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When Saturday Comes #29
Written by wessex_exile on Sunday, 13th Mar 2022 13:52

[i]When Saturday Comes[/i] and the U’s face a vital game against the current worst side in the Football League, Scunthorpe United, at Glanford Park. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is one of those ‘6-pointers’, because frankly I think Scunnie look doomed already – nine points adrift of safety, ten really when you consider their dreadful -35 goal difference, and just two points from their last 15 available. But, any sign of complacency will be our downfall – the U’s must build on their stirring victory over promotion hopefuls Port Vale and put further distance between ourselves and the relegation zone.

[b]Durham[/b], [b]Gerry[/b], [b]Noah[/b] and Mr and Mrs [b]Witham[/b] will be there cheering them on, as will no doubt hundreds more of the faithful. Let’s hope by 5pm their efforts have been rewarded – another Dallison set-piece stunner will certainly do the trick. We must be wary though, Scunthorpe have never dropped out of the league in their history, and they’ll be fighting tooth and nail to avoid doing so this season.

To say world news is currently being dominated by the war in Ukraine is a bit of an understatement. Joe Biden has reaffirmed that the US “[i]will not fight in Ukraine[/i]”, and with good reason unfortunately. To pit NATO forces against a Russia army under the control of serially unhinged dictator Vladimir Putin would basically mean World War III, and there will be no winners only losers in that.

How then can the Russian war machine be halted? Well, the global economic and social isolation of Russia will help – Putin may not care, but enough of the oligarchs and average Joe people on the street might, and let’s face it, Russia has a long history of finding ways to remove people they no longer want around – just ask Salisbury.

[b]This is what a dictator looks like[/b]

One person certainly feeling the pinch is Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who has had all his assets frozen by the UK government. He has put the club up for sale, but sanctions now prevent him from selling it. The Chelsea credit card facilities have been suspended while banks consider the implications of those sanctions, and match ticket sales have been suspended (though season ticket holders can still attend). Chelsea fans unfortunately showed their complete and utter lack of any class whatsoever when chanting Abramovich’s name through a minute’s applause for Ukraine at Burnley last weekend.

On the more light-hearted side of sabre rattling and posturing, India has apologised to Pakistan after what they described as a “[i]regrettable technical malfunction[/i]” resulted in them firing a missile into Pakistan. Islamabad has promised “[i]unpleasant consequences[/i]” if it happens again, describing the incident as a “[i]high-speed flying object[/i]” which crashed near Mian Channu. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the incident.

[b]U’s World[/b]
In the rarefied air of U’s World, media attention has understandably focused on Robbie Cowling’s decision to donate all of the matchday ticket sale proceeds for our Sky TV televised game against table-toppers Forest Green Rovers to the British Red Cross, who are supporting the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. Regardless of your view on Robbie, that is a classy decision and a half, and has captured the attention and support of many.

I’ve bought a ticket, even though I can’t be there (it’s in W8 if anyone knows anyone who wants it – PM me), and I know many others here and elsewhere have done likewise. Friends of mine with absolutely no affiliation with either club or indeed football in general have bought tickets, and a JustGiving page set up by the club for people to make donations has already raised nearly £1,000 (including a very generous donation from one of the U’sual – you know who you are sir!).
[b]Please spare every penny you can[/b]

Cloud FM, box holders at the JobServe and sponsor of Essex County Cricket, have joined the appeal, purchasing 100 tickets to be distributed among their staff and families, and everything is building nicely for a decent crowd on Monday 21st March – even if some of them will be virtual attendees watching on from afar.

I’m looking forward to seeing the blue and yellow ‘special kit’ that the U’s plan to wear (I assume the EFL has given us permission to do so, haven’t heard anything to the contrary anywhere). I’m hoping it’s going to be the loyal supporter blue and yellow striped design that was a voting option for our game against Southend United – I liked that one, and will gladly put a few cheeky bids in when they come up for auction after the game.

