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When Monday Comes #37
Written by wessex_exile on Sunday, 8th May 2022 14:17

[i]When Saturday Comes[/i] and we reach the end of a topsy-turvy season, much of which hasn’t been that much fun if I’m honest, though latterly considerably improved under Wayne Brown. If I can, I always like to do the first and last game of the season, but sadly a trip to Hartlepool just wasn’t on the cards, not if I actually wanted to get home again tonight, so I had to console myself with a pretty enjoyable trip to the JobServe last weekend – not quite the victory the U’s deserved over Walsall, but a great day out anyway. I know it’ll be too late for the Player of the Year awards, but wouldn’t it be nice to see a Freddie Sears hat-trick this afternoon to round off the season.

[b]20 up Freddie?[/b]

This of course means this will be my last blog of the season too. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed doing these for the last three years, and I’m sure I’m going to be doing something similar, certainly whilst the inspiration takes me, next season. I don’t quite know in what format yet, or how regular they’ll be – I certainly don’t want something I enjoy becoming a chore – but I will reflect over the summer, and any suggestions are most welcome.

The war in Ukraine grinds on into its third month, with the death toll on both sides, civilian and military, continuing to escalate. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has stated that any peace deal with Moscow would have to include Russian forces pulling out of Ukraine to specifically “[i]the situation as of 23rd February[/i]”, and that he was the president “[i]of Ukraine, not a mini-Ukraine[/i]”. Analysts consider his words carefully spoken, leaving out mention of the repatriation of Crimea, which might, if Putin chose to agree, be the face-saving exercise he needs to pull out with some sort of pyrrhic victory? Somehow, I doubt Putin will go for it though, surely his ego simply wouldn’t allow it.

After the battering Boris received over the various Partygate charges, it’s now the time for Keir Starmer to sweat on a police investigation into his own alleged breaches of Covid lockdown rules. The incident occurred on 30th April last year, during a visit to a local MP in Durham, where it is alleged beer was drunk in the MP’s office. The police had already investigated the incident and decided no offence had occurred, but they have re-opened their investigation after they had received “[i]significant new information[/i]”. Starmer is “[i]confident that no rules were broken[/i]” – of course he is.

It was local elections during the week for 200 councils across the UK, and as is often the case, the sitting government took a bit of a battering in the polls, losing nearly 500 seats and the control of 11 councils so far. Although Labour did well in London, outside the capital it was not quite the battering they would have preferred. Were these results replicated at the next General Election, it would likely only result in a hung parliament. No doubt many of you are already aware, but Paul Dundas, Conservative leader on Colchester Borough Council, lost his seat, and although officially a hung council, Labour and the Lib Dems now have enough seats to run jointly if they so choose.

The more significant result appears to be happening in the Northern Ireland Assembly election, to elect 90 members to the Assembly, brought about following the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive due to the protest resignation of First Minister Paul Givan (Democratic Unionist Party) over the Brexit-driven Northern Ireland Protocol. In the first round of counting, Sinn Féin polled over 250k first preference votes, with the DUP first preference vote crashing to just over 180k, a massive drop of 41k votes. As things stand, Sinn Féin look set to be the majority party in the Assembly for the first time in their history, a moment described by Prof Jon Tonge (a Liverpool University politics professor) as “[i]an incremental step on the long road to Irish unity[/i]”.

[b]U’s World[/b]
It has been a relatively quiet week at the JobServe, as the dust settles on the various Player of the Year awards (kindly summarised by [b]Durham[/b] in his match preview ahead of today’s game). Once today’s game is out of the way, I have no doubt the focus will then shift to who are we retaining for next season, who are we letting go, and suitable candidates to replace them – in fact I’m certain that work has probably already started.

To demonstrate, 19-year old striker Tom Stagg has confirmed this week via his twitter account that he will be one of those departures. Tom has been at the club since joining the academy at U8 level, and in a clearly emotional announcement during the week he announced “[i]the time has come to confirm that with a heavy heart, I have left Colchester United[/i]”. Football can be a tough business at times, particularly for young lads who devote themselves to it only to discover they’re not going to make the cut, and sadly Tom’s disappointment is going to be echoed by many overs up and down the country this summer.

