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Letters from Wiltshire #43
at 14:46 10 Apr 2021

Well, that has been a lively week for Colchester United in the press, and not least for Robbie Cowling, with not one, or two, but kind of three club announcements in rapid succession to try and put the record straight. First, we had Tribunalgate, which certainly looked very poor according to the initial press reports, but which on closer inspection when some of the ‘fact gaps’ were filled in wasn’t anywhere near the story that some would have us believe. Then of course we had the ‘leak’ that the U’s were about to go into administration, despite all the reassurances we’d been given in previous statements from Robbie. Not so said Robbie again, and particularly angry at what he believed to be the source of the story. Hence statement #3, repeating his assurances, but this time after passing through the lawyer filter to remove his thoughts on the source. To paraphrase Robbie’s conclusion to that statement, let’s hope we can all have a day off from this sort of media shenanigans and enjoy our game at Oldham tonight!
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Letters from Wiltshire #43
at 14:43 9 Apr 2021

Well, that has been a lively week for Colchester United in the press, and not least for Robbie Cowling, with not one, or two, but kind of three club announcements in rapid succession to try and put the record straight. First, we had Tribunalgate, which certainly looked very poor according to the initial press reports, but which on closer inspection when some of the ‘fact gaps’ were filled in wasn’t anywhere near the story that some would have us believe. Then of course we had the ‘leak’ that the U’s were about to go into administration, despite all the reassurances we’d been given in previous statements from Robbie. Not so said Robbie again, and particularly angry at what he believed to be the source of the story. Hence statement #3, repeating his assurances, but this time after passing through the lawyer filter to remove his thoughts on the source. To paraphrase Robbie’s conclusion to that statement, let’s hope we can all have a day off from this sort of media shenanigans and enjoy our game at Oldham tonight!

Salisbury City v Hull City
Saturday 14th November 1998
FA Cup (First Round)
Attendance 2,570




Letters from Wiltshire #43, and the random match selector has chosen one of the few non-U’s matches in my memorabilia collection, and the visit of Hull City to my then home-town of Salisbury, back in the First Round of the FA Cup in November 1998. This was a rare feat for the Whites, and as a result was quite a big thing in the town – particularly in an area more traditionally associated with rugby.



No doubt many of you will have read that perma-tan Phil Brown has taken over from Mark Molesley as manager of our beleaguered South Essex rivals Southend United. This will be his second spell at Roots Hall, his first stint starting well with three Wembley appearances and eventually promotion to League 1 via the play-offs, but ending with the ignominy of being placed on ‘gardening leave’ (why not just sacked?). It is therefore intriguing that the random match selector has chosen a match involving Hull City – the club where he forged his managerial reputation, eventually taking them to the dizzy heights of the Premier League.

To manage Southend United once, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to do it twice looks like carelessness…

Never mind managing Southend United twice, it’s worth reflecting that the Colchester United Phil Brown connection is significantly more entwined than that. When Brown arrived at Hull City, it was of course as assistant to newly appointed Phil Parkinson, after Parky walked out on the U’s following our own promotion to the Championship. Needless to say, despite their bluff and bluster, Peter Heard rinsed Hull City for a tidy sum in compensation on the steps of the High Court. Brown stepped up to be joint caretaker manager alongside Colin Murphy when Parky was sacked less than four months into his new job, the final straw being their 5-1 demolition at Layer Rd.



Salisbury in one paragraph
The original Salisbury grew up within and around the ramparts of Old Sarum, an Iron Age hill fort which probably saw a bit of Roman on Briton action for a while also. The hill fort was refortified in the Saxon period, eventually forming part of Alfred’s Burghal Hidage defences, a network of fortifications designed to give the Vikings a right kicking. Always a poor location for a settlement, New Sarum (modern-day Salisbury) was established in the valley below by Bishop Roger in 1220, after the army refused him entry to the fort after curfew, and he had to spend the night sleeping in the ditch. Old Sarum survived as one of the original Rotten Boroughs, continuing to elect a member of parliament until 1832, despite there only being three houses and seven electors at the time. In 1221 work started on the cathedral, the main body of which took 38 years to construct – that’s actually quite quick for cathedrals. Apparently, the foundations were formed on just 18 inches of f'aggots on a gravel bed – society was considerably less tolerant in those days. Since then, there’s been riots, bloody assizes, rebellions, plagues, all the usual stuff you expect in medieval and post-medieval Britain. I arrived on the day of the 1990 World Cup final – oh, and Russian nerve agent assassins were out and about quite recently.