[b]Stat attack[/b]
I wouldn’t go so far as to classify Scunthorpe United as one of our bogey sides, but over the years since we first met back in November 1964 at their then ground, the Old Show Ground, we’ve played 66 times and lost 26 of them, drew 22 and won only 18. Worse still, in more recent times since the 1996/97 season, we’ve won just three games, losing nine and drawing 12. However, two of those three wins were last season and this season, and as [b]Durham[/b] has pointed out in his excellent match review, today we have an opportunity for what would be our first (possibly only?) double of the season.

The U’s record win against the Iron was under Cyril Lea, a 5-1 victory at Layer Road back in 1983. The highest-scoring game is tied between Steve Wignall’s entertaining 4-3 victory at Glanford Park in February 1995, and Mike Walker’s humiliating 5-2 defeat in November 1986 – our last ever visit to the Old Show Ground.

Formed in 1899, the Iron (named after the now almost non-existent steel industry in the town) originally played at the Old Show Ground (now a Sainsbury’s, though originally a Safeway supermarket). Beset by various calamities, not least two devastating fires and various financial problems through the 70s and 80s, and with a notorious sloping pitch (side to side), the Old Show Ground was always considered a fearsome and difficult place to play for visiting teams (and supporters). The U’s can certainly bear testimony to that fact, winning just once in 14 visits, drawing four and losing the remaining nine.

After wooden grandstands were banned following the Bradford fire, the club realised that rebuilding the Old Show Ground wasn’t economically viable, sold the site to Safeway for £2.3m, and built Glanford Park. This was to be the very first purpose-built football grounds to be built for 33 years, the previous holder of that title being none other than Roots Hall back in 1955.

[b]Don’t know what they mean, looks full of character and charm[/b]

To say Glanford Park lacked character was a bit of an understatement, but with the benefit of hindsight, it would become the blueprint for other clubs to finally move out of their crumbling quirky facilities and into somewhat characterless purpose-built new stadia – not least of course our move from dear old Layer Road to the JobServe.

[b]Match of the Day
[i]Queens Park Rangers v Colchester United
22nd December 2007
Coca-Cola Championship (Tier 2)
Attendance 12,464[/i][/b]

[i]Match of the Day[/i] for this blog, and the random match selector takes us back to my second and (for now) last visit to Loftus Road to see the U’s play against Queens Park Rangers. I’d been nearly one year earlier on New Year’s Day, during our first season in the Championship, in a game we were unlucky to lose 1-0, and here I was again a few days before Christmas hoping we’d do better this time. I have a programme for that first visit, but unfortunately just a calendar entry for this one.

We needed to do better as well, because under Geraint Williams our second season in the Championship was not going well at all. A run of four defeats in six games from late November had seen the U’s slip into the relegation zone for the first time in the season, though to fair it had been coming. QPR were in a worse shape, and sat one place beneath the U’s at the bottom of the table. However, with Indian steel magnate billionaire Lakshmi Mittal recently buying a 20% share in the club, they were dubbed “[i]the richest club in the world[/i]” and clearly had the resources to spend their way out of trouble if needs be – resources we could only dream of.

Geraint Williams’ U’s lined up that day:

1….Dean Gerken
21..Béla Balogh
12..Pat Baldwin (15. Jamie Guy 88’)
19..Adam Virgo
2….Danny Granville
11..Mark Yeates
4….Johnnie Jackson
10..Kem Izzet (17. Luke Gutteridge 36’)
14..Kevin McLeod
8….Teddy Sheringham (20. Kevin Lisbie 71’)
9….Clive Platt

The U’s had won the home fixture back in October 4-2, but since then influential loanee Hogan Ephraim, one of the goal-scorers, had returned to parent club West Ham United. More importantly, QPR’s caretaker manager, former U’s Mick Harford, had left Loftus Road to be replaced by Luigi De Canio (no relation to Paolo), and the Hoops were unbeaten in the last three games. Whether a portent of things to come, the U’s Youth had also lost 2-0 to QPR in the Puma Youth Alliance League just two days earlier.

