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The U'sual Ramblings #2
at 13:44 6 Aug 2022

The U’sual Ramblings #2, and the U’s first home match of the season. Much has been written on our narrow defeat away at Northampton Town last Saturday, not least that if they are the yard-stick for promotion contenders, we can take plenty of credit (and hope) from most of our performance, which really should have earned a point. However, we’ve seen these false dawns before – remember away at Notts County, and at Bradford, in recent years, where we thought we were playing contenders, and they turned out to be whipping boys for most of the season. Still, I don’t expect that of Northampton, so stout hearts faithful…and wasn’t it great seeing Nouble bombing down the wing doing what he does best again!
The U'sual Ramblings #2
at 13:42 6 Aug 2022

The U’sual Ramblings #2, and the U’s first home match of the season. Much has been written on our narrow defeat away at Northampton Town last Saturday, not least that if they are the yard-stick for promotion contenders, we can take plenty of credit (and hope) from most of our performance, which really should have earned a point. However, we’ve seen these false dawns before – remember away at Notts County, and at Bradford, in recent years, where we thought we were playing contenders, and they turned out to be whipping boys for most of the season. Still, I don’t expect that of Northampton, so stout hearts faithful…and wasn’t it great seeing Nouble bombing down the wing doing what he does best again!

The world outside U’s World
The cost of living crisis in the UK seems to be sliding towards full blown recession, at least according to the Bank of England at least, as they unveiled the biggest rise in interest rates for 27 years. They are forecasting that inflation will exceed 13% this year, and the country officially enter a recession in October which will last all through 2023. With soaring energy prices and impact on mortgages, rent and credit card bills, they estimate the household disposable income to drop by 3.7% over the next two years. It’s not all doom and gloom however, with the Bank of England base rate expected to peak at 2.85%, considerably lower than the previous 3.59% forecast.

The ripples from Nancy Pelosi’s diplomatic visit to Taiwan continue to be felt, with China, who claim ownership of the self-ruled island (which they see as a breakaway province) announcing new countermeasures against the US. These include, worryingly, suspending any further climate talks with the gas-guzzling US, cooperation on military issues and combined efforts to combat international crime. They are also specifically targeting Pelosi and her family for further economic sanctions, though quite what they can realistically achieve there I don’t know?

Serial scumbag Alex Jones learned this week that he would have to pay $49.3m in damages to a family of the Sandy Hook massacre. Jones had already been found guilty of defamation in the case, after he repeatedly attacked them and other relatives of other victims through his online platform Infowars. Jones claimed the massacre was a ‘hoax’, a ‘false red flag’ event staged by the anti-gun lobby, and that grieving parents were nothing but crisis actors, inflaming far-right activists who proceeded to make their lives a living hell. Whilst this is a substantial amount, though the claim was originally for $150m damages, with Infowars having already filed for bankruptcy, I fear that the parents will see precious little of this award.

U’s World
The big news of the week was the arrival of Irish international goalkeeper Kieran O’Hara to the JCS. Coming through the ranks of the Manchester United youth set-up, Kieran had several loan spells including Trafford, Macclesfield and Burton Albion, before signing permanently for Burton in 2020. He left Burton for Fleetwood Town at the end of the January 2022 transfer window on a short-term deal, signing for the U’s as a free agent. Kieran qualifies to play for Republic of Ireland through his paternal grandparents, and has turned out nine times for the U21s, and twice for the Irish first team. One of those two games was against New Zealand, with Ireland winning 3-1 after New Zealand took an early lead. If you’re wondering, Tommy Smith did play in that game, coming on as a 74th minute substitute (Ireland scored their third in the 75th minute – probably just a coincidence).

Welcome to the U’s Kieran!

Other U’s news – following Southend announcing a sponsorship deal to rename their West stand as the Gilbert & Rose West stand (as Noah has already pointed out, perhaps not the marketing and PR disaster it at first seems), the U’s have also announced a new stand sponsor. Chelmsford-based Bank of Telecom have signed up for the naming rights for the North Stand for the next two seasons. Probably shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, given CEO Mark Stewart is a season ticket holder and lifelong supporter of the U’s, but it’s great that his local business with global reach is getting behind the club.

The new shirts have finally arrived, and with the club shop open late on Wednesday to deal with demand, I’d imagine there’ll be a fair few on view today at the JobServe. Frustratingly (for this particular exile at least), they’re still not available online, but they say patience is a virtue…apparently.

Stat attack
Our paths with the Cumbrians didn’t cross until after the deregionalisation of the old Third Division, when we first met in August 1961 at Layer Road. Interestingly, that too was our second match of the season, also in the 4th tier, and Benny Fenton’s U’s won 2-0 – wouldn’t we just love a repeat of that today. Since then, we’ve played 52 times in the league, with the U’s edging it with 21 victories, 13 draws and 18 defeats.

We’ve also played three times in three different cup competitions. Almost exactly 50 years ago to the day we beat Carlisle United 2-0 in the second round of the Watney Cup, on our way to victory in the final at the Hawthorns. A couple of years later we defeated Carlisle at Layer Road, another 2-0 victory, in the third round of the League Cup. That season we would go on to overcome Southampton (eventually) in the fourth round, before eventually falling to Aston Villa in the Layer Road quarter-final. And of course, if we needed any reminding, we also lost a penalty shoot-out to the Cumbrians in the 1997 Autowindscreens final at Wembley. To this day, Carlisle are still the most successful side in the EFL Trophy competition (in all its guises), making the final on six separate occasions and winning it twice in the process.

As far as memorable matches are concerned, Paul Lambert’s 5-0 demolition of the Cumbrians in October 2008 stands head and shoulders above the rest. Mind you, Carlisle have battered the U’s 4-0 at Brunton Park on no less than four separate occasions, most recently of course in December 2018. Most notably, it was our 3-0 victory at Brunton Park immediately prior to the first Covid lockdown that secured (only just) our play-off place in 2020.

Officially formed in 1904, Carlisle United was actually a re-brand of former club Shaddongate United, who’s existence is first recorded in 1896 as the winners of the Carlisle Association Charity Shield. At their 1904 annual general meeting, members voted to rename the club as Carlisle United, the idea allegedly coming from Newcastle United officials who reckoned Carlisle stood more chance of election to the Football League if by name they were perceived to represent the entire city.

It kind of worked too, and after finishing second in the North Eastern League behind Sunderland Reserves in 1927/28, the Cumbrians were elected to the Third Division North, replacing Durham City in the process. Since then, much like the U’s, Carlisle have generally bounced around the bottom two divisions, and also like the U’s, including a brief drop into non-league.

However, unlike the U’s, back to back promotions in 1964 and 1965 brought about a sustained ten-year period for the Cumbrians as a solid Second Division side. This of course culminated in promotion to the top flight for the 1974/75 season, and after opening with three consecutive victories, they sat at the top of the football league. It wouldn’t last unfortunately, and by the end of the season they were relegated. It is noteworthy that they still remain the smallest location (by population) to have a resident top flight side since 1906.

Match of the Day
Colchester United v Carlisle United
Saturday 25th October 2008
Coca-Cola Football League Two (Tier 3)
Attendance 5,152

Courtesy of Graeson’s ColuData website

This one is a special, as we go back to that previously mentioned game in October 2008. The U’s were three months into our new home at the (then) Weston Homes Community Stadium, and still looking for their first victory at the new ground. Following a hard fought 0-0 against Huddersfield in the first ever competitive fixture at the new ground, followed by a more entertaining 2-2 against Oldham, the U’s had lost four on the bounce at home to MK Dons, Leicester City, Bristol Rovers and Millwall, and were perched perilously above the relegation zone.

The rocky start to the season had taken it’s toll on managers too, with Geraint Williams relieved of his duties in September, with the U’s second from bottom. Caretaker Kit Symons briefly halted the slide in his first game in charge, with a spirited 4-3 victory at Tranmere, but any suggestion he would be appointed permanently were dashed following two of those four successive home defeats, against Leicester City and Bristol Rovers. Paul Lambert was appointed as the new manager on 9th October, and although the U’s were unlucky to lose his first game 4-3 at Cheltenham (an undeserved 90th minute winner from Hayles), he immediately made his mark by following up with a 2-1 victory at Edgeley Park.

Still though that first win at the new ground eluded us, with Millwall (who would go on to make the play-offs) taking the points with a 2-1 victory the following Tuesday night.

Steering clear of Lambert’s somewhat questionable man-management style, his U’s lined up that day against Carlisle United:
1….Dean Gerken
2….John White
12..Pat Baldwin
5….Chris Coyne
4….Johnnie Jackson
11..Mark Yeates (Anthony Wordsworth 83’)
10..Kem Izzet
8….Dean Hammond
17..David Perkins
7….Steven Gillespie (Akanni-Sunday Wasiu 16’)
9….Clive Platt (Scott Vernon 80’)

There are a few names of note in the Carlisle line-up that day. Simon Hackney started in midfield for the Cumbrians, and Ben Williams was on the bench as the reserve goalkeeper. However, top billing must probably go to their manager John Ward. When Ward was appointed the U’s manager in 2010, all three would have a bit of a Cumbrian old boys reunion.

If games at the new ground had been a bit bereft of entertainment up to that point, diminutive midfielder and programme cover poster boy David Perkins got the U’s off to an excellent start. On just three minutes, Carlisle ‘keeper obligingly parried Mark Yeates’ cross right into his path, who gleefully converted from close range to give the U’s a 1-0 lead. Barely ten minutes later, Yeates had one of his own to celebrate, curling home from outside the box after Kemi had flicked on a John White pass.

The gloss was slightly taken off the moment shortly after, with Steven Gillespie subbed just after the quarter-hour mark with another injury, to be replaced by former St Albans City forward Akanni-Sunday Wasiu. Although another disappointment for the injury-prone Gillespie, Mark Yeates quickly got the celebrations back on track with his second and the U’s third on 31 minutes. A defensive misunderstanding between Darren Campion and experienced pro Graham Kavanagh allowed Yeates to nip in between them and slot past Alnwick, to take the U’s to the interval comfortably in charge at 3-0.

Although much of the traffic in the first half had been one-way, Dean Gerken had to be on his toes early in the second half to palm away a Kavanagh long-range free-kick. However, for the most part, although the U’s were comfortably controlling the game, Carlisle had managed to get their defensive act together to minimise any further clear-cut chances for the U’s to extend their lead.

Finally, with just a minute left on the clock, Dean Hammond scored his first goal in U’s colours, latching on to an inch-perfect pass following a driving run from Scott Vernon to make it 4-0. As if that wasn’t enough, Akanni-Sunday Wasiu served up the cherry on the cake in injury-time, slotting home what the BBC described as “a stylish fifth” to make it 5-0 to the U’s.

Colchester United 5 (David Perkins 3’; Mark Yeates 14’, 31’; Dean Hammond 89’; Akanni-Sunday Wasiu 90’) Carlisle United 0

The U’s under Lambert would go on to have a very good next three months, losing just three times, and including a run of eight games unbeaten – the 8th ironically a 2-0 victory in the return fixture at Brunton Park. By the end of the season the U’s finished in a very solid 12th place, whilst Carlisle dodged relegation by one point and one place. Mark Yeates, already on six after his brace against Carlisle, would go on to be top goal scorer for the U’s that season, with 13 in all competitions.

Akanni-Sunday Wasiu would go out on loan to Luton Town in the January transfer window and was one of those eventually released by Lambert at the end of the 2008/09 season. He scored twice for the U’s, this one being his last. Wasiu wasn’t on his own in the clear out, with Lambert selling Mark Yeates to Middlesbrough for £450,000. Other players either let go, demoted to training with the youth team and/or not even given squad numbers included Chris Coyne, Jamie Guy, Matt Heath, Philip Ifil, Johnnie Jackson, Matt Lockwood and John White.

