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Letters from Wiltshire #26
Written by wessex_exile on Tuesday, 29th Dec 2020 18:18

Well, after a piss-poor Xmas period so far for the U’s, culminating in the Roots Hall horror show on Boxing Day, let’s hope the U’s have burned off those festive calories and are raring to go. They’ll certainly have to be at their best against a Cheltenham side aiming to force their way into the automatic promotion places. In other news, we now finally have confirmation that there will be a trade deal in place with the EU once Brexit arrives in 2021. It remains to be seen whether it’s a good deal or not, and more to the point, who for, but at least it’s not the economic uncertainty of no-deal.

[b]Colchester United v Huddersfield Town
Tuesday 24th September 1996
Coca Cola Cup (2nd Round, 2nd leg)
Attendance 4,095[/b]

And so, for our last match of 2020, the random match selector for Letters from Wiltshire #26 has chosen the very first League Cup match in my memorabilia collection. Certainly not my first League Cup match by any measure, that goes right back to at least the 4th Round home game against Southampton in the 1974/75 League Cup, but this is the furthest back that I still have a matchday programme for. As with pretty much all League Cup matches, for all time, this was a midweek fixture, at home to Huddersfield Town in the 2nd leg of the 2nd Round.

[b]How so?[/b]
As I’ve mentioned previously, midweek matches at Layer Road are always slightly incongruous as far as my memorabilia collection is concerned. By rights, given both the travelling distance involved, and invariably needing to work both on the day before the evening kick-off and again the following day, evening games really shouldn’t be a possibility for me normally. However, context is everything, and this match happened to coincide with the first phase of a very large archaeological excavation at Imperial College Sports Ground, Harlington – just north of Heathrow. We were staying up in London during the week, using self-catering accommodation in Maidenhead, which just about put me in range of Layer Road following a full day on site.

[b]The archaeology bit[/b]
Forgive the brief indulgence, but Imperial College Sports Ground (site code IMC96) turned out to be one of the more important, and certainly archaeologically significant archaeological investigations it has been my pleasure to direct. The site was a large gravel quarry right opposite Chelsea’s former training ground on Sipson Lane, and so we were getting pretty blasé about bumping into the likes of Petrescu, Lebeouf, Vialli, Wise, Di Matteo, Zola, Gullit etc. We were also still there when Matthew Harding died in the helicopter crash less than a month after this match, and witnessed the hundreds of scarves, shirts, flowers and other mementoes that were festooned on their gates by supporters.

This was a large quarry, and the IMC96 site eventually ran for five consecutive seasons before being exhausted, finishing in 2000. By this time we had uncovered an incredible complex of archaeological remains including Neolithic and Early Bronze Age enclosures, barrows and other monuments (red), a Later Bronze Age field system and water holes (mustard yellow), Late Iron Age (dark blue) and Romano-British (lilac) settlement focused on a hitherto unknown Roman Road heading north west from [i]Londinium[/i], and both Saxon (cyan) and medieval (lime green) settlement and field systems.

On a lighter note, Marcus Brigstocke also decided to film one of his [i]We Are History[/i] episodes at the site in 1998, whilst we were excavating the three Early Bronze Age barrows more or less central within the site. If you haven’t seen these, they could best be described as an affectionate parody/ homage of Time Team, but you can of course decide for yourself, as the IMC96 episode (including your truly) is still available on YouTube.

[b]The journey to here[/b]
[b][i]Literally[/b][/i] – I drove over for the game straight from work, which only gave me ten minutes to pop in for a quick coffee with my Mum before the match. Driving back straight to our accommodation in Maidenhead after the match meant for once I had to forgo the pleasure of a pint or two in the Drury, so after parking up on Gladwin Road, I met up with my brother-in-law Steve on a reasonably full Barside terrace.

