And so the unbeaten run goes on. Ahead of yet another vital match against a promotion contender on Tuesday night, we pay our first visit to a yet to be featured competition, going back nearly thirty years in the process. Last time in the Matches of Yesteryear series we explored our furthest distance for a ‘local derby’ match at Wycombe, this time we reflect on what must surely have been the shortest distance ever between the U’s and opponents for a competitive match?
We also go all the way back to #2 in my football memorabilia collection. By no means anywhere near the start of my journey following the U’s, that was 20 years earlier, but any programmes, ticket stubs etc. I may have had from those early days have sadly long since disappeared in house moves, clear outs etc.
Colchester United v Wivenhoe Town Saturday 23rd February 1991 FA Trophy (3rd Round) Attendance 4,923
Match #40 of the Matches of Yesteryear series, and the random match selector choses our first 1990/91 Conference season, and indeed our first experience of competing in the non-league FA Trophy. This particular match is our 3rd round encounter with near-neighbours Wivenhoe Town; by road it was a distance of less than five miles between Broad Land and Layer Rd. This was to be our first, and currently only competitive match against Wivenhoe Town, though I’m sure we have met on a fair few occasions for pre-season friendlies, not least that very season, back on 31st July 1990 (though I wasn’t there and don’t know the score).
Wivenhoe will always hold a special place in my heart, and for so many reasons. Living on Greenstead, I spent my formative years as a teenager with my mates hanging out in Wivenhoe, alternating between the bars and concerts at Essex University, the excellent pubs of Wivenhoe (whether tucked away on a Friday night in the Black Buoy, playing darts at the Station, or a lazy Sunday afternoon on the quay at the Rose & Crown), or trying to make sense of a crazy world in smoke-filled bedrooms down in the village, listening to music and sharing large ones. I lived at the Cross for nearly a year, two of my sisters lived at various locations about the town for many years, and all my closest friends (some no longer with us) lived there. There was no way I wasn’t going to be at Layer Rd to see the FA Trophy game between the two places that meant so much to me.
As a competition, the FA Trophy was created in 1969, designed to fill the gap between the League Cup and the FA Amateur Cup – many non-league sides paid some of their players even then, and were therefore ineligible for either of those competitions. Although the qualification criteria have changed a bit over the years, generally (and currently) it has been open to the first four tiers of non-league football (these days the National League, Southern League, Isthmian League and Northern Premier League). So, following our regrettable relegation into the Conference in 1990 here we were in the FA Trophy.
In the 1st round we had eased past Windsor and Eton, winning 1-0 away in front of just 727 on a cold January night. The 2nd round was slightly improved, beating Runcorn 2-0 at Layer Rd in front of 2,348. Now, there must have been a reason, which I assume was weather-related, but that season we didn’t play a league match in the Conference between 26th January and 2nd March. As a result, this game against Wivenhoe was our very next match after beating Runcorn in the 2nd round three weeks earlier. If anyone can remember anything more about this period, the weather, or anything else to do with that gap in our schedule, I’d be grateful for more information.
The U’s lined up:
1….Scott Barrett 2….Tony English 3….Ian Atkins 4….Eamonn Collins 5….Scott Daniels 6….Neale Marmon 7….Warren Donald 8….Gary Bennett (Martin Grainger) 9….Roy McDonough 10..Mario Walsh (Laurie Ryan) 11..Nicky Smith
Not surprisingly, given their proximity, looking through Wivenhoe Town past players over the years is like a Colchester United Who’s Who. Names like Paul Abrahams, Tommy English, John Cheesewright, Adrian Coote, Richard McKinney, David Rainford, Mick Packer, Robbie Reinelt and Jack Wignall all stand out. Their starting line-up for this match included former U’s Lee Hunter, Steve Wright, Phil Coleman and Steve Leslie (yes, THAT Steve Leslie). Good heavens, they were even managed on this day by none other than U’s legend Micky Cook! As a club, The Dragons had clear ambitions, and after promotion to the (then) Vauxhall Premier League at the end of the previous season, were in 6th place in their attempt to join us in the Conference.