That after all that, Lambert was responsible for the protracted signing of Joël Thomas for £125,000 from Hamilton Academicals was laughable – particularly given by the following January he was sent back to the Accies on loan and had his U’s contract cancelled without ever returning.

Up the U’s!
[Post edited 6 Aug 17:54]
Nicky Smith
at 11:10 3 Aug 2022

Not sure if this has been spotted by anyone else, but it has been reported that Nicky Smith has been diagnosed with Esophageal cancer and has been receiving treatment. He has teamed up with The Pavers Foundation, a shoe shop managed by his wife Tanya, and their grant application has resulted in a £3,000 donation to the Essex-based Helen Rollason cancer charity.

Wishing you all the best and a speedy recovery Nicky!
The U'sual Rambling #1
at 12:51 30 Jul 2022

Here we go folks, are we ready for another rollercoaster of joy and dismay? Right now, I’ll probably take an even mix of both if it guarantees a solid midtable finish, but why stop at that. I agree with Durham in his excellent match review, given how well we finished the second half of the season, ignore the bookies perennial struggler tag – we can do this! For the new season, the blog has slightly metamorphosed into The U’sual Rambling, though largely the same format as last season, albeit perhaps less labour-intensive in content. In my case, pertinent for Saturday given I am missing the opener at Sixfields to dog-sit the beautiful (and high maintenance, super ridiculous, energetic etc.) border collie Reggie.
The U'sual Ramblings #1
at 12:50 30 Jul 2022

Here we go folks, are we ready for another rollercoaster of joy and dismay? Right now, I’ll probably take an even mix of both if it guarantees a solid midtable finish, but why stop at that. I agree with Durham in his excellent match review, given how well we finished the second half of the season, ignore the bookies perennial struggler tag – we can do this! For the new season, the blog has slightly metamorphosed into The U’sual Rambling, though largely the same format as last season, albeit perhaps less labour-intensive in content. In my case, pertinent for Saturday given I am missing the opener at Sixfields to dog-sit the beautiful (and high maintenance, super ridiculous, energetic etc.) border collie Reggie.

The world outside U’s World
So obviously there has been so much going on in the wider world that it would probably take the entire blog just trying to catch up – therefore, I’m not going to try. As a snapshot therefore, here is a very abridged precis, obviously with my u’sual commentary ramblings (quiet in the back!).

On the domestic front, BoJo has finally stood down as PM amidst a deluge of resignations from his cabinet and wider senior management team…although he hasn’t quite yet, waiting for his successor to be elected. The Tory party members are down to two candidates to choose from, the tax-dodging billionaire, or someone who probably can’t spell “tax-dodging billionaire”. Remarkably, Thatcher-lite Liz Truss is currently leading Rishi Sunak in the polls – ballots go out next week, and the poll closes on 2nd September, by which time the U’s will be:

top of the league / pushing for promotion / midtable / struggling (delete as applicable).

Given that ASLEF are on strike today in support of the RMT, which undoubtedly will hamper the efforts of the faithful to get to Sixfields, it is of course right to mention the ongoing rail workers industrial dispute. As I’ve already mentioned, whatever your views on a worker’s inalienable right to take industrial action when all other avenues are closed to them, no one surely can deny that RMT Leader Mick Lynch’s systematic excoriation of any right-wing journo that has been thrown in front of him has been a joy to watch. The latest offer is an 8% pay rise over two years, which is still a pay cut, and with plenty of other unacceptable strings attached.

Across the pond, I have been fascinated by the January 6th Committee hearings, and have managed to watch all of them bar the latest (US) prime-time showing, which was 1am here in Blighty. Quite how he’ll avoid prosecution for dereliction of duty is beyond me, but I’m certain Trump will manage to do so. However, it is becoming clear that even his fawning propaganda acolytes at Fox are beginning to waiver in their support, clearly under orders from the real head of the far-right Republicans, Rupert Murdoch. One wonders how Tucker Carlson will cope, perhaps the pillow guy will do him one-off special with Trump’s face on it, so he can cry himself to sleep every night?

Sadly, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is still a thing. Whilst there is no good news for a war in Europe, Russian progress has ground to a halt, and on many fronts is being pushed back by President Zelensky’s forces. Their latest target, having turned the Russian navy into a submarine battalion, is the Antonivskiy bridge over the Dnieper River, one of the main Russian resupply routes into Kherson. The previous soviet empire collapsed under the crippling debt from their invasion of Afghanistan, perhaps Putin is on track to emulate that? We can but hope!

U’s World
On Ukraine and relevant to the U’s, the Game for Ukraine shirts went up for auction a few weeks ago to add to the considerable £60k+ pot that we had already amassed from ticket sales for the British Red Cross humanitarian effort. I was lead bidder for one of the shirts at the close of online bidding, though eventually beaten by an in-person bid at the Open Day later that day – heyho, congratulations to whoever eventually won with a very substantial bid. By the end, over £6k had been added to the Game for Ukraine fundraising, so well done everyone who participated, a splendid effort and all for an excellent cause!

Transfer activity has been relatively modest so far, much to the annoyance of some clearly. Coming in, after leaving West Ham in the summer, midfielder Ossama Ashley has joined the U’s on a one-year contract. Not a particularly generous length for a contract, but on the flip side, more than enough time for Ash to make an impression and earn himself something longer next year. Attacking midfielder Alex Newby has also joined us after two seasons with fellow League Two rivals Rochdale and sporting a new blond rinse for the occasion too. I know very little about Alex, but 13 goals from 82 appearances for the Dale wasn’t a bad return, so let’s hope for more of the same with the U’s.

The two other sort of ‘signings’ were more really familiar faces staying longer. Emyr Huws, another midfielder, made a welcome return on a new one-year deal after making a very positive contribution to our upturn in the second half of last season. Sadly, he’ll miss the first part of the season after a horrendous X-rated ankle-breaker tackle from Millwall’s Jake Cooper. It’s easy to say there’s no place for that level of aggression in a pre-season friendly, but in truth there’s no place for that in any match, and I’m certain if it had been a competitive fixture Cooper would have been straight off. That Cooper went on to score the winner, catching Sham flat-footed to head over him into the net was equally galling.

Our final arrival, and staying on the Sham theme, was Sam Hornby from Bradford. I liked what I saw in Hornby when he played, and think he’ll be a very good ‘keeper for the U’s. Just as well too, given after a derisory initial offer, SPL side Livingston upped their offer for Shamal George to tempt him north of the border on a whopping 4-year deal. Although the fee was officially ‘undisclosed’, it has been widely reported as £87,500 (don’t know about any sell-on clauses though). Although that doesn’t sound like much, for Livingston that represents their second highest transfer fee paid, which I guess if nothing else is a marker for how the English and Scottish leagues compare? Livingston boss David Martindale was quite candid about their business plan – develop Sham as a goalkeeper, and in due course sell him back into English football for a healthy profit – and I for one wish Sham every success in his time at the Almondvale Stadium.

Stat attack
Even though overall our record for opening day fixtures is quite good, with 35 victories and 20 draws from 80 attempts, in recent years things they have been rather a barren source of amusement. In fact, since that memorable 3-0 victory at Hillsborough way back in 2004, we’ve only won on three more occasions. However, it’s perhaps telling that we have been away on all three of those occasions – the 7-1 demolition of the budgies in 2009, the following season at Exeter City, and at Priestfield in 2013. Perhaps an omen of things to come this afternoon? Incidentally, for those who bemoan we always seem to play away first match of the season, whilst that is certainly true in recent years (18 times in the last 22 years), overall the record is 42 openers away in 80 seasons.

Gillingham and Lincoln (five times) are our most common opponent, followed by Chesterfield (another 6-3 anyone?) and Hartlepool on four occasions, and Southend, Barnsley, Stockport and Torquay three times. We’ve never played Northampton on the opening game of a season, until now. The “Can We Play Your Every Week” award probably goes to Stockport, who have lost all three of their opening games against the U’s, with Chesterfield (lost three and drew one) a close second.

As far as attendance goes, pleasingly the highest was 25,217 at Norwich for that 7-1 victory, though considerably fewer than that towards the end of the match, followed by 24,238 at Birmingham City for our first ever fixture in the Championship, and 24,138 at Hillsborough for the previously mentioned 3-0 stunner. The lowest attendance, for matches I can find data for, was just 1,625 at Accrington Stanley back in 2017. At Layer Road, the 1952 game against Ipswich attracted 14,674, with 11,484 turning up for the 1956 game against Southend – the only two times we’ve had a five figure attendance for an opening day home match. Mind you, for balance, there were only 1,662 in attendance for the visit of Southend in our first match of the 1982/83 season, albeit that was in the then Football League Trophy.

Match of the Day
Cambridge United v Colchester United
Saturday 9th February 2002
Nationwide Second Division (Tier 3)
Attendance 3,954

For the opening Match of the Day of the new season, the random memorabilia match selector has perhaps kept one eye on today’s game, chosen our February 2002 trip to similar local rivals Cambridge United. I’ll be honest, even though I have the programme and clearly were there, my memories of the day are fairly vague, possibly because this was a Dad awayday on the train, with all the usual refreshments that would entail. By way of another coincidence, the 2001/02 season was the season of our red Ridley’s away kit – a shirt that many see our new away top as an homage to.

The U’s, managed by Steve Whitton at the time, had been having a bit of a tough time of it in what was then the Second Division. A decent start to the season, including that opening day 6-3 victory at Saltergate, had kept the U’s firmly in promotion contention. But, by mid-September things had started to slip, and with six defeats in the next nine games, but early November we were firmly midtable and well adrift of promotion contention.

A particularly disastrous January, including four defeats on the trot, saw the U’s slip into the bottom half, albeit relegation was very unlikely. Stopping the rot somewhat, the U’s ground out a gritty 1-1 draw at Layer Road with promotion hopefuls Brentford on the previous Saturday to bring an end to that losing streak. This gave us hope they could press on and get something at the Abbey, with Cambridge United already looking like relegation certainties, and were followed by a sizeable gathering of the faithful at the Abbey.

This would be our last match prior to construction of the new all-seater South Stand, and with the old open away terrace already demolished, U’s fans were housed at the south end of the Habbin Stand. As is often the case for local derbies, the match had attracted some of our more ‘gnarly’ support and being in the same stand as home fans to our left, made for a pretty intense atmosphere at times.

Steve Whitton’s U’s lined up that afternoon:
1….Simon Brown
7….Karl Duguid
30..John Halls
12..Scott Fitzgerald
3….Joe Keith
17..Bobby Bowry (Dean Morgan 64’)
20..Micky Stockwell
4….Gavin Johnson
11..Graham Barrett
28..Adrian Coote
9….Scott McGleish (Kevin Rapley 64’)

First and foremost, this was a special occasion for U’s playmaker Micky Stockwell – his 700th professional appearance. 610 of those had been at Ipswich, until they shamefully cast him aside as they won promotion via the play-offs to the top flight. Their loss was very much our gain, and Micky had been a rock in the U’s midfield for 89 matches so far, putting in performances that belied his age time and time again.

If we gathered full of hope and expectation for kick-off, that was somewhat dented after just 18 seconds, when Tom Youngs blasted the home side into a 1-0 lead. It’s difficult to say it was against the run of play at the time, but it clearly would prove to be as the first half wore on. The U’s laid siege to the Cambridge goal, but record signing Adrian Coote wasted three guilt-edged chances to at least wipe out their opener, and to be honest give the U’s the lead their dominance deserved.

Under relentless pressure, Cambridge were fighting tooth and nail to hold on to their slender lead, and midway through the first half diminutive midfielder Luke Guttridge picked up a yellow card doing just that. Still though the U’s couldn’t make their pressure count, with half chances for McGleish and Barrett either drifting wide or ending safely in the arms of Cambridge ‘keeper Shaun Marshall. On the stroke of half time the U’s perhaps received the breakthrough they needed, when Gutteridge picked up his second yellow card and was off – could we make the next 45 minutes against ten men count?

