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Letters from Wiltshire #14
Written by wessex_exile on Saturday, 7th Nov 2020 12:02

Welcome to Lockdown #2, and as I write this blog, an as yet uncertain future with the orange loon threatening to refuse to hand over the keys to the White House and calling on all his white supremacist mates to rise up in arms. Moving on swiftly from chump to champ, Chairman Robbie has again addressed the U’s faithful, with another clear, concise statement on the current situation and how it may or may not affect Colchester United. I know in the past he hasn’t been everyone’s cup of tea, but I do think an awful lot of people are warming to him because of the leadership he has shown through this crisis, and long may it last!

[b]Blackpool v Colchester United

7th February 1948

FA Cup 5th Round

Attendance 29,500[/b]

As alluded to in previous blogs, Letters from Wiltshire #14 is a bit of a ‘special edition’ really, covering the U’s famous 1947/48 cup run all the way through to our match against then First Division Blackpool in the 5th Round, and was prepared by our very own [b]PeterWrightsKnees[/b]. PWK actually pulled much of this together during the close season, and in discussion we decided that it would be most fitting to use it for our first FA Cup match this season (let’s face it, we might not get a second!). Hence, I couldn’t quite believe the coincidence that the random match selector for Letters from Wiltshire #13 also chose a game against Blackpool. With few, if any, still about who were actually at the game (PWK was only 18 months old himself), inevitably PWK has had to rely on the internet for much of his research.


Colchester United Football Club was formed in 1937, briefly for a time playing alongside the amateur club Colchester Town at Layer Road. With the Second World War getting in the way, this was only our sixth season in the old Southern League, playing alongside some very familiar faces as well (Gillingham, Hereford United, Yeovil, Cheltenham, Gravesend & Northfleet etc.). The U’s were managed (as player manager) by Ted Fenton, who had been in charge since the start of the previous season, though was no stranger to Layer Rd having originally played for Colchester Town in the 30s as a teenager.

Ted Fenton had a long and distinguished playing career at West Ham before arriving at the U’s, and indeed was estimated to have played over 200 matches during World War II fixtures. As a result, he had numerous contacts throughout football, and in his first season at Layer Road assembled an impressive squad of 28 part-time professionals. Some had to be let go by the time the 1947/48 season started, but he had added wisely with players such as Bob Allen, Harry Bearryman and Vic Keeble (Keeble was signed for the princely sum of £10).

Whilst 1947/48 is rightly remembered for the FA Cup run, it shouldn’t be overlooked that it was quite a good league season as well, with the U’s eventually going on to finish 4th behind champions Merthyr Tydfil, Gillingham and Worcester City. As was somewhat ‘vogue’ back in the day, there were some impressive results as well – thumping victories against, for instance, Gloucester City (8-0), Exeter City Reserves (6-0), Gravesend & Northfleet and Dartford (both 6-1), Torquay United Reserves (5-0), and Bedford Town (5-1).

There were also one or two bizarrely inconsistent results as well – for instance, Cheltenham Town beat us both home and away in the league (winning 5-2 at Whaddon Road), but were smashed by the U’s 7-1 in the 5th Round of the Southern League Cup. The U’s actually went on to reach the final of the Southern League Cup that season, but because of fixture congestion, the final couldn’t be played until April 1949, a year later – we lost 5-0 at Merthyr Tydfil btw.

[b]The Road to Blackpool Pier[/b]

[b][u]4th Qualifying Rd: 15th Nov 1947 (attendance 10,396)[/u]

Colchester United 3 (Arthur Turner 11’; Bob Curry 34’, 65’) Chelmsford City 1 (McClelland 69’)[/b]

The U’s eased past fellow Southern League team and local rivals Chelmsford City in a very one-sided affair, with goals from Turner and a brace from Curry. By modern standards, we’d give our eye-teeth for a crowd of over 10k, but in truth it was actually a disappointment at the time, with 15,000 expected (and some in the press actually predicting 18,000).