I drove over for this match, which was also a chance to go see my Mum and family, as well as catch up with those mates down in Wivenhoe on Saturday night. In the afternoon, me and my brother-in-law started off with a few beers in the Drury, then took up our spot on the Barside in a packed out Layer Rd. Nearly 5,000 were squeezed in, helped in no small part by the many hundreds of Dragons who’d faced the arduous trek on the Eastern National 74 and 74a bus services.
The U’s, managed at the time by player/manager Ian Atkins, weren’t doing too badly in their attempts to gain promotion straight back into the football league, and were third behind Kettering and Barnet, and with games in hand. Chairman Jonathan Crisp had decided to keep Colchester United a professional full-time outfit after relegation to the Conference, and with few (any?) others on a similar footing back then, most were expecting us to return at the first attempt. Bernard Webber’s editorial in the programme, under the banner headline Hooray! Ian is staying, focused heavily on the close-call that we had apparently been through, with Atkins in the running for a post at Birmingham City. The Birmingham City manager’s job went to Lou Macari, choosing Chic Bates from Swindon as his assistant, and Atkins was thus to remain at Colchester United for the foreseeable.
I wish there was more that I can remember about this game, it was such an important moment for me, but it was also such a long time ago. I’m sure I remember it was played out in a very good-natured manner, the support for both sides excellent, and that in truth it was a comfortable walk in the park for the U’s for the most part. Without any disrespect to Wivenhoe Town, a neutral observer would never have guessed there was barely a league between the two clubs at the time.
The match facts are simple – in the 25th minute the U’s took the lead through Roy McDonough, and Gary Bennett added a brace in the second half (57th and 68th minute) to round off a comfortable victory. I do clearly remember later in the game, with Wivenhoe playing towards their own supporters in the Layer Rd end, and already 3-0 down, that they went close with a rasping shot that wasn’t wide by much. I don’t remember who took the shot, but I do remember being vaguely disappointed that it hadn’t gone in – they deserved something from the game.
Graeson’s excellent Coludata website has a pair of photographs from this game, and I’ve taken the liberty of adding both below for your enjoyment.
Hirsutely-challenged Neale Marmon in action against Wivenhoe
In truth, although there was never any question of divided loyalties – once U’s, always U’s – with Colchester United 3-0 ahead and comfortably in control, no one would have cheered louder if Wivenhoe had grabbed that late consolation goal, and I’m sure I wouldn’t have been the only one either – hell, it was a game where I’m pretty certain virtually every one of the U’s faithful that afternoon personally knew someone in the away end.
If anyone else has any memories of this game, I’d be delighted to hear them. In the meantime, the U’s finished comfortable winners of this most local of local derbies and eased into the FA Trophy quarter-finals.
Colchester United 3 (Roy McDonough 25’, Gary Bennett 57’, 68’) Wivenhoe Town 0
By this stage of the competition I had grown complacent, beginning to think this FA Trophy lark was a bit of a breeze, and already considering travel plans for our trip to Wembley in the final. The quarter-final saw us drawn at home again, to Witton Albion. With no other easy means at the time of finding out the result, nor any particular concerns, I wasn’t surprised when I learned via the Grauniad on Monday morning that we’d won 2-0. I was most definitely surprised (though I shouldn’t have been) when I discovered later that day that the Grauniad had lived up to its reputation and should have reported that lost 2-0!
After crashing out of the FA Trophy, and my Wembley dreams shattered, the U’s spent the remainder of the season chasing and failing to catch Barnet. Barnet were promoted champions, with us one place and two points behind them, condemning the U’s to a second season in the Conference. Chairman Jonathan Crisp fumed “to come second with a fully professional squad in a part-time league is a bloody disgrace and left (considerably poorer) shortly after.
Now, there are many who have multiple reasons for being severely critical of Crisp’s tenure as chairman of Colchester United, and I’m one of them – but – in this regard I do say fair play to him for at least trying to bankroll our attempt to get straight back out of the Conference. Okay, so he was also responsible for us being there in the first place, and a whole host of other nonsense in the process too, but I’m sure you get my drift.
Atkins left also, finally getting the job he wanted in the first place as Assistant Coach at Birmingham City, after Lou Macari won the Associate Members Cup for the Blues and then walked out immediately for Stoke City. It was left to Roy McDonough to step up as player-manager at Colchester United the following season – though knowing Big Roy, rather than just stepping up it was probably more likely a hefty sliding challenge with studs showing…
Big Roy heads towards goal against Wivenhoe – not sure if this is when he scored or not?
