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When Saturday Comes #31
Written by wessex_exile on Saturday, 26th Mar 2022 18:03

After the excitement of our televised game against FGR on Monday night, and all the positive attention we’ve received as a result of Robbie making it our “Game for Ukraine” fundraiser, [i]When Saturday Comes[/i] comes back down to earth with a bump against promotion-chasing Tranmere Rovers. Despite the disappointing 1-0 defeat on Monday night, I guess we can at least take a small positive that if FGR are currently the best team in our league, we for the most part matched them on the pitch. Again we’re left cursing our luck, particularly when Junior’s late effort struck the base of the post rather than squeezing in to give us the point I felt we deserved – but I’ve said before, when you’re at the wrong end of the table, luck has a tendency to go walkies.

However, off the pitch the 6,140 tickets sold mean £61,400 goes towards the British Red Cross humanitarian work helping refugees from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, plus (at the last count) another £5,752 on the JustGiving page, plus however much was raised in the collection tins and buckets on the night (well done [b]bwildered[/b]!), plus of course the shirt auction to come. I fully expect when the final count is in, we’ll be around the £70k mark, which is a fantastic effort – and one that hopefully other clubs get involved with.

I’m heading over to Bristol for a family lunch tomorrow, hopefully back in time for the Tranmere kick-off, so posting this blog earlier than usual as I won’t have time tomorrow.
[b]Dig deep folks, every penny counts[/b]

With the world holding its breath as Russia continues to shell, bomb and shoot civilians in an effort to overthrow the democratically elected government of Ukraine, Kim Jong Un has demonstrated his timing is about as good as his dress sense by testing a new intercontinental ballistic missile, described as a “[i]monster missile[/i]”. As if the world hasn’t had enough of tiny-dick dictators, here’s come another one overcompensating. CNN reports that this potentially heralds a new era of regional confrontation between North Korea and its weary neighbours.

Talking of tiny-dick dictators, 2020 election loser and all-round narcissistic misogynistic racist Donald Trump has surprised no one by launching legal action against Hillary Clinton. This is Trump’s go-to modus operandi, frivolous lawsuits designed to whip his rabid support into even greater frenzies of faux injustice. This one, laughably, accuses Clinton of “[i]racketeering[/i]” and “[i]conspiracy to commit injurious falsehood[/i]” trying to rig the 2016 election against him.

Yep, you can’t really make this sort of stuff up – from the man actually responsible for trying to rig the result of the 2020 election and inciting riotous insurrection in the process. The Washington Post describes the lawsuit as a “[i]predictable mess … littered with false claims, errors and dubious inferences … a veritable smorgasbord of debunked and conspiratorial assertions[/i]”. In truth, it’s not a lawsuit he stands a cat in hell’s chance of winning, it’s just an advance press release from the Trump 2024 election campaign, and sadly his supporters will lap it up and love him all the more for it.

P&O’s decision to summarily lay-off 800 employees was a truly shameful, awful and callous thing to do, and it was delivered in the most cowardly of fashions, via a pre-recorded video announcement to the crews. Worse still, appearing before a Commons hearing, another nominee for “C’nt of the 2020s” award P&O CEO Peter Hebblethwaite brazenly admitted he knew full well he should have consulted with the union in advance. He chose not to because, in his own words “[i]it was our assessment that the change was of such a magnitude that no union would possibly accept our proposal[/i]” – no shit Sherlock! P&O are replacing the sacked staff with cheaper agency workers.

[b]U’s World[/b]
Other than the fantastic fund-raising efforts around the Game for Ukraine, it is also a pleasure to see Alan Judge’s spectacular 35-yard volley against Rochdale win Sky TV’s February Goal of the Month award. In announcing the result, Sky Sports pundit Don Goodman said “[i]Alan Judge’s ability from distance is well known to most Brentford and Ipswich fans, but this goal has to be close to the top of his personal list of screamers[/i]”.

[b]Great vlog, goal starts at 2’56”[/b]

Ironically, Judge was up against the goal by Mansfield’s Rhys Oates, the one who just ran and ran whilst numerous U’s players failed to take the opportunity to chop him down at the knees. Still, great news to see Alan Judge receive the award.

[b]Well done Judgey![/b]

The club continue to make preparations to welcome the England U20 Young Lions to the JobServe next Tuesday, for their international fixture against Germany. Ticket sales seem to be going well, and at just £5 for adults and £2.50 for kids, I certainly won’t be surprised if it isn’t close to a sell-out. Certainly the club have advised that very few hospitality package Executive Boxes are left. Not that I’m in a position to take up what’s on offer, but £250 for ten attendees, plus three parking bays and access to the bar menu does seem quite a good deal.

