|Letters from Wiltshire #05|
Written by wessex_exile on Saturday, 26th Sep 2020 13:46
Matchday #3, and Robbie’s not happy. I know opinion is divided, but I have considerable sympathy with the Chairman on this one. I don’t want this to be necessarily a political comment, but many are looking on with bemusement as the government seem to lurch from one knee-jerk reaction to another during this crisis, and I would be saying this of any government, regardless of their political persuasion. The nub of Robbie’s comments is quite simple, what’s the point in having a panel of experts working closely with responsible club owners to plan supporter’s safe return to essentially open air stadia, investing in alterations, changes to layout, developing detailed procedures etc. to then have the rug pulled out from under their feet? I know why, a second wave seems to be coming, and frankly it looks like people simply can’t be trusted to follow the rules – but why then are pubs still open, or does the virus only come out after 10pm?
Colchester United v Witton Albion
Sunday 10th May 1992
Vauxhall FA Trophy (Final)
Letters from Wiltshire #05 returns to happier times, and the U’s first visit to the twin towers of Wembley. There have been a lot of column inches in recent weeks throughout the media on the triumphant return of today’s opponents Barrow to the football league – even Durham’s excellent match preview looks back on some of the previous encounters between the two sides, so I have chosen the FA Trophy Final very specifically, as the very next match after we claimed the Conference title with a convincing 5-0 victory over Barrow the previous weekend.
I’d imagine most of you have one of these at home, mines getting a bit dog-eared now…
Auld lang syne
Before we get into the match, let’s reflect briefly on our on-off relationship with Barrow. They were formed in 1922, 15 years before we even existed, but we didn’t cross paths until November 1961, with a 1-1 draw at Layer Road. For a few seasons, the Ziggers (as they were then) were a bit of a bogey team for the U’s, and it would take until September 1967 before we finally won a match – 3-2 at Layer Rd, with Dennis Mochan scoring his first for the U’s that day. There have been several notable names who opened their U’s goal-scoring account against Barrow, including Ray Crawford in August 1970, Watney Cup hero Phil Bloss on his debut in April 1971, and Mark Kinsella no less in August 1991.
Parting of the ways…
Going back to the 1971/72 season, infamous in the collective memory of Barrow AFC, the U’s had an average season in Division 4, finishing mid-table. Grimsby won the league, with Southend, Brentford and Scunthorpe promoted alongside them. Back then there was no automatic relegation, clubs had to apply for re-election, and usually got it too. Barrow finished third from bottom, 8pts ahead of Crewe at the foot of the table (in the days of only 2pts for a win as well), and only a point from avoiding relegation altogether.
The precise detail of the re-election process is dealt with in a very good article by Ged Scott on the BBC website ( https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/52283009 ), which I recommend. In essence, the old boys network came together to decide who to sacrifice to make way for Hereford, very much in the limelight at the time thanks to Mr Radford. Sadly, unfashionable, unfancied and in particular isolated Barrow, despite finishing 8pts clear of the bottom, were voted out on a second ballot going head to head with new boys Hereford.
A brief romance…
It would take Colchester United suffering the same ignominy to be reunited with Barrow, when we too were relegated into the Conference in 1990, albeit this time there was no vote, this was straightforward off you go stuff. We drew 2-2 at Holker Street, and won narrowly 1-0 at Layer Rd (Mario Walsh scored in both games for the U’s). In the intervening years, Barrow had even slipped as far as the Northern Premier League for a few seasons, but in 1990/91 they were a reasonably solid mid-table outfit.
Much less so the following season, and whilst the U’s were sweeping everyone aside on our march back into the football league, Barrow were fighting a losing battle at the other end. Much has been written about that fantastic day at Layer Rd on Saturday 3rd May 1992, when a Mike Masters hat-trick, and goals by Nicky Smith and Big Roy in front of 7,193 saw the U’s promoted ahead of fierce rivals Wycombe Wanderers and a hilariously dejected Martin ‘Sour Grapes’ O’Neill on goal difference. Barrow weren’t so lucky, and although technically relegated back to the Northern Premier already, were officially so at the final whistle, alongside Cheltenham Town (relegated to the Southern League).
All caught up
So there we have it, Barrow’s role in our past, and context for today’s match report, our very next competitive fixture, our first trip to Wembley, and a chance to do the non-league double. I wasn’t at the Barrow game, I’d already travelled over for the FA Trophy home leg semi-final against Macclesfield, and got my pass for the Final, so I had to follow that one on Ceefax.