The Big Day
So as I said, the magic of the cup and all that meant there was considerable interest from the local population for this one. Generally one of the better-supported non-league sides at their level (at the time Salisbury were a reasonably well-established Southern League Premier Division side), they had moved from Victoria Park in the city (literally a park pitch) up to the purpose-built Raymond McEnhill Stadium (known locally as just the Ray Mac) a year earlier. With significantly increased capacity as a result, this allowed a record 2,570 to attend the game, including a few coach-loads from Hull and myself and my daughter Lauren for her first football match ever.

On the day
The teams lined up as follows:



Mr Brown had yet to arrive at Hull City, who at the time were managed by Warren Joyce as caretaker manager. He was caretaker manager because Mark ‘Attila’ Hateley had been sacked as manager during the preceding week, after an exceptionally poor start to their 1998/99 Third Division campaign had seen 12 defeats in 18 attempts which left the Tigers well and truly adrift at the bottom of the table. Amongst their line-up that afternoon was Gregor Rioch, son of Bruce, and an accomplished lower-league defender on his day. Salisbury, on the other hand, were having a reasonable season in the 6th tier of the Football League, definitely holding their own as a solid mid-table outfit.



Although the official capacity for the Ray Mac is currently 3,740, a sizeable proportion of that is just grass bank down one side of the ground and a chunk of the south end behind the goal. The terrace forming the remainder of the south end was occupied by the Hull supporters, which left most of the remainder crammed in on the main covered terraces at the north end and down the west side of the ground. It was, therefore, surprisingly cramped, so finding a vantage spot that Lauren could see the game from proved tricky, and we ended up down at the front near the north-east corner flag.

Salisbury City were at the Tigers from the outset, and clearly were in no way over-awed by their league opponents. Aidy Randall in particular was having a whale of a time in the midfield, chasing down everything, and really giving the Hull midfield and defence a torrid time. It was also clear to see why Hull were struggling at the wrong end of the league, and there was clearly expectation in the crowd that an upset could be on the cards. However, as we know only too well, if you don’t take your chances, then the chances are you’ll eventually be punished.

The game reached half-time goalless, and so despite the crowd, it was time to treat Lauren to her first taste of football concourse food – I think it was a hotdog, bottle of water and bag of crisps, and she was loving it all – particularly chuckling at the (ahem) docker’s banter from the terrace around her. I seemed to be spending quite a bit of time reminding her not to repeat anything she heard when she got home!

Into the second half, and I suppose it’s fair to say that the fitness levels of the professional side were starting to show through. The Whites were still having a decent go, but now starting to find themselves under sustained pressure at times too. Eventually, and I’d still say against the run of play on balance, Hull City took the lead with an effort from Gregor Rioch. As gutting as it was, the heads of the Salisbury City side didn’t drop, and for the next 10-15 minutes again they had Hull City on the back-foot. This included a cast-iron certain penalty, which referee Rob Styles inexplicably waved away.

About halfway through the second half came what remains one of my comedy gold moments watching football. A couple of Hull City chavs with a flag, clearly believing they were so much harder than a bunch of non-league yokels, decided to try and ‘take’ the home terrace behind the goal. Now, they kind of hadn’t figured that yokels spend most of their day performing hard manual labour out in all weathers, are generally tough as old boots, and have hands the size of shovels – they soon realised they’d made a terrible mistake. They were eventually dragged out (aka rescued) by the police, battered, bruised and minus a Hull City flag, with bellowing laughter from the agricultural sorts ringing in their well and truly boxed ears.

Anyway, back to the match, and having been denied a certain penalty for Salisbury City, inevitably Hull City then doubled their lead with just over 10 minutes to go. This one really did knock the stuffing out of the Whites, many of whom were already running on empty, and some game management substitutions from Warren Joyce saw Hull City over the line and into the Second Round of the FA Cup.

Salisbury City 0 Hull City 2 (Gregor Rioch 55’; Brian McGinty 79’)

Despite their dreadful league form, Hull City got through the Second Round too, winning 2-1 away at Luton Town. Their reward was a trip to Aston Villa in the Third Round, and though they lost 3-0, they would have done very well out of their share of gate receipts for an attendance of nearly 40,000.