After starting on the bench for the previous World Cup qualifier, Tommy Smith started for yesterday’s New Zealand World Cup qualifier against New Caledonian. New Zealand comprehensively won the game 7-1. Tommy was one of a quadruple 71st minute set of substitutions, with the All Whites comfortably in control at 3-1 at the time, and they now top their qualification group with three wins out of three. The first match for the Albanian U21s is tonight against the Czech Republic, with England their opponents next Tuesday – it remains to be seen whether Armando gets any game time, but I certainly hope so. Overlooked in the last blog, U’s loanee Tyreik Wright is also away on international duty, after being called up for the Republic of Ireland U21 squad by manager Jim Crawford. The Irish youth play Sweden U21s at the Borås Stadium next Tuesday, kick-off 5pm.

With three ‘technically’ first teamers away on international duties, I suppose the club could have asked for the U’s game against Tranmere to be postponed. But, time is running out between now and May, and with enough fixture congestion already, doing so would have only made matters worse. When you consider Dobra is probably a long way off even the bench at the moment, there’s plenty of cover for Smith in the defensive line, and even the mercurial talent of Wright is more often as an impact sub than a regular starter, going ahead with the Tranmere game makes perfect sense.

[b]Stat attack[/b]
The history between ourselves and Tranmere Rovers if one of intermittent flirtations in the late 50s, 60s and 70s, going more or less steady in the 80s, an irrevocable and messy divorce in the 90s, and more or less back on regular speaking terms in the 3rd millennium (though they did have that affair with the National League a few years ago).

Traditionally, although they’ve never played in the top flight, Tranmere have generally been a 3rd/4th tier football club, with the emphasis on 3rd. Like the U’s, they have dabbled in the 2nd tier, throughout most of the 90s mentioned above. Also like the U’s they have slipped into non-league, although they took three seasons to return in 2018, rather than the two we did. In 2019 they achieved back-to-back promotions to League 1 via the play-offs, and probably count themselves unlucky to be immediately relegated on the points per game metric when Covid curtailed the 2019/20 season.

In all that time, we’ve played 61 league matches so far, with the Superwhites winning 23, the U’s winning 17 and 21 games drawn. We’ve also played just one cup game against each other, in the 3rd Round of the League Cup under Bobby Roberts back in November 1981, a game we lost 1-0. Tranmere will be aiming to do the double over the U’s tomorrow, something they’ve achieved on five separate occasions. If you think that doesn’t sound many, the U’s have only achieved it once back in 1978/79, also under Bobby Roberts.

In fact, Bobby Roberts had a half-decent league record against Tranmere Rovers (W3 D1 L2), one match of that 1978/79 double was a whopping 5-1 victory at Prenton Park, and in 1981 he won a thriller 4-0 at Layer Road. Notable in the list of defeats is Benny Fenton’s capitulation back in March 1961, when his U’s were battered 7-2 at Prenton Park, and again 5-2 the following season. More recently John Ward’s U’s lost 4-0 at Prenton Park in September 2012, but probably the most ignominious defeat was the return fixture in February 2013, when the U’s were smashed 5-1 at the JobServe under Ward’s replacement (and current Assistant Manager) Joe Dunne.

[b]Match of the Day
[i]Colchester United v Macclesfield Town
17th August 1991
GM Vauxhall Conference (Tier 5)
Attendance 2,233[/i][/b]

[i]Match of the Day[/i] for this blog, and the random match selector goes all the way back to game #3 in my memorabilia collection, and just as the U’s were embarking on their second season in non-league with a home game against Macclesfield Town in August 1991. Although the U’s had a decent 1990/91 first campaign in the GM Vauxhall Conference, no one could deny that finishing second behind Barnet to miss out on an immediate return to the Football league had been a major disappointment.

With player-manager Ian Atkins leaving in the close season for a coaching role at Birmingham City, Chairman James Bowdidge decided on the appointment of untried Roy McDonough as another player-manager to take over. Following a very successful first spell at the club from 1981-83 (111 appearances and 26 goals in all competitions), Big Roy had been re-signed by Atkins in September of the previous season (as a player-assistant), scoring a decent nine goals in 29 appearances. No one was really certain quite how this would work out – Roy’s passion was undeniable, but so was his reputation for indiscipline, would this become something to permeate through the side under his control?

Well, I didn’t have long to find out, as we drove over on the Friday night to stay at my Mum’s on Greenstead for the weekend. After an evening down at the Wivenhoe Greyhound with close friends, myself and brother-in-law Steve headed over to a bright and sunny Layer Road Barside for the opening game of the 1991/92 season (following an obligatory couple or so in the Drury).

