Interesting that on the eve of our Mickey Mouse game against Ipswich, the match selected is from 1994, when we were managed by George Burley. We know a song about him…
Colchester United v Gillingham Saturday 5th November 1994 Endsleigh League Division 3 (Tier 4) Attendance 3,817
Match #25 of the series, and we go right back to November ’94, and our third season since returning from the Conference. After two seasons under Big Roy, the chairman George Parker had decided that enough was enough, and George Burley was appointed to take over as manager. It hadn’t started well, with six straight defeats on the bounce (including two in the League Cup) leaving the U’s at the bottom of the league by the end of August. However, Burley started to turn things around, and after shooting up the league following a further five victories, one draw and one defeat, we went into this match in sixth place.
Gillingham were having a tough time both on and off the pitch, the team only two points outside the relegation zone, and the club beset with financial problems as well. So much so that both Burley and programme editor Jim French commented sympathetically in programme notes about their plight – Jim writing “you will have probably read in the press that Gillingham are presently facing an uncertain future, with a financial cloud hovering over them…we trust that they will overcome their latest problems and that we can look forward to many future tussles”.
This happened to be only my second match of the season, which was surprisingly few for me, but a quick glance at the previous matches shows that the fixture computer hadn’t been exactly kind to us south west exiles – even our game at Exeter had been a Tuesday night, so my only previous game had been a 3-3 draw at Torquay (I don’t have a programme or ticket for that one, so it won’t feature). My next game after this match? Away at Yeading in the FA Cup one week later, but that’s one that may well feature in the future, so no more on that for now…
The U’s lined up: 1….John Cheesewright 2….Simon Betts 3….Tony English 4….Peter Cawley 5….Gus Caesar 6….Adam Locke 7….Trevor Putney 8….Steve Brown 9….Steve Whitton 10..Mark Kinsella 11..Chris Fry (Paul Abrahams)
Given the relative proximity of the two clubs, it won’t be a surprise that there were quite a few connections between us – even George Burley had formerly played for the Gills. Names on the pitch that Saturday included Joe Dunne at no. 2 and Robbie Reinelt at no. 10, both of whom would go on to play for the U’s. There was of course also Scott Barrett, on the bench as their reserve goalkeeper that day, and Andy Arnott in the squad (though not taking part in this match). They were managed by Mike Flanagan, in his day an exceptional striker, but also home to a quite exceptional mullet…
Remember remember the 5th of November – well, it’ll come as little surprise that I really can’t remember much at all about this game, other than me and my brother-in-law were there on the barside, after a few refreshments in a very lively Drury beforehand, and with a decent away following supporting the Gills despite their ongoing troubles.
They were cheering loudest first too, with Robbie Reinelt putting them ahead after just eight minutes. It didn’t get much better for a while after either, as Chris Pike doubled their lead after 27 minutes. Incidentally, for everyone’s inner football nerd, Chris Pike is Gareth Bale’s uncle!
Under the cosh right from the start, Twiggy gave us hope just two minutes later, pulling one back for the U’s, and less than ten minutes later Peter Cawley had the chance to level the scores from the penalty spot at the Clock End. Sadly, whilst I can’t remember if he missed or it was saved, he didn’t, and at half-time Gillingham were holding on to their lead, and a valuable 3pts to ease their relegation worries.
However, Mark Kinsella had other ideas, and about ten minutes into the second half, he levelled the score 2-2…and that’s how it finished. To be honest, I can’t remember whether that was a fair result or not, but relieved as I was to see the U’s come back from 2-0 early on, I do remember thinking it was an opportunity lost to really push on as promotion contenders.
Colchester United 2 (Chris Fry 29’, Mark Kinsella 53’) Gillingham 2 (Robbie Reinelt 8’, Chris Pike 27’)
Although dropping two points at home against a relegation contender was a bit of a set-back, we were still on a bit of a roll under Burley, so much so that coming up to Christmas we were in the play-off places, and well poised to push on in the New Year.
However, you don’t need to be a Colchester United historian to know what happened next – coming off the back of an impressive 2-1 victory at high-flying Doncaster, George Burley walked out on the U’s for the managerial hot-seat at Poorman Rd. Dale Roberts looked after the U’s until Steve Wignall was appointed, but we never recovered those lofty heights, and finished in 10th place. Gillingham went into administration in January ’95, but these were the days before any form of sanction would be imposed by the FA, and they clung on to finish fourth from bottom to avoid relegation (Exeter finished bottom, but weren’t relegated because Conference champions Macclesfield’s stadium didn’t meet capacity requirements).
Incidentally, on March 4th of that 94/95 season, at home to Darlington, the U’s decided to throw the doors open for all to attend free of charge, including the Darlington supporters. In front of a bumper crowd of 6,055 the U’s won 1-0.
Whilst there appears to be a complete dearth of match reports about this game on t’internet, bizarrely I have found a grainy low-resolution video on YouTube of the corresponding fixture that season in April ’95, so I’ll leave you with that to enjoy…