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When Saturday Comes #7
Written by wessex_exile on Saturday, 25th Sep 2021 17:57

Well that didn’t go as planned at all – after a stirring battling performance full of grit, character and togetherness with the small band of travelling supporters at Barrow, the U’s then finally returned back to the JobServe and completely failed to turn up against bogey side Crawley. They weren’t the only ones either, Hayden Mullins was absent as well, and we have since learned he has Covid-19 and will also miss tomorrow’s game at Swindon too – I know we all wish Hayden a speedy recovery. Fortunately, I won’t be missing the match, with tickets arriving last weekend – first live game for best part of 18 months, and I can’t bloody wait!

[b]TWTWTW and closer to home[/b]
There has been quite a bit of social media activity and speculation around Richard Kone over the last week or so, particularly as he has now scored 17 goals in just ten games for Athletic Newham. Obviously a rare talent, albeit he’s operating at the 9th tier of the Football League, this is the sort of form that makes people sit up and take notice. I strongly suspect he’d be nowhere near as prolific up against solid, professional, fit, highly technically skilled League 2 defenders, but his current form is nevertheless impressive. However, for this blog it therefore made sense to me in combining the wider world view and closer to home in one section.

As I’ve mentioned on other threads, I got the impression (I think from something I read on Twitter, Facebook or the OMB) that the stumbling block to us or anyone else signing Richard Kone on a professional contract was down to Home Office work permits – so I’ve looked into this a bit more. Now, I don’t present this fact, because I’m not involved, have no knowledge of conversations that may have or be happening between Kone, his agents, football league clubs and/or the Home Office. Nor do I even know whether we still have any interest in trying to sign him either, I’m just presenting what I can glean as the current situation regarding non-EU footballers.

Until Brexit, the UK was within the area covered by the “Schengen Agreement”, allowing free movement for EU citizens between all countries within the area. This meant that professional footballers (therefore considered ‘workers’) could move freely between member states without the need for work permits or visas. Young players in particular were also covered by the Bosman Decision, again allowing them to sign for any club within the EU if they were no longer under contract. Previously the issue was clubs retaining the registration for players they no longer had under contract, the Bosman Decision fixed this, whilst also deeming quota systems dictating how many footballers from other member states could play for a club unlawful. It is my understanding that Bosman still stands despite Brexit, but non-UK footballers do now need a work permit/ visa to play in the Football League – but I don’t think there are specific criteria making this a daunting prospect.

On the other hand, every non-EU footballer like Richard Kone who wants to play in professional football in England must have a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) from the FA before the Home Office will consider issuing a work permit to do so. There are sound ethical reasons why as well – the Premier League will generally shop within the EU for their young talent and can afford to do so given the prices usually demanded. Outside the EU, in areas which might be considered more ‘third world’, non-PL clubs can (and indeed were) hoovering up young footballers at a fraction of the cost, creaming off those with clear potential, and throwing the rest on the scrap heap.

As a result, barely half of those brought in from non-EU countries and given work permits made it as professional footballers. To tighten up procedures, eligibility for a GBE was amended in 2015, and the criteria is now a sliding scale based on the official FIFA ranking of their home nations, and the proportion of international matches they have taken part in, as follows:


[b]© https://www.inbrief.co.uk/football-law/footballer-work-permits/[/b]

For players under 21 the qualification period reduces to just the past year, but still the system is clearly weighted to recognise established talent. The criteria also recognises that the higher the FIFA ranking, the harder it might be for non-EU players to gain sufficient international caps. This is the problem that Mike Masters and the U’s came up against back in 1992 when gaining promotion back to the Football League – he just hadn’t played enough international matches (zero at the time) to qualify for a Home Office work permit. Ironically, whilst still technically under contract to the U’s, Masters gained his one and only cap playing for the United States, coming on as a 59th minute sub against Ukraine on June 27th, to become our first full international. Kone is from the Ivory Coast, who last time I checked had a FIFA ranking of 54, so given he is only 19, he will have had to have played in 75% of Ivory Coast’s internationals over the last year. I’m pretty certain he hasn’t played in any.