[b][i]Figuratively[/b][/i] – as a Third Division side at the time, our 1st Round two-legged draw was a tricky one against First Division West Bromwich Albion. It looked even trickier when they beat us 3-2 in the 1st leg at Layer Road (I wasn’t there), and no one really gave us much hope of turning things around at the Hawthorns. However, in a blistering 2nd leg display that I’m really sorry I missed, we were 3-0 in the lead less than ten minutes into the second half, and although WBA did get one back with seven minutes to go, we held on for an unlikely 5-4 aggregate victory. The real story of the night, however, was our then ‘keeper Canadian Garrett Caldwell had to go off injured at half-time (tore his thigh muscle taking a goal kick), and without another goalkeeper on the bench, Steve Whitton volunteered to go in goal for the second half.

The 2nd Round draw wasn’t much kinder, again against First Division opposition, this time against our shirt donors Huddersfield Town. Drawn away for the 1st leg, a goal a-piece either side of half-time gave the U’s a very respectable 1-1 draw at the new McAlpine Stadium, to set things up nicely for this 2nd leg match. As Chris Hazlehurst (CUSA) commented in the programme “[i]…as far as the match at Huddersfield was concerned it proved to be another splendid team effort and most travelling fans found difficulty naming a man of the match[/i]”.

[b]The match[/b]
Our line-up for the 2nd leg was for once exactly as listed on the back of the programme:

1….Carl Emberson
2….Joe Dunne (David Gregory)
3….Simon Betts (Steve Whitton)
4….Tony McCarthy
5….David Greene
6….Peter Cawley
7….Adam Locke
8….Robbie Reinelt
9….Chris Fry
10..Tony Adcock (Karl Duguid)
11..Richard Wilkins

Huddersfield were managed at the time by Brian Horton, who had joined the Terriers a year earlier after two seasons managing Manchester City. Their line-up that evening was pretty much a first XI, and included their record £1.2m signing Marcus Stewart (from Bristol Rovers), recently signed Andy Payton (from Burnley, for a not inconsiderable £325k), and experienced midfielder Paul Reid. Breaking news for the U’s was the eventual and inevitable sale of Mark Kinsella to Charlton Athletic at the end of the previous week. At the time the fee was undisclosed, but it was eventually announced (leaked?) to be £150k. Obviously at the time a sizeable fee for a club of our size, but with the benefit of hindsight it does seem such a paltry amount.

There’s not a great deal I can remember about the match itself I’m afraid, other than a lasting impression that is was a pretty even game. Given Huddersfield were two divisions above the U’s, and we were struggling in the Third Division (at the time just eight points from the first eight matches), this was a very creditable performance. The U’s held their own, and on occasions even pressed Huddersfield, and at the end of both half-time and normal time the match was still 0-0.

I can’t remember what the rules on away goals were for the League Cup back then, but clearly they didn’t count double, or we would have been through to the 3rd Round at that point. I’m not certain if away goals might have counted after extra-time, but it proved to be a moot point. In the 8th minute of extra-time, that man Marcus Stewart finally broke the deadlock for the Terriers. Five minutes into the second period of extra-time, with the U’s pressing for an equaliser, Huddersfield finally sealed the match, with substitute Simon Collins making it 2-0 – and no way back for the U’s.

[b]Colchester United 0 Huddersfield Town 2 (Marcus Stewart 98’; Simon Collins 110’)[/b]

As heart-breaking as it was to go out of the League Cup in extra-time like that, considerable comfort could be taken from four very spirited performances against First Division opposition. Huddersfield crashed out of the competition the following round, losing 5-1 at eventual finalists Middlesbrough (Middlesbrough lost the replayed final 1-0 after extra time to Leicester City).

Although not immediate, the spirit shown by the U’s eventually started to turn our season around, and following a run of 18 matches unbeaten between October and mid-February, we ended up narrowly missing out on the play-offs by one place and one point (sounds familiar ☹).

Garrett Caldwell did eventually recover from his thigh muscle tear, and played once more for the U’s the following season (a 2-0 home league victory over Torquay United), before returning to Canada to play for Toronto Supra.

Incidentally, in other news, at the end of the 1996/97 football season, tonight’s opponents Cheltenham Town (under the ever-charming Steve Cotterill as manager) finally gained promotion to the Conference. They finished a distant second to champions Gresley Rovers, but capitalised on Gresley’s ground not meeting the required standard to pinch the promotion place.

Up the U’s

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