Well, for the best part of the first 20 minutes of the second half, the answer was sadly not. Still the U’s dominated, but resolute defending and our misfiring attack combined to deny the U’s the goal they deserved. On 64 minutes Whitton made a double substitution, bringing on Kevin Rapley and Dean Morgan for McGleish and Bowry. Within a few minutes it had paid off, with Coote stealing in to finally hit the back of the net, bring the U’s level, and send our support into raptures.

With renewed energy, some fresh legs, and a whole heap of self-belief, the U’s redoubled their efforts to find a winner, whilst t’other U’s redoubled their efforts to cling onto the point they so desperately needed in their fight to avoid relegation. At it looked like they might do it too, until with just five minutes to go super-sub Kevin Rapley (aka Krapley Rapley) hammered home the winner we so richly deserved and sent our support ballistic in celebration.

Cambridge United 1 (Tom Youngs 1’) Colchester United 2 (Adrian Coote 68’; Kevin Rapley 85’)

Three more draws after the Abbey game steadied the ship for the U’s and ease any nagging worries about relegation. Although we eventually finished 15th, that still represented year on year progress for the U’s since their return to the third tier. Cambridge United weren’t as fortunate, finishing rock bottom of the league by some distance, and were relegated to the basement.

The financial impact of that relegation put a severe dent in their redevelopment plans for the Abbey, with the intention originally to replace the North Terrace with a much larger all-seater stand, moving the pitch south in the process. That’s why, when you visit the Abbey today, there’s that large swathe of grass between the pitch and the South Stand.

Micky Stockwell would go on to make 145 appearances for the U’s, scoring 24 goals, until a serious back injury forced his retirement in 2003. Despite his Ipswich roots, Micky would become a firm fans favourite amongst the faithful, and a legend to this day.

Up the U’s!
[Post edited 6 Aug 13:43]
Cobblers v U’s - 30th July
at 11:53 16 Jul 2022

First game of the season, and rail union ASLEF have voted for strike action in support of the RMT on that day. Eight lines will be affected, including Greater Anglia, West Midlands, and in my case, Great Western. Whatever your thoughts on a worker’s inalienable right to withdraw their labour when pressed, let’s hope there’s some sort of negotiation before then.
FGR are not happy…
at 09:52 12 May 2022

…well, of course they are, they’ve just been promoted as champions. But definitely miffed that behind the scenes their manager Rob Edwards was already in negotiations with Watford. The official statement reads:

FGR confirms the departure of Head Coach Rob Edwards and Assistant Head Coach Kyle Richie. Rob & Richie were a key part of the team that gained promotion to League One this season. We’re disappointed that our support, loyalty and honesty towards Rob has been repaid in this way - with negotiations taking place behind our backs.
We had no contact from Watford, from whom we might expect less
[ed. think they mean more, or do they?] but in any event this kind of behaviour gives football a bad name.
We thank Rob for all his work at FGR - forgive him the manner of his departure and wish him well.
On this day...
at 16:33 10 May 2022

...anniversaries seem to be coming thick and fast these days - 30 years ago today :-)

When Monday Comes #37
at 14:17 8 May 2022

When Saturday Comes 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.
When Saturday Comes #37
at 14:16 7 May 2022

When Saturday Comes 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.

20 up Freddie?

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 “the situation as of 23rd February”, and that he was the president “of Ukraine, not a mini-Ukraine”. 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 “significant new information”. Starmer is “confident that no rules were broken” – 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 “an incremental step on the long road to Irish unity”.

U’s World
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 Durham 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 “the time has come to confirm that with a heavy heart, I have left Colchester United”. 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.

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

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.

Stat attack
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.

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

Match of the Day 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!

I do however have my somewhat prophetic calendar entry 😊

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!

Yeovil Town 0 Colchester United 0

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

…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 – AND IT’S PROMOTION FOR COLCHESTER UNITED! 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!”.

Up the U’s!
U'sual Champions League 2022 - Final
at 15:37 5 May 2022

Here goes for the U'sual Champions League 2022 final, between burnsieespana and RSCOSWORTH, and 3rd place play-off between wessex_exile and gerry_us.

The Champions League Final
28/05/2022: Liverpool v Real Madrid (kick-off 8pm)

There are nine categories to predict, so please either post here or PM me your predictions, and I will reveal when I have them all. For categories C-H, as usual there will be 2pts if spot-on, and one point for whoever is closest (or 1pt each if equidistant). Deadline for all predictions is kick-off at 8pm on Saturday.

(A) Result - 3pts spot-on, 1pt for the outcome; 
(B) Goal scorer - pick one, get 1pt for each goal they score (including own goals); 
(C) Attempts on target - 2pts for spot-on, 1pt if closest;
(D) Attempts off target - ditto; 
(E) Corners - ditto; 
(F) Fouls - ditto; 
(G) Yellow cards - ditto (a straight red is not two yellows); and 
(H) Red cards - ditto (two yellows will count as two yellows and one red). 
(TB) The tie-break is the minute for the first substitution, closest (either side) wins. In the unlikely event that there are no substitutions, this will be counted as 0 (zero) minutes. Substitutions in injury-time will be counted as 45' or 90'.

The small print
Note that for the final alone, a spot-on result will not count towards the tie-break, it's just the total points scored. 

All predictions will be for the normal time match, extra-time or penalties will not count. The only questions you can't match exactly on are (A), (B) and (TB), so whilst there is no other advantage to predicting first, predicting last may mean having to change one or more of those predictions. 

All stats will be taken from the BBC Sport website, just in case there are discrepancies elsewhere.

Good luck everyone!

edit: I should have added, a half-time substitution will be counted as 46 minutes.
[Post edited 5 May 22:13]
When Saturday Comes #36
at 21:26 30 Apr 2022

When Saturday Comes tomorrow, and I will be on a train heading over to God’s own county for my last U’s game of the season. That should have been last Friday’s trip to the Principality, but as posted elsewhere I was more than happy to be pre-booked to dog-sit Emma’s collie Reggie that night and had to be content with one of Nadine’s ‘downstreams’ on iFollow. Given both the performance and the result, whilst I was sorry to miss it in person, I was more than happy with how Friday night turned out in the end. Tomorrow will be a gathering of the clans for us, with at the last count at least 8, possibly more, of the family gathering for the match. Ironically, I’ll see them all again on Bank Holiday Monday for a family birthday, but I’ll be driving over for that one.
When Saturday Comes #36
at 21:25 29 Apr 2022

When Saturday Comes tomorrow, and I will be on a train heading over to God’s own county for my last U’s game of the season. That should have been last Friday’s trip to the Principality, but as posted elsewhere I was more than happy to be pre-booked to dog-sit Emma’s collie Reggie that night and had to be content with one of Nadine’s ‘downstreams’ on iFollow. Given both the performance and the result, whilst I was sorry to miss it in person, I was more than happy with how Friday night turned out in the end. Tomorrow will be a gathering of the clans for us, with at the last count at least 8, possibly more, of the family gathering for the match. Ironically, I’ll see them all again on Bank Holiday Monday for a family birthday, but I’ll be driving over for that one.

Until Putin gets the f’ck out of Ukraine, it will sadly continue to dominate world affairs. This week, Russian attention appears to have returned to focus on the capital Kyiv, with cruise missiles reportedly fired at the capital, perhaps not coincidentally whilst being visited by UN Secretary General António Guterres. Putin had always planned to sweep into Kyiv in the early days of the invasion to remove the democratically elected government as soon as possible. Clearly underestimating the courage and determined resolve of the Ukrainian forces (and people), that plan faltered, stagnated and eventually appeared to be abandoned a month ago. It is unclear whether these attacks signal a new Kyiv offensive, or simply a cheap shot aimed at the UN Secretary General, remains to be seen.

…and whilst we focus elsewhere, and despite the progress reported last week in the control of Covid, China has reintroduced lockdown measures in Beijing and Shanghai this week. Often considered to be the country of origin for the disease, China has always followed a zero-tolerance approach to Covid-19. Shanghai is facing an estimated 10,000 new cases daily and has ordered its 25 million residents to stay in their homes or immediate neighbourhoods for the foreseeable. In Beijing, schools have been closed, targeted lockdowns imposed on some residential buildings, and a mass testing exercise has been rolled out.

© Art Sputnik Rat

Sleaze allegations and the Conservative party seem to be going hand in hand these days – no pun intended! In what has been described as a “highly charged” meeting of Conservative backbenchers on Tuesday night, female Tory MPs shared accounts of alleged sexism and harassment by their male colleagues. These allegations include one claim (from two separate sources) that a male Tory MP repeatedly watched pornography on his mobile phone whilst in the House of Commons. The Chief Whip Chris Heaton-Harris has urged witnesses to refer any allegations to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme. The Mirror’s political editor Pippa Crerar reports that at present 56 MPs are facing various allegations of sexual misconduct.

U’s World
Voting has now closed for the various Colchester United player of the season awards. In a nice throwback to days of yore, the winners to be announced when the team returns to the pitch after the Walsall game has finished tomorrow. I am dependant on a lift back to North Station post-match however, so how much of that I get to see, who knows.

Up for grabs are the following:
Hospital Radio Player of the Year
CUSA Away Player of the Year
CUSA Player of the Year
Goal of the Season
(my vote Tchamadeu)
Young Player of the Year (my vote Chilvers)
Players’ Player of the Year
Official Player of the Year
(my vote Skuse)

I’m sure everyone will have their own view on preferred candidates, so I guess if nothing else it is to be celebrated that in a season that has at times been so poor, we still have multiple credible contenders in every category. More so when you consider, for instance, the improvement that Coxe has made as the season has progressed, particularly since Wayne Brown took over. Never likely to be one of the award winners tomorrow, unless they hastily include a “Most Improved” category, having Coxe and players like him is still a massive positive as we head towards summer and the preparation for 2022/23.

Speaking of which, dates have been announced for the new season, which will include a winter break for the Premier League and Championship to accommodate the Qatar World Cup in November and December, as follows:
June 16th 2022 - Premier League fixture lists released;
June 23rd 2022 – EFL fixture lists released;
July 30th 2022 – EFL seasons start;
August 6th 2022 – Premier League season starts;
w/c August 8th 2022 – Carabao Cup competition starts;
w/c August 29th 2022 – EFL Trophy competition starts;
November 14th 2022 – Start of World Cup break for Premier League and Championship;
December 10th 2022 – Championship season recommences after World Cup Group Stages;
December 26th 2022 – Premier League season recommences after World Cup final;
February 26th 2023 – Carabao Cup final;
March 19th 2023 – EFL Trophy final;
May 6th 2023 – EFL seasons finish;
May 28th 2023 – Premier League finishes; and
May 27th – 29th 2023 – EFL Play-Off finals.

And finally, it is fantastic to report that Junior Tchamadeu was rightly awarded the EFL League Two Apprentice of the Year award at the Grosvenor Hotel awards ceremony during the week. Junior has made so much progress since his debut as a 16-year-old against Grimsby in 2020, with to date over 30 appearances for the U’s first team this season already, not to mention his stunning injury-time winner for the U’s against Tranmere, his first of what I’m sure will be many in a U’s shirt. He clearly is an extremely talented young man, and I only hope we can hold on to him for a few more years to watch him continue to develop.

Well done Junior!

Stat attack
Walsall have been around in one form or another for a long time. Originally founded in 1888 as Walsall Town Swifts, an amalgamation of Walsall Town and Walsall Swifts, they were admitted to the new Second Division as a founding member in 1892. They dropped out of the league in 1895, and in a896 changed their name to just Walsall Football Club. For the next 20+ years they yo-yoed between the Second Division and the Midland League, before eventually joining the newly formed Third Division North in 1921, again as a founding member.

