|Matches of Yesteryear - Reading v U's 11/11/2000|
Written by wessex_exile on Thursday, 18th Jun 2020 10:49
So, after months of uncertainty, here we finally are at the start of a well-deserved play-off campaign. I say well-deserved, though in truth the play-offs ought to have been our minimum aspiration back in August. But sometimes life throws you a curve ball – no one could have predicted back then what the world was going to become, that hundreds of thousands would perish, and that most clubs today are probably fighting for their very existence. In fact, as already mentioned by MFB and Durham, no one could have predicted that were it not for a stirring 3-0 victory at Carlisle in our last match back in March, we wouldn’t have even been in the play-offs. During lockdown, I have been reassured by the honest and stateman-like announcements from our Chairman keeping us all updated, and never more grateful that we have him looking after the club.
Reading v Colchester United
Saturday 11th November 2000
Nationwide League Division 2 (Tier 3)
Match #57 of the Matches of Yesteryear series, and we go back nearly 20 years to an away-day at the shiny new Madejski Stadium, for a league match against Reading FC. In Match #10 of the series, for a subsequent visit in January 2002, I’d already reflected on my company’s role in clearing the ground ahead of the new stadium, so I’ll spare you that one a second time.
Steve Whitton was managing the U’s back then, and we were in our third consecutive season at this level. We were also struggling to adjust to life without Lua Lua, who’d been sold to Bobby Robson’s Newcastle for £2.25m at the end of September. Since when, we’d lost six out of eight matches, and were poised perilously just one point outside the relegation zone. Reading on the other hand, strongly tipped for promotion, were justifying that billing in third place, just behind Walsall and Wigan in the automatic promotion slots.
At the time my company had just started our main phase of fieldwork for HS1, so I was spending a large amount of my weekday time in Kent. Not that I was complaining, as I’d met Alfie’s mum working on the scheme, and in the words of John Paul Young, love was in the air 😊. However, that weekend I was a free man, my eldest two were with their mum, Em had returned to nursing and was on an early shift in Bournemouth, so off to Reading I went. I didn’t feel too shabby about indulging in a football trip whilst Em worked, I was after all taking her on a surprise weekend break to Dublin for her 30th a fortnight later (though of course she didn’t know that at the time 😉).
It’s a fairly straightforward journey by train, Salisbury to Basingstoke, change there and then Basingstoke to Reading. As usual, I took the opportunity for some pre-match refreshments, and had a couple of tins of lager for the journey. The first leg went fairly smoothly, drinking lager, relaxing and listening to music; in fact I was so preoccupied that I didn’t realise we were coming into Basingstoke pretty much until we arrived. At this point, I realised that perhaps a visit to the facilities was going to be needed sooner rather than later, but with no time to do so on this train, figured the station platform loo would do just as well. Except that there was no time to do that, as my connection was ready to depart and I literally had to run to make it. No problem, one of the loos on the train would do – only this was a two-carriage commuter type train, and the only two toilets on the train were out of order and locked.
Now alarm bells were really ringing!
It’s not a particularly long journey from Basingstoke to Reading, but long enough that I knew without doubt it would be too long for my bladder to hold out. There were no options to bail out at a stop on the way either, the train wasn’t stopping. My only hope of salvation was what had put me in this predicament in the first place, the virtually empty tin of lager I was still holding. Fortunately, it was not a busy train, and positioning myself as discretely as possible to avoid causing offence (ironically this turned out to be the seats next to the locked toilets), I had to utilise the only receptacle available to me.
It is a matter of some pride and tremendous relief that I managed to do so on a bouncy train (a) without being observed, (b) without a single spill, (c) with impeccable aim, and (d) without lacerating my nether regions in the process. Pressure relieved, I then had to resolve the problem of what I was left holding for the remainder of the journey and disposing of at the end of my journey. That was emptied down the loo at Reading Station – I couldn’t leave it anywhere for fear someone might think it was their good fortune that they’d stumbled on a freshly opened tin of lager.
Naturally, I celebrated the close escape with a couple more beers at the station bar, and then headed out to the ground. Still got the ticket for this one too.
The U’s line-up that afternoon was:
8….David Gregory (Joe Dunne 45’)
10..Steve McGavin (Tony Lock 81’)
Without doing a bit of research, I’m not exactly sure what Barry Conlon’s squad number was for the U’s. This was his loan debut, so he isn’t listed in the matchday programme. Nor indeed was Andy Woodman, who was also making his debut – but Andy would go on and sign for the U’s, so our 2000/01 Wikipedia page provides his squad number. To provide context, Andy Woodman first met his teammates at the hotel on the Friday evening! Lining up for the Royals that afternoon was a breath-taking array of talent, many of whom being names we were all familiar with at the time – Adrian Viveash, Martin Butler, Lee Hodges, and of course our very own Jamie Cureton and Phil Parkinson. It was rumoured that they had over £1m of talent on the bench alone, so despite my pre-match Dutch courage, I really wasn’t expecting too much out of this game if I’m honest.
I can’t remember too many specifics from the game, but I do remember I needn’t have been so concerned. Right from kick-off we took the match to our wealthy opponents, with scant regard to our relative league positions, and quite frankly at times Reading struggled to contain us in the first half. It was one of those heady combinations of genuine flair at times, real passion for the cause, and when needed simply guts. Given their reputation, I don’t think Reading were that used to teams really having a go in their own backyard, and just didn’t know quite how to handle it. Our first half performance was capped off in the 38th minute by a blistering unstoppable 30-yard thunderbolt from Gavin Johnson to give the U’s the lead. This was his first for the U’s, and as the Gazette commented at the time “worthy of winning the World Cup itself”.
I was never confident we could keep control of the game into the second half, and with Reading manager Alan Pardew bringing on both Sammy Igoe and Tony Rougier at half-time, their class did start to show. But the U’s were resilient – Whitton also made changes, sacrificing David Gregory for Joe Dunne at half-time, and we entered into our gritty determined phase. The back four and five-man midfield simply refused to buckle, with Alan White in particular throwing himself into every tackle. Steve McGavin chased every lost cause that was punted his way, until utterly exhausted he was subbed with less than ten minutes to go, and despite all the pressure we hung on for an incredibly valuable – and spirited – 1-0 victory away at league high-fliers Reading FC. It’s worth emphasising too, without picking up a single booking.
Reading 0 Colchester United 1 (Gavin Johnson 38’)
This result stopped the rot for the U’s, and in the league at least we went unbeaten until Christmas, winning four out of five in the process to get within sight of the play-off zone. However, the least said the better about our FA Cup 5-1 defeat at non-league Yeovil just a week after the glories of Reading. Our recovery didn’t last, and after being smashed 6-1 at Millwall on Boxing Day, we started to slip back and eventually finished lower mid-table.
We did manage to do the double over Reading in the process though. Those six points cost the Royals automatic promotion, and although they made the play-offs, they lost the final 3-2 to Walsall after extra time.
I do sometimes wonder whether this game ever had any bearing on Cureton’s or Parky’s decision to join Colchester United, whether that afternoon they saw a spirit, togetherness, self-belief that made them think – “you know what, this is the sort of club I could play for?”
Later today, we embark on probably the most surreal chapter in certainly my history of following the U’s, and if in the years to come any of my children see fit to provide me with grandchildren, I look forward to boring them relentlessly about it 😊
In the meantime, I’m looking forward to seeing my place amongst John McGreal’s Cardboard Army!
Up the U’s
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