the benefit of hindsight it does seem such a paltry amount.

There’s not a great deal I can remember about the match itself I’m afraid, other than a lasting impression that is was a pretty even game. Given Huddersfield were two divisions above the U’s, and we were struggling in the Third Division (at the time just eight points from the first eight matches), this was a very creditable performance. The U’s held their own, and on occasions even pressed Huddersfield, and at the end of both half-time and normal time the match was still 0-0.

I can’t remember what the rules on away goals were for the League Cup back then, but clearly they didn’t count double, or we would have been through to the 3rd Round at that point. I’m not certain if away goals might have counted after extra-time, but it proved to be a moot point. In the 8th minute of extra-time, that man Marcus Stewart finally broke the deadlock for the Terriers. Five minutes into the second period of extra-time, with the U’s pressing for an equaliser, Huddersfield finally sealed the match, with substitute Simon Collins making it 2-0 – and no way back for the U’s.

Colchester United 0 Huddersfield Town 2 (Marcus Stewart 98’; Simon Collins 110’)

As heart-breaking as it was to go out of the League Cup in extra-time like that, considerable comfort could be taken from four very spirited performances against First Division opposition. Huddersfield crashed out of the competition the following round, losing 5-1 at eventual finalists Middlesbrough (Middlesbrough lost the replayed final 1-0 after extra time to Leicester City).

Although not immediate, the spirit shown by the U’s eventually started to turn our season around, and following a run of 18 matches unbeaten between October and mid-February, we ended up narrowly missing out on the play-offs by one place and one point (sounds familiar ☹).

Garrett Caldwell did eventually recover from his thigh muscle tear, and played once more for the U’s the following season (a 2-0 home league victory over Torquay United), before returning to Canada to play for Toronto Supra.

Incidentally, in other news, at the end of the 1996/97 football season, tonight’s opponents Cheltenham Town (under the ever-charming Steve Cotterill as manager) finally gained promotion to the Conference. They finished a distant second to champions Gresley Rovers, but capitalised on Gresley’s ground not meeting the required standard to pinch the promotion place.

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Don't forget, 1pm kick-off today...
at 11:59 26 Dec 2020

...at Roots Hall.
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Letters from Wiltshire #25
at 12:30 24 Dec 2020

A little earlier than usual, but as we approach the end of what has been a most difficult year for everyone, I’ll keep the introductory editorial brief, as I’m sure you will all be very busy in the coming days rescuing what you can from this pandemic-ravaged festive period. I simply wish you all peace on earth, goodwill to all (yes, even our South Essex cousins), and here’s to a happy, prosperous and most importantly healthy 2021 for us all.
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Letters from Wiltshire #25
at 12:29 24 Dec 2020

A little earlier than usual, but as we approach the end of what has been a most difficult year for everyone, I’ll keep the introductory editorial brief, as I’m sure you will all be very busy in the coming days rescuing what you can from this pandemic-ravaged festive period. I simply wish you all peace on earth, goodwill to all (yes, even our South Essex cousins), and here’s to a happy, prosperous and most importantly healthy 2021 for us all.

Allies v German Empire
Friday 25th December 1914
Western Front
Attendance c. 100,000




The U’s at Christmas
In researching for this blog, I was quite surprised to discover that matches on Christmas Day actually used to be quite a thing, with the U’s doing so no less than eight times in the ten years between 1946 and 1956. The very first match was a 0-1 defeat at home to Gillingham, but that would be the first and only occasion we have lost on Christmas Day, probably helped by six of the eight matches being played at Layer Road. Relatively local rivals Gillingham have featured in three of those games, but the pick of the results has to have been demolishing Queens Park Rangers 5-0 at Layer Road in 1953.



The Great War
However, for Letters from Wiltshire #25 it seemed fitting at this time of year, and in the context of a world still beset by far too much hostility and intolerance, to focus on something heart-warming that perhaps still gives us hope for humanity. Thus, we go back to the Western Front Christmas Truce of 1914.


Gavrilo Princip being taken into custody by local Sarajevo police – © Topical Press Agency/Getty

For a bit of background, despite Baldrick’s assertion that he’d heard the Great War started “…when a bloke called Archie Duck shot an ostrich ‘cause he was hungry”, the reality was that it all followed the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife by 19-year old Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip on 28 June 1914 in Sarajevo. Although this one event is considered the most immediate cause of World War I, the toxic contribution of an ongoing global arms race, fuelled by rampant nationalism, imperialism and militarism, all combined to plunge the world into the Great War just a month later, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire, supported by the German Empire, declared war on Serbia.

On the Western Front, fought predominantly by British, French and Belgian forces against the German Empire, the war started with the Race to the Sea, a failed attempt by both sides to outflank the other by pushing north through the Low Countries to the North Sea. There then followed the mutually costly and indecisive battles of Yser and the first battle of Ypres, before both sides settled back in November to reconsider strategies, whilst fortifying their positions and preparing for renewed offensives in Spring 1915.

These opening campaigns of the Great War had unleashed horror on a scale never before witnessed, both sides appallingly well-equipped to slaughter their fellow man with grotesque industrial efficiency. We can’t today even begin to imagine what it must have been like, nor the effect it must have had on the soldiers of both sides that went through it, but that was almost certainly a driving force behind the widespread unofficial truces along the Western Front for Christmas 1914.

Peace in our time?


© Emily Hobhouse, copy released in 2013 by the Manchester Archives

There were semi-official moves to try and at least broker a ceasefire, if not actual peace. Towards the end of 1914 a group of 101 British suffragists penned the Open Christmas Letter, a public message calling for peace addressed “To the Women of Germany and Austria”. This was written in acknowledgement of the mounting horror of modern warfare, and in itself was a response to letters written by German women’s rights activists to American feminist Carrie Chapman Catt (president of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance). The letter was answered by 155 prominent German and Austrian pacifist women early in 1915, and whilst neither brought an end to hostilities, the promotion of peace between women of nations at war certainly maintained their unity in the common goal of suffrage for women. Pope Benedict XV also called for at least an official truce, asking “that the guns may fall silent at least upon the night the angels sang”, but his plea was politely declined by both sides.