This cup run also seemed to be the catalyst for a remarkable turnaround in their league form, winning ten and drawing eight of their 22 matches in the second half of the season, comfortably avoiding relegation out of the league – that honour befell Scarborough. Hull City supporters to this day still refer to that season as The Great Escape.

Incidentally, whilst me and Lauren were showing support for my adopted home-town in the FA Cup, the U’s were up at Bedlington Terriers – I reckon I had the better day of it…

Up the U’s
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U'sual Champions League 2021 - Quarter-finals
at 21:56 3 Apr 2021

Firstly, apologies for not posting sooner, and thanks to mfb_cufc for the timely reminder.

Round-up of the rules
With the competition returning to the pre-pandemic two-legged structure, we too will revert to the traditional rules for this round of eight straightforward predictions. As always, you can only exact match one prediction with each of your group opponents, and the score that counts at the end of each second leg will be after normal time - extra-time and/or penalties will not count.

If group members can't be separated on most spot-ons and a tie-break is needed, it will be to predict the total number of goals scored in League 2 on Saturday 17th April. You can post your tie-break prediction at any time before the first kick-off of that day (they are all currently scheduled for 3pm kick-offs, but be aware that might change), and obviously you can't predict the same as group opponents you're in a tie-break with.

Qualifiers
These are the qualifying group members, with scores from the Round of 16 included for information.




Fixtures
As always, predictions must be posted before kick-off, and the matches to predict are:
06/04/2021 - Man City v Borussia Dortmund
06/04/2021 - Real Madrid v Liverpool
07/04/2021 - Bayern Munich v Paris Saint Germain
07/04/2021 - FC Porto v Chelsea
13/04/2021 - Chelsea v FC Porto
13/04/2021 - Paris Saint Germain v Bayern Munich
14/04/2021 - Borussia Dortmund v Man City
14/04/2021 - Liverpool v Real Madrid


Good luck everyone!
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Letters from Wiltshire #42
at 12:51 3 Apr 2021

Well, these sure are strange times at Colchester United, particularly for a club (nor a Chairman) not usually associated with the ‘managerial revolving door’ approach. With results not matching expectations or even minimum requirements, and a brief spell after being appointed Interim Head Coach, Wayne Brown has been released to return to the Jammers, for whenever their pandemic-interrupted football restarts. In comes not one, or two, but three new ‘appointments’. Hayden Mullins steps up as Head Coach to the end of the season, Joe Dunne apparently comes back to the U’s in a sort of unofficial coaching/ team-spirit sort of role, and exceptionally experienced lower-league former Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale arrives to provide Hayden with advice and support – crikey!
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Letters from Wiltshire #42
at 12:50 2 Apr 2021

Well, these sure are strange times at Colchester United, particularly for a club (nor a Chairman) not usually associated with the ‘managerial revolving door’ approach. With results not matching expectations or even minimum requirements, and a brief spell after being appointed Interim Head Coach, Wayne Brown has been released to return to the Jammers, for whenever their pandemic-interrupted football restarts. In comes not one, or two, but three new ‘appointments’. Hayden Mullins steps up as Head Coach to the end of the season, Joe Dunne apparently comes back to the U’s in a sort of unofficial coaching/ team-spirit sort of role, and exceptionally experienced lower-league former Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale arrives to provide Hayden with advice and support – crikey!

The New Men

With time short ahead of the daunting 1pm kick-off at in-form team Bolton Wanderers, Letters from Wiltshire #42 will have to be a short ‘special’, providing short biopics of all of the new men at the helm. They’ll have to be on the money today if we’re going to get anything from today’s visit to the University of Bolton Stadium – the Trotters sit just outside the automatic promotion places on goal difference, and on current form are surely a hot tip for automatic promotion, possibly even the title.



The U’s, on the other hand, are the out-of-form side in the division, and what looked like a reasonably comfortable points gap a few games ago, has been whittled away to just four points, maybe five if you count our better goal difference (better in a slightly less negative sort of way that is). The late great Bill Shankly once said “form is temporary, class is permanent”, and whilst I’d never have the temerity to compare the U’s today to Shankly’s Liverpool, the point is that form, whether good, bad or indifferent, always comes to an end eventually – so why not today (for both sides)?

