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Matches of Yesteryear - U's v Wycombe 16/11/96
Written by wessex_exile on Monday, 2nd Sep 2019 19:27

Colchester United v Wycombe Wanderers

Saturday 16th November 1996

FA Cup (1st Round)

Attendance 4,378

For the ninth in the Matches of Yesteryear series, and for the first time, we look back at an FA Cup match, and against our auld enemies the Chairboys. One of the stranger football rivalries it has to be said, and as most of us know, occasionally a bit ‘ahem’ lively too. Most historians agree that the origins of this rivalry date back to the first ever meeting between the two clubs, in a 1985 FA Cup 1st round match at Wycombe’s former home Loakes Park, which the U’s lost 2-0.

Steve Wignall was managing the U’s for this match, and although we had pipped Wycombe to promotion from the Conference in 1992, they had since passed us en route, and were a Division 2 (i.e. 3rd tier) side when we met. At the time, the U’s were sat solidly mid-table in Division 3, Wycombe were having a tough time in Division 2, and were in a bit of a relegation scrap at the time (losing five of their previous six league games, without even scoring a goal in any of them).

The U’s lined up at Layer Rd:

1….Carl Emberson

2….Joe Dunne

3….Paul Gibbs

4….David Gregory (Tony Adcock)

5….David Green

6….Peter Cawley

7….Chris Fry

8….Richard Wilkins

9….Robbie Reinelt (Karl Duguid)

10..Adam Locke

11..Paul Abrahams

Names of note within the Wycombe line-up included John Cheesewright in goal, who left the U’s for a spell abroad playing in the Hong Kong 1st Division, before returning to sign for Wycombe Wanderers. Wycombe also started with Steve McGavin up front, who we sold to Birmingham City for £150k two years earlier, and who then sold him to Wycombe for £175k only 23 games after that. Steve would be destined to return to Layer Rd in 1999 for two more seasons. This was Richard Wilkins’ second spell at the U’s, initially leaving us as we were relegated to the Conference (we sold him to Cambridge United for £65k).

Although quite some time ago, I recall quite a bit about this match to be honest. Me and my family had traveled over to celebrate a clutch of family birthdays that occurred in mid-November, including my dear old Mum (RIP), my eldest sister, and my god-daughter. I went to the game with my brother-in-law and his son (my nephew), and I guess because my nephew was there (he was only four at the time) we sat in the Family Area at the Clock End – which I think was one of the only times I ever sat in that stand, though I had of course stood on the wonky terraces that preceded the stand many times. Leafing through my programme whilst writing this blog, I discovered my ticket for the match inside - £7.00 for an adult – if only it were that these days!

The Wycombe supporters, and there must have been about a thousand of them, were housed at the Layer Rd end. As often happens for matches between the two clubs, the barside support was swelled with many old familiar faces, the sort you wouldn’t necessarily want to meet on a dark night, even if you supported the same team! Wycombe played towards their own fans for the first half, and it was a fairly tense even contest to begin with. Wilkins blasted just wide early on, and Steve Brown miscued shortly after to lift a shot out of the ground. McGavin was also causing problems, particularly down our left, as was De Souza in the box, and gradually the Division 2 side started to take control of the game. The pressure eventually told just before half-time, when De Souza drilled home from close range after one of those goalmouth ping-pong scrambles where no one seemed to be able to get a decent foot behind the ball.

Wycombe continued to press in the second half, with De Souza again going close, but the U’s were starting to get back into the game. Wilkins put his head where everyone else’s feet were and only just missed, there was strong penalty appeal denied when Crossley handled in the box (ball to hand apparently – yeah right!), and then a cracking volley from Reinelt that Cheesewright only just stopped with his feet. However, as if often the case, with all this U’s pressure, we were always going to be susceptible to a break, and that’s what Williams did with a one-on-one on Emberson in the 65th minute, rounding him easily to tap into the open goal.

Now we come to easily the most memorable event of the day – with the Wycombe fans celebrating in a somewhat overexuberant manner, and clearly enjoying goading the adjacent barside, some of the barside decided a frank exchange of views was needed, and entered the field of play in order to do so. With several barsiders on the pitch, and amidst the general confusion caused, Wilkins took full advantage to slot home the debut goal of his second spell for the U’s, and remarkably our referee for the day (Jeff Winter) let it stand. From here on it was all U’s, with even Twiggy getting in on the act, Adcock hit the bar and Cheesewright somehow managed to palm over Duguid’s shot on the rebound when a goal looked certain. From the resulting corner, there was another one of those mad goalmouth scrambles, during which the U’s vehemently claimed the ball had crossed the line, but it wasn’t given, and the match finally finished with Wycombe desperately hanging on to their victory.

Colchester United 1 (Wilkins 69’) Wycombe Wanderers 2 (De Souza 43’, Williams 65’)

On the walk back to the car, the general consensus of opinion was that we had probably scored from the late corner, but Winter had decided to ‘even things up’ as he should never have allowed play to proceed when Wilkins scored the first goal for the U’s. As unpalatable as it is to lose against the Chairboys, particularly at home, once we had managed to get a foothold in the game, we actually didn’t play badly at all, and certainly deserved a draw against our Division 2 opponents.

Wycombe went on to beat Barnet in the second round (after a replay), and then went out in the third round at home to Bradford City. They would go on to avoid relegation reasonably comfortably, eight points clear of the drop.

As for the U’s, this was a second consecutive first round exit (after Gravesend and Northfleet the previous season), and though we didn’t know it at the time, it was going to be another eight years before we reached the third round again. After losing out at Plymouth in the play-offs the previous season, Wignall targeted the play-offs again as a minimum achievement. He didn’t quite make it, with the U’s finishing one point and one place off (sound familiar?).

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