[b][u]1st Round: 29th Nov 1947 (attendance 8,574)[/u]

Colchester United 2 (Andy Brown ??; Bob Curry 80’) Banbury Spencer 1 (Tommy North 16’)[/b]

Compared to Chelmsford City, Banbury Spencer, a welfare club for a firm in Oxfordshire that specialised in surgical appliances, were made of sterner stuff, and pressed the U’s all the way. Records are unclear about the timing of Brown’s first goal, but for most of the game the factory team held the U’s 1-1 once Tommy North had equalised. We weren’t helped by missing Dennis Hillman in the line-up – his car broke down on the way to the match, and the replacement car that collected him then got a puncture, eventually reaching Layer Road just after kick-off. The roar that greeted Curry’s winner ten minutes from time was as much relief as celebration – Banbury Spencer had really pushed the U’s.

[b][u]2nd Round: 13th Dec 1947 (attendance 10,642)[/u]

Colchester United 1 (Bob Curry 72’) Wrexham 0[/b]

Within sight of the possibility of a glamour tie against top level opponents, the 2nd Round was our first taste of league opposition, Wrexham, who were then in the Third Division North. In front of another bumper 10k+ crowd, the U’s took the game to Wrexham from the start. However, it would take until the 72nd minute for the U’s to take the lead, with Curry heading home from a sublime Arthur Turner cross.

The Essex County Standard report captured the moment beautifully, as Turner “[i]…veers left and turns the ball right into the goalmouth with the dexterity of a spiv putting over a fast one on a gullible customer. Then a figure springs forward to meet the ball high up. It is goal getter Bob Curry and his perfect header sends the ball flying into the corner of the net far beyond Williams’s despairing reach[/i]”. The tension wasn’t over though, with Wrexham awarded a penalty a few minutes later as Wrexham’s star left-winger Tunnicliffe is brought down by Kettle in the box.

I will leave the Essex County Standard to pick it up from here.

“[i]Boothway then stepped forward and as he was in the act of kicking the ball from the ‘spot’ you could have heard the proverbial pin drop. What followed was incredible but true. Amid gasps of astonishment, he delivered the feeblest penalty kick I have ever witnessed in a quarter of a century of football watching. Whether he kicked the ground I do not know. But not only did the ball go straight to Wright, the Colchester goalkeeper, but he actually had to stoop and wait for it[/i]”.

There was one final twist in the tale, but fortunately no harm was done, as very late on another penalty was awarded, only this time to the U’s. Len Cater was unceremoniously flattened when racing into the box, and up stepped Turner for the spot-kick. He struck it well, but the Wrexham goalkeeper Williams was equal to the challenge, diving to the left to brilliantly keep it out. However, the U’s were still through to the promised land of the FA Cup 3rd Round.

[b][u]3rd Round: 10th Jan 1948 (attendance 16,005)[/u]

Colchester United 1 (Bob Curry 70’) Huddersfield Town 0[/b]

Into the 3rd round, and a dream tie against First Division Huddersfield Town to whet the appetite. As you all know, back when we were formed in 1937, our blue and white stripes were courtesy of Huddersfield Town. Ted Davis, appointed as the first manager for Colchester United, was a former goalkeeper for the Terriers, and it was his Yorkshire contacts that enabled the U’s to be kitted out in the same strip. As a result of the clash on this day, both sides played in alternative strips – the U’s in a West Ham borrowed reserve strip of plain blue with white collars and cuffs, and Huddersfield in red shirts and black shorts. Ted Fenton later claimed he had never lost a West Ham match whilst wearing that kit.

Over 16,000 crammed into Layer Road to watch the spectacle, and this was no smash and grab raid, the U’s were in this game right from the start. Fenton, Bearryman and Kettle were snapping at the heels of the Huddersfield attack relentlessly, never giving them a moment to settle. Up front, Hillman gave what was reported as a “[i]scintillating[/I]” display, and with Curry and Turner bamboozling the Huddersfield defence constantly, it was entirely deserved when Allen rifled in a free-kick which Huddersfield goalkeeper Hesford did well to get a hand to, but there was who else but Curry to steady himself and drill it home.

The final whistle promoted a spontaneous pitch invasion – for the first time in the history of English football, a non-league side had defeated top-flight opposition – and deservedly so too. Huddersfield Town manager George Stephenson said after the match “[i]I am quite satisfied with the result. On the day’s play, the better side won. Yours is a wonderful achievement after so short a career as a professional club. It is a great day for your team to have licked a First Division side[/i]”.