[b]Good luck and best wishes Tom – joined as a young boy, leaving as a man![/b]

Wayne Brown has finally broken cover on the “will he, won’t he?” debate, confirming that he will sit down with Robbie Cowling to discuss his future once the U’s have finished their season at Hartlepool today. Although most expect his interim status, and presumably those of Joe Dunne and Dave Huzzey, will be made permanent, there are more than a few reasonably high-profile managers currently available, and no doubt quite a few more once summer arrives, so we wait to see.

Until then, Wayne’s focus is on three more points at Hartlepool, so don’t expect too many cameo appearances from the nippers this afternoon. A win at Victoria Park (these days the Suit Direct Stadium due to a sponsorship arrangement), and a series of not entirely implausible results elsewhere, and the U’s could leap to 15th in the league and finish officially ‘mid-table’ (including leap-frogging Hartlepool who are only 2pts above the U’s).

Carlisle have a tricky visit to Bradford City to negotiate, whilst Harrogate Town and Walsall are both at home to play-off chasing Sutton United and Swindon Town respectively. Swindon actually have an outside chance of automatic promotion, which has certainly piqued local interest in the game around these parts (even my heating engineer yesterday was talking about it, and he doesn’t really follow football), but I suspect they’ll have to make do with the play-offs at best.

[b]Stat attack[/b]
If any one football club has had more of an identity crisis than the monkey-hangers, I’d like to know who. Founded in 1908 as Hartlepools United Football Athletic Company, they subsequently incorporated the assets of West Hartepool Football Club after the former FA Amateur Cup winners were dissolved in 1910. Elected to the Third Division (North) in 1921, they then joined the newly formed Fourth Division in 1958. With the new borough of Hartlepool formed from the merger of West Hartlepool, Hartlepool town and the village of Hart in 1968, the club decided to drop the “s United” bit, to become just Hartlepool. That didn’t stick, and in 1977 they tacked the United back on, and thankfully have stuck with it since then.

Never playing higher than the third tier, Hartlepool United remained continuously in the Football League until 2017. Going into the final day of that season it was either Hartlepool United or Newport County who’d be relegated alongside Layton Orient. Hartlepool United needed to beat Doncaster Rovers, and hope that Newport didn’t do likewise against Notts County. Although going 1-0 down in the first half, Hartlepool United substitute Devante Rodney scored twice in just over ten second half minutes. With Newport County drawing 1-1 with Notts County, they looked safe, only for Mark O’Brien to pop up in the 89th minute to win the game for the Exiles, and Hartlepool United were relegated to non-league.

If ever anyone wanted a reality-check about the fate that awaits those that slip into the National League, take Hartlepool as a sobering example. Three seasons of mid-table struggling followed, until finally on their fourth attempt, and only via the play-offs, they eventually returned to the Football League for the start of this season.

Over the years, since our first encounter against then Hartlepools United, our record against the men from the North East is pretty good – winning 26, drawing 15 and losing 20. We started off the relationship with a bang in September 1961, with Benny Fenton’s U’s demolishing them 6-1 at Layer Road. Bobby Roberts went close to equalling that result in October 1976, beating ‘united-free’ Hartlepool 6-2, again at Layer Road. Cyril Lea would complete the six-goal triumvirate, beating newly named Hartlepool United 6-0 at Layer Road in December 1983.

Hartlepool successes are somewhat more modest by comparison, with a 4-1 Victoria Park victory over Cyril Lea’s U’s in December 1985, and more recently a 4-2 victory at the same ground over Geraint Williams’ U’s at the start of the 2008 season.

Hartlepool do however hold one unenviable record – on the penultimate day of the 1982/83 season, our match at Victoria Park was played in front of just 804 spectators, and I expect a significant proportion of those were U’s supporters. Other than the Covid-19 lockdown matches played behind closed doors, that remains the lowest attendance home or away for a U’s league fixture.