After a few beers in the nearby Springbok pub, I joined what must have been over 500 of the faithful in the cramped School End. I have always liked Loftus Road, very compact, right on top of the pitch and a great atmosphere, but there’s very little knee room for a big lad. Much as I had hoped the U’s would show up for the occasion, sadly in the first half we didn’t.

QPR showed why they rarely drifted below the top two leagues, were full of running, trickery and one-touch passing, and had us at sixes and sevens right from the start. Our backline were doing a sterling job desperately keeping us in the game, particularly Hungarian Bela “The Count” Balogh – a player far too good to have to ply his trade at Colchester United I always thought.

In many ways it was remarkable that it took QPR nearly half an hour to take the lead. Classy on-loan midfielder (and also Hungarian) Ákos Buzsáky had been running the show for the Hoops, and on 27 minutes curled a beautiful effort beyond the despairing dive of Dean Gerken and into the top corner of the net. Loftus Road erupted, and we sat back assuming that now the floodgates had opened, worse was to come. Our cause wasn’t helped by an injury to Izzet shortly after their goal, forcing Williams into an early substitution, bringing on Luke Gutteridge.

Although the pattern of the game didn’t change, with QPR in complete control, the U’s somehow managed to keep them from scoring again, to go in at half-time only 1-0 down – a score which seriously flattered the U’s. I’ve always believed that Geraint Williams has never really been given the credit he deserves as a manager, certainly for that first season in the Championship, and this day at Loftus Road was one of those examples why as far as I’m concerned.

I’m not sure quite what he said to the team at half-time, but the U’s came out for the second half a transformed side. Full of pace and passing, finally we started to take the game to our wealthy opponents, carving out chance after chance of our own in the process, with Kevin McLeod in particular really getting into the game. QPR were still a good side though, and with Buzsáky in midfield, a constant threat if we pushed forward too much.

In fact, this time very much against the run of play, QPR grabbed a second on 52 minutes, and again from Buzsáky. On the break, a neat one-two with Dexter Blackstock put the Hungarian through on goal, and Dean could do nothing to prevent him from doubling their lead. This time, however, the faithful were undimmed, and with us roaring them on, the U’s continued to harry and press the Hoops. Our efforts were eventually rewarded when Irishman Mark Yeates capped an excellent second half performance to halve the deficit just ten minutes later.

By now it was clear to see the fear set in among the QPR team, they were bottom of the league and desperately needed the three points, and decided to try and park the bus to protect them. In a bid to unlock their defence, Williams replaced the old legs of Sheringham for the youth and exuberance of Lisbie, who really should have been on from the start as far as I was concerned. Luigi De Canio countered with two substitutions of his own to tighten up defensively, bringing on Marc Nygaard and Simon Walton, the latter to counter Damion Stewart’s second yellow card marching orders on 82 minutes.

With barely five minutes to go, the game-defining moment came. Following our own neat interplay of passing in their penalty area, Lisbie broke through the backline and was in on goal. Unceremoniously dumped to the ground through a last-ditch defensive lunge, we all screamed for the penalty that should have come – only to stare in disbelief as referee Dean Whitestone booked Lisbie for ‘simulation’. A last-ditch roll of the dice by Williams, bringing on Jamie Guy for Pat Baldwin, was to no avail, and despite a fantastic second half performance, the U’s again left Loftus Road empty-handed.

[b]Queens Park Rangers 2 (Ákos Buzsáky 27’, 52’) Colchester United 1 (Mark Yeates 62’)[/b]

The result saw QPR leapfrog the U’s and send us to the bottom of the table for the first time, a position we rarely moved out of for the remainder of the season. I won’t dwell on how the season finished, just to note that alongside the U’s, today’s opponents Scunthorpe (and Leicester City) were also relegated.

The result also kick-started QPR’s recovery, and by the end of the season they finished respectably in mid-table. Post-match, De Canio admitted that that “[i]it ended up being quite a difficult encounter[/i]”. Buzsáky would go on to sign permanently for QPR and stay for another five years, earning the nickname of “[i]The White Pele[/i]” from Rangers supporters.

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When Saturday Comes #36 by wessex_exile
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