However, whilst officially there was to be no fraternisation with the enemy as far as leaders were concerned, the reality in the trenches was completely different. With the proximity of the trenches it was quite easy to shout greetings (and no doubt taunts as well) across no man’s land, and thus fairly easy to arrange temporary ceasefires. Cessations in violence on both fronts were actually reasonably common, certainly in the earlier years of the war. These were usually arranged to recover dead and wounded from the battlefield, with soldiers on both sides taking the opportunity to chat, exchange news, even newspapers (several British soldiers later recounted Germans wanting to hear news of the football leagues, results etc).

All quiet on the Western Front
As the Race to the Sea period drew to a close in November and with rations being brought through to front lines just after dusk, soldiers also began noticing a temporary and unsolicited daily peace as food was distributed and eaten on both sides. Inter-trench rivalry also started to include music, with impromptu choirs on both sides singing in the evenings – generally believed in most cases to be for the benefit of all within earshot, on both sides. There was a healthy competitive edge to this as well, with Sir Edward Hulse of the Scots Guards writing that he was planning a Christmas Day concert to give “the enemy every conceivable form of song in harmony”, apparently in response to frequent choruses of Deutschland Über Alles. Inevitably, as Christmas approached, more and more of the songs being sung were carols.


© Harold B Robson - Photograph Q50719 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums

There is no one definitive Christmas Truce event, but rather an unofficial (and unsanctioned) cessation of violence pretty much all along the Western Front. It wasn’t complete, there were still hostilities taking place, and other areas where even if there was no fighting, there was no fraternisation. However, in many sectors there was a genuine truce. It is reported that Germans placed candles on their trenches and in trees and sung carols, the British responded with carols of their own, with both sides shouting Christmas greetings to each other. Eventually, those brave enough to do so, lifted their heads above the parapets, and before too long soldiers from both sides were meeting in no man’s land, shaking hands, chatting, exchanging gifts and souvenirs, even joint services were held.

Author Henry Williamson, then a 19-year old private in the London Rifle Brigade, wrote to his mother on Boxing Day:
Dear Mother, I am writing from the trenches. It is 11 o'clock in the morning. Beside me is a coke fire, opposite me a 'dug-out' (wet) with straw in it. The ground is sloppy in the actual trench, but frozen elsewhere. In my mouth is a pipe presented by the Princess Mary. In the pipe is tobacco. Of course, you say. But wait. In the pipe is German tobacco. Haha, you say, from a prisoner or found in a captured trench. Oh dear, no! From a German soldier. Yes a live German soldier from his own trench. Yesterday the British & Germans met & shook hands in the Ground between the trenches, & exchanged souvenirs, & shook hands. Yes, all day Xmas day, & as I write. Marvellous, isn't it?

Near Ypres, Josef Wenzl of the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment wrote in considerable detail about the Christmas Day encounter between his regiment and soldiers of the British 15th Infantry Brigade.
That which only hours ago I should have thought was nonsense I now saw with my own eyes. A British soldier, who was then joined by a second man, came from our left and crossed more than halfway into no man’s land, where they met up with our men. British and Bavarians, previously the worst of enemies, stood there shaking hands and exchanging items. The one star still in the sky above them was regarded by the men as a special sign from heaven. More and more joined in all along the line, shaking hands and swapping souvenirs. More than half of my platoon went out. Because I wanted to take a closer look at these chaps and obtain a souvenir, I moved towards a group of them. Immediately one came up to me, shook my hand and gave me some cigarettes; another gave me a handkerchief, a third signed his name on a field postcard and a fourth wrote his address in my notebook. Everyone mingled and conversed to the best of their ability. One British soldier played the mouth organ of a German comrade, some danced around, whilst others took great pride in trying on the German helmets. One of our men placed a Christmas tree in the middle, pulled out a box of matches from his pocket and in no time the tree was lit up. The British sang a Christmas carol and we followed this with ‘Silent Night, Holy Night’. It was a moving moment; between the trenches stood the most hated and bitter enemies and sang Christmas carols. All my life I shall never forget the sight … Christmas 1914 will be completely unforgettable.

Football?



Leaving aside the romantic twaddle of Paul McCartney’s Pipes of Peace, nor past Sainsbury’s Xmas advert campaigns, what about evidence for actual football being played?

There is some dispute about whether actual matches took place, not least because of the practical limitations of trying to do so within a landscape of shell holes, mud and barbed wire. However, there are more than enough first-hand recollections to suggest that football was involved at various truce events along the Western Front. For instance, a letter written by a doctor attached to the Rifle Brigade (published in The Times on New Years Day 1915) reported “a football match…played between them and us in front of the trench”. One of the more likely locations for a formal match would have been at the village of Messines, with two separate references on the British side to a match between the first battalion of the Norfolk Regiment and the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment (Josef Wenzl’s regiment), but without any corroborating accounts from German sources.

All in all, recent research has identified at least 29 separate references to football being played during the Christmas Truce, probably most as a simple kick-about between soldiers on just one side (The Lancashire Fusiliers at Le Touquet apparently using a bully beef tin in place of a ball), but very few accounts of formal matches. Poet and writer Robert Graves served on the Western Front with the Royal Welch Fusiliers at the time, and wrote in his 1962 short story Christmas Trucewe provided the football, and set up stretchers as goalposts; and the Rev Jolly, our padre, acted as ref. They beat us 3-2, but the padre had showed a bit too much Christian charity – their outside-left shot the deciding goal, but he was miles offside and admitted it soon as the whistle went”. Graves’ work was fiction, but who’s to say the seeds of it weren’t originally sown from first- or second-hand memories whilst serving on the front line.



Probably the most compelling contender for a formal football match was apparently between teams drawn from the German regiment IR133 (Royal Saxon Regiment) and the 2nd Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. This particular match was considered in detail by Swedish journalist Pehr Thermaenius in his book The Christmas Match: Football in No Man’s Land 1914, focusing on two players in particular – Albert Schmidt and Jimmy Coyle. This is probably the most credible account of a match taking place, with corroborating sources from both sides to the event. The British forces (technically therefore Scotland) beat the German side 4-1 btw…

Germany 3 Allies 2, or Germany 1 Scotland 4

Official response
Both British and German High Commands were not happy about the truce, and many of the soldiers, particularly officers, were rebuked over their part, though it is fitting to note that surprisingly few faced any sort of meaningful punishment. However, an unofficial embargo prevented the public from learning about the Christmas Truce until the New York Times broke ranks and reported on it on New Year’s Eve. The British press quickly followed suit, drawing heavily on accounts in letters sent home from the front line, and within a week, actual photographs from various locations were also published. Responses elsewhere, and particularly Germany and France, were more muted, with the French press forced to reprint a government notice reminding all that to fraternise with the enemy was considered treason.