As this was clearly going to be a day when beer was to be taken, I travelled up bright and early on the train from Salisbury for the match. We knew that ticket sales for U’s fans had been going extremely well, so it was no surprise to start bumping into blue and white shirts even on the train up from the West Country. More so at Waterloo, and the tube journey across London, and by the time I arrived at Wembley Park (I think it was) it was blue and white everywhere. Witton Albion had been allocated the West side of Wembley, and therefore the fans favourite Green Man as their designated pub. The U’s were on the east side of Wembley, and so I headed for the Torch to meet my brother-in-law, and a whole bunch of other friends and family who’d made the trip.
The place was absolutely heaving, I’d never seen so many U’s fans crammed into one boozer. Queuing at the bar was 3-4 deep at times, and with the chanting going on, absolutely deafening as well. We took to getting double rounds, just to avoid too much essential drinking time being lost at the bar, but everything was very good natured – even with quite a few Witton Albion fans clearly reckoning they’d have more fun at our pub than theirs (and I think they did).
The abiding memory, however, was the coaches – wave after wave of packed out U’s coaches steaming past down Bridge Road towards Wembley, each one greeted with a roar from the assembled throng in the pub car park, flags waving, scarves twirling – I’d never seen anything like it in all my years following Colchester United, and it’s a memory I’ll cherish for ever.
For once, enjoy the U’s line-up as it was published in the commemorative programme:
If I thought the Torch had been mental, nothing prepared me for the sight as we walked up Wembley Way to take our seats – a sea of blue and white flags, banners, scarves all around, and the noise! To be fair, given their usual level of support, Witton Albion hadn’t done too bad either, and there must have been 6-7,000 of their supporters on the east side, and definitely playing their part to create an atmosphere. However, with an estimated 25,000 U’s fans in full voice opposite them, they had to pick their moments to be heard. The roar as Roy McDonough led out Colchester United sent shivers down my spine, and still brings me out in goosebumps when I think of it today.
We were still in full voice when Mike Masters put the U’s 1-0 up after just five minutes, and in doing so became the first American professional footballer to score at Wembley. For the next 15 minutes, we just passed it around, fully in control, and it came as no surprise when Nicky Smith doubled our lead in the 19th minute. I still see Nicky Smith around at U’s away games, in his role as whatever the modern-day equivalent of a police ‘spotter’ is called, and he’s always got time for a chat – providing we’re on best behaviour of course. Halftime, and the U’s were comfortably in control, and thoughts of refreshments – one look at the jammed concourse had me deciding to tough it out for another 45 minutes and grab a pint or two after the match in town.
Witton hadn’t been completely overawed and had come close on a few occasions in the first half. They came out even brighter for the second half, and whilst I never felt we were under too much pressure, they were enjoying far more of the ball. In the 57th minute that pressure told, with Lutkevich scoring a fine glancing header that looped beyond the reach of the despairing dive of Scott Barrett. Whilst this gave Witton Albion and their supporters a considerable lift, still the U’s weren’t to be overrun, and comfortably weathered wave after wave of Witton Albion forays. Shortly after their goal, Roy subbed himself for Gary Bennett, really a like for like substitution, but obviously on much younger legs 😊.
The turning point, if there was going to be one, might have been Jason Cook’s reckless challenge in the 81st minute, which earned a straight red card. Whilst very sad for Jason, and his family watching on, you couldn’t really argue with the decision – though it broke your heart to watch him trudge off dejected. But the U’s were made of sterner stuff, and roared on by the blue and white army, refused to buckle and took the fight to Witton Albion for the last ten minutes. We were rewarded with a minute of normal time to go, when McGavin scored the third to put the result beyond doubt, and set up incredible celebrations from the U’s Army in the stand!
Colchester United 3 (Masters 5’; Smith 19’; McGavin 89’) Witton Albion 1 (Lutkevich 57’)
The rest really is all a bit of a blur, I can remember Roy holding the trophy aloft to tumultuous roars, the lap of honour, the dancing, hi-jinks and stuff, the obligatory wearing of the lid as a hat – I also remember Jason Cook, boots in hand, being dragged out to take part by team mates. It was a peculiarly spiteful twist that red carded players weren’t eligible for a winners’ medal – so step forward unused sub Eamonn Collins – a little man with a BIG BIG heart – who gave his medal to Jason Cook!