They have remained in the Football league ever since, with four relatively brief returns to the second tier in that time, the most recent coming to an end with relegation back to League One in 2004, at the time managed by Paul Merson following the April dismissal of Colin Lee. I believe I’m right in saying that their 19th place finish with 53pts last season, one place ahead of the U’s, was their lowest league placing of their history.

Our league record against the Saddlers is about as even as you can get it, played 70 matches, won 25, lost 25, drawn 20. They did of course comprehensively win the Bescot fixture 3-0 earlier this season against a very poor Hayden Mullins side, so the U’s will be keen to avoid them repeating the 2008/09 double they achieved, their most recent since way back in 1974/75.

Back in 1956, when Benny Fenton took his U’s to play at their former ground Fellows Park, the match was watched by a whopping 15,179, and our home game the very next season saw 12,770 jammed into Layer Road. These days, crowds in the order of 3-4k are far more likely, both home and away, and though I think we might struggle to reach 3k tomorrow, we’ll be well ahead of the lowest attendance to date of 1,979 at Layer Road back in 1980.

Our record victory over the Saddlers is a toss-up between Jimmy Allen’s 6-1 victory at Layer Road in 1953, or Phil Parkinson’s 5-0 demolition in 2005. That’s a moot point – 5-0 always feels better to me because you haven’t conceded, but league rules would place 6-1 higher on goals scored. Walsall can claim one 4-0 victory, although this was at Layer Road back in 1961, and a 5-2 at Fellows Park against Jim Smith’s U’s.

For games of note, Tony Humes’ 4-4 draw at the Community Stadium in 2015 will take some beating. Walsall took a first half 2-0 lead through goals from Romaine Sawyers and Milan Lalkovič. George Moncur and Marvin Sordell levelled the scores in less that ten minutes of the second half. Walsall regained the lead just before the hour mark with a goal from George Evans, with Owen Garvan equalising actually on the hour mark. Darren Ambrose then looked to have snatched the winner with only 10 minutes to go, only for James O’Connor to level for the Saddlers in injury-time. Eight goals, eight different goal-scorers, and if you were the defensive coach for either side, an absolute shocker.

Match of the Day
Colchester United v Salford City
Saturday 7th December 2019
Sky Bet League 2 (Tier 4)
Attendance 3,713

Match of the Day for this blog, and the random match selector comes virtually right up to date with our December home game against Salford City in the 2019/20 season, our first match against the Class of ’92 new kids on the block. I have to say, with the much-awaited U’s trip to Old Trafford less than two weeks away, and particularly because I’d been out on a works Xmas do the night before, I really was doing well to be off to this one as well, though my bank manager might not agree.

John McGreal’s U’s were at the time pressing for at the very least the play-offs, and even automatic promotion wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility. We hadn’t lost since October and were currently sitting just outside the play-off zone, and only 5pts from automatic promotion. Salford were having a decent first season too, their first in the Football League since their National League promotion via the play-offs and were mid-table just a few places below the U’s. They’d actually already been in 3rd place this season, though that was on the first day after beating Stevenage 2-0 – definitely a case of peaking too soon as it would turn out.

John McGreal’s U’s lined up that afternoon:
1….Dean Gerken
2….Ryan Jackson (4. Tom Lapslie 65’)
3….Cohen Bramall
18..Tom Eastman
5….Luke Prosser (captain)
14..Brandon Comley
8….Harry Pell
49..Kwame Poku (26. Luke Gambin 70’)
7….Courtney Senior
45..Frank Nouble
9….Luke Norris (13. Theo Robinson 81’)

There were a few changes following the EFL Trophy 2-1 defeat at home to Stevenage, with Deano coming in for Ethan Ross in goal, but the biggest surprise was not even seeing Callum Harriott’s name on the bench after starting in that Stevenage game. The rumour was maybe he’d picked up a knock, but McGreal revealed post-match it was simply down to squad rotation (and giving Callum a rest), and his place was taken by Chuck Norris.

Taking my seat up the back of S3, I was delighted to see I was in the company of none other than Noah and his entourage, so we settled back in a standing repose to enjoy what we hoped would be a reasonably comfortable victory over the new boys. Not so it would turn out – with Salford effectively playing a 5 across the bank, it was clear their primary intention was to stifle the U’s attack, and for large parts of the game they managed it.

In the opening 20 minutes or so, decent chances were almost non-existent. A deep cross from Bramall had the visiting goalkeeper Chris Neal scrambling to hold on to it with Norris lurking. More or less on the 10-minute mark they registered their first effort on goal, a long-range punt which whistled well wide of Gerken’s goal. The U’s returned the compliment a few minutes later, with Senior latching onto to a good head down from Prosser, but he too blazed wide of the post. As the half wore on, Courtney Senior was starting to create real problems for the Ammie’s defence, but it was Gerken who had to be on his toes to drop on a long range deflected shot on the half hour mark.

A few minutes later, a surging run from Senior, twisting and turning through a lethargic Salford midfield, saw him unceremoniously dumped to the ground on the edge of the penalty area for the first yellow card of the match. Bramall lifted his free kick over the wall, but also just over the bar as well. As the U’s continued to press, Nouble turned his marker inside and out, and from the left byline cut back for Poku, but Poku’s curling effort lacked pace and was straight at the ‘keeper. Again Nouble created problems down the left wing, this time pulling it back to Brandon Comley, and his rasping daisy-cutter forced Neal into an inelegant but effective diving block, with the ball ballooning up and away from danger.

And so, Salford City managed to hang on at 0-0 to half time. The U’s really should have been ahead at the break, but a lack of any real penetration up front to get through a determined Salford defence meant we still had a lot to do in the second half. But, playing towards a noisy South Stand, we had to hope the U’s would find a way through. Being the U’s though, we very nearly handed the lead to Salford early in the second half, when a wayward pass across the edge of our own penalty area ran straight to Towell, but he dragged his weak effort wide of the goal.

Still though, a wake-up call for the U’s, and if we needed another one it came just after the hour mark. A speculative long range shot from Towell was blocked by Gerken, and Armstrong tapped in the rebound from close range – how relieved were we to see the linesman’s flag go up for offside. It was impossible to tell from the South Stand, and still not particularly clear on the highlights, but we’d gladly take that decision. To be fair, Armstrong didn’t object too much to the decision, usually a good sign it was the right call.

Finally, the U’s woke from their torpor, and after Norris had flashed a shot from a narrow angle wide, when it was probably a more sensible move to square it into the box, Senior again had the ‘keeper scrambling, but again his effort drifted wide of the post. With Lapslie and Gambin already replacing Jackson and Poku, with ten minutes to go McGreal’s final roll of the dice was to bring on Theo Robinson for Norris.

With a minute to go, chaos in the Salford City penalty area saw a veritable game of ping-pong, but no one in a blue shirt could get their toe on it to poke home. Lapslie particularly was being his usual nuisance self, and deep into injury time fired in a cross that was clearly blocked by the outstretched arms of a Salford City defender. It really should have been the penalty the South Stand were baying for, but the referee inexplicably saw fit to only give the corner. However, from that corner an exquisite back heel flick from Nouble at the near post was met by Harry Pell diving in to head home, and the ground erupted in celebration.

The scenes were chaotic, as supporters and players celebrated a memorable goal to keep our play-off ambitions very much alive. This, THIS is why you should never leave a game early. The momentary gain of getting home a few minutes earlier is wiped from the ledger by missing moments like these when they arrive.

Colchester United 1 (Harry Pell 90+3’) Salford City 0

The 3pts moved the U’s to within one place and one point of the play-offs, and a point at Scunthorpe and back-to-back wins against Carlisle (h) and Leyton Orient (a) propelled us into those play-offs. Although our form was erratic to say the least from then on, when Covid brought an untimely end to the season we were still, just, in those play-offs.

There is a longer highlights video from Salford City, but bizarrely that doesn’t include Harry Pell’s injury time winner – perhaps Salford City just couldn’t bring themselves to show it. So enjoy the U’s highlight reel, and particularly the emotion shown following Harry’s last ditch goal.

Up the U’s!
When Saturday Comes #35
at 15:31 24 Apr 2022

When Saturday Comes and the U’s have already given us a fantastic start to the weekend, with a stirring and well-deserved 2-1 victory at promotion-chasing Newport County. Yes, the Exiles had lost the previous three at home and are looking like they are going to bottle their chance for the play-offs, and yes with the U’s now safe technically we had little to play for, but don’t take anything away from this performance. If Wayne Brown is still being ‘interviewed’ for the full-time role as Colchester United manager, then last night was the equivalent of having an excellent incisive question of your own lined up for the interview panel.
When Saturday Comes #35
at 15:30 23 Apr 2022

When Saturday Comes and the U’s have already given us a fantastic start to the weekend, with a stirring and well-deserved 2-1 victory at promotion-chasing Newport County. Yes, the Exiles had lost the previous three at home and are looking like they are going to bottle their chance for the play-offs, and yes with the U’s now safe technically we had little to play for, but don’t take anything away from this performance. If Wayne Brown is still being ‘interviewed’ for the full-time role as Colchester United manager, then last night was the equivalent of having an excellent incisive question of your own lined up for the interview panel.

© Huw Evans Picture Agency

With his 8th of the season, Noah Chilvers is rapidly becoming hot property for the U’s, and I have no doubt will be the subject of considerable interest during the summer. Likewise for Shamal George I’m sure, though fortunately we can activate a one-year contract extension clause to ensure if anyone else wants him, they’re going to have to pay. I’m also delighted for Big John Akinde, finally off the mark with a deft backheel flick to divert Freddie’s effort into the net, and then picking out Chilvers with a defence-unlocking slide rule assist for the second.

The 3pts moves the U’s for now up to the heady heights of 15th – if you’re wondering, the last time we were here or higher in the league was 10th September after our 3-2 victory at Barrow. No doubt results this afternoon will whittle away that position, so enjoy it while you can. The 3pts also finally took the U’s past that magical 50-point mark, though I stand by my previous assertion, I reckon 40 points is going to be the safety mark this season. This afternoon, if Oldham are beaten at Boundary Park by play-off chasing Salford City, and both Barrow and Stevenage win their home matches, the Latics will be relegated alongside lowly Scunthorpe. At the top, although FGR are clearly already promoted given their significant goal difference advantage over leading play-off contender Northampton – who have three games left and are 9pts behind – they will be confirmed as promoted with just a point at Bristol Rovers.

Ukrainian forces continue to defend the shattered remains of Sea of Azov port Mariupol against almost overwhelming odds. Certainly, eventually the city must be taken, but at what cost for the Russian aggressors? A humanitarian corridor to evacuate those civilians who haven’t already got out, or been killed in the fighting, is planned to be established today. Previous efforts have failed, often with Russian military action claimed as the reason. Of minimal significance to the embattled people of Ukraine, the UK is facing a cooking oil shortage due to a disruption in Ukrainian exports. Some supermarket chains are already rationing sales to just two or three items per customer – like that’s not going to encourage panic-buying at all.

Kate and Gerry McCann have welcomed the news that a German man has been formally identified by Portuguese authorities as a suspect in the disappearance of their daughter Madeleine, citing the man as an “arguido” – a Portuguese legal term usually translated as “named suspect”, “formal suspect” or “person of interest”. Although the authorities did not name the man, it is known he is Christian Brueckner, a 44-year old convicted rapist. Portugal’s statute of limitations for crimes that carry a maximum sentence of 10 years or more imprisonment is 15 years, and the 15th anniversary of Madeleine’s disappearance is the 3rd of May this year. This may be a factor in why the Portuguese authorities have made this move now.

After the massive spike in Covid infection rates through January and February, with a secondary spike in March, finally the infection rates are falling back towards where they were during the second lockdown. We’re not out of this yet, and the death toll is still around 250 people per day, but surely, hopefully, now an end to this is in sight? Mind you, we’ve all said that a few times before, so fingers firmly crossed for now.