Significance
Whether actual football matches did or didn’t take place during one of the most significant, spontaneous and unsanctioned cessations of hostilities in human history is largely irrelevant, it is the symbolic significance of such an event that is most important. The Christmas Truce has become a lasting and dramatic example of the spirit of non-cooperation with the most brutal of conflicts. That non-cooperation was described as the ‘live and let live system’ by Tony Ashworth in his 1980 work Trench Warfare 1914-1918 as it “gave soldiers some control over the conditions of their existence”, and at the very heart of that was the sport of the working classes, the universal language of football.

The Christmas Truce, and similar smaller-scale events before and after it, weren’t politically motivated actions by those who necessarily opposed war, or to overthrow the shackles of oppressive (and murderous) regimes, it was simply men – for a few brief hours at least – taking the chance to stop trying to kill each other, forget the horror around them and instead celebrate their shared humanity. By Boxing Day the truce was over and the bullets and shells were flying again…

Lest we forget


A cross left at Saint-Yves Ploegsteert Belgium to commemorate the Christmas Truce reads "1914 – The Khaki Chum's Christmas Truce – 1999 – 85 Years – Lest We Forget"

Merry Christmas to all, and Up the U’s
[Post edited 24 Dec 2020 16:44]
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Letters from Wiltshire #24
at 14:39 19 Dec 2020

Welcome to our last match before Christmas. With South Essex going into Tier 3, by the time we take to the pitch at Roots Hall, it’ll be another behind-closed-doors match. With the Tier 3 boundary creeping inexorably closer, one wonders how long the JobServe will hold out and still be able to allow fans to attend. Robbie is doing all he can to make it possible for supporters to attend, and I confess I’m seriously considering our January 2nd match against Tranmere. In other news, I’m relieved to read that the FA will not take disciplinary action against Colchester United after a shameful minority chose to boo players and officials taking the knee, in the words of the EFL “as they highlight the inequality and injustice experienced by the Black Community”. I noticed a tiny minority chose to boo at our mid-week match at the Abbey Stadium, but I was pleased to hear they were immediately drowned out by the remainder of the 2,000 cheering and applauding. I admit I’m a little anxious about today…
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Letters from Wiltshire #24
at 13:59 19 Dec 2020

Welcome to our last match before Christmas. With South Essex going into Tier 3, by the time we take to the pitch at Roots Hall, it’ll be another behind-closed-doors match. With the Tier 3 boundary creeping inexorably closer, one wonders how long the JobServe will hold out and still be able to allow fans to attend. Robbie is doing all he can to make it possible for supporters to attend, and I confess I’m seriously considering our January 2nd match against Tranmere. In other news, I’m relieved to read that the FA will not take disciplinary action against Colchester United after a shameful minority chose to boo players and officials taking the knee, in the words of the EFL “as they highlight the inequality and injustice experienced by the Black Community”. I noticed a tiny minority chose to boo at our mid-week match at the Abbey Stadium, but I was pleased to hear they were immediately drowned out by the remainder of the 2,000 cheering and applauding. I admit I’m a little anxious about today…

Scunthorpe United v Colchester United
Saturday 4th March 2000
Endsleigh League Division 2 (Tier 3)
Attendance 4,253




Letters from Wiltshire #24, and we have a real humdinger to celebrate – a trip to Glanford Park towards the tail-end of a season of struggle, just our second season in Division 2 since promotion via the play-offs. I’ve already featured a number of matches from this season, indeed Matches of Yesteryear #27 featured our home game against high-fliers Burnley just the previous Saturday. At the risk of repeating myself then, this was very much a rebuilding period for Steve Whitton and the U’s, repairing the damage left behind by departing manager Mick Wadsworth shortly after the season started.

I was living in Salisbury at the time, and with good friends Tobin and Julie (both Preston North End supporters) living in Lincoln at the time, took the opportunity to travel up on the Friday afternoon to spend the weekend with them. This wasn’t our first football trip together, Tobin, Julie, myself and a few others had travelled over to the Abbey Stadium in 1997 for our Tuesday evening match (we were all working in London at the time). Some of you may remember that match, it was just two days after Princess Diana died, and following a minute’s silence before kick-off, we were then soundly thrashed 4-1! I missed the highlight of the game whilst on the bacon roll run at half-time, when apparently some sort of “Peoples Front of Judea” moment ended up in fisticuffs amongst our own supporters…



Another one bites the dust…
After a very pleasant Friday evening around a few of the excellent pubs that Lincoln had to offer, Tobin and I drove up to Glanford Park for the match, on what was a very bright crisp day. Parking up at the stadium car park, we headed over to the Berkeley Hotel for a couple of beers pre-match. Another great football pub, and even then a bit of a rarity as it still had pool tables. It was reasonably full of Scunthorpe supporters too, who were more than happy to chat football over a few games of pool and some ludicrously cheap beer. Sadly, as with many others, although the building still survives, it is currently listed as “permanently closed”, amid doubts it’ll ever re-open. This isn’t a Covid-19 thing either, it has been closed since 2019.



Names to conjure with
Suitably refreshed, we headed over and took our seats within a very sparsely populated away end at Glanford Park. Following the U’s usually involves goals at one end or the other, and leading up to this match much was being made of how long it had been since we played out a 0-0 – 448 days as it happens. Apart from a couple of periods immediately pre- and post-war, when not scoring goals was almost unheard of, this was one of the longest spells without a 0-0 in our history.

Our line-up that afternoon was:

1….Simon Brown
6….Joe Dunne
3….Joe Keith
24..Ross Johnson
17..Richard Wilkins (Aaron Skelton 46’)
4….Gavin Johnson
8….David Gregory
11..Jason Dozzell
7….Karl Duguid
9….Jamie Moralee (Lomana Tresor Lua Lua 74/)
19..Tony Lock

Scunthorpe were player-managed at the time by Brian Laws, who’d had a pretty good playing career at Burnley, Huddersfield, Middlesbrough and most notably Nottingham Forest. Laws played in the ill-fated FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough, and in the rearranged fixture managed to score an own goal as Liverpool went on to win 3-1. Looking through the squad list on the back of the programme, three names stand out – Lee Hodges, Guy Ipoua (brother of Cameroon international Sammy) and of course at no. 28, Stephane Pounewatchy. I can only assume Hodges, who the Iron had signed for £50,000 the previous summer, must have been injured, as he wasn’t even on the bench. Although one from the Wadsworth era, I actually really liked Pounewatchy and was sorry to see him go. Didn’t like him so much during the AutoWindscreens final mind…

Steve Whitton was bigging this match up beforehand, stating that "these are the kind of games where we've got to be ruthless, Scunthorpe are below us in the table and the outcome of this match could prove crucial to us staying in the Second Division. We still need points to stay up despite our relative safe position in mid-table, that's why tomorrow's trip to Glanford Park is a really big game for us”.