Hayden Mullins



First off, in welcoming Hayden to the U’s hot seat, I think I’m right in saying that he is our first black manager. Not a big thing at all, and no reason why it should be, but given the dominance of white middle-aged men managing the remainder of the 92, having Hayden at the helm is a very welcome change in my opinion. A very accomplished defensive midfielder in his day, Hayden started his professional career at Crystal Palace back in the 90s, signing a pro contract in 1998.

In 2003, after making more than 250 appearances for Palace, much of that alongside former U’s man and all-round cheeky chappy Clinton Morrison, he was signed by West Ham United for a reported fee of £600k. He enjoyed similar success at West Ham, and in his second season at the Hammers helped them to promotion to the Premier League via the play-offs in 2005 (and in the process, adding another £200k add-on to his signing fee – doubt West Ham were complaining though).

After more than 200 appearances in all competitions for West Ham, Hayden was signed by Portsmouth in the January 2009 transfer window, initially on a three and a half year contract. Although relegated at the end of that season, Hayden stayed at Pompey, and the following season was voted their Player of the Season. In 2012 he again enjoyed promotion into the Premier League, this time whilst on loan at Reading, and in the following summer was signed by Birmingham City.

Approaching the end of his playing career, Hayden still had a couple of seasons at Birmingham, which included a loan spell at Notts County in the second half of the 2013/14 season. Although Notts County were fighting for their lives at the wrong end of the league that season, Hayden was recalled back to Birmingham on the eve of their last match, to cover for injured Tom Thorpe. In the final game of the season for Birmingham, away at today’s opponents Bolton Wanderers, he had a telling contribution too, making a crucial goal-line clearance to keep Birmingham in the game, and allow Paul Caddis’ stoppage-time equaliser for the Blues to preserve their Championship status on goal difference. Notts County survived too, just, and Hayden returned to them for one final season in 2014/15, before hanging up his boots for good.

After that, Hayden returned to Reading, this time in a coaching role looking after their players out on loan. A year later, he was appointed as assistant to U-21 coach Harry Kewell at Watford. He stayed at Watford for the remainder of his coaching career, progressing to manager for the U-23 team, and including a couple of spells as the caretaker manager of the first team, once in 2019 whilst Nigel Pearson’s appointment was sorted out, and again following Pearson’s sacking a year later. As we all know, Hayden Mullins joined the U’s as assistant to Steve Ball in September last year.

Paul Tisdale



Firstly, can I just point out that the coincidence that LfW41 featured our 2010 Good Friday trip to Exeter City to take on Paul Tisdale’s Grecians is not lost on me – it’s almost spooky. Nor indeed that in the blog, I commented “…at the time, Exeter City were managed by Paul Tisdale, ironically one of the names being mentioned quite a bit as potentially our new manager before Wayne Brown was appointed. Of course, if Wayne doesn’t get us out of the doggy-doo, Tisdale’s name may be mentioned quite a bit more as well…”. If Mullins, Tisdale and Dunne do get us out of this predicament, please send your cheques c/o “Wessex_Exile”.

Like Luke Gambin, currently on loan at Newport County, Paul was born in Malta – I’m not sure whether that makes him Maltese or not, nor does it matter, but there you have it. He had a reasonable playing career as a midfielder, certainly nothing compared to Hayden Mullins, but over a career starting in 1991 he made appearances for Southampton, Northampton, Huddersfield, Bristol City, Exeter and Yeovil. There was also a year abroad, playing for both Finnish side FinnPa and Panionios in Greece.

Injury forced him (more or less) out of the game in 2000, when he took up coaching as the manager of Team Bath. His time at Bath including entering the University of Bath side into the FA Cup, becoming the first university-based side to do so since Gonville and Caius back in 1881. They had to start right at the very first preliminary round, but made it all the way through the qualifiers for the 1st round proper, where they finally lost to Mansfield Town. Despite this setback, during his time at Bath, he led the side to four promotions up through the non-league pyramid.

His success at Bath didn’t go unnoticed, and he returned to Exeter City in 2006, the Grecians at the time in the Conference. In his first season he guided Exeter City to the Conference play-offs, losing on that occasion to Morecambe. He went one better the following season, beating Cambridge United in the play-off final to return to the Football League. The following 2008/09 season he took the Grecians to promotion again, finishing in second place, to become the first Exeter City manager to win back-to-back promotions. Life in League 1 was a bit of a struggle to start, but finishing in 8th place in 2010/11 Tisdale equalled the club’s highest ever league finish. In the final match of that season, and with Tisdale still a registered player, he came on as an injury-time substitute in their 2-1 victory away at Wolves.