U’s World
Apart from the excellent result last night for the U’s, the club are also running their annual End of Season Player awards. Fans can vote for Official Player of the Season, Young Player of the Season and Goal of the Season here: Without wishing to influence anyone’s voting intentions, I’ve gone for Skuse, Chilvers and Tchamadeu, but in fairness there’s a lot of excellent competition in all three categories.

It's also fantastic news that Junior Tchamadeu has been nominated and shortlisted for the EFL League Two Apprentice of the Year award. He is alongside Stevenage’s Alex Aitken and Rochdale’s Ethan Brierley, and even if he doesn’t win, it’s still a fantastic achievement to be one of the three short-listed. The EFL awards ceremony can be watched live and for free on the Sky Sports app, streaming live from the Grosvenor House Hotel in London from 7pm onwards tomorrow night.

And finally…as has already been discussed on the messageboard, following a three-year partnership, Texo’s sponsorship deal of the U’s home shirts will conclude at the end of this season. It has been announced that the Workhorse Group, already sponsors of our away shirts, will now pick up sponsorship of the home shirts as well. With Robbie having already confirmed that we return to blue and white stripes next season, this has led to speculation that with the same sponsor for home and away shirts, the U’s might revert to default blue and white stripes for all matches, only relying on the away shirt as a clash kit. That remains to be seen, but I doubt there’d be many (any?) objections if they do.

Stat attack
The weekend stat attack seems a tad pointless, given we’ve already played our weekend fixture last night, so how about this. It’s always good to have a goal in life, so why not this season, wouldn’t it be good if at the very least we could improve on last season’s performance, finishing 20th on 51 points and with a -17 goal difference? So right now we’re in 15th place, on the same 51 points, and with a -14 goal difference.

Of the four teams below the U’s playing this afternoon, I expect Bradford City to easily overcome relegated Scunthorpe to overtake the U’s, no matter how poor the Bantams were at the JobServe. However, I can’t see Rochdale getting anything at Exeter City, and Walsall face a tough game at home against automatic promotion contenders Port Vale. Carlisle have a tricky visit to Harrogate to negotiate, and with goal difference against them, they’ll have to win to overtake the U’s. I’ll predict we’ll be in 16th place by 5pm this afternoon, which will mean just one more point from either Walsall at home or Hartlepool away will ensure we have at least improved on last season’s performance. Hardly anything to crow about I grant you, but given where we were at one point, I’ll take that.

The wages of sin is death but so is the salary of virtue, and at least the evil get to go home early on Fridays” Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad

Incidentally – on the subject of Friday night football. We all remember Friday nights at Layer Road, so often seemingly the perfect start to any weekend, so here are those stats. Overall, we’ve played 351 matches in all competitions on a Friday night throughout our history (obviously not counting Good Friday matches), winning 164 times (nearly half!), drawing 94 and losing 93. It gets even better at home, with the U’s winning 136 games and drawing 55 out of 238 matches, losing just 47 games. Home and away, Stockport County are our most frequent opponent, playing them 20 times on a Friday night, followed by Tranmere Rovers (19) and dear friends Southend United (15).

Our best Friday night result is 5-0, something we’ve achieved twice, in 1953 against QPR and in 1974 against Grimsby Town. The latter is particularly pertinent, because as a tender youth of just 12 years age, I was Barside for the Grimsby game with my sister and brother-in-law. John Froggatt scored one of his few (only?) hat-tricks for the U’s that night, supported by a brace from Bobby Svarc, the final one a magnificent diving header from the very edge of the penalty area. Mind you, Notts County went one better in 1963, thrashing Benny Fenton’s U’s 6-0 in what was the last game that season.

Overall, Crewe Alexandra have to be our most preferred Friday night opponent, with the U’s winning nine and drawing one of the 12 Friday night games we’ve had. Although we’ve only played Peterborough United four times on a Friday night, the U’s have won every one of them. Grimsby, Plymouth Argyle and Port Vale aren’t much better, each losing the three Friday night games we’ve played against them. On the flipside, near neighbours Cambridge United are pretty close to being our bogey side, beating the U’s eight times and drawing two of our 12 Friday night matches. Barring games against sides we’ve only played once or twice on a Friday night, Cardiff City arguably has the most consistent Friday night record against the U’s, winning four out of five attempts.

Match of the Day
Colchester United v Ipswich Town
Friday 29th September 2006
Coca-Cola Championship (Tier 2)
Attendance 6,065


Match of the Day for this blog, and it seemed fitting after yesterday evening that this one is a Friday night special – and no, I don’t mean the (ahem) ‘free-love’ parties preferred by New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey and his wife, nor indeed the act of defecating in a work toilet late on a Friday and leaving it to stew over the weekend for colleagues to discover on Monday morning. I don’t have too many Friday night games in my memorabilia collection (for obvious reasons), but I do have our 2006 game against Ipswich Town.

Well, it’s in my memorabilia collection because it’s on my calendar (hence with thanks the programme photo is from Graeson’s website), but it’s only on my calendar because that was the evening me and a bunch of mates went to a local Salisbury pub to watch the Sky TV televised game. There was no way unfortunately I could be at the game in person, nor was it likely I could have got a ticket even if I could get there, so opted for the second-best option, and managed to persuade a slightly bemused landlord to screen the game in his back room. This was mainly on the promise that we would be drinking plenty of alcohol throughout the night – we definitely made good on that pledge.

In context, this was of course our first season in the Championship, and thus our first opportunity for a competitive fixture against the auld enemy since Dick Graham’s U’s were drawn away at Portman Road in the 2nd round of the 1969/70 League Cup (we lost 4-0). In the league, our paths hadn’t crossed since 1957, fifty seasons earlier. We’d had a slightly ropey start to our first season at this level, losing the first four on the bounce. But Geraint Williams had since steadied the ship, winning three and drawing two of the next five games, meaning the U’s were 15th going into the match. Ipswich had had a similarly patchy start to the campaign and were only 3pts ahead of the U’s at the time.

Geraint Williams U’s lined up that evening:
1….Aidan Davison
2….Greg Halford
12..Pat Baldwin
5….Wayne Brown
18..Chris Barker
14..Richard Garcia
6….Kevin Watson
10..Kem Izzet
7….Karl Duguid
11..Chris Iwelumo
8….Jamie Cureton

Savour the atmosphere as the U’s run out

The U’s started brightly, and at pace, but it was Ipswich who nearly opened the scoring when Sylvain Legwinski wastefully drilled a pass from Jon Macken wide when he should at least have tested Aidan Davison. They were made to pay in the very next U’s attack in the ninth minute. A drilled shot by Cureton from the edge of the box threaded its way through a forest of legs, leaving ‘keeper Lewis Price somewhat unsighted until the last moment. All he could do was palm away the effort, straight into the path of the master of shithousery Karl Duguid. Doogie kept his cool, managing to keep his foot over the awkwardly bouncing ball, and side foot home beyond the despairing (second) dive of Price.

Layer Road erupted, the back room of the Ale and Cider Press Salisbury erupted, I’d imagine rooms in pubs, clubs and houses all over the world erupted as the U’s took an early lead in the game. Buoyed by this early success and roared on under the floodlights by the Faithful, the U’s continued to harry and press Ipswich for the remainder of the first half, and on balance were unlucky not to have grabbed a second before half-time that their dominance deserved. Mind you, it wasn’t all plain sailing, with a glancing header from Alan Lee flashing across the face of the goal and wide in the closing seconds of the first half.

Into the second half, Ipswich finally seemed to come to terms with the battle they had on their hands, and the bear pit of a cauldron it was being staged in. As Ipswich grew in confidence, the U’s backline, marshalled expertly by Wayne Brown, stepped up and resolutely kept Ipswich at bay through fair means or foul. Jim Macken looked like he’d equalised for Ipswich early in the second half, but it was somewhat controversially ruled out by referee Lee Probert for a foul on Aidan Davison. It took me a moment to realise it had been disallowed, prompting more celebrations as if we’d just won the World Cup. Post-match, George commented “ I couldn't see why the goal was ruled out. Of course, I'm glad it wasn't given, but if I had been Jim Magilton, I would have been disappointed”.

Again, the U’s nearly managed to make Ipswich pay for their profligacy, but Price pulled off a superb save to deny Iwelumo a minute or so after the disallowed goal. Just after the hour Macken was subbed by manager Jim Magilton, replacing him with former Colchester United loanee Billy Clarke. Clarke had a short loan spell with the U’s at the tail end of the previous promotion season, with two starts and four from the bench. Although Ipswich continued to press, still they couldn’t unlock the U’s defence, even after the 86th minute introduction of attacking midfielder Dean Bowditch, and the U’s held on for a historic victory.

Colchester United 1 (Karl Duguid 9’) Ipswich Town 0

The result propelled the U’s ahead of Ipswich Town and into 9th place, and with our home form particularly strong (it would be mid-February before the U’s lost another game at Layer Road), it was the springboard for a sustained and genuine challenge for the Premier League play-offs. Obviously, history shows we didn’t quite make it, but knowing it was still a very real possibility going into the penultimate match of the season at Stoke City was one hell of an achievement.

The U’s finished in 10th place, seven points ahead of Ipswich Town, 12 points ahead of Norwich City, and a whopping 27 points ahead of Southend United, who were relegated immediately back to League One.

Relax, pour yourself a cold one, and enjoy again this vintage moment 😊

Up the U’s!
When Saturday Comes #34
at 16:55 17 Apr 2022

When Saturday Comes and our Easter Bank Holiday programme is already underway, following a dismal 2-0 defeat at St James’ Park yesterday. It’s not so much the result that galls, in truth deep down I suspect we all thought it was going to be a difficult trip to get anything out of, it was the manner of that defeat. To say the U’s were lacklustre is a massive understatement – and it wasn’t as if it was down to Exeter City simply outplaying us, I didn’t think they were all that to be honest. I can cope with defeat, heaven knows the U’s have given me enough practice in recent years, but to go down without a whimper, relying on Man of the Match Sham to keep it from becoming a cricket score against an average Exeter City, was just dreadful.
When Saturday Comes #34
at 16:54 16 Apr 2022

When Saturday Comes and our Easter Bank Holiday programme is already underway, following a dismal 2-0 defeat at St James’ Park yesterday. It’s not so much the result that galls, in truth deep down I suspect we all thought it was going to be a difficult trip to get anything out of, it was the manner of that defeat. To say the U’s were lacklustre is a massive understatement – and it wasn’t as if it was down to Exeter City simply outplaying us, I didn’t think they were all that to be honest. I can cope with defeat, heaven knows the U’s have given me enough practice in recent years, but to go down without a whimper, relying on Man of the Match Sham to keep it from becoming a cricket score against an average Exeter City, was just dreadful.

On route to Exeter – Taunton, the Jewel in the South West’s Passage

Heyho, we go again on Easter Monday at home to Bradford City, still looking for the points to mathematically ensure survival. If there’s any positive to take from yesterday, it was despite good wins for both Barrow, smashing table-topping FGR 4-0, and Stevanage narrowly beating Rochdale 1-0, Oldham had at least read the script, beaten 2-0 at home by promotion-chasing Northampton. That result preserved the 8pt (plus goal difference) safety cushion we have from relegation, and with only four games to go, Oldham must win three of those four to have any chance of overtaking the U’s (or win 2 and draw 2 and take their chances with goal difference). Barrow and Stevenage aren’t out of the woods yet though, so Oldham’s immediate priority will be closing the 3pt gap and reining in at least one of those two first.

First up for the Latics is a trip to the New Lawn on Monday, to take on an FGR side who will be smarting and keen to avenge that Good Friday capitulation against Barrow. If the U’s beat Bradford City and Oldham fail to win, that’s it, we’re finally officially safe. Then the post-season inquest can begin, to make sure we don’t find ourselves in this situation for a third season running.