Zzzzz…
I wish there was more I could remember about the game itself, but a combination of it being over 20 years ago, and a phenomenally dull match, there’s not much I can bring to this one I’m afraid. What I do remember is that it was clear the U’s maybe hadn’t received Whitt’s pre-match memo, as the game was played out at a fairly pedestrian pace. We had a tough game coming up mid-week at Preston North End, so I can’t say with any certainty whether that was a factor in the minds of the U’s squad? However, Scunthorpe we mired deep in the relegation zone, and I would have thought that would have raised their game at the very least. Apparently not, and maybe a clue as to why they were in that position in the first place.

Guy Ipoua was subbed after just 8 minutes – I can’t remember exactly why, but I assume it must have been an injury. More worrying, Richard Wilkins was clearly struggling during the first half, after aggravating a neck injury, and he didn’t come out for the second half, replaced by Aaron Skelton (of Layer Road netting fame) – that didn’t bode well for our chances of scoring. Brian Laws brought on Gary Bull to try and inject some urgency into proceedings, countered ten minutes later by the introduction of our own super-sub Lomana Tresor Lua Lua. Lua Lua did at least bring some life into the game, prompting Laws to tighten things up in midfield with the introduction Matt Sparrow.

And thus it continued, with neither side on top, neither side able to break the deadlock, and after 448 days, we had another goalless draw blotting our copy book.

Scunthorpe United 0 Colchester United 0

In the context of where we were that season, it actually wasn’t that bad a result, particularly following on from a home defeat against Burnley, and with expectations of getting anything from our next game at Deepdale against champions-elect Preston North End very low indeed. How wrong we were, as a Lua Lua masterclass, bewitching and bamboozling the PNE defence, danced through to give the U’s a thoroughly well-deserved 3-2 victory. Back home visiting family at the time, Tobin and Julie were at Deepdale to see that performance.

Mr Colchester United
For Richard Wilkins, sadly this would be his last appearance for Colchester United. Speaking after the match, Richard said “if the specialist gives me any hope then I will cling on to it as long as it doesn't jeopardise my health in the future. I want to carry on playing as long as I can. Leg and body wise I'm fit enough to play for at least another two years. But my future career will hinge on what the specialist says”. Speaking very pragmatically about the future, he added “I have a family to think about and the specialist will dictate what happens to me next. Whatever will be, will be, but if there's any chance I can play again this season without further damaging myself I will”.



There wasn’t, and he didn’t – though it wasn’t quite the last time I saw Richard Wilkins, that would be jammed into a packed Layer Road two years later for his testimonial match against Glenn Hoddle’s Tottenham Hotspur.

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Letters from Wiltshire #23
at 17:58 15 Dec 2020

As I’ve been providing updates on the ongoing US presidential election, it is worth mentioning that the Electoral College votes have now been cast, which formally confirms Biden as the new President-elect. Normally a formality, as the losing candidate has usually long-since conceded defeat, but these are far from normal times, and America has far from a normal lame-duck President. Still, at least the threat of members of the Electoral College ignoring the popular vote in favour of an outcome demanded by Trump has failed to materialise. In the UK, new Covid tiers were announced this week, with London going into Tier 3. Colchester stays in Tier 2, but only just, with as far north east as Maldon, Braintree and Chelmsford also moving into Tier 3 – and as if you need reminding, Tier 3 means no supporters at matches.
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Letters from Wiltshire #23
at 17:57 15 Dec 2020

As I’ve been providing updates on the ongoing US presidential election, it is worth mentioning that the Electoral College votes have now been cast, which formally confirms Biden as the new President-elect. Normally a formality, as the losing candidate has usually long-since conceded defeat, but these are far from normal times, and America has far from a normal lame-duck President. Still, at least the threat of members of the Electoral College ignoring the popular vote in favour of an outcome demanded by Trump has failed to materialise. In the UK, new Covid tiers were announced this week, with London going into Tier 3. Colchester stays in Tier 2, but only just, with as far north east as Maldon, Braintree and Chelmsford also moving into Tier 3 – and as if you need reminding, Tier 3 means no supporters at matches.

Colchester United v Doncaster Rovers
Saturday 4th May 1996
Endsleigh League Division 3 (Tier 4)
Attendance 5,038




Tonight CUFC visit CUFC for what will no doubt be a tough match, but following a spirited four points on our travels in the last two away games, not necessarily one we should be daunted by. Cambridgeshire, for now, is Tier 2, so we can expect up to 2,000 home fans to be there, which if memory serves will be the first time we’ve played away in front of supporters this season? It will be interesting to see whether that plays a part or not. Traditionally, football supporters have always assumed that being at home is an advantage, and the stats back that up. I guess most of that is down to the presence of home support, so I think it’ll be interesting towards the back end of this season to look at how much results during lockdown and closed stadia do or don’t buck that trend.

Letters from Wiltshire #23 is another from the random match selector, and a return to something involving Colchester United after the last two ‘specials’ for #21 and #22. This time, it’s the final match of our domestic season in 1995/96, at home to Doncaster Rovers. The U’s still had an outside chance of making the play-offs, whereas Donny were content to finish the season comfortably mid-table, or so we thought. That wasn’t to say their supporters weren’t up for a party.

In an otherwise sea of fog, there are three, no four very clear memories I have from this game…

Memory #1 – seemed like a good idea at the time…
I think this was one of the first times I’d witnessed a kind of ‘mass’ participation in wearing fancy dress from the Doncaster Rovers supporters. Not something I’ve ever been drawn to if I’m honest – in fact right up there with cardboard cut-out trophies covered in tin foil and face-painting on my “Never Do” list, but back then it was a curious spectacle nonetheless.