The U’s smashed Hartlepool United 4-1 in that game, with goals from Allinson, a brace from Coleman, and the fourth from Groves, and we would go on to win our final match over Torquay too. However, the U’s could still only finish two places and two points outside the promotion zone. Hartlepool United finished 22nd in the then relegation zone, but alongside Blackpool, Crewe Alexandra and Hereford United, were all comfortably re-elected.

[b]Match of the Day
[i]Yeovil Town v Colchester United
Saturday 6th May 2006
Coca-Cola League One (Tier 3)
Attendance 8,785[/i][/b]

[i]Match of the Day[/i] for this blog and given this is the last game of the season, plus my social media feeds have been flooded with cherished memories of the last game of the season almost exactly 16 years ago, it would be wrong if I didn’t make this one a special to finish on a high note. For that reason, we go back to May 6th, and the U’s final match of the 2005/06 season at Yeovil Town. For reasons that will become apparent, I didn’t manage to get a programme for this game, so the above is with thanks to Swedish Martin, who posted the cover photo this morning – thanks chap!

[b]I do however have my somewhat prophetic calendar entry 😊[/b]

For the build-up to this game we have to go right back to approximately 4-5 weeks before the game. Now, I’m not going to say I knew this was going to happen, but I knew the final game of the season might be significant, and as a local trip for me, I was determined to make sure I got a ticket smartish just in case. As a result, as soon as Yeovil Town put them on sale, I was straight on the phone for two tickets (one for former U’sual regular Steve, now down in Australia). Yeovil Town ticket office were happy to take the order, and I could relax.

However, when Colchester United discovered Yeovil Town were already selling tickets, they had to put a stop to it immediately – they knew there might be a lot at stake and thus significant interest, and potentially they might have to impose restrictions on which groups could get tickets first. When this was announced a few days later, my heart sank, as my ticket hadn’t yet arrived, and probably now wouldn’t. However, after the club checked sales with Yeovil Town, it was discovered my tickets were two of just (I think) eleven sold before the embargo, and the club announced they would honour those purchases! Woohoo – Huish Park here we come!

On the day, I was living in Salisbury at the time and Steve was coming from Basingstoke way as I recall, which also required a change at Salisbury, so we arranged to meet there (I still had his ticket with me). It should have been a smooth change, but the god’s it seemed were against us, with a delayed departure from another platform potentially preventing Steve’s train from getting in to make the connection. I was trying to explain the situation to station staff, at one point literally standing with one foot on the platform and one in the train – and I wasn’t the only one either. Fortunately, sense prevailed, and they held the Yeovil train for a few minutes to allow the Basingstoke connection to pull in, and eventually me, Steve and the two tickets were reunited and off to join the remaining 1,600 of the faithful in Somerset.

Arriving in Yeovil, we jumped into a taxi and headed straight for a Bell Inn packed out with U’s support, and a decent number of Yeovil supporters too. There were familiar faces from many U’s awaydays, including more than a few former visitors to this board (Pikes, his wife, JAS, his dad etc.), not to mention the limo full of U’s ladies which pulled up at one point! Credit to the Yeovil supporters, they took the invasion in a very good natured and friendly manner and seemed genuinely pleased that a little club like Col U might actually get to the Championship.

Pikes’ wife didn’t actually have a ticket, but she’d been happy to drive all the way there and back from Essex for him. Our new Yeovil friends were happy to make a spare they had available for no charge if she wanted to sit with them, but she was equally adamant she wouldn’t. Not out of rudeness mind, bizarrely it turned out her record watching U’s games with hubby wasn’t particularly good, and she really didn’t want to jinx such an important occasion for Pikes, so she was just as happy sitting in the car park for the match listening on the radio! She was kind enough to also give the four of us a lift to Huish Park more or less just in time for kick-off (hence no programme).

