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Letters from Wiltshire #24
Written by wessex_exile on Saturday, 19th Dec 2020 14:39

Welcome to our last match before Christmas. With South Essex going into Tier 3, by the time we take to the pitch at Roots Hall, it’ll be another behind-closed-doors match. With the Tier 3 boundary creeping inexorably closer, one wonders how long the JobServe will hold out and still be able to allow fans to attend. Robbie is doing all he can to make it possible for supporters to attend, and I confess I’m seriously considering our January 2nd match against Tranmere. In other news, I’m relieved to read that the FA will not take disciplinary action against Colchester United after a shameful minority chose to boo players and officials taking the knee, in the words of the EFL “[i]as they highlight the inequality and injustice experienced by the Black Community[/i]”. I noticed a tiny minority chose to boo at our mid-week match at the Abbey Stadium, but I was pleased to hear they were immediately drowned out by the remainder of the 2,000 cheering and applauding. I admit I’m a little anxious about today…

[b]Scunthorpe United v Colchester United
Saturday 4th March 2000
Endsleigh League Division 2 (Tier 3)
Attendance 4,253[/b]

Letters from Wiltshire #24, and we have a real humdinger to celebrate – a trip to Glanford Park towards the tail-end of a season of struggle, just our second season in Division 2 since promotion via the play-offs. I’ve already featured a number of matches from this season, indeed Matches of Yesteryear #27 featured our home game against high-fliers Burnley just the previous Saturday. At the risk of repeating myself then, this was very much a rebuilding period for Steve Whitton and the U’s, repairing the damage left behind by departing manager Mick Wadsworth shortly after the season started.

I was living in Salisbury at the time, and with good friends Tobin and Julie (both Preston North End supporters) living in Lincoln at the time, took the opportunity to travel up on the Friday afternoon to spend the weekend with them. This wasn’t our first football trip together, Tobin, Julie, myself and a few others had travelled over to the Abbey Stadium in 1997 for our Tuesday evening match (we were all working in London at the time). Some of you may remember that match, it was just two days after Princess Diana died, and following a minute’s silence before kick-off, we were then soundly thrashed 4-1! I missed the highlight of the game whilst on the bacon roll run at half-time, when apparently some sort of “Peoples Front of Judea” moment ended up in fisticuffs amongst our own supporters…

[b]Another one bites the dust…[/b]
After a very pleasant Friday evening around a few of the excellent pubs that Lincoln had to offer, Tobin and I drove up to Glanford Park for the match, on what was a very bright crisp day. Parking up at the stadium car park, we headed over to the Berkeley Hotel for a couple of beers pre-match. Another great football pub, and even then a bit of a rarity as it still had pool tables. It was reasonably full of Scunthorpe supporters too, who were more than happy to chat football over a few games of pool and some ludicrously cheap beer. Sadly, as with many others, although the building still survives, it is currently listed as “permanently closed”, amid doubts it’ll ever re-open. This isn’t a Covid-19 thing either, it has been closed since 2019.

[b]Names to conjure with[/b]
Suitably refreshed, we headed over and took our seats within a very sparsely populated away end at Glanford Park. Following the U’s usually involves goals at one end or the other, and leading up to this match much was being made of how long it had been since we played out a 0-0 – 448 days as it happens. Apart from a couple of periods immediately pre- and post-war, when not scoring goals was almost unheard of, this was one of the longest spells without a 0-0 in our history.

Our line-up that afternoon was:

1….Simon Brown
6….Joe Dunne
3….Joe Keith
24..Ross Johnson
17..Richard Wilkins (Aaron Skelton 46’)
4….Gavin Johnson
8….David Gregory
11..Jason Dozzell
7….Karl Duguid
9….Jamie Moralee (Lomana Tresor Lua Lua 74/)
19..Tony Lock

Scunthorpe were player-managed at the time by Brian Laws, who’d had a pretty good playing career at Burnley, Huddersfield, Middlesbrough and most notably Nottingham Forest. Laws played in the ill-fated FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough, and in the rearranged fixture managed to score an own goal as Liverpool went on to win 3-1. Looking through the squad list on the back of the programme, three names stand out – Lee Hodges, Guy Ipoua (brother of Cameroon international Sammy) and of course at no. 28, Stephane Pounewatchy. I can only assume Hodges, who the Iron had signed for £50,000 the previous summer, must have been injured, as he wasn’t even on the bench. Although one from the Wadsworth era, I actually really liked Pounewatchy and was sorry to see him go. Didn’t like him so much during the AutoWindscreens final mind…

Steve Whitton was bigging this match up beforehand, stating that "[i]these are the kind of games where we've got to be ruthless, Scunthorpe are below us in the table and the outcome of this match could prove crucial to us staying in the Second Division. We still need points to stay up despite our relative safe position in mid-table, that's why tomorrow's trip to Glanford Park is a really big game for us[/i]”.

I wish there was more I could remember about the game itself, but a combination of it being over 20 years ago, and a phenomenally dull match, there’s not much I can bring to this one I’m afraid. What I do remember is that it was clear the U’s maybe hadn’t received Whitt’s pre-match memo, as the game was played out at a fairly pedestrian pace. We had a tough game coming up mid-week at Preston North End, so I can’t say with any certainty whether that was a factor in the minds of the U’s squad? However, Scunthorpe we mired deep in the relegation zone, and I would have thought that would have raised their game at the very least. Apparently not, and maybe a clue as to why they were in that position in the first place.

Guy Ipoua was subbed after just 8 minutes – I can’t remember exactly why, but I assume it must have been an injury. More worrying, Richard Wilkins was clearly struggling during the first half, after aggravating a neck injury, and he didn’t come out for the second half, replaced by Aaron Skelton (of Layer Road netting fame) – that didn’t bode well for our chances of scoring. Brian Laws brought on Gary Bull to try and inject some urgency into proceedings, countered ten minutes later by the introduction of our own super-sub Lomana Tresor Lua Lua. Lua Lua did at least bring some life into the game, prompting Laws to tighten things up in midfield with the introduction Matt Sparrow.

And thus it continued, with neither side on top, neither side able to break the deadlock, and after 448 days, we had another goalless draw blotting our copy book.

[b]Scunthorpe United 0 Colchester United 0[/b]

In the context of where we were that season, it actually wasn’t that bad a result, particularly following on from a home defeat against Burnley, and with expectations of getting anything from our next game at Deepdale against champions-elect Preston North End very low indeed. How wrong we were, as a Lua Lua masterclass, bewitching and bamboozling the PNE defence, danced through to give the U’s a thoroughly well-deserved 3-2 victory. Back home visiting family at the time, Tobin and Julie were at Deepdale to see that performance.

[b]Mr Colchester United[/b]
For Richard Wilkins, sadly this would be his last appearance for Colchester United. Speaking after the match, Richard said “[i]if the specialist gives me any hope then I will cling on to it as long as it doesn't jeopardise my health in the future. I want to carry on playing as long as I can. Leg and body wise I'm fit enough to play for at least another two years. But my future career will hinge on what the specialist says[/i]”. Speaking very pragmatically about the future, he added “[i]I have a family to think about and the specialist will dictate what happens to me next. Whatever will be, will be, but if there's any chance I can play again this season without further damaging myself I will[/i]”.

There wasn’t, and he didn’t – though it wasn’t quite the last time I saw Richard Wilkins, that would be jammed into a packed Layer Road two years later for his testimonial match against Glenn Hoddle’s Tottenham Hotspur.

Up the U’s

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