[b][u]4th Round: 24th Jan 1948 (attendance 17,048)[/u]

Colchester United 3 (Bob Curry 16’, 19’; Fred Cutting 47’) Bradford Park Avenue 2 (Billy Elliot 13’; George Ainsley 28’)[/b]

Into the 4th Round, and again the U’s were drawn at home, against Second Division side Bradford Park Avenue. The town, indeed probably much of the nation, were now firmly in the grip of cup fever following the exploits of the “giant-killers”, and over 17,000 squeezed into Layer Road for the match.

I would provide a summary of the Bradford Park Avenue match, but this British Movietone News clip does it far more eloquently than I, so enjoy…

[b]The big match[/b]

And so non-league minnows Colchester United made it through to the 5th Round of the FA Cup, the first time a non-league side had achieved such a feat, to face mighty Blackpool. This was our first away fixture of the cup run, and whilst virtually the whole town would likely have travelled to the North West if they could, we were still in the post-war days of petrol rationing, and would be for two more years hence. Although over 3,000 supporters did make the journey, many of the planned coaches had to be cancelled because of fuel shortages.

Blackpool were entering into what could be described as the golden period in their history, under then manager Joe Smith, and were already established as a very strong First Division side – as would any team be who could boast both Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortensen in their starting line-up.

Media interest in the progress of non-league Colchester United had reached fever-pitch. In a world emerging from the devastation of the Second World War, there was a real appetite for these David against Goliath ‘against all odds’ fairy tales. I’ve already used this image before, but it’s worth sharing again a selection of cartoons from the national press which preceded the match.

Bearing in mind there were no substitutes back then, on the day the two sides lined up:

Graeson’s excellent www.coludata.co.uk website includes a transcript of the original match report from the [i]Essex County Standard[/i]. It’s a gripping read, so is repeated here verbatim.

[b]MATTHEWS MADE U’S FANS MARVEL – Plucky but outplayed[/b]

[i]Most perfect of hosts is Stan Matthews, whether he is entertaining a football team at his hotel or a soccer crowd on the playing pitch. The day before the Cup-tie he was treating the “U’s” to eggs and bacon. On Saturday afternoon he cooked up something far less palatable for Colchester appetites. It was soccer a la Matthews, with plenty of sauce to flavour the dish. Grand football fare, but just a little too rich for Colchester stomachs after a diet of Yorkshire pudding at the expense of Huddersfield and Bradford.

Ted Fenton and his team-mates had stout hearts and loads of courage, not to mention a fair share of football skill. For 20 minutes in the first half – after being a goal down in four minutes – they really threw Blackpool right off their game with the speed of their tackling and their terrific team spirit. For a spell, it looked as if they might just conceivably bring off another Cup shock at Bloomfield Road.

But then class inevitably told its tale, and an electrifying five minutes which produced three goals immediately after the interval wrote finis to the Colchester Cup story. This Blackpool tidal wave completely submerged the United’s Wembley hopes and washed the sensation team of the season right back on to the Southern League bench.

Whether their epic Cup run will have supplied the Open Sesame to the Third Division remains to be seen. Although it is now a question of “back to normal”, the “U’s” have written an unforgettable chapter in the history of soccer and carved for themselves a niche in the hall of football fame. They have done great deeds at Layer Road, but neither their amazing Cup-fighting spirit nor the backing of their 3,000 rosetted supporters could enable them to cope with a side which restored one’s faith in First Division football.[/i]


[i]Disappointed as were the vast contingent of “U’s” fans, they would not have missed seeing the match for anything. Blackpool, in Matthews and Mortensen, have undoubtedly the greatest double act in the football show business. The “Two Stanleys” put up a performance which made worthwhile even the tedious 270-mile-each-way journey.

Matthews proved he still top of the bill as the supreme wizard of dribble, and Mortensen is just about the fastest thing in football boots I have ever seen. The elder but extremely fit Stan bamboozled and danced his way past a Colchester defence which must have been fed up with the sight of him – when they saw him! Sometimes he ran rings round half-a-dozen defenders at a time and only a left-winger Len Cater seemed to have any success at all in trying to stop him. As for Mortensen, he made several bad misses in the first half, but those two goals within a minute almost directly after the change-over were breath-taking efforts which struck home like lightning.