Phil Parkinson’s U’s lined up that afternoon:
13..Dean Gerken
17..John White
18..Liam Chilvers
20..Scott Vernon (26. Tony Thorpe 81’)
7….Karl Duguid
2….Greg Halford
4….Neil Danns
6….Kevin Watson
12..Pat Baldwin
11..Chris Iwelumo
24..Jamal Campbell-Ryce (10. Kem Izzet 76’)

Although the U’s had been in at least the play-off zone since December, an excellent run of recent form, winning four and drawing one had propelled the U’s into second place behind leaders Southend United. All we had to do was avoid defeat to ensure automatic promotion. If we wanted to dream of a higher goal, if Southend United were to lose at home to Bristol City and the U’s were to win, we could go up as champions. On the flipside, if we were to lose and Brentford win away at Bournemouth, we’d slip back into the play-offs. Talk about squeaky bum time.

With all that in mind, we jammed ourselves into a spot on the open terrace, about halfway back and to the left of the goal looking out on to the pitch. Even with the open terrace sucking what volume it could from the faithful, we were still in excellent voice – most it seemed thanks to plenty of pre-match refreshment, as the U’s kicked off in one of the most important matches in our history.

I’ll be honest, it wasn’t a game I particularly enjoyed – it was probably the most nervous I’ve been at a football game, and it seemed the nerves were also being transmitted to the U’s. We had chances, with Scott Vernon heading narrowly wide from a Halford long throw early on, but the game soon settled into a tense nervy encounter, with if anything Yeovil the better side. The pacy pairing of Phil Jevons and Arron Davies up front for the Glovers in particular were creating plenty of problems, both drawing good saves from Gerken.

Our nerves weren’t eased either when the news filtered through about 20 minutes in that Brentford had taken a 1-0 lead at Dean Court, even if Southend were still to score at Roots Hall. For the remainder of the first half we huffed and puffed without creating much, although our nerves were slightly eased on hearing Bournemouth had equalised on half-time against Brentford.

Into the second half, and I spent most of it looking at my watch and trying to will the time away. The U’s did raise their game somewhat, and probably just as well, as so had Yeovil. Neil Danns nearly scored with a close-range header, and Yeovil ‘keeper Collis did well to parry away a Greg Halford shot. But it was Yeovil who so nearly won it when David Poole glanced his shot off the outside of the post when through on goal, and Dean Gerken did well to keep out Phil Jevons’s low drive.

To keep the pressure on, halfway through the second half we learned that Brentford had retaken the lead at Dean Court, although it was still 0-0 at Roots Hall. One slip up for the U’s and it could be curtains, one moment of brilliance and we could be going up as champions. Kevin Watson had a half-hearted penalty appeal waived away, and Chris Iwelumo shot narrowly wide after being put in by Halford, but try as we might, we couldn’t find the goal needed to ease our nerves.

But then again, neither could Yeovil, and as the referee blew the whistle for full-time, the away terrace erupted in euphoric celebration – we’d done it, Phil Parkinson’s U’s were promoted to the Championship for the first time in our history!

[b]Yeovil Town 0 Colchester United 0 [/b]

I’ll leave you with the closing seconds of commentary from Neil Kelly, commentary that Steve Lamacq opened his next BBC radio show with.

“[i]…and we are seconds away from automatic promotion, and the ball is deep inside Yeovil’s half of the pitch. So, Bournemouth 2 Brentford 2, Yeovil 0 Colchester 0 – [b]AND IT’S PROMOTION FOR COLCHESTER UNITED![/b] They’ve made it into the Championship for the first time in 69 years! They’ve done it, they’re in the Championship! Check out your road maps, check out your atlases, find out Sunderland, Leeds, Birmingham, Norwich, Ipswich – because those are the places that Phil Parkinson’s men are going to be visiting next season! It was nervous, it was cagey, but they’ve done it - they’ve been brave, they’ve got promotion alongside champions Southend – it’s all over here, it’s a magnificent afternoon for everyone associated with Colchester United – it’s Yeovil Town 0 Colchester United 0 – and it’s never sounded better, a goalless draw![/i]”.

Up the U’s!

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When Saturday Comes #36 by wessex_exile
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