In a troubling development in the Ukraine crisis, the Kremlin has warned the West of “unpredictable consequences” if the US and allies continue to supply arms to Ukrainian forces. President Zelensky went one step further, openly expressing concerns that the world should be prepared for the possibility that Russia will launch a nuclear strike against Ukraine. However, Kremlin’s warning has also been seen as tacit admission that the supply of arms is actually proving effective, particularly coming on the back of the sinking of the Russian warship Moskva. Although not admitted by the Russian defence ministry, who claim it was down to a fire on board causing an ammunition magazine to explode, NATO and US officials agree with Ukrainian claims they hit the vessel with two of their Neptune missiles. Badly damaged in the attack, the Moskva sank whilst being towed back to port – that at least has been admitted by Russia – I mean it’s not like they could otherwise explain why a 12,490-tonne warship appears to have gone missing.

Russian warship – go to hell!

On the domestic front, yet another difficult week for beleaguered Boris. Earlier in the week it was announced that following the Met Police “partygate” investigation, he, his wife Carrie Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak will all receive fixed-penalty notices for breaking his own Covid rules during lockdown – specifically his surprise birthday celebration in June 2019. FPNs are an administrative alternative to prosecution, meaning Boris will avoid having a criminal record (unless of course he’s stupid enough not to pay the fine – Downing Street have already confirmed he will pay it). However, political commentators agree he is the first known Prime Minister to have broken the law whilst in office, and certainly the first to receive an FPN. Whilst Prime Minister, Tony Blair was questioned by police (not under caution) over the cash-for-honours allegations, ultimately the CPS decided there was insufficient evidence against anyone to secure a conviction.

More fines may follow, as he is still being investigated about other Downing Street gatherings that broke the Covid rules in place at the time. A YouGov poll for The Times has revealed that nearly two thirds of Britons believe he should resign if he is issued with more FPN fines. It would appear his own party is already embarking on a damage-limitation exercise of their own following the scandal, airbrushing any mention of the PM from some of the Conservative Party campaign literature for next month’s local elections, particularly the Welsh and Scottish manifestos.

U’s World
The big news for everyone in the Colchester United bubble, and of little interest to anyone outside it, is the departure of Director of Performance Jon De Souza from the club. Leaked by U’sual supersleuth TheOldOakTree, when he spotted De Souza’s removal from the club’s Companies House listing early yesterday morning, ironically this was prior to that dreadful performance at Exeter City. De Souza was head of the department tasked with improving performances of the U’s teams, players and staff, so surely if he hadn’t gone already, Good Friday would have been the nail in the coffin?

Southend United are holding a testimonial for defender John White on 22nd May at Roots Hall, which obviously Colchester United are delighted to support, along with near rivals Leyton Orient. The day will start with an 1130 kick-off game between a Southend XI and Leyton Orient XI. The big match will of course be when a U’s legends side takes to the field against a Southend side, and it is reported that already signed up for this are Sammie Szmodics, Tom Eastman, Freddy Sears, Matt Heath and Anthony Wordsworth. There will be plenty of other activities for families too, music pitch-side etc., and tickets can be purchased here:

U’s legend

Stat attack
I was quite surprised that there have only been 37 matches in our past against Monday’s opponents Bradford City, I thought it would have been much more than that. The main reason for this was that between January 1978, when Bobby Robert’s U’s won 2-1 at Valley Parade, and November 2004 when Phil Parkinson gained a 2-2 draw at Layer Road, our paths only crossed once in 1981/82.

Overall our record against the Bantams is pretty good, winning 13, drawing 14 and losing just nine league fixtures, though we haven’t beaten them since doing the double in 2015/16. We did also beat Bradford City 4-3 in the first round of the FA Cup back in November 2010, and our visit to Valley Parade in 2019/20 was one of those matches lost due to the Covid curtailment of the season.

Of course any consideration of stats where Bradford City is concerned would have to include the events of Saturday 30th December 1961, with the U’s winning 9-1 to record their greatest ever league victory, matched only by the FA Cup first round game against Leamington Spa in November 2005. Thanks to the sterling research of pwrightsknees, I have already covered this game in Matches of Yesteryear #38 here:
Matches of Yesteryear Special - U's v Bradford City 30/12/61 by wessex_exile 20 Jan 2020 13:56
This one is a special for the Matches of Yesteryear series, as we step slightly outside the original concept of blogs related to my football memorabilia collection. I am delighted that our very own pwrightsknees approached me with an absolutely fantastic idea just before Christmas, and an idea that really deserves this specific slot in our football calendar. It is also particularly appropriate given the terrible coincidence that Martyn King sadly passed on Christmas Day, the all-time record league goal-scorer for the U’s with 130 goals (1959-64).

Colchester United v Bradford City
Saturday 30th December 1961
Division 4 (Tier 4)
Attendance 4,415

Match #38, and we go back to a time before I was even born (though I was on the way, arriving about eight months later). Danny Williams was no. 1 with his version of Mancini’s Moon River, a year before Andy Williams (no relation, obviously) made his own recording, and the Empire State building had just been sold for $65,000,000. The Vietnam War had officially started earlier in December, with the arrival of USS Core in Saigon Harbour, Marina Oswald and her husband Lee Harvey had been granted exit visas to travel to the US from Minsk, and on this actual day Ben “Billy the Whizz” Johnson was born (presumably drugs were involved?). In the world of football, their first season in the top-flight was going well for our country cousins at Portman Rd, who at the time were in 4th place.

As best as I can tell, Colchester United programmes for that season didn’t indicate which match was being played on the front cover, so I have shown a version I found on a Wrexham FC programme archive.

PWK will take it from here…

1961/62 was the U’s first in League Division 4, having been relegated from Division 3 the previous season. Although eventually finishing 2nd in the table behind Millwall, the season kicked up a mixture of results, suggesting that the U’s were far from dominant. This game took place just four days after the 4-1 Boxing Day defeat by Bradford City at Valley Parade (managed by Bob Brocklebank at the time), which left the U’s in 2nd place in the table behind Wrexham. At the turn of the year, most thought that Wrexham were the class team in the division, but they faded in the second half of the season, finishing only third, while Millwall became much more dominant and won the title by just 1 point from the U’s.

That 4-1 defeat to Bradford City was typical of the U’s away performances that season, with many (league) defeats by at least 3 goals. In addition to our battering at Bradford City, there were heavy defeats at Southport (3-0), York City (5-0), Mansfield Town (4-0), Tranmere Rovers (5-2), Chesterfield (4-1), Barrow (4-0), and Crewe Alexandra (4-0). The only defeats by less than 3 goals were (and I attended all four) at Gillingham (2-1), at home to Wrexham (2-4, and our only home defeat that season), at Millwall (2-0), and at Aldershot (1-0)

As for the match itself, Christmas had gone, and the New Year beckoned. It was a cold, grey day, and I had walked the mile and a quarter from my parents’ home just off the Mersea Road, along Circular Road South, through the barracks to Layer Road. My pals and I stood just to the right of the main stand with the Layer Road turnstiles further to the right. As far as I can remember, I took up my usual spot, halfway up, leaning on a crush barrier, and about level with the edge of the 18-yard box.

There were no changes to the team as printed in the programme:
Goalkeeper Percy Ames
2 Right Back - Tommy Millar
3 Left Back - John Fowler
4 Right half - Trevor Harris
5 Centre Half - Brian Abrey
6 Left Half - Ronnie Hunt (Capt.)
7 Outside Right - Mike Foster
8 Inside Right -Bobby Hill
9 Centre Forward - Martyn King
10 Inside Left - Bobby Hunt
11 Outside Left - Peter Wright

This was Benny Fenton’s (U’s Manager) preferred first eleven line up that season. No substitutes in those days, and proper numbers, i.e. no goalie number, then 2-11 on the outfield players and not squad numbers. Percy Ames, John Fowler, Bobby Hill, Martyn King, Bobby Hunt, and Peter Wright were U’s stalwarts over many seasons, but some names may seem unfamiliar, even to regular board readers.

Tommy Millar: Had been signed from Scottish non-league a couple of seasons previously and converted to attacking full-back. He scored a number of goals for the U’s but was also noted for being fierce in the tackle. Tommy had replaced Alan Eagles following his departure after Benny’s clear-out at the end of the relegation season. Tragically, Tommy’s year-old son had drowned in the garden and Tommy was released and returned to Scotland soon after this match.
Trevor “Chopper” Harris: Yes, we had a “Chopper Harris” a decade before the better-known Chelsea player. Colchester-born Chopper was an attacking wing-half, renowned for his aggressive playing style. Chopper had been promoted from the reserves the previous season to replace an out-of-form Derek Parker.

Brian Abrey: A new signing from Chelsea reserves in the close season to replace U’s stalwart Chic Milligan at centre-half, who had been released at the end of the relegation season. Brian was a strong centre-half, and a good footballer and passer of the ball. Sadly, a knee injury caused him to miss the last few games of the season and he was replaced by a young Duncan Forbes. The knee injury caused Brian to retire from football at the beginning of the following season.

Ronnie Hunt: U’s captain that season and elder brother of U’s hero Bobby. Colchester-born Ronnie was a defensive wing-half, tough in the tackle. He, too, had been promoted from the reserves in the previous season to replace an out-of-form Cyril “Squib” Hammond.

Mike Foster: A new signing from Leicester City reserves in the close season to replace the U’s hero Tommy Williams who had been released at the end of the relegation season. A pacey outside right who seemed to glide over the pitch, and who could deliver a good cross. He was sold to Norwich City at the end of the season for £3,000 + Roy McCrohan, but never played a first-team game for them.

The referee that day was Jim Finney, later an international referee with FIFA and who, at the end of the 1961/62 season, refereed the FA Cup Final between Spurs and Burnley (Spurs won 3-1). Finney had a somewhat colourful career. He is believed to be one of only five freemasons to have refereed an FA Cup final (of course, how would we know for certain), and it certainly broke with convention when Danny Blanchflower presented him with the match ball at the end of the final. He achieved international notoriety in 1963 when he abandoned the match between Scotland and Austria in the 79th minute, with Scotland winning 4-1 at the time. According to Finney, he called the game off for “persistent fouling”, with Horst Nemec already dismissed for spitting, and Erich Hof for a “diabolical tackle at waist-height”. Finney reported afterwards “I felt that I had to abandon the match or somebody would have been seriously hurt”.

We didn’t know any of that at the time of the U’s v Bradford City match, of course.

And so to the action:

The U’s kicked off towards the uncovered clock end. The ball went out to Mike Foster on the right wing. He took on the Bradford City full back and crossed the ball low. Bobby Hill nipped into the near post and scored - WITH HIS KNEE. The U’s were a goal up inside the first minute. The next quarter of the match was fairly even and uneventful. Then on 18 minutes, Tait scored an equaliser for Bradford City. Ten minutes later, Bobby Hunt scored to put the U’s 2-1 up and on 34 minutes Martyn King scored the U’s third, so at half-time the U’s led by a relatively modest scoreline of 3-1.

For the first 20 minutes of the second half, the U’s sat comfortably on their two-goal lead. Then they put the match completely beyond doubt by scoring twice in rapid succession via Bobby Hunt (65 minutes) and Martyn King (68 minutes). 5-1 to the U’s, who were dominant now, and on 80 minutes we were awarded a penalty. Some in the crowd called for it to be taken by Percy Ames, who had had very little to do second half, but Bobby Hunt wanted every goal he could get so that he could remain in contention for the League’s top scorer. He duly despatched the penalty to put the U’s 6-1 up.

But the fun hadn’t finished yet. Bobby Hunt scored again a minute later (7-1), followed by two more from Martyn King (85 and 88 minutes), the U’s eventually running out 9-1 winners. Following Bobby Hill’s early goal, Bobby Hunt and Martyn King had then weighed in with four goals each.