However, he has appeared for an Ivory Coast national side, in the most recent Homeless World Cup in Cardiff two years ago – I presume the 2020 (and maybe 2021?) competitions were cancelled because of Covid. The Homeless World Cup is a 4-aside international tournament (two tournaments actually, with men’s and women’s competitions played alongside each other) in which national sides compete, with eligibility to play being:
[i]1) Over 16;
2) Not played in a HWC tournament before; and
3) One of either (1) homeless at some point in their life, (2) making a living as a streetpaper vendor, (3) be an asylum seeker, or (4) currently in drug or alcohol rehabilitation.[/i]

Seventeen at the time, Kone was very open about his sexuality, and discussed it during an interview at the competition (https://homelessworldcup.org/i-dont-think-of-much-else-but-football-at-the-moment/). Whilst homosexuality is not illegal in the Ivory Coast, homosexuals are still the subject of stigmatisation, beatings, imprisonment, abuse and extortion – by friends, family, even the police. At the time Kone had been disowned by his parents (he has since reconciled with his mother) and was living on the streets. Whilst on the streets he was introduced to the president of the Ivory Coast street soccer [i]Don’t Forget Them Association[/i] who persuaded him to train hard, win a place in their Homeless World Cup squad, and before he knew it was on the plane to Cardiff.

I’m not certain how many of the 14-minute long games Richard played in, or how many goals he scored, but I do know Ivory Coast won their first game scoring 16 goals. Both the men’s and women’s tournaments were won by Mexico, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise – since 2012 Mexico’s men and women between them have won 11 of the 16 tournaments. In the year that Richard Kone took part, Ivory Coast came 27th out of 44 participating teams – their best performance in the competition. England came 30th, and I’ve found a very grainy screenshot of the match between Ivory Coast and England from that competition.


[b]If you can’t read it, Ivory Coast 6-0 up with less than 4 minutes to play[/b]

So, what does this all mean? Well, first off like I said this is just my supposition and what I can glean from the internet, I’m not presenting it as fact and don’t claim any sort of secret squirrel insider knowledge. But, it would appear that the stumbling block to us or anyone else signing Richard Kone on a professional contract is that he doesn’t qualify for a GBE from the FA, and can’t therefore get a work permit to play professional football. Of course he can get a work permit (and presumably has) to work generally in the UK on a day-job and then turn out as an amateur for Athletic Newham (or any other non-professional amateur side), but until he starts picking up international caps for Ivory Coast, it looks like the Football League will have to wait to see what he can do at the highest level.

[b]Stat attack[/b]
I’ve mentioned previously that we have a very long history of facing Swindon Town, behind Gillingham on 101 matches, they are our joint second opponent along with Exeter City and Peterborough on 85 matches in all competitions. Honours are fairly even overall, the U’s winning 34, drawing 19 and losing 32. We first faced each other back in Division Three (South) on 23rd August 1950 at the County Ground, drawing 1-1 under manager Jimmy Allen.

It would take until January 1953 to finally record our first victory in Wiltshire but thereafter it was not usually a place to visit with high expectations. In fact, from 1953 right the way through to 2005 we only won four more matches at the County Ground, with three of those under Bobby Roberts in the mid- to late-70s. However, in 2005 something changed – don’t quite know what, but since then in 12 visits to the County Ground the U’s have won 6, drawn 3 and only lost 3.

Obviously I’ve been to most of them too, and there are so many favorites to remember – collecting stadium petition signatures in the County Ground Hotel back in 2005 followed by that very first modern era 3-0 victory. Alfie’s first ever football match (with Sam as well) for the 3-1 victory in 2008, the gripping 3-2 comeback just before Christmas in 2017 – and who can forget the utterly dejected ballboy lashed to the mast in the face of a Force 10 during our spirited 0-0 in 2014.

Digging through my archives, I have found a short video from the end of Tony Humes’ 2-1 victory in 2015, including if I’m not mistaken the dulcet tones of our very own [b]Noah[/b] for your delectation and delight 😊.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/183429915@N03/51511496221/in/dateposted-public/

[b]Match of the Day
[i]Stevenage v Colchester United
31st December 2016
Sky Bet League Two (Tier 4)
Attendance 3,076[/i][/b]

For WSC07 I return to the random match selector, which goes back to New Years’ Eve 2016, and a visit to Stevenage, for which I don’t have a programme but do still have Alfie’s ticket stub. This was the first season that the Football League had been rebranded the English Football League, and our first season back in the basement after relegation. After a decent start to the campaign, which kept the U’s in and around the play-offs, the wheels well and truly came off in mid-September, without a single victory from then right through to late November which left the U’s in the relegation zone for a return to non-league football.