Incidentally, and on that subject, allow me to share the story of my friend Mark, who was at our final game of the season in 2015 against Preston North End that I covered in my very first Matches of Yesteryear blog. He was at the match, but not with me; as a lifelong PNE supporter he was in the away end, and leading up to and during the day we’d been sharing light-hearted ‘bantz’ back and forth. Although the match was broadcast live, I’d never actually seen it…well, because I was there. I’d seen the highlights loads of times, but not the whole match start to finish, so imagine my amusement when the club broadcast the match last season during lockdown, and up popped an image of my mate repeatedly throughout the match.



And why? Because completely by chance (he’s the one on the left) Mark happened to be stood next to someone spotted by one of the match cameraman who rather randomly had decided to dress up as a chicken! I get that the supporters wanted to wear yellow (we’ve done similar with orange in the past), but at what point does your inner voice say “yellow yes, but chicken suit – nah”? The most amusing part for me was my Mark’s post-match description of the world’s most disconsolate chicken traipsing out of the ground after the match – and that’s the thing, if you think something like face-painting or fancy dress is a good idea – ask yourself whether it’ll still seem like a good idea if you have to travel a long way home disappointed.

Back to it
Anyway, I digress, and this evenings kick-off is fast approaching. As usual, I drove over with my partner and daughter to visit my Mum and extended family for the weekend, and as was often the norm, after lunch me and my brother-in-law Steve headed over for the match. As Steve was driving, I allowed myself the guilty pleasure of a couple in the Drury, before we took our place up near the back of the Barside. Not only were the Donny Rovers supporters fancy-dressed, but there was quite a few of them as well, and their one half of the Layer Rd terrace was pretty well full.



They might not have had anything to play for, but we certainly did. The U’s were one point and one place behind Wigan in the last play-off berth, and just two points behind Hereford in the third play-off spot. So, we pretty much had to win as an absolute minimum. We could have got away with a draw, but only a very high-scoring draw, given Wigan (who’d also have to lose) had scored two more than the U’s (back then, places were decided on goals scored not goal difference). If we did win, and Wigan failed to win, we were in the play-offs. If we did win, and Wigan also won, we were reliant on Hereford losing. If Hereford drew, we’d have to win big, scoring at least three more than Hereford in the process. Basically, the long and short of it was that whilst we were all in fine voice on the Barside, there were lots of permutations and combinations which made success unlikely.

The U’s were managed by Steve Wignall back then, in his first full season in charge, and all in all it hadn’t been a bad season. We’d never quite managed to force our way into the automatic promotion top three but had been in and around the play-offs throughout – I think the lowest we’d been all season was 10th following a run of poor results in January and February.

Our line-up that afternoon was:

1….Carl Emberson
2….Chris Fry
3….Simon Betts
4….Tony McCarthy
5….Gus Caesar (Adam Locke)
6….Peter Cawley
7….Mark Kinsella
8….Tony Dennis
9….Scott McGleish
10..Robbie Reinelt (Steve Whitton)
11..Paul Gibbs

There were one or two changes to the line-up on the back of the programme, with Gus Caesar coming in, presumably for Joe Dunne who wasn’t even on the bench (injured?), and Doogie dropping to the bench in favour of Paul Gibbs starting. The latter would prove to be a very significant decision.

Memory #2 – who are ya?
The person I want to mention from the Doncaster Rovers side was Cyril “Sammy” Chung, their manager. I’m not sure why, maybe because it was his oriental origins (his father was Chinese) at a time when there were very few involved in English football, but his is both a name and a face that resonates with me in my football journey. There’s no obvious reason why, he had a decent career as a professional footballer at Reading, Norwich and then Watford – but that was back in the 50s and 60s, so not on my radar. He’d dabbled in football management with Wolves for a couple of seasons, including winning promotion to Division One in 1977, and keeping them up the following season as well, so maybe that’s it – just used to seeing him on Match of the Day?

Memory #3 – outrageous!
I won’t plague you with a gritty in-depth analysis of the game, because I can hardly remember any specific details at all. I know for once the U’s were playing towards the Layer Road end first half (presumably Doncaster Rovers won the toss?). I’m vaguely certain that whilst we were probably on top, we weren’t necessarily dominate, and that clear-cut chances were few and far between. Then came the flash of (ahem) brilliance from Paul Gibbs. Charging up the left wing right in front of us in the Barside, Gibbs swung in a looping cross from about the corner of the 18-yard box.

Or at least he tried to, but got the angle slightly wrong…well, wrong for a cross, but bloody perfect if he was trying an outrageous driven looping shot from a very tight angle. Back-pedalling ‘keeper Gary O’Connor could only flap aimlessly as it sailed over his shoulder and into the top corner of his goal. I was looking right down the barrel of that one from my vantage point on the Barside, and as soon as Gibbs had struck the ball, it was “no, surely not…” and then absolute pandemonium as the ground erupted.

Memory #4 – easy tiger!
I’ll be honest, I can’t remember whether it was news at half-time that filtered through, or during the second half, but at some point we heard that Wigan were losing at home to Northampton, with a huge roar going around Layer Road as a result. The odd thing was, if anything it spurred Doncaster Rovers on, like it was news from elsewhere that directly affected them? Dunno, maybe they just were swept up in the emotion and passion of the occasion, but thereafter it seemed to be the U’s who were backs to the wall, whilst Donny battled for everything, chased everything, absolutely desperate right to the dying seconds of injury-time to get an equaliser.

But they didn’t, and scoring his last goal in a U’s shirt, Paul Gibbs had taken us to the play-offs 😊

Colchester United 1 (Paul Gibbs 45’) Doncaster Rovers 0

Elsewhere, although Hereford comfortably beat Rochdale 2-0, Wigan slipped up losing 1-2 at home to Northampton, and the U’s had snatched an unlikely play-off slot. I won’t dwell on how were fared (a) because it still makes me sad, and (b) because my trip to Home Park may well feature as a blog one day.

After two seasons of mid-table finishes, Doncaster Rovers let Sammy Chung go in the summer. Since then, he spent some time around the turn of the millennium as Director of Football in Barbados (let’s be honest, not a bad gig), and joined the coaching staff at Minehead in 2005. I’m delighted to report that according to Wikipedia, at the ripe old age of 88, Sammy still lives on the Somerset coast to this day.