They couldn’t maintain that form though, and the following season were relegated back into the basement, where they’ve been ever since. Always considered one of the stronger League 2 sides, they consistently finished top half of the table for the next four years, with back-to-back play-off final appearances in 2016/17 and 2017/18. They unfortunately lost both, to Blackpool and Coventry City respectively. At the end of 2017/18, after failing to agree a new contract with Exeter City, Paul Tisdale left the club – at the time he was the longest-serving football manager in the top four divisions.

Success returned swiftly to Tisdale, taking over at recently relegated MK Dons and guiding them to automatic promotion back to League 1 in his first season in charge. The following season was tougher, and his contract was mutual terminated in November 2019. He tried his hand at Bristol Rovers too, but that didn’t really work out either. Nevertheless, he is considered one of the more able and consistent lower-league managers in recent years, and his experience will hopefully be invaluable to Hayden Mullins and the U’s for the remainder of this season.

Joe Dunne



Mr Colchester United really doesn’t need any introduction to us. In brief, he signed for the U’s as a defender back in March 1996. Dubliner Joe was signed from Gillingham, where he’d already achieved cult status over the previous four or five seasons, making well over 100 appearances for the Gills. He would go on to feature prominently in Steve Wignall’s late 90s side, including two Wembley appearances, the second gaining play-off promotion to League 1 at the expense of Torquay United. He was also one of those that were disgracefully and unceremoniously let go by Mick Wadsworth when he arrived in 1999. The U’s faithful were appalled, and showed their contempt for that decision by voting Joe Player of the Season for 1998/99 in an Evening Gazette poll.

Joe eventually signed for Dover Athletic, nearly three months after being released, where he took up the captain’s armband with great distinction for the Kent side. He was, of course, top of Steve Whitton’s list when Wadsworth eventually left, and was immediately recalled into Whitton’s first team for the very next match, beating Luton Town 3-0 at Layer Road just before Christmas 1999. Joe would go on to make 188 appearances in all competitions for the U’s, scoring seven goals in the process. I was privileged to be there for his very last goal, as part of the 53 brave souls at Ninian Park that cold November evening, when he all but clambered over the sticky ‘anti-climb’ painted railings to celebrate with us!

Joe stayed at the club following retirement, as youth team coach under other U’s legend Micky Cook, replacing Micky as senior youth team coach in 2003. The following season, he took his young U’s all the way to the FA Youth Cup quarter-finals, before bowing out at Layer Road against local rivals Ipswich Town, but in front of a record 2,900 crowd for a youth game. Over the following years, Joe remained an integral part of the coaching set-up at Colchester United, and on several occasions stood in as Assistant Manager whilst we looked to fill a vacant manager post.

With the arrival of John Ward as manager in 2010, Joe finally cemented the assistant role as his own, and following the departure of Ward two years later, was appointed with immediate effect to the manager’s position. It wasn’t all plain sailing, and after a poor winless run at the start of 2012/13, Joe offered his resignation to Robbie Cowling. Robbie was having none of it, and Joe stayed to eventually guide the U’s to safety (just) with an emphatic 2-0 victory at Carlisle United – still one of my best awayday experiences following the U’s.

Performances improved into 2013/14, during which Joe received his second Manager of the Month nomination in January, but after a winless start to 2014/15 Joe decided he could do no more for the U’s, and this time Robbie had to accept his resignation – bring to an end 18 years associated with Colchester United Football Club. Joe went on to have spells as both assistant manager and manager at Cambridge United, Bristol Rovers and Mansfield Town, before taking over as assistant to Alex Revell at Stevenage in December last year. Unfortunately, less than a week into his role, Joe had to leave for personal reasons, related to an illness in his family that required his undivided focus.

I called Joe Dunne Mr Colchester United, and if he can bring that passion I saw on the Ninian Park railings to bear on this squad, make them realise how important it is to where the U’s Eagle, then I’m sure that alongside Hayden Mullins and Paul Tisdale, then our future must look rosier than it does now.

Good luck chaps!

