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When Saturday Comes #19
Written by wessex_exile on Sunday, 19th Dec 2021 14:54

When Saturday Comes…and the U’s find themselves fixtureless again, following Hartlepool’s request to postpone the game because of positive Covid tests amongst their squad. To heap further fixture congestion problems on the U’s, in short order Forest Green Rovers did likewise for our already rearranged match at the New Lawn on Tuesday night, and for the same reason. They’re not on their own either, with in all (so far) four Premier League and 19 EFL matches postponed today – all for positive Covid tests in their squads.

[b]TWTWTW for U’s World[/b]
For this blog, which I confess will be shorter than usual as a result, it therefore seemed appropriate that the world at large and life inside the Col U bubble be treated as one, because the only thing dominating both headlines is the Covid pandemic. Whilst specific details haven’t been released, it seems reasonable to assume a large proportion of these positive tests must be down to the new Omicron variant – reportedly less hazardous to health than previous variants, but significantly more infectious.

It is alarming that the UK infection rates, rapidly increasing day on day, have now exceeded the post-Christmas spike at the beginning of the year, and don’t look like slowing down any day soon either. Whilst it is some consolation that the mortality rate at the moment remains relatively low, at about 100 deaths per day through December, that’s still 100 personal tragedies for bereaving families to deal with, and frankly 100 too many.

The UK is currently at about 75% of the population having received one or more vaccine jabs (I have my booster tomorrow), with the older age categories (i.e. 40+) now levelled off since more or less the middle of the year. Since becoming available to younger age groups, although vaccination levels for many age brackets are still rising, alarmingly the rates for those in the 20-39 range (i.e. most professional footballers) are likewise starting to level off.

In this context, the world of football probably shouldn’t be surprised that an estimated 25% of players in the EFL are reportedly stating they do not intend to get vaccinated. As unpalatable as that sounds, particularly given the responsibility these young men carry as role models in their community, it is nevertheless proportionate with attitudes in the general public. It is both disgraceful and selfish in equal measure, but sadly not surprising. I have no idea how Colchester United vaccination rates compare to these figures, nor indeed do I have any right to know. We’ve had a few positive cases since the pandemic began, not least Tom Eastman relatively recently, but I would hope given Robbie’s clearly stated position on Covid, and of course use of the JobServe as a vaccination centre, that these factors has been a significantly positive influence on players and officials alike.

So, what can government, or the EFL, or even clubs do about the unvaccinated. I’ve offered one suggestion already, sh’t-can every one of them to the stiffs (or better still, send them home) until they do get a vaccination. Harsh, and no doubt that would have the “you can’t take away my freedom” crowd foaming at the mouth, but whilst they hang around the socially responsible, they threaten not only the health of others, but the health of their clubs too. In time, as this situation undoubtedly worsens, I fear they’ll threaten the likelihood that this will season even finish.

Boris’s Plan B (from Outer Space?) is a typically limp lacklustre effort – proof of vaccinations for nightclubs and larger venues is good, a somewhat ambiguous mandatory but not really mandatory requirement for facemasks in most indoor settings much less so. We already have clubs like Lincoln City and Carlisle United officially reducing their capacities to 9,999 just to side-step the guidelines. The truth is, even if the Omicron variant is significantly less fatal, there is a very real threat that our NHS will be overwhelmed with hospitalisations, and all because far too many people are still refusing to get vaccinated. Needless, to say, the effectiveness of Boris’s Plan B was always going to be undermined by the parallel news of how willingly his party decided to ignore Covid restrictions when it suited their own purpose.

Of course, the real solution must be education – understand why people are refusing to be vaccinated, explain the facts and science behind any vaccination programme, and allow logic and reason to take control. There are always going to be those who for good reason can’t be vaccinated (even down to needle phobia), and we do have to respect this, but sadly most of the anti-vaxxers are simply fed on a diet of social media misinformation and conspiracy theories. For me, that’s why it’s time to get tough – if logic and reason won’t work for them, time they were ostracised. No access to social venues, no access to public transport, no access to overseas travel. It’s tantamount to bullying, and feels wrong on every level, but if the socially irresponsible can’t be relied on to protect themselves and the rest of the community, what else can we do?

[b]Stat attack[/b]
Enough doom and gloom graphs and numbers, let’s think about more joyous occasions, like for instance Christmas just seven days away. As there’ll be no more football for the U’s until Boxing Day, I thought a quick look at Christmas Day fixtures would be appropriate. I figured we must have played at least once on Christmas Day in our history but was surprised to learn that post-war and well into the 1950s it was a surprisingly regular feature of the festive period. In fact, more surprising still, often these were home and away fixtures against the same team played on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. I think I’m correct in saying that Christmas Day matches were morning kick-offs, presumably to leave time for the family turkey roast after?

The U’s have played eight times on Christmas Day between 1946 and 1956, six of these matches at Layer Road. Nearly always against relatively local sides, for good reason, Gillingham have featured three times in these matches. Likewise in the general Southern/ Eastern England bracket were matches against Queens Park Rangers, Aldershot and Norwich City, but the trend was bucked somewhat in 1948 and 1950, pairing us with Gloucester and Nottingham Forest respectively.