Although this play-off attempt would eventually fail amid the golf balls and small change of Home Park, we did go on to not only make the play-offs again at the end of 1997/98, but this time going all the way through to promotion, defeating Torquay in the Wembley final. In the Torquay line-up that day was none other than Paul Gibbs…

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Letters from Wiltshire #22
at 14:42 12 Dec 2020

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat…hence I’m a bit late today, following the inevitable Christmas tree hunt – the decorating will have to wait until later I reckon. In the news, despite my confident assurance several weeks ago that Trump appeared to be grudgingly starting to accept that he had lost the US presidency election, he’s since doubled-down on his baseless accusations of election fraud – without obviously providing a single shred of evidence to back it up (and how could he, there isn’t any). His latest apoplectic tirade, just today, follows the Supreme Court telling Texas just where they can stick their egregious lawsuit demanding that Biden’s victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia be thrown out in favour of Trump. From a global perspective, it is deeply troubling that no less than 126 republican congressional representatives signed an amicus brief supporting the challenge. Trump will leave the White House in January, but they will stay at the heart of the US government, and I don’t think that’s good news for democracy, nor even the rest of the world. Ho hum…
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Letters from Wiltshire #22
at 14:41 12 Dec 2020

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat…hence I’m a bit late today, following the inevitable Christmas tree hunt – the decorating will have to wait until later I reckon. In the news, despite my confident assurance several weeks ago that Trump appeared to be grudgingly starting to accept that he had lost the US presidency election, he’s since doubled-down on his baseless accusations of election fraud – without obviously providing a single shred of evidence to back it up (and how could he, there isn’t any). His latest apoplectic tirade, just today, follows the Supreme Court telling Texas just where they can stick their egregious lawsuit demanding that Biden’s victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia be thrown out in favour of Trump. From a global perspective, it is deeply troubling that no less than 126 republican congressional representatives signed an amicus brief supporting the challenge. Trump will leave the White House in January, but they will stay at the heart of the US government, and I don’t think that’s good news for democracy, nor even the rest of the world. Ho hum…

Gloucester City v Salisbury City
Monday 2nd January 2006
Southern League Premier Division (Tier 7)
Attendance 551




Letters from Wiltshire #22 takes a relatively rare trip outside the world of Colchester United, but still retains a vaguely festive season edge to it, with a trip to Meadow Park Stadium (aka the City Stadium) at Gloucester for their 2nd January 2006 match against Salisbury City. This wasn’t actually my first trip to Meadow Park, that was way back in 2004, but it would turn out to be my last (more on that later).

I have mentioned previously my father-in-law Chris – a dyed-in-the-wool proper Mancunian Manchester United supporter, and a general lover of all things football. When I became part of the family back in 2000, he delighted in accompanying me to football matches whenever there was a chance, often to watch the U’s play. They lived near Tewkesbury, so our trips often took in visits to both Gloucester City and Cheltenham Town.

At the time, we were living in Salisbury, so with the fixture list coming out for 2005/06, Chris saw an opportunity to not only watch a match over the festive period that would have some sort of ‘connection’ between us, but also an opportunity to put a little back into the community. This was very much Chris’s style, a more generous person you could not hope to meet, so he decided his engineering company (Chris was a milling engineer) would sponsor the fixture.

I never knew the precise details of the sponsorship, what it cost, what the exact package entailed etc., but I know it did include about a dozen free tickets, use of the ‘Executive Suite’, as much hot and cold food as you could possibly eat before, during and after the match, as much alcohol as you could possibly drink (and what you didn’t drink you took home with you), entry into the Supporters Lounge before and after the match…oh…and a free programme 😊. We also got to vote for Man of the Match, but more on that later.


Chris and his company secretary Sally pre-match

Chris’s company was a fairly big wheel in the world of milling engineers but was actually still quite a modest family-oriented operation in both size and philosophy. With me, Em and Alfie alongside him and his wife Pam, plus all of his workforce that wanted to come along, there was still a couple of tickets left, so he asked me if I knew anyone back in Salisbury that might like to join us. That was an easy one, my neighbour, colleague, close friend and lifelong Salisbury City supporter Phil Harding was delighted to join us, as was our mutual friend Pat, another neighbour to both of us.

Em, me and Alfie travelled over to stay with Pam and Chris on New Years Eve to spend some quality time relaxing, whilst they got the opportunity to thoroughly spoil rotten their grandson Alfie. The plan was to head home the following morning, so Chris arranged transport to get all of the group to and from the ground without anyone actually having to worry about driving (did I mention the vast quantity of alcohol available?). It was beautiful weather too, a typical January day – a bright low sun, not a cloud in the sky, chilly but not freezing, just perfect to go watch a football match.



Gloucester City didn’t let us down either, everything was not just exactly as promised, actually better than promised. The Executive Suite (the only Executive Suite) itself was just a room in the clubhouse, but it that happened to have patio doors at one end which opened out onto a small patio overlooking the pitch – albeit at ground level. I honestly can’t overemphasise enough quite how much food and booze they laid one – I don’t actually have a photo of it, but to one side of our room was a table literally groaning under stacks of pretty much every sort of alcohol you could wish for, there were even bottle of spirits, as well as the usual wines, beers, lagers, ciders, soft drink, mixers, the lot.

The teams lined up as follows:


Not too many names that I know particularly well, apart from Matt Tubbs of course. Tubbs had been at Salisbury City since 2003 and was making a bit of a name for himself in non-league circles as a diminutive but effective striker. He would go on to achieve a modest level of national fame scoring Salisbury City’s FA Cup 2nd Round equaliser against Nottingham Forest in front of the BBC cameras the following season, a performance that prompted Mark Lawrenson to comment “this fella, on that evidence, can play at a higher level, which is the best compliment you can give him”. He would go on to play for Crawley and Bournemouth (with loans at Rotherham, back at Crawley and AFC Wimbledon), before signing for Portsmouth in 2015.

By the way, if you think, like me, Neil Mustoe sounds familiar – he should do. Originally signed by Manchester United, and then Wigan Athletic, he played for many seasons with Cambridge United before rejoining Gloucester City for a second spell in 2004. At the time, Salisbury City were flying high at the top of the league, aiming for promotion to the Conference South. Gloucester City were just about holding their own in lower mid-table, but really needed a few more points to be confident they wouldn’t get drawn into a relegation fight.

There’s not a great deal I remember too closely about the game itself. To say the pitch was cutting up a bit was an understatement – much of it was already a ploughed field, but the level of football was reasonably okay. There was decent crowd of over 550 in to watch the match, easily their best attendance of the season, and that included two coachloads (plus Phil and Pat) who had made the trip from Wiltshire. It would turn out to be the Tiger’s record home gate that season, better even than the visit of near neighbours Bath City later the same month.