Amidst all the celebrations, do spare a thought for the poor old Colchester Hippodrome – shirt sponsor for the U’s all the way to the Wembley final, and then ousted on their biggest day by the fat wallets of The Sun newspaper – never one to miss a trick when it came to cheap advertising.
Whilst celebrating our own FA Trophy Wembley triumph, I should also give a shout out to Barrow – they had already got FA Trophy winners medals themselves two years earlier. They’d go on to do it again in 2010, becoming the only side to win the FA Trophy at both old and new Wembley – bravo Bluebirds, and welcome back!
Up the U’s
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Blogs by wessex_exile
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Letters from Wiltshire #09 by wessex_exile
There’s enough doom and gloom about concerning the coronavirus pandemic to last several lifetimes, and let’s face it, 2020 really does suck. I’m pretty sure we’re all in need of some positivity right now, something to set our sights on, a goal if you will. Mine came to me in a blinding flash of inspiration as I prepared my wake-up mug of caffeine this morning – never, in all my years of following Colchester United, have I got even close to watching every single match of a season. I suspect I’m not alone in that, even diehards like [b]noah[/b] must miss the occasional one or two each season. Kind of thanks to coronavirus (bizarre huh) and the relaxed approach to match streaming on Saturdays, I’m currently on 8/8, today being the 9th. Why not, I thought, make it all season without missing a game? There’s a lot of ifs, buts and maybes in that, not least if we do emerge from this crisis before the end of the season and the streaming gets canned, but for now I have my goal…
Letters from Wiltshire #08 by wessex_exile
Lots of discussion this week on football forums, including here, on two subjects – the petition to lobby parliament to allow limited numbers of supporters back into football grounds, and of course the return of that old chestnut from Man City Chief Executive Ferran Soriano, introducing Premier League ‘B’ teams into the EFL. First off, I don’t mind admitting I’ve signed the petition ( https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/552036 ), as have 192,779 others at the time of writing, though I don’t actually think it’ll make any difference. I can completely understand why some do not think this is a good idea, as second-wave spikes of coronavirus infection pop up all over the country (mainly because – let’s face it – some people are dicks and can’t be trusted to sit the right way on a toilet). But to me, the two go hand in hand (not dicks and toilets) – whilst football clubs throughout the country struggle financially without spectators, we are always going to be under threat of this sort of ‘B’ team nonsense as a condition of financial support from the Premier League fat cats. They got their way in 2016 with the EFL trophy, who’s to say they won’t again when the financial squeeze really starts to tighten its grip without paying customers through the turnstiles? Robbie has featured prominently in this debate in recent weeks, and looks like he will again on Sky tomorrow if this tweet from Sophy Ridge is anything to go by - https://twitter.com/SophyRidgeSky/status/1313874336118341632
Letters from Wiltshire #07 by wessex_exile
Welcome to Matchday #4 everyone, with the U’s making a reasonably solid start to the league campaign, undefeated, two clean sheets, only one goal conceded and sitting comfortably just outside the play-offs. I’d probably feel more comfortable if we were scoring a few more at the other end, so it’s good to see Chuck getting back into action. The big news that’s grabbing most of the column inches now is of course that President Trump is in hospital with coronavirus. Now there are many out there in the social media world who consider this somewhat poetic irony, given his (mixed) messaging on the subject since the crisis began, and there are more than a few wishing that it ends very badly for Trump. I’m not one of them, but I was reminded this morning of a famous quote “[i]I have never killed anyone, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction[/i]”. Often misattributed to Mark Twain, it was Clarence Darrow in his 1932 work [i]The Story of My Life[/i]. For those, like me, who consider [i]Inherit the Wind[/i] probably the best courtroom drama ever made, Darrow was the lawyer in the real [i]Scopes Monkey Trial[/i].
Letters from Wiltshire #06 by wessex_exile
Here we are again, back in the (now) much-maligned EFL Trophy and a home tie against West Ham United U21s, and I think probably our last chance to stay in the competition? Robbie’s most recent rallying cry has been to “buy, buy, buy” when it comes to iFollow streams, and with the likelihood of supporters getting to matches receding, making streaming probably our only viable revenue stream, who can blame him. As an exile, I was never expecting I’d have many opportunities to see the U’s in the flesh this season, so he’s rather preaching to the converted as far as I’m concerned, but I do like the loyalty scheme he’s put together.
Away days by Andyconky
Many pounds have been spent and many train tracks have been travelled but who doesn't love an away day. Doesn't matter if its Chester or Chelsea or Lincoln or Liverpool, it's all good fun with a sense of adventure of what may happen.