Yet it was not a two-man triumph. Blackpool – apart from that 20-minute spell – gave a brilliant all-round exhibition of First Division football at its best. If there is a real weakness in their side it certainly wasn’t obvious in this match. For once the celebrated F-plan failed to work, although this game might have been charged with more sustained interest had Bob Curry succeeded in equalising in the 14th minute.[/i]


[i]The leading-up move was typical of those which led to the downfall of Huddersfield and Bradford. The ball was pushed across to Turner, who drew the defence before slipping it forward for Curry to run on to it at full speed. The scheme worked like a charm and backs were left standing, but the Colchester captain flash ball narrowly past the far upright with only the keeper to beat. It was that United’s best chance of the match, and Bob was just unlucky.

A switch of wing-halves between Bearryman and Brown was revealed as part of the plan to deal with the Matthews– Mortensen menace, but within a few minutes it had collapsed. A game which was played in a perpetual drizzle and a pitch which quickly churned up, started with a goal at that stage headed by Munro from a Matthews corner, re-taken because a Press cameraman was in the way. It seemed that Wright should have saved the high dropping ball into the far top corner of the net, but his delayed-action one-handed punch was ineffective.

The “U’s” fought back with great spirit for the next 20 minutes, and had the Blackpool defence worried. On one occasion Curry came within an ace of scoring, Robinson diving desperately to hold a fast grounder travelling for the far corner of the net. Then Blackpool again pierced the United defence after 30 minutes when, after nearly every forward had had a shot block, Macintosh took a square pass and hit the ball first time hard and low beyond Wright’s reach.

Colchester were unlucky to be two down at the interval, and even Blackpool fans were full of praise for the display up to that point.[/i]


[i]After the change of ends came three successive shocks in five minutes which put Colchester right out of the Cup and completely out of the picture. Within two minutes, Mortensen beat three men in a close dribble from near the touch-line towards goal, and Wright never saw the shot which streaked into the far corner of the net. A minute later he added another following a free-kick by Johnston, a superlative half-back, who completed a wonderful England triangle which provided a soccer display that will live long in the memories of those who witnessed it. The third goal in those drama-packed five minutes was scored by McIntosh from a neat pass by Dick.

A little later Blackpool should have had a penalty when Matthews beat man after man in an astounding dribble before being brought down by Bearryman as he was going through the Colchester defence like a knife through butter. I am satisfied that he was fouled several yards inside the area, but the referee awarded a free-kick right on the line and this was cleared. The last thrill of the match came five minutes from the end when Munro centred and Wright was temporarily knocked out in diving fearlessly at the feet of Dick just as the inside-left shot for goal.

Hero of the Colchester defence was “Digger” Kettle, who proved more than a match for Munro, much to the obvious annoyance of the former Scottish international left-winger. The United attack was disrupted because the inside forwards and even at times the wingers had to fall back on the defence. The result was that Turner was often left to plough a lonely furrow, though both Hillman and Cater had occasional brilliant raids which spelled danger. On the day’s play, Hillman was Colchester’s No 1 attacker and Kettle their best defender.

If there was any weak link in the Blackpool defence – and I don’t think there was – it was Stuart at left-back, but Hayward was much more of an obstacle than expected, and Johnston and Kelly were delightful wing-halves, both in defence and attack.[/i]

And thus our brave and record-breaking FA Cup run came to an end at Blackpool in the 5th Round.

[b]Blackpool 5 (Alex Munro 4'; Jimmy McIntosh 30', 50’; Stan Mortensen 47', 48’) Colchester United 0[/b]

The Essex County Standard also provided various other titbits of information, which all add colour and context to what must have been a truly magnificent day.


[i]Rosettes, Bells, Rattles, Banners

if Blackpool FC was not staggered by the “U’s” attack, Blackpool itself was shattered as 3,000 Colchester fans poured into the town from dawn to midday on Saturday. Rattles, bells, bugles and the enthusiasm of the “blue and whites” so subdued Blackpool that shopkeepers, waitresses and barmaids sported the United’s colours and many people declared their allegiance to the “gallant little oysterman”. Blackpool agreed. “Not since the pre-war illuminations have we had such an invasion”.

As Colchester United trotted on to the field, they saw large patches of blue and white in the 30,000 crowd and heard a roar which equalled that from the Blackpool crows. Said Ted Fenton afterwards, “I had a choking feeling when I saw the blue and white all over the ground. We can’t go wrong as a club with supporters like that.”[/i]


[i]Before dawn broke the first Colchester contingent arrived. A relief train brought more. Then the buses poured in until blue and white was seen everywhere in Blackpool’s streets. Throughout Friday night, by train, bus, car and even aeroplane, “U’s” supporters were travelling north. They left Colchester amid unparalleled scenes of enthusiasm.