John McGreal, in his first full season in charge, managed to turn things around, and with four victories and a draw from our next five games, propelled the U’s right back up the table to the very edge of the play-offs again. Expectations were therefore high as I drove over to Stevenage with Alfie, meeting up with my mate Jon at the railway station before taking our places amongst what must have been at least 500 U’s supporters, still full of festive cheer and no doubt looking forward to a bit of a knees up on the tiles that night.

The U’s lined up:
1….Sam Walker
6….Frankie Kent
18..Tom Eastman
15..George Elokobi
2….Richard Brindley (Lloyd Doyley 93’)
11..Brennan Dickenson
7….Drey Wright (Tariqe Fosu-Henry 74’)
4….Tom Lapslie (captain)
22..Owen Garvan
28..Kurtis Guthrie
17..Denny Johnstone (Chris Porter 46’)

Everyone’s bete noire (though he wasn’t at the time) Kurtis Guthrie started up front alongside Denny Johnstone in what transpired to be more of a 3-5-2 than the 4-4-1-1 that was predicted by many. We didn’t have to wait long to see how effective it was going to be either, with Dickenson stooping to glance home Garvan’s corner on 15 minutes. It had been a fairly even context up to that point, with both sides (particularly Elokobi) having chances.

The U’s didn’t sit back either, and just four minutes later Guthrie made and then converted a penalty to make it 2-0. Watching live at the ground, from the far end, it just looked clumsy, but the replay shows it was simply terrible defending, with goalkeeper Jones eventually being identified as the responsible party, though his ineffectual defender certainly didn’t help. Albeit it’s from the opposite end, here’s my video of the conversion.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/183429915@N03/51511493806/in/dateposted-public/

We were on a roll and roared on by the supporters the U’s went looking for more. Guthrie nearly grabbed one just two minutes later, latching on to a weak headed backpass, but Jones pulled off a double save from Guthrie and Brindley on the rebound to keep Stevenage in it. Stevenage were beginning to carve out their own chances; with ten minutes to halftime Godden flashed a 25 yard shot just over the bar, and a few minutes later Kent made up for his own mistake to deny the same player in the penalty area. On 41 minutes the pressure finally told, with Schumacher’s excellent free-kick being met powerfully by the head of Kennedy, giving Walker no chance and halving the deficit.

We managed to hang on to the 2-1 lead through to halftime, when all the chat was do we park the bus or try and kill the game with a third. Neither as it turned out, and although Chris Porter was bought on to replace an injured Denny Johnstone, barely six minutes into the second half Godden shrugged off Kent’s ineffectual challenge to lash home past Walker and level the scores. As dispiriting as it was, the second half turned into a thrilling game of football, proper end to end stuff with both teams looking for the winner.

With just under ten minutes to go we got the reward we deserved, when Fosu’s shot was blocked on the edge of the box, Brindley scuffed a follow up which I’m sure was going wide, but out snaked the long leg of Chris Porter to turn it into the net and send the faithful into raptures! And we weren’t done either, in the first minute of extra-time, with Stevenage chasing another equaliser, the U’s broke and Fosu tore into the penalty area, turning his defender inside out before blasting home a peach of a left-footer inside Jones’ near post – and that was that – New Years’ Eve bedlam began in scenes reminiscent of Barrow.

[b]Stevenage 2 (Ben Kennedy 40’; Matt Godden 51’) Colchester United 4 (Brennan Dickenson 15’; Kurtis Guthrie 19’p; Chris Porter 81’; Tariqe Fosu-Henry 90+1’)[/b]

The U’s would go on to win the next two as well, including a Guthrie hat-trick at home to Carlisle, John McGreal was rightly awarded the December Manager of the Month award, and by mid January we were firmly back in the play-offs. But this was going to be one of those irritating blowing hot and cold seasons, and from then through to early April we lost far too many matches to maintain a firm challenge for the play-offs.

Not giving up, McGreal rallied the U’s for a late push and six matches at the end of the season nearly did it, leaving the U’s agonisingly one point and one point outside the play-offs. It’s easy to point to a single moment and say “that’s when the damage was done” when in reality the damage is done throughout a 46-game season, but dropping two points at Morecambe to a soft penalty equaliser in the 88th minute of our fourth from last game – and scored by Michael Rose of all people, really did hurt.

For those who weren’t there, enjoy the Stevenage highlights.

Up the U’s




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