During the first half I was particularly impressed with Mustoe. He was getting on a bit then (for a footballer) at 30+, but his professional league experience really did show, which made up a bit for his slight lack of pace. Salisbury City took the lead – I can’t remember for certain who scored it – I know it wasn’t Tubbs, and I think this photo was leading up to the goal, so I’m going to guess it was Paul Sales. That seems to be despite the Gloucester City defender trying to remove his shirt at the time 😊.



I do know it was Wilkinson that equalised for Gloucester City, and whilst I didn’t photo the shot itself, I did manage to capture the ball nestling in the back of the net and the Tigers supporters celebrating behind the goal. Incidentally, not sure if it was a rule back then or not, but Gloucester City had absolutely no problem with us taking our drinks out on the patio to watch the match – an opportunity Phil was glad to avail himself of.



For the second half, we decided to go on a bit of a wander, and went over to the covered terrace behind the goal, where most of the Gloucester City supporters had congregated (like Layer Road, swapping ends was not a problem at Meadow Park). Inevitably, the only goal of the second half was thus scored at the opposite end, to give Salisbury City a deserved victory – albeit Gloucester City had by no means disgraced themselves. I’m pretty sure it was Tubbs, but I was a long way off at the time.

Gloucester City 1 (Dave Wilkinson) Salisbury City 2 (Paul Sales?; Matt Tubbs?)

Having Phil Harding at the game turned out to be a bit of a PR coup for Gloucester City, and the local press and TV had a field day interviewing him, taking photos and capturing film, and I hope Gloucester City themselves got some benefit out of it. Post-match we were ‘invited’ to submit our nominations for Man of the Match (I chose Mustoe), following which the Head Coach came in to chat about our selections and basically tell us “thanks very much, but we’re going to give it to this lad instead”. To be honest, none of us had any problem with that at all 😊.

After that, we retired to the club lounge, along with about a hundred other supporters and club officials. The squad also joined us after a short while as well, and amusingly their post-match reward was first dibs on all the cooked and unsold burgers, sausages, chips, pasties etc. from the match – so much for food science!

All in all, it was an absolutely fantastic day, and one I will cherish for the rest of my life. Chris sadly passed about three months later from cancer – we knew he was ill, just hadn’t realised quite how much so. Phil had already vowed to return the compliment at Salisbury, as the two sides were destined to play the return fixture on the last day of the season. In honour of Chris, he went ahead with this, ordered one of the Executive boxes at the Ray McEnhill Stadium, and provided an equally magnificent slap-up for us all – virtually everyone in our box at Gloucester City came along in memory of Chris, including his widow Pam, for what was a very moving day.



Salisbury won the home match 3-0 to clinch promotion to the Conference South, and gladly Gloucester City also easily avoided relegation in the process.

…and my last visit to Meadow Park – yep, not just because of Chris’s sad and untimely passing, but because less than a year later it was 8’ under water following the Severn floods, and Gloucester City wouldn’t return to the New Meadow Park (same location, new stadium) until this very year.



Up the U’s
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Jevani wins Player of the Month
at 07:35 11 Dec 2020

Delighted for him too!

https://www.cu-fc.com/news/2020/december/jevani-brown-player-of-the-month/
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Letters from Wiltshire #21
at 18:01 9 Dec 2020

So here we are. What should have been a celebration of the faithful returning to the stadium, a fantastic debut by our new junior Junior (just 16 years of age), and indeed a hard-fought victory against tough opposition, has unfortunately been overshadowed by a very small minority who decided to boo our multi-racial team who ALL chose to take a knee against racism. Needless to say, following on from a similarly reaction from the notoriously intolerant Millwall supporters, we’re now on the front page of football websites. Thankfully, this has been in the context of our Chairman’s splendid response, which basically said if you don’t like it, go away because we don’t want you – bravo Robbie Cowling!
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Letters from Wiltshire #21
at 17:57 8 Dec 2020

So here we are. What should have been a celebration of the faithful returning to the stadium, a fantastic debut by our new junior Junior (just 16 years of age), and indeed a hard-fought victory against tough opposition, has unfortunately been overshadowed by a very small minority who decided to boo our multi-racial team who ALL chose to take a knee against racism. Needless to say, following on from a similarly reaction from the notoriously intolerant Millwall supporters, we’re now on the front page of football websites. Thankfully, this has been in the context of our Chairman’s splendid response, which basically said if you don’t like it, go away because we don’t want you – bravo Robbie Cowling!

https://www.cu-fc.com/news/2020/december/club-statement/

Black Lives Matter



As a result, I make no apologies about this blog, because as far as I’m concerned, I need to say this. No Matches of Yesteryear recollections, no personal memories of games past, just this.

I’m certainly not qualified to present an in-depth analysis of the Black Lives Matter movement, though I seriously doubt Marx would agree that they are a Marxist organisation – I’d actually quite like to know how those that use the expression have actually concluded it is ‘Marxist’, but maybe that’s a question for another day? As I’m white, I’m not going to try and open some label ‘cultural appropriation’, or worse, and a vast array of other pejorative slurs have emerged for anyone who has the temerity to try and do so – libtards, triggered, snowflakes, ‘woke’ etc. We’ve all seen them, how much they’ve proliferated when Obama became the first black President of the US, and exponentially so since Trump’s succession.

The EFL have today reinforced their Not today or any day message, hopefully as a timely reminder that the purpose here is to send out the message that discrimination in any form is unacceptable, not aligning oneself with a quasi-political organisation.

https://www.cu-fc.com/news/2020/december/efl-not-today-or-any-day/

The BLM movement began in 2013 as the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on social media, following the acquittal of George Zimmerman on the fatal shooting of 17-year old unarmed Trayvon Martin. In 2012 Zimmerman was the neighbourhood watch coordinator for Twin Lakes gated community, where Martin was staying at the time. Zimmerman was taken into custody but released after five hours, claiming the shooting was self-defence (as with most US states, Florida has a Stand Your Ground statute). It would be six more weeks before he was arrested and charged with murder, the trial starting in June 2013, with Zimmerman acquitted the following month.