There is news on twitter, and discussed on our OMB and at length on the Exeter City forum, that apparently some enterprising Col U guerillas 'captured' (aka stole) the flag of the Exeter City Red Legion ultra group at some point this weekend.
It would appear to be the code of the Ultras movement that if a group loses their colours, they have to disband in dishonour!
Seriously, no joke - at least it hasn't been burned this time...
Have to agree, we need to turn some of these draws into victories - fix that and we'll get into the top three. I like the fact we're proving hard to beat, but need more goals. On paper, this was actually a game that I thought a point would be a good result, it's not beating the likes of Morecambe, Stevenage and Crawley that's costing us. Still, with other results favourable, we're up to 5th, 15 games unbeaten, and with 6 vital points to play for in the next week.
Whisper it, our 1956/57 record unbeaten run of 20 games is now in sight...
Track is closed, too close to the fire (and chemical fumes too apparently, it’s a dry cleaners). There was talk of replacement buses, but no time frame as to when, or how long they’d take, and of course no guarantee the line would be open by the time I wanted to head home. So, I’m on the last train (for now) back to Bristol. Ironically, I might be home in time for the ifollow commentary.
Wiltshire Branch just left Chippenham for Exeter via Westbury. I’d go with your team selection to be honest Durham. I agree that even if Junior is well enough for consideration, too soon after flu to be considered a starter.
Yes, he does continue to invest in Colchester United, eye-wateringly large amounts to mere mortals like you and I, though I don’t understand why you call that failure? He continues to invest specifically in the area he sees will be the long-term future of the club - the academy. The playing budget he has already publicly guaranteed, the club also has a pretty decent revenue stream from the likes of Little Mix concerts, corporate hospitality, club shop etc., and supporters can still enjoy exceptionally cheap tickets if they can buy in advance. We have the best squad I’ve seen for many years assembled, we’re in the play-offs poised for a promotion push, 14 games unbeaten, and just before Xmas I saw my heroes run out at Old Trafford. You don’t like the way he’s running our club, and clearly you’ll never change that opinion - personally, I’m loving it, and have a host of reasons to be extremely grateful for his continued investment.
His intent, as has been clearly stated, is to make Colchester United financially stable without his or anyone else's personal wealth being the means to do so. That's precisely why he has invested so heavily in the academy, to try and ensure we're in that place. In these days of clubs already gone to, or about to go to the wall trying to bankroll success, surely that's a pretty good intent? I get that you don't like Robbie Cowling, and that's your right, but surely you can agree that the survival of Colchester United - the club we all love - is paramount?
Two seasons - we finished 2nd, 2 points behind Barnet in 1990/91 (Wycombe were a distant 5th), and then promoted the following season, winning the FA Trophy at Wembley in the process to do the non-league double.
I guess it depends who you ask about rivals - although Wycombe has always been an amusing distraction, most consider either of the other two our main rivals. For me, it will always be Southend, because we've battled with them so often over the years. In terms of absolute hate (thanks in no small part to their condescending patronising attitude), it has to be Ipshit - which makes this so much better!
Some believe it started in our Conference years, and particularly the second season when we were neck and neck for the title. However, it actually goes back to a 1st round FA Cup game in 1985 at their old Loakes Park ground, which they won 2-0. I wasn't there, but I've read that it was marred by crowd trouble before, during and after the game.
Back then (and even occasionally these days for particular games) we had a significant element in the Barside who weren't reluctant to 'have a go'. Apparently, rumour has it that among the Wycombe support that day were a rent-a-mob from Spurs (I think?), who just fancied something similar, and they found the Barside happy to oblige.
That being said, our time in the Conference certainly cultivated the enmity, and particularly with Big Roy as our player-manager - he had an innate ability to get under the skin of almost anyone, and in Martin "Whinger" O'Neill he found someone far too easy to trigger. The two teams finished top on 94 points, with the U's promoted back into the football league with a far superior goal difference.