Colchester United 9 (Bobby Hill 1’, Bobby Hunt 28’, 65’, 80’p, 81’, Martyn King 34’, 68’, 85’, 88’) Bradford City 1 (Barry Tait 18’)

Ipswich Town did not have a match that day and some of their players came to watch the U’s. Andy Nelson, the Ipswich captain, rather ungraciously suggested most of the goals had come from defensive mistakes rather than good play by the U’s. The comment infuriated Hal Mason the local reporter, and it should also be noted that a largely unchanged Bradford City defence only conceded three goals to Arsenal at Highbury the following week in their FA Cup match.

By the end of the season, top goal-scorer in the football league was Roger Hunt of Liverpool (then 2nd Division) with 41 goals. Bobby Hunt (4th Division) was runner-up alongside Cliff Holton of Watford and Northampton Town (3rd Division) with 37 goals each – Bobby obviously top scorer for Division 4. Top 1st Division scorers were Ray Crawford (Ipswich Town) and Derek Kevan (West Bromwich Albion) both with 33 goals each, with Ipswich winning the title in their first season in the top-flight.

The U’s finished one point behind champions Millwall, and were promoted straight back to Division 3 at the first time of asking, alongside Wrexham and Carlisle – Bradford City missed out by one point in 5th place. Doncaster Rovers, Hartlepools United and Chester finished in the relegation zone, but as was so often the case then, were all re-elected. Not so fortunate was Accrington Stanley, who after financial difficulties following the purchase of the new Burnley Road stand, were declared bankrupt and resigned from the league in March of that season.

As we all know, this remains our record win in the league, matched only by our 9-1 victory over Leamington in the 2005 FA Cup 1st round match. Only three players have ever scored four goals in a game for the U’s, Bobby Hunt and Martyn King in this game, and of course Chris Iwelumo against Phil Parkinson’s Hull City when we were in the Championship. In addition to his four goals here, Martyn King also jointly holds the record for scoring the most hat-tricks (five), shared with Arthur Pritchard, Arthur Turner and Tony Adcock. King was a magnificent footballer, and he will be sorely missed.

The expunging of Accrington Stanley’s results is part of U’s folklore, but a bit of a red herring as far as that season was concerned. Yes, it cost Bobby Hunt a goal in his chase for top scorer across all four divisions, but his namesake Roger Hunt (Liverpool, then remarkably in Division 2) would have won that anyway. Accrington’s demise did cost the U’s 4 points, and Millwall only 2 (they had only played Accrington Stanley once at the time), but Millwall would probably have won the second match anyway, and still finished a point above the U’s even if the Accrington results had stood.

Anyway, to finish, enjoy the delightful talent of “Britain’s Johnny Mathis” Danny Williams, no. 1 on the day we made history.

Up the U’s

Many of you know that during my time studying at Bradford University and living in the city throughout most of the 1980s, Bradford kind of became my adopted side when I couldn’t get to U’s matches (which was often being a poor student and/or a non-driver at the time). I won’t deny it, standing on the original massive Kop terrace was quite an experience, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time doing so.

I was also immensely proud at how the entire Bradford community I was part of, regardless of race, creed or religion, rallied to support those whose lives were irreparably damaged by that dreadful event on 11th May 1985. In a match against Lincoln City which should have been a celebration of promotion, fifty-six supporters (including two of Lincoln City’s) died and at least 265 were injured when the main stand was engulfed in flames.

Through adversity comes strength, and the Bradford Disaster Appeal set up within 48 hours of the disaster eventually raised over £3.5m (which would be £10.8m today) to support the families affected. This fund particularly supported the work of the now internationally renowned Burns Unit which was jointly established by Bradford University and Bradford Royal Infirmary to deal with the hundreds of victims. Burns victims throughout the world have since benefitted from the pioneering work of the Bradford Burns Unit.

Overall, 28 police officers and 22 supporters, all of whom were documented as saving at least one life, received either police commendations or bravery awards. Alongside countless undocumented supporters and officers, they collectively managed to rescue all but one of the supporters who made it to the front of the stand. Player/coach Terry Yorath was injured when forced to jump from a window to escape the flames, having already evacuated supporters from a bar area to save them.

In July 1985 a multi-denominational memorial service was held on the pitch in front of the burnt-out stand and a giant cross made up of two large charred wooden members from the stand. Part of the service was held in Urdu and Punjabi for the local Asian community in Manningham, who had opened their homes to Bradford City supporters that afternoon to aid in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

Match of the Day
Manchester United v Aston Villa
Saturday 26th October 2002
Premier League (Tier 1)
Attendance 67,619

Match of the Day for this blog, and yep, you’ve read that correctly, the random match selector has picked one of my very few non-U’s bits of memorabilia in my collection, Manchester United’s Premier League home game against Aston Villa. How so I’m sure you’re wondering? Well, back in the day before all of this bribery and corruption nonsense, companies keen to either drum up more business, or just keep hold of commercial relationships they already have, weren’t averse to sweetening the deal at times. Bottles of scotch at Christmas, free tickets for events, that sort of stuff.

This match was one of them. A firm we were doing a lot of business with at the time, who dealt in digital survey equipment, got in touch to see if we’d like to come along as their guests to an all-expenses paid afternoon at Old Trafford. I was the primary contact with them at the time, being actively involved in the roll-out of digital survey as a means of capturing preliminary site plans for our investigations. Also, as there were no others involved with quite the emotional commitment I had with football, our Senior Management Team were more than happy to give me the green light.

Our host for the afternoon, a gentleman I’ve done a lot of business with over the years, was also our driver for the day, collecting me and two others (from other companies) on the way north. He was particularly proud of his new-fangled GPS, which he’d paid several thousand for apparently, and which had to be hard-wired into his electrical system in a Heath Robinson ‘bolt-on’ sort of way. For the time, it was very impressive, immediately picking up on a need for route deviation as soon as we drifted onto a service station slip road on the way there.

The day wasn’t just a ticket and a programme either, and we not only had time in the Manchester United shop (not that I wanted anything), but he threw in a 3-course dinner with wine in the Red Café too, and needless to say the seats were the executive padded variety they had there at the time – a far cry from the cramped knee crushers we had to endure in the Carabao Cup. Although in truth my interest in the Premier League was, and still is, minimal, I did have one particular vested interest in this game. After six years at Charlton Athletic, at the beginning of this season Mark Kinsella had signed for Aston Villa. Even though my mantra is generally anyone but Manchester United, that was more than enough reason to be a ‘discreet’ Villan that day. Apparently, and we were warned about this, rival club colours would not be tolerated in the Red Café, and overtly displayed partisanship may well result in ejection from the executive area, so I had to behave.

The two sides were managed by Sir Alex Ferguson and Graham Taylor, Graham Poll was the referee, and the line-ups were as follows:

At the beginning of the season Manchester United had broken the English transfer record, signing Rio Ferdinand from Leeds United for £29.1m, so I was looking to see what that got you for your money. I was also expecting to see Ryan Giggs as well, and I briefly did pre-match, but he felt a twinge during the warm-up and to be safe was withdrawn as a result. Being nearly 20 years ago, and watching teams I was particularly unfamiliar with, I will have to rely for the most part on match reports and stats I can glean from the internet. Fortunately, unlike for instance U’s games from 20 years ago, there are still plenty of records from this Premier League clash available.

Aston Villa headed into this match still seeking their first away win of the season, and already starting to struggle at the wrong end of the table in 15th place. It hadn’t exactly been a rosy start to the season for Manchester United either and following back-to-back defeats against Bolton Wanderers and Leeds in September, they’d slipped to 10th position. Things had improved since then and going into this game they had climbed back to 4th place, which would mean qualification for the 3rd qualifying round of the Champions League if they held on to it. But this was Manchester United, anything less than automatic qualification, preferably as Premier League champions, would be viewed as an abject failure.

However, far from overawed by their illustrious opponents, and following Graham Taylor’s very almost gung-ho attack-minded approach to the game, it was Aston Villa who took the game to their hosts straight from the start. Indeed, if youngster Stefan Moore had brought his shooting boots, Villa could have easily been 2-0 up inside the first 15-20 minutes, shooting wide when he really should have tested Barthez, and a second effort that Barthez did well to save.

Apart from the usual class from Beckham in midfield, who was getting into some entertaining tussles with Kinsella, Manchester United just looked lethargic, not really helped by a massive crowd who rarely seemed to wake up and get behind their team. On 35 minutes Aston Villa got exactly what they deserved. Laurent Blanc tried to be clever, running the ball out along his own goal line, but only managed to poke it out for a corner. Up stepped our man Mark, to float the corner over and straight on to the head of onrushing Mellberg (who Blanc failed to pick up), powering home a header that Barthez could do nothing about. The packed-out away section went ballistic, silencing the already subdued Old Trafford crowd, and I celebrated with some muted mini fist pumps.

Finally though, this was the wake-up call that Sir Alex’s side needed, with Scholes fizzing a blistering strike just wide, and then Beckham crashing his effort against the crossbar, but it stayed at 1-0 to half-time. Somewhat revitalised by that late rally, and no doubt with Ferguson’s half-time team talk still ringing in their ears, Manchester United came out with the same level of endeavour for the second half.

Now it was very much whether Aston Villa could hold on to their slender lead, rather than doing anything too foolhardy trying to add to it. I didn’t look like they would either, with wave after wave of attacks from Manchester United crashing against their beleaguered defence. Eventually, inevitably, that defence was breached with misfiring Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan rising highest to head home Mikael Silvestre’s cross and level the scores. There were nearly 68,000 in Old Trafford that day, it’s the largest domestic fixture crowd I’ve been part of, and the roar wasn’t just deafening, it hit you in the chest like a wall of sound you more felt than heard – quite amazing really.

Manchester United weren’t done either, and with their tails up Ole Gunner Solskjaer looked to have seized all three points for the hosts, but for goalkeeper Peter Enckelman to pull off a miraculous one-handed save late on, which certainly drew the loudest cheer from the visiting supporters in the second half. And that’s how it finished, a 1-1 draw that Aston Villa certainly deserved based on most of the first half, but only just managed to hold on to during the second half – but I was happy, particularly as I’d seen Kinsella get the assist.

Manchester United 1 (Diego Forlan 77’) Aston Villa 1 (Olof Mellberg 35’)

My day was improved no end to discover as we were leaving the ground that the U’s had gained a very credible 1-1 draw at Huddersfield as well, particularly as we were starting to slip down the league table. Not that I knew it at the time, but this was the beginning of the end for Steve Whitton as manager, with Phil Parkinson destined to take over in February.

Although they would only lose three more games that season, it would take until mid-April for Manchester United to get to the top of the Premier League. However, once there no one was budging them, and they eventually finished five points clear of second place Arsenal to win their eighth title in eleven seasons.

Aston Villa had just enough about them to avoid relegation, but only by 3pts. Although Mark had a good first half to the season at Villa Park, he rarely made an appearance in the second half, not helped by a couple of injuries. After only two appearances in 2003/04, he was released mid-season and joined Championship West Bromwich Albion on a short-term contract to the end of the season – and a very successful one it was too, with WBA winning promotion back to the Premier League.