The decision sparked outrage across the US, and indeed around the globe, and the resultant demonstrations and protests gave rise to the BLM movement, created by three women Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi. Since then, the BLM movement have actively protested against a wide range of incidents involving racially motivated violence against blacks, invariably involving police brutality or deaths in police custody. These protests gained a world-wide reach following the death of George Floyd, when Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for a reported 8 minutes and 46 seconds, whilst Floyd repeatedly gasped that he couldn’t breathe. Chauvin was sacked the next day, and his trial for 2nd degree unintentional murder and 2nd degree manslaughter is pending.



However, in reality the BLM movement, and in particular ‘taking the knee’ is simply a continuance of the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s, and the struggle by African Americans and like-minded allies to bring an end to institutional racial discrimination and segregation. Remarkably, when Lincoln brought an end to slavery following the American Civil War. African American men did have the vote, and held public office. It didn’t last and before too long the so-called “Jim Crow” laws systematically stripped blacks of their civil rights, and brought in enforced racial segregation in public facilities, transportation, education etc., against a backdrop of abuse, assault, rape, false imprisonment and of course lynching.



Following a series of nonviolent mass protests throughout the 50s and early 60s, and the assassination of John F Kennedy in November 1963, President Lyndon B Johnson pushed the Civil Rights Act forward, which was eventually enacted in July 1964. Whilst this should have been the catalyst for improved civil rights and equality for African Americans and people of colour, there was still significant discrimination in some states, and in particular systematic denial of voting rights. Following, amongst others, the televised “Bloody Sunday” assaults by Alabama State Troopers on peaceful protestors lead by Martin Luther King marching from Selma to Montgomery to demand their constitutional right to vote, Johnson eventually passed the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

On this bill and trying to carry it forward through Congress, Johnson said in his televised speech:
Even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and state of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause, too, because it is not just Negroes but really it is all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.

Racial tension still remained, nothing was solved overnight, and in 1968 Martin Luther King was assassinated by James Earl Ray whilst standing on the balcony outside room 306 at Lorraine Motel in Memphis. It was 6:01pm on 4th April 1968, and King was only 39 years old. His death led to a nationwide wave of race riots throughout the US and sent shockwaves around the world. Ray was eventually caught attempting to flee at Heathrow Airport two months later and having pleaded guilty to avoid the possibility of a trial and resultant death sentence if found guilty, was sentenced to a 99-year prison term. He spent his time in prison repeatedly and unsuccessfully trying to withdraw his guilty plea, and died in 1998, aged 70.



Later that year in October, the 19th Olympic Games was hosted by Mexico – the first time the games were held in Latin America. With feelings still running high not just in the US, but worldwide, concerning civil rights and racial equality, the medal ceremony for the 200m final certainly caught the public’s imagination. Winner Tommie Smith and bronze medallist John Carlos, both members of the Olympic Project for Human Rights decided to show solidarity with the Black Freedom Movement in the US, with a gloved raised fist salute during the national anthem, heads bowed and wearing just black socks without shoes. Tommie Smith later emphasised in his autobiography that it was a human rights salute, not a black power gesture.

IOC president Avery Brundage was furious, deeming it a political statement unfit for the Olympic Games (sounds familiar), and demanded that Smith and Carlos were suspended from the US team and expelled from the Olympic village. To their credit, the US Olympic Committee flatly refused, to which Brundage then threatened to expel the entire US track team, and inevitably and eventually Smith and Carlos were thrown out of the Olympic team.



However, the story of Australian silver medallist Peter Norman is an equally tragic tale. In solidarity with Smith and Carlos, Norman also wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge for the ceremony, and when Smith and Carlos realised they only had one pair of black gloves between them, it was Norman’s suggestion they wear one each – which certainly added to the visual impact of the gesture. Norman had temporarily set an Olympic record in his heat, with a time of 20.17 seconds, and in coming second in the final with a time of 20.06 seconds, set an all-time personal best and still the record within countries that form the Oceania Athletics Association.

Opinions differ about how Peter Norman was received when he returned home, but many claim it was very much as a pariah. The Australian Olympic Committee deny this and maintain that apart from a rebuke on the day of the ceremony, no further punishment was meted out. Norman was not selected for the 1972 Olympics, despite running several qualifying times between 1969 and 1971 – albeit he only finished 3rd in the 1972 Australian Athletics Championships. Tellingly, when Sydney hosted the 2000 Olympics, he was pointedly excluded from an invitation as a former Olympian by the AOC. When the US Olympic Committee heard about this, he was invited to join their Olympic team as an honorary guest. When San Jose State University erected a statue of the medal ceremony salute, Norman had asked to not be included so that others viewing the podium could use his place to take a stand against racism.

Peter Norman died of a heart attack on 3rd October 2006, aged 64, and on the 9th October the US Track and Field Federation declared the day Peter Norman Day. Both Tommie Smith and John Carlos attended the funeral, gave eulogies, and were pallbearers. In August 2012 the Australian House of Representatives debated a motion to issue a posthumous apology to Norman, which was eventually passed as follows:

15 PETER NORMAN
The order of the day having been read for the resumption of the debate on the motion of Dr Leigh — That this House:
(1) recognises the extraordinary athletic achievements of the late Peter Norman, who won the silver medal in the 200 metres sprint running event at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, in a time of 20.06 seconds, which still stands as the Australian record;
(2) acknowledges the bravery of Peter Norman in donning an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge on the podium, in solidarity with African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who gave the 'black power' salute;
(3) apologises to Peter Norman for the treatment he received upon his return to Australia, and the failure to fully recognise his inspirational role before his untimely death in 2006; and
(4) belatedly recognises the powerful role that Peter Norman played in furthering racial equality.

Over 50 years later, and it’s faintly depressing that we don’t seem to have moved on much at all…

Up the U’s
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Letters from Wiltshire #20
at 16:00 5 Dec 2020

And finally, for now, we see football supporters return to stadia to watch elite football…well, those that aren’t in Covid-19 Tier 3 anyway. After some of the more recent performances, there are no doubt many of the faithful that would question the moniker ‘elite’, so let’s hope the U’s respond with some pride and passion today. With Essex in Tier 2, that would allow up to 2,000 in attendance, but Robbie (sensibly in my opinion) has currently restricted capacity to just 1,000 whilst he assesses how effective the measures that have been put in place will be to ensure fans stay safe. Whether we get 1,000 in remains to be seen – when the restriction was announced we had 540 season permit holders, I don’t know if we’ve sold any more since, and I severely doubt all of the permit holders we already have will attend. But, whether its 100 or 1,000, it’ll be refreshing to at least hear some crowd noise on the iFollow stream.
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