STOKE CITY v SWANSEA CITY 1-3 PETERBOROUGH UNITED v ROTHERHAM UNITED 1-1 ROCHDALE v GILLINGHAM 2-1 LEYTON ORIENT v NEWPORT COUNTY 2-0 MANSFIELD TOWN v BRADFORD CITY 0-2 MORECAMBE v CAMBRIDGE UNITED 1-2
Yep, I remember the "Go green for Graham" day, though I wasn't there for it...and probably would've drawn the line at dyeing my hair green if I had been - fair play to you though!
I'm pretty sure the match you're thinking of was the 2-2 draw at Adams Park in March '99, and I was there too. I have the programme, so this may well feature in the series in the future, but suffice to say the penalty was actually scored at their end of the ground - made by Neil running through with 9 minutes of extra-time on the clock (only 7 minutes had been indicated), and converted by David. It was bedlam!
Ahead of another vital match in our bid for promotion back to League 1, this time at t’other St James’ Park in Devon, we return to our previous spell at that level, and dip again into one of the odder football rivalries (given that over 100 miles separates us from them).
Wycombe Wanderers v Colchester United Saturday 23rd March 2002 Nationwide Football League 2 (Tier 3) Attendance 6,737
Match #39 of the Matches of Yesteryear series, and a first trip (in this series) to Adams Park, home of the auld enemy Wycombe Wanderers. Not my first trip by a long stretch, that was back in September ’91 to witness Scott Barrett score the winner from about 90 yards, and every visit since has always been a feisty affair. In truth, I’ve been to Adams Park so often that the trips are starting to merge into one, and it’s difficult to recall one from another – there have of course been visits to the infamous White Horse and its dubious delights, I’ve even had beers in the Hour Glass before, not that we’ve been able to do that any time recently.
However, for this trip I'm absolutely certain I had driven over, and met up with my brother-in-law at a Hungry Horse on New Road for some lunch before the match, a pub which was recommended in the Football Fans Guide. Try as I might though, in researching this blog I was struggling to find mention of the pub anywhere. However, after much digging and following a trail of breadcrumbs through t’interweb, I eventually discovered that it was yet another football pub that had slipped away, converted into a Tesco Express at some point in about 2009 or so. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, there must be mileage in a book remembering the lost football pubs of the UK?
We left my car at the pub, and drove down to one of the enterprising local businesses that were charging for parking on the Hillbottom Road – I certainly don’t remember which one, but I do remember it spared us the interminably long walk from the Hour Glass roundabout, which looks like it ought to be a short five minute stroll, and feels like a half hour trudge. As always, there was a decent turnout from the U’s faithful, considering it hadn’t been the best of seasons for the U’s, with just over 500 in attendance (I think the official figure was 505).
At this point, with six games to go, the U’s managed by Steve Whitton were 16th and all but safe on 49 points, and Wycombe were slightly higher mid-table with all thoughts of moving in either direction gone for another season. That may well have been a factor, because frankly this was probably the most uneventful match I’ve witnessed between Wycombe and Colchester – and that extended to the terraces as well (at both ends). Lawrie Sanchez was in charge of Wycombe at the time, of Ecuadorian descent, but actually played international football for Northern Ireland. Sanchez was a reasonably gifted midfielder in his day, with long playing careers at both Reading and Wimbledon, as well as his three international caps. Like many who don’t know the history, even he was slightly perplexed by the rivalry between the U’s and Chairboys. In his programme notes he comments “it has always been a mystery to me how this clash is described as a ‘local derby’ considering the distance between the two clubs”.
There is a somewhat more controversial reflection on our mutual relationship by ‘Ted’ on page 46 of the programme, which to be honest I’m impressed he managed to get past the copy-editor. Special mention to our very own Essex Girl, former visitor to these shores though…
Signed on a non-contract basis on 15th March, this was only Australian Con Blatsis’s second appearance for the U’s, after making his debut in the 3-1 home win over QPR the Saturday before. He was so recent that he didn’t make the matchday programme squad list, so I’ve no idea what number he had on his back (though I’d hazard a guess it was 33?). Also in the line-up was popular Arsenal loanee Graham Barrett. Barrett was due to return to Arsenal in May, but coming into this fixture Whitton had already made enquiries about the possibility of keeping him through to the 2002/03 season, though in his own words “I’m not very hopeful but had to ask the question”. For the Chairboys that day, plenty of players that we’ll all be familiar with through the enmity between our two clubs, including the wonderfully named Jermaine McSporran, Sean Devine, Andy Rammell, Keith Ryan (on the bench) and Steve Brown. However, the name to pick out from this match has got to be Danny Bulman in midfield. If you’re thinking that name sounds familiar, yep – it’s the same Danny Bulman who 18 years later blasted in Crawley’s opening (and ultimately consolation) goal in our 4th round League Cup match.