Overall, we’ve won three Christmas Day fixtures, drawn four and lost just one – the latter our very first Christmas Day fixture, a 1-0 defeat at home to Gillingham. Graeson’s ColuData website has included a transcription of the Essex County Standard’s report of that very first festive encounter on his match details page, which is definitely worth a read.

[b]Match of the Day
[i]Colchester United v Queens Park Rangers
25th December 1953
Third Division South (Tier 3)
Attendance 6,155[/i][/b]

[i]Match of the Day[/i] for WSC19 is a festive special, simply because I’m unlikely to be able to post anything next Saturday, what with it being Christmas Day and all that, as we go back to our 1953 Christmas Day fixture at home to Queens Park Rangers. It’s also going to be inevitably sparse on details too I’m afraid, by virtue of the fact it took place nearly ten years before I was born, and a match for which there seems to be very little record of on the internet.

What would appear to be a bumper crowd of 6,155 gathered at Layer Road for the visit of QPR. At least at first look it resembles a bumper crowd, but in truth back then our average gate was significantly higher, and this was actually quite a poor attendance in comparison. I can’t be absolutely certain, but I think only our home attendance of 6,035 against dear friends Southend United on the last day of the season (more on that later) was lower? In context, just six days earlier than the QPR game, 10,316 had jammed into Layer Road to watch us lose 2-1 to league leaders Ipswich Town.

At the time, the U’s were managed by Jack Butler, but therein lies a fascinating story. Our previous manager Jimmy Allen had resigned at the end of the previous season after narrowly avoiding re-election. With the U’s also struggling financially off the pitch at the time, on 11th June the Board appointed relatively unknown Ron Meades as player-manager – a kind of two for the price of one deal I guess. Ron’s CV included time at Cardiff City, and more recently as manager at Wadebridge Town, but local journo Arthur Wood smelled a rat and started digging. Within a few days Ron’s experience was exposed as mostly the work of fiction, and four days later the Board reversed their decision and politely asked Mr Meades to depart.

[b]Ron Meades (right)…apparently?[/b]

As a result, former Arsenal player (and Belgium World Cup finalist manager) Jack Butler was hurriedly appointed, but with very little time to prepare for the season ahead, and despite winning three of our four opening fixtures, we rapidly slid down the table and into the re-election zone after that 2-1 home defeat against Ipswich. Desperate to turn things around, Jack Butler’s U’s lined up on Christmas Day:
1….George Wright
2….John Harrison
3….Fred Lewis
4….Harry Bearryman
5….Roy Bicknell
6….Jimmy Elder
7….Augie Scott
8….Bert Barlow
9….Kevin McCurley
10..Johnny McKim
11..Doug Keene

I’m not certain who was what from the squad above, but in the context of the world at large at that time it is worth remembering that of a squad of 28 Butler had to call upon, just 16 were full-time professionals and the remainder were either part-time or National Servicemen posted to Colchester Barracks.

That being said, the match stats indicate that those who gathered at Layer Road on that cold Christmas Day were served up some suitably festive entertainment. Inside forward Herbert ‘Bert’ Barlow, signed from Leicester City for £1,000 in 1952, opened the scoring on 22 minutes. Just six minutes later another inside forward, this time Scotsman Johnny McKim (also signed for £1,000 though this time from Chelsea in 1950), doubled the U’s lead, and that’s how it stayed until half-time.

[b]Courtesy of [/b]

Into the second half, and Colchester’s dominance continued, with Barlow getting his second of the match and the U’s third on 56 minutes. Not to be outdone, inside forward Augustus ‘Augie’ Scott weighed in with another eight minutes later to make it 4-0. Augie had been signed in 1951 from Southampton by previous manager Jimmy Allen, for a then record transfer fee of £2,000. There is a degree of uncertainty here, as both Coludata and Wikipedia state that Scott’s last goal for the U’s was our consolation against Ipswich on the 19th December, but here he is seemingly scoring another. I can only assume therefore that this Christmas Day goal must have been his last for the U’s.

To wrap up the perfect Christmas present for the long-suffering U’s faithful that season, two minutes later Johnny McKim grabbed his second to deliver an emphatic 5-0 victory for the U’s.

[b]Colchester United 5 (Bert Barlow 22’, 56’; Johnny McKim 28’, 66’; Augie Scott 64’) Queens Park Rangers 0[/b]

The very next day the U’s travelled to Loftus Road for the return fixture and ground out a credible Boxing Day 0-0 draw in front of 10,674. Although heralding a brief upturn in form, and with a subsequent victory at fellow relegation strugglers Crystal Palace and then a draw at home to Newport County, the U’s clambered their way out of the re-election zone.

To no avail though, and by the end of January we were back in the mire and would stay there until the end of an abysmal season, with Barlow highest goalscorer on 10 goals. Alongside perennial wooden-spoonists Walsall, the U’s had to apply for re-election for the first time in their history. Though these things were never quite guaranteed, the U’s received 45 votes to comfortably see off any danger of being relegated, an experience we would sadly repeat the very next season, this time finish bottom of the league.

Anyway – enough of that – wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, and a healthy, wealthy and prosperous New Year!

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