Given the U’s had only narrowly missed out on promotion last season, I was faintly surprised there weren’t more than just over 2,000 for this game, including a smattering from the North West, but then again, school holidays and suchlike always do seem to impact on attendances in August. We couldn’t blame the V Festival, it would be another five years before that became a nuisance for the U’s. Still, what we lacked in numbers the acoustics of Layer Road more than made up for in volume, and the U’s were roared out onto the pitch just before kick-off.

Roy McDonough’s first U’s line-up of his managerial reign was as follows:

1….Scott Barrett
2….Warren Donald
3….Martin Grainger
4….Mark Kinsella
5….Tony English
6….Shaun Elliott
7….Eamonn Collins (programme lists Bennett as no. 7)
8….Gary Bennett (programme lists Collins as no. 8)
9….Roy McDonough
10..Steve McGavin (12. Mario Walsh 76’)
11..Nicky Smith

The only pre-season signing that I can determine was defender Simon Gray from nearby Ipswich Town. Players leaving included the sale of Scott Daniels to Exeter City for £50,000 just before the end of last season, Neale Marmon to FC Homburg for an undisclosed fee, and Marcelle Bruce (Baldock Town), Gary Osbourne (Cradley Town), Robbie Devereux (Sudbury Town) and Laurie Ryan (Cambridge City) all released.

Although Roy would go on to make a number of changes to the squad later in August and September, not least signing up apprentice Paul Abrahams onto a contract, this was therefore still most of the side that had just missed out in 1990/91. The bookies fancied Wycombe to win the title and thus promotion back in the one up one down days, with the U’s second favourite.

Given it was over 30 years ago, you’ll forgive me if my memories of the game have somewhat faded with time, and there isn’t too much research material I can find on the internet to help out, other than Graeson’s always excellent ColuData website. I certainly do recall that the U’s started very positively against a side that we’d only first met the previous season – winning 1-0 at Layer Road and losing 1-0 at Moss Rose. Mind you, that defeat was harsh, coming from what today’s programme described as a “[i]wind-assisted corner[/i]” ten minutes from time in a game the U’s had dominated throughout.

Within ten minutes diminutive Gary Bennett put the U’s in front, with what I was sure would be the first of a hatful of goals that afternoon. Not so it transpired, with a decent smattering of former league players making up the Macclesfield team more than capable of digging in and stifling the U’s attacking intent, even if they weren’t creating too many chances of their own in the process.

When it looked like they would keep us at bay for the remainder of the first half, up popped Steve McGavin on the stroke of half-time to double the U’s lead. Having finally broken down the resilience of the Silkmen for a second time, hopes at half-time were this would mean the second half floodgates opening. Half-time scores coming in from elsewhere included that Wycombe were drawing 1-1 at home to Gateshead, which drew cheers from the Layer Road crowd.

Although the U’s continued to dominate into the early stage of the second half, Macclesfield manager Peter Wragg had clearly got his half-time team-talk message across, and the Silkmen had rediscovered their first half resilience again. In fact, in a surprise move sensing they might actually manage to get back into the game, Wragg subbed midfielder John Imrie for forward Jason Dawson after just ten minutes of the second half.

Obviously history (and the score line) shows it didn’t actually work in the end, but for the next 15-20 minutes Macclesfield did become much more of an attacking force, and it was time for the U’s to put up the barricades. With just under quarter of an hour to go, McDonough made his first change, making a like for like swap between McGavin and Mario Walsh.

Mario’s fresh legs made the difference, and for the remainder of the game the tide turned and once again the U’s were in the hunt for a third to absolutely kill the game. That it didn’t come was probably down to Wragg tightening up his defence with just over five minutes remaining, bringing on experienced defender Mike Farrelly.

And that was that, although Macclesfield had held on without conceding further, the U’s had still got their second GM Vauxhall Conference campaign off to a flier with a fairly comfortable 2-0 victory.

[b]Colchester United 2 (Gary Bennett 10’; Steve McGavin 45’) Macclesfield Town 0[/b]

Results elsewhere meant that the U’s were in 3rd place after this game, not that the league table means much for the first handful of matches. It would actually take until early November to move to the top of the table, with a 2-0 victory at then league-leaders and surprise package Farnborough Town. Having finally got there, we never relinquished first place from then to the end of the season 😊.

In a move which certainly surprised me, the Macclesfield game turned out to be Mario Walsh’s last for the U’s, as he was sold for £15,000 later that very same day to Redbridge Forest of all teams. At the end of the 1991/92 season, Redbridge Forest merged with Dagenham to form current National League side Dagenham and Redbridge.

Up the U’s!

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When Saturday Comes #36 by wessex_exile
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