Rosetted, bell-clanging crowds descended on North Station on Friday evening. Over 100 fans had gone from the station in the afternoon, but the stream quickened as the evening wore on. Benham’s contingent were complete with a 20-ft banner, on which the famous “Up The United” war-cry was painted. Bells, rattles and the rousing cheers of the happy fans vied with the engine whistles in a pandemonium of sound.[/i]

[b]60 WERE LUCKY[/b]

[i]Disappointed fans who had reserved seats on the 15 Supporters’ Club coaches which were cancelled mingled with the crowd at Sheepen Road to see their more fortunate comrades start their 280-mile trip. The Mayor (Mr L E Dansie) was there to wish the voyagers good luck. Cyril Walker took along his accordion and, with the “Umbrella Man”, soon had the crowd singing the now-famous song of victory “Up the U’s”. Rattles were waved, bells rung, and one after the other the 11 coaches glided away on their all-night trip.

Along the route as far as Halstead groups gathered to cheer and shout “Up the U’s” as the convoy moved on its 13-hour journey. Old couples waved from lamp-lit rooms, children cheered, and villagers came out of their “locals” to raise their glasses and shout “Good Luck.”[/i]


[i]Although it was anticipated that half-a-dozen ‘planes would take off from Boxted aerodrome on Saturday morning only one, in fact, did so. This was piloted by Mr Mike Murayda, ex-USAAF officer, now residing in Colchester, who flew from Boxted during the war. Accompanying him were Mr B Woolf, the well-known businessman, Mr K J Pecina and Mrs D G Woolcombe, of Colchester.

Other flashes of the great day:-

[u]The Man Who Wasn’t’ There[/u] – One man who did not see the match was 57-year-old Mr John James Cook, a bus proprietor of Long Road, Lawford. On his way to Blackpool by bus he collapsed, received head injuries and had to be taken to hospital.

[u]Curry Gets The Ball[/u] – After the match the two teams were entertained by the Mayor of Blackpool. Bob Curry, the United captain, was presented with the ball.

[u]Hotel Coach “Ditched”[/u] – A coach conveying a party from the Salisbury Hotel, Colchester, skidded on the icy road into a ditch, but no one was injured.[/i]

[b]“U’s” £2,500 SHARE OF CUP “GATES”[/b]

[i]Colchester United’s total share of the FA Cup-tie “gates” after the Blackpool match, is in the vicinity of £2,500. From this figure, of course, has to be deducted wages and other expenses. For example, the actual proceeds of the Huddersfield match amounted to between £1,100 and £1,200, but after expenses had been deducted the Colchester club’s 50-50 share was about £400. The attendance at the Blackpool match was 29,500 and the receipts amounted to £3,200.[/i]

[b]The wrap-up[/b]

Following all the attention gained from our cup run, Ted Fenton became a much sought-after manager. It therefore came as no surprise when he was offered the role of assistant manager back at his first love and old club West Ham United. It also came as no surprise that this was something he simply couldn’t say no to, and he left the U’s during the summer of 1948.

We boast about the U's being the first non-league club to beat a first division club when overcoming Huddersfield in the 3rd round, but we sometimes also forget that, in that cup run, we also became the first non-league club to get to the 5th round of the FA Cup. It was equalled by Yeovil Town the following season (1948/49), but it took until 2016/17 for that record to finally be broken, when Lincoln City made it into the quarter-final.

Blackpool would go on to reach the FA Cup final, losing 2-4 to Manchester United after taking a 2-1 lead. As for the U’s, as a result of the cup run, we were awarded a bye straight through to the FA Cup 1st Round the following season, where we faced Reading in front of a record attendance of 19,072, in a match that was abandoned because of fog during the first half (we lost the rearranged fixture).

Colchester United would eventually receive their just reward for their exploits, promoted into the Third Division South in 1950.

And the rest, as they say, is history…

Up the U’s

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Letters from Wiltshire #47 by wessex_exile
Letters from Wiltshire #46 by wessex_exile
Letters from Wiltshire #45 by wessex_exile
Letters from Wiltshire #44 by wessex_exile
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