As for the match, certainly one of the duller encounters between the rivals, seemingly played out by two teams who were more just going through the motions waiting for the end of the season, rather than if there was anything really at stake. As one commentator on the original unofficial WWFC Gasroom website said “the only previous 0-0 draw between the two sides had come at Layer Road in November 2000 but at least that had the excitement, albeit controversial, of a sending-off and a mass brawl between players to liven up the proceedings”.
In a fairly even encounter, Wycombe were the first to show any really scoring intent, with Currie blasting high wide and handsome twice in the first quarter of an hour. It wasn’t all Wycombe though, with Rapley forcing a decent save from Taylor in goal after a jinking run into the box. This was actually after we’d lost Scotty with just 19 minutes on the clock, taken off injured and replaced by Adrian Coote. Things didn’t improve on that front, and after 40 minutes Graham Barrett was also taken off with a knee injury, to be replaced by Karl Duguid. I don’t remember it being a particularly physical game, just seemed bad luck really. Right on the stroke of half-time, Andy Rammell decided to liven up the atmosphere, with a beautiful 9.5 swan dive in the box, claiming he was pushed. Needless to say, the referee was having none of it, much to the dismay of the baying home fans (and of course our delight), and the first half finished 0-0.
Not much to report at half-time, other than one enterprising chap deciding he couldn’t be bothered to wait in the lengthy queue for the loo, and nipped into the ladies instead. I suspect he regretted that decision when he was soundly rounded on by one of the better-known (and fiercest) U’s ladies when he emerged, and given the haranguing of his life – certainly made me chuckle anyway.
Although Wycombe again started the brighter in the second half, with Devine just missing with an angled drive early on, the U’s began to really get on top thereafter, and for most of the second half looked far more likely to score what I’m certain would have been the winner. Coote in particular was causing no end of problems, including leaving Taylor in a heap that earned him a yellow card (and Taylor needing a new shirt). On 80 minutes we thought we’d finally got the breakthrough, as Coote poked home from close range to send the faithful into delirium. Unfortunately, some were still celebrating as Wycombe took the free-kick for offside, and so the match finished 0-0. Overall, it was the fair result, both teams could have snatched it, but to be honest neither team really deserved to. I certainly went home reasonably happy, knowing we’d reached the magical 50 point mark.
Wycombe 0 Colchester United 0
Though we didn’t know it at the time, Graham Barrett’s injury meant this was his last appearance in a U’s shirt. The following season he went on loan to Brighton, and following his release from Arsenal, signed for Coventry City in 2003. Although a very gifted player, including a handful of international appearances for the Republic of Ireland, Barrett was dogged by injury problems throughout his career, and eventually retired from football at the relatively young age of 28.
However, his wasn’t the only final appearance for the U’s that day – it also marked the end of legend David Gregory’s playing days for Colchester United. A talented midfielder, he had started at Ipswich, but struggled to break into the first team, and after a brief loan spell at Hereford and a handful of matches at Peterborough when Ipswich released him, Colchester United snapped him up in 1995. In the following seven years at Layer Rd, stalwart David made 226 league appearances, scoring 19 times in the process, for a year or so playing alongside his brother Neil.
Leading up to the Wycombe game, Greggors had cracked a bone in his foot (Wikipedia reckoned it was against Port Vale, but I don’t think he played in that game?), which ultimately brought an end to his distinguished playing career for the U’s. After a couple of years in non-league for both Canvey (teaming up with brother Neil again) and then Wivenhoe, he retired from playing, and joined Matt Hudson in the Colchester United media department, where he remains to this day (now almost ever-present as the voice of Colchester United in the match commentary team).
In April 2013 Greggors was deservedly inducted into the Hall of Fame, not least for scoring the winning (and let’s be frank, dreadfully scuffed) penalty to achieve play-off success against Torquay in the 1998 Wembley final – happy days, so thank you David!