Up the U’s!
[Post edited 16 Apr 19:11]
Exeter v U's on Good Friday
at 20:38 12 Apr 2022

In case anyone has missed it, this game is now all ticket. The Grecians have sold out all of their home stands, and have an eye on the spare space that might be available on the away terrace. Last chance to get tickets is 2pm tomorrow, presumably to be collected from the either the JobServe or at St James' Park on the day - there will be no sales on matchday.
When Saturday Comes #33
at 14:32 10 Apr 2022

When Saturday Comes and there was a time, not too long ago, when today’s game against the charmless Steve Evans and Stevenage was looking like it might be a relegation 6-pointer. Whilst we’re not out of the woods quite yet, back-to-back victories over Tranmere Rovers and Harrogate mean we go into this game knowing even if we were to slip up against Stevenage, we’ll still be 8pts plus goal difference ahead of them, and only five games left to play. Still, let’s not dwell on negatives, because three wins on the bounce will be the confidence-booster we’ll need ahead of the tough trip on Good Friday to St James’ Park.
When Saturday Comes #33
at 14:14 9 Apr 2022

When Saturday Comes and there was a time, not too long ago, when today’s game against the charmless Steve Evans and Stevenage was looking like it might be a relegation 6-pointer. Whilst we’re not out of the woods quite yet, back-to-back victories over Tranmere Rovers and Harrogate mean we go into this game knowing even if we were to slip up against Stevenage, we’ll still be 8pts plus goal difference ahead of them, and only five games left to play. Still, let’s not dwell on negatives, because three wins on the bounce will be the confidence-booster we’ll need ahead of the tough trip on Good Friday to St James’ Park.

We’ll need it too, with the Grecians having already sold well in excess of 6,000 tickets and looking like they’ll be close to a sell-out for the game. Their club twitter feed has been highlighting all week the dwindling number of home tickets available, which at the last count was down to just over 700. Mind you, including yours truly, I expect the U’s to bring a decent number of the Faithful, despite not only a long trip south west, but with a hellishly early 5.30am start for those from Essex because of the 1pm kick-off. Not so bad for me, obviously, and the nuisance of an early kick-off is somewhat offset by knowing I’ll be home by tea-time after.

When you thought perhaps the atrocities being committed by Russian forces in Ukraine couldn’t get any worse, a Russian Tochka U short-range ballistic missile strikes Kramatorsk railway station. The station was being used at the time to evacuate civilians away from the war zone, and the attack left at least 52 confirmed dead, and many hundreds more injured. The Tochka U is a cluster munition, exploding in mid-air to rain down multiple bomblets over a wide area, and they are specifically designed to inflict maximum casualties on people – not destroy armour or infrastructure.

Cluster munitions have been banned under the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions international treaty, a treaty that Russia refused to sign up to. Predictably, after originally claiming it was an unintentional misfire, a Kremlin spokesman then went full-on denial, claiming they had no involvement in the attack, and that the missile was instead one used by Ukrainian forces. Meanwhile, as Putin’s crimes against humanity continue to accumulate, following the Russian withdrawal a forensic team has entered the shattered city of Bucha to recover and examine the many hundreds of civilian bodies left lying on the streets, and start the difficult process of exhuming mass graves.

Closer to home, beleaguered Chancellor Rishi Sunak seems unable to get out of the forensic glare of the public spotlight. After being ridiculed for staging a photo-op trying to show the multi-millionaire to be a ‘man of the people’, filling up a Kia Rio at a Sainsburys petrol station that he had to borrow from one of the members of staff, now it’s his non-dom billionaire wife’s turn. Now, apparently there is nothing illegal about claiming non-domicile status to avoid paying taxes on overseas income in the country you are resident in. But, when your husband is Chancellor of the Exchequer, you live in a tax-payer funded London flat, and you are still raking in millions in profits from Daddy’s company’s success in business with Russia, it’s certainly morally reprehensible.

Many believe that this is something that ultimately might mean an end to Sunak’s ambition to one day be Prime Minster. Sunak is furious, believing he is the victim of a “political hit job”, a coordinated attack timed to coincide with his rise in National Insurance contributions – even if Private Eye had already exposed her non-dom status over a year ago. The fact his anger is because the news has leaked out speaks volumes. In a bid to try and resurrect her husband’s political career, Akshata Murty has now said she will pay UK taxes on her overseas income.

…and finally, in a move that surprised no one, Will Smith has been banned from the Oscars gala and other Academy events for the next ten years. Coming soon, breaking news as he moves to his Aunty and Uncle’s in Bel-Air.

U’s World
Another relatively quiet week in U’s World, although great news that promising youngsters Gene Kennedy and Brad Ihionvien have signed U’s professional contracts. Kennedy has already managed a handful of first team appearances, including league starts against Sutton and Mansfield. Ihionvien has yet to turn out for the first team, but the talented striker has been banging goals in for fun in the U18s and U23s.

Congratulations Gene and Brad

Junior Tchamadeu predictably won the U’s March Goal of the Month competition with his blistering injury-time volley to beat Tranmere Rovers – well done Junior, thoroughly deserved.

Never tire of watching this

Stat attack
Stats and Stevenage – pfft, not going to bother too much here. I’ve featured the origins and history of Stevenage before, no intention of doing it again. The only stat worthy of consideration is that they are long overdue relegation, even if it means losing what is often a good awayday for the Faithful in favour of a mentally long trip to Barrow.

Having dispensed with the services of former U’s ‘advisor’ Paul Tisdale, Boro have finally found the bottom of the barrel in Steve Evans. It’ll be a shame for Luke’s Norris and Prosser to suffer the indignity of relegation – both did their all for Colchester United whilst here, and I certainly bear them no ill-will – so hopefully if relegation does finally arrive for Boro, they can pick up League 2 deals elsewhere.

Good luck Luke, just not today…

Match of the Day
Bristol Rovers v Colchester United
1st March 2011
Npower Football League One (Tier 3)
Attendance 5,181

No programme for this one, just my calendar entry

Match of the Day for this blog, and the random match selector has bizarrely taken us back to Bristol Rovers’ Memorial Ground literally just a few weeks after I was there in person. This trip was a rearranged evening game back in March 2011, after the first attempt in December 2010 had been postponed, along with pretty much all other U’s fixtures that month bar a 0-0 draw at home to Yeovil Town.

I was actually scheduled to go to the original fixture in December, so I was buggered if I was going to miss out a second time, only this time Alfie came along with me. It meant a late night for the lad on what was a school night, but he was keen so I thought why not, and being only a short train journey from Bristol Temple Meads, we wouldn’t be back too late….or so I thought.

Although back in December when the game should have been played the U’s were comfortably in the play-off zone, a combination of fixture congestion and poor form since then had seen us win only four out of 13 and slip down to tenth place. By no means out of the race for a play-off spot, but now relying as much on the results for others instead of having our destiny in our own hands. Mind you, we were in a much healthier position than our opponents Bristol Rovers, who were embroiled in a battle at the bottom to avoid relegation to the basement, along with West Country rivals Plymouth Argyle and Swindon Town.

Following the departure of Aidy Boothroyd in the summer to Coventry City, his assistant John Ward was promoted to Manager for Colchester United. After three years of spend spend spend, without promotion to show for it, Robbie had to cut back on finances, and John Ward inherited a much-reduced transfer budget to work with. Nevertheless, despite losing David Fox, Kevin Lisbie, Clive Platt, David Prutton and Danny Batth, Ward shopped shrewdly, signing free agents Lloyd James and Brian Wilson, non-league stars Andy Bond and Ben Coker, and Dave Mooney was brought in from Reading on a season-long loan.

In a return to his former club, that evening John Ward’s U’s lined up:

1….Ben Williams
3….Lee Beevers
6….Nathan Clarke
28..Matt Heath
10..Kem Izzet (captain) (8. John-Joe O’Toole 78’)
14..Andy Bond
22..Anthony Wordsworth
24..Ben Coker
26..Lloyd James
15..Kayode Odejayi (18. Steven Gillespie 73’)
16..Ian Henderson (7. Ashley Vincent 89’)

As for the game, it was a half-decent game to be honest, certainly as far as the U’s were concerned. Right from the outset it was clear to see why Bristol Rovers were struggling in the league, with the U’s controlling the game. It wasn’t always pretty, but we took the game to Bristol Rovers, whilst simultaneously closing down virtually all avenues for them to get into the match.

Gas defender Jean-Paul Kalala had already cleared one effort off the line with his goalkeeper Conrad Logan beaten, and Logan then did well to deny Lloyd James, who was having a brilliant game, from opening the scoring. However, there was nothing much Logan could do about Odejayi’s goal. On 22 minutes Logan’s clearance from another Colchester attack cannoned off the back of defender Jerel Ifil and rebounded perfectly into path of Kayode Odejayi. Kayode, former Bristol City striker, didn’t need a second invitation and gleefully slotted the ball into virtually an open goal.

Albeit perhaps harsh on Bristol Rovers given how it came about, it certainly wasn’t undeserved for the U’s, and we continued to dominate throughout the remainder of the first half, with Rovers barely registering a serious attempt on goal throughout. Indeed, it took another goal-line clearance from Kalala to prevent the U’s increasing their lead. Time for a half-time burger for the boy, and a Bovril to warm up Dad.

Into the second half, and with the U’s playing towards our end, the 150 or so U’s fans were hopeful that we’d be seeing more goals to come. It didn’t look like we were going to be disappointed either, with James again testing Logan barely 3 minutes into the second half. Wave upon wave of U’s attacks followed, with a succession of corners and free kicks raining down in the Gas penalty area, and all desperately scrambled away by their beleaguered defence. On ten minutes or so, two decent efforts in rapid succession by Kayode were beaten away by Logan.

But, if you don’t take your chances when presented, eventually you run the risk of paying for that profligacy. About 15 minutes into the second half finally Bristol Rovers started to get some semblance of a foothold in the game, and whilst the U’s backline was still strong, they were now the busier defence. On 67 minutes, sensing they might get back into the game, Bristol Rovers manager Dave Penney replaced Rene Howe with Scott Davies.

Bristol Rovers continued to press, with Ben Williams kept busy dealing with a combination or corners, direct and indirect free kicks over the next five minutes or so. Eventually Ward decided he needed to change things too, to try and get back into a game we were previously comfortably controlling, swapping the hard-working Kayode Odejayi with silky Steven Gillespie. Still though the Gas pressed, with Ben Williams by far the busier ‘keeper.

It was the welcome introduction of John-Joe O’Toole, his first appearance after a 10-month absence through injury, which finally turned the tide again in the U’s favour. Ward admitted after the game that he hadn’t even intended using O’Toole, just bought him along to get back into being part of the squad, but he apparently trained so well ahead of the match that Ward decided if the opportunity presented itself, he was going to give him a run-out.

From there to the end of the match it was all U’s as effort after effort was blocked, beaten away, or narrowly missed, including a delightful Gillespie glanced header from a Lloyd James corner which flashed across the face of goal and narrowly wide. Rolling the dice one more time, manager Penney threw on Elliot Richard with five minutes to go, but to no avail, and with the U’s back in control and winding down the clock, including a last-minute substitution bringing on Ashley Vincent, comfortably held on for a much needed and deserved 1-0 victory.

Bristol Rovers 0 Colchester United 1 (Kayode Odejayi 22’)

The journey home was more problematic than it should have been, as we waited at a crowded bus stop for a bus back down the hill to Bristol city centre. After nearly 20 minutes, one had steamed straight past without stopping because it was already full, and we didn’t manage to squeeze onto the next even though it did thankfully actually stop. By now we were reaching that critical point, start walking now or risk not even making the last train home if we don’t get on the next bus. We decided to start the long trek back to the training station, and with an emergency wee break for the lad needed en route, we only just made it too, just minutes to spare – phew!

In truth, this could have been, and probably should have been a 3-0 victory for the U’s. However, with results elsewhere favourable that night, the U’s moved up to 7th and just one place outside the play-offs (albeit there was still a 4pt gap to MK Dons in that last play-off spot). What I hadn’t realised at the time, and only learned later, was that this was our first (and currently only) away victory over Bristol Rovers in what was 14 attempts at the time.

Unfortunately, four straight defeats after this finally put an end to any genuine play-offs hopes, with the U’s eventually finishing in a reasonably credible 10th place, nine points outside the play-offs. Bristol Rovers failed to dodge the relegation bullet and went down with their aforementioned West Country rivals Plymouth Argyle and Swindon Town (plus Dagenham & Redbridge).

Up the U’s!
[Post edited 9 Apr 14:43]
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