Up the U’s
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Letters from Wiltshire #41
at 19:11 30 Mar 2021

This afternoon the U’s take on Bradford City in a bid to gather sufficient points to stay clear of the bottom two. It’ll be a tough gig though, even if (as I suspect) Bradford City have left it a bit too late to challenge the play-off spots. They were on a decent run of form, that is until defeats at Newport, Carlisle, Scunthorpe and a goalless draw at home to Oldham put paid to any lingering promotion hopes. For us, it’s simple, to stay out of the bottom two, for all intents and purposes we only need to gain half (or more) of the points that Grimsby or Southend do. Sounds easy, just wish I felt more confident we will…
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Letters from Wiltshire #41
at 14:12 27 Mar 2021

This afternoon the U’s take on Bradford City in a bid to gather sufficient points to stay clear of the bottom two. It’ll be a tough gig though, even if (as I suspect) Bradford City have left it a bit too late to challenge the play-off spots. They were on a decent run of form, that is until defeats at Newport, Carlisle, Scunthorpe and a goalless draw at home to Oldham put paid to any lingering promotion hopes. For us, it’s simple, to stay out of the bottom two, for all intents and purposes we only need to gain half (or more) of the points that Grimsby or Southend do. Sounds easy, just wish I felt more confident we will…

Exeter City v Colchester United
Friday 2nd April 2010
Coca Cola League 1 (Tier 3)
Attendance 6,297




Durham’s not going to be happy, but the random match selector for Letters from Wiltshire #41 has gone back almost exactly 11 years, and the tail-end of the 2009/2010 season with a visit to Exeter City. Ironically, it was this season but in reverse – back then the U’s were aiming to cement a place in the Coca Cola League 1 play-offs, and Exeter were down the bottom fretting about relegation. They were 8pts clear, and probably weren’t far from being safe, but still needed points to be absolutely certain.

Ooh Betty!!!



Remarkably, this is the only game in my memorabilia collection that dates to the Boothroyd era. I know sometimes the (ahem) direct playing style took some getting used to under Aidy, but did I actually stop buying programmes as a form of protest? Obviously not, but it could be argued that I made up for it purchasing my copy of The Grecian on the day, weighing in at a whopping 96 pages, and easily the most substantial in my collection (excluding the Wembley ones naturally).

Normally, this would be a good thing as something to read on the train journey home, but this was to be a busy weekend, so me and Alfie drove down for this match. Em was on an early shift in the morning, and we had to get back in time (and in good order) to collect my other two kids in readiness for us all to go to a friends’ wedding on Saturday. Alfie was quite young at the time, so for the first time ever, I decided to go in the visitors seating for this match, which back then was the last block of the now demolished Grandstand, next to the away terrace.

Aidy Boothroyd had arrived in September, after the debacle of Paul Lambert’s U’s smashing Norwich 7-1 on the opening day of the season, and then walking out to become their manager straight after. Joe Dunne was caretaker for a few matches before Aidy Boothroyd was appointed. Aidy had some pedigree too, touted as one of the young up and coming innovative English managers, he’d had a reasonably successful spell at Watford for three years – but after leaving ‘by mutual consent’, had been out of work for roughly a year before joining the U’s.

He started well at the U’s too, with only four defeats in a run from early September through late February to keep us firmly in the play-off positions, albeit one of those defeats was the ignominious 5-0 reversal at home to Lambert’s Norwich City (still, 7-6 on aggregate, how’d you like them apples Delia?). However, late February was when the wheels started to come off and going into this game at Exeter we’d lost three and drawn three, and desperately needed points to keep our play-off hopes alive.

On the day
Aidy Boothroyd’s team lined up:

1….Ben Williams
4….Magnus Okuonghae (captain)
24..Franck Queudrue
25..John White
31..Phil Ifil (Ashley Vincent 80’)
8….John-Joe O'Toole
10..Kem Izzet
26..David Prutton
9….Clive Platt (Steven Gillespie 74’)
16..Ian Henderson (Anthony Wordsworth 57’)
20..Kevin Lisbie

At the time, Exeter City were managed by Paul Tisdale, ironically one of the names being mentioned quite a bit as potentially our new manager before Wayne Brown was appointed. Of course, if Wayne doesn’t get us out of the doggy-doo, Tisdale’s name may be mentioned quite a bit more as well. Not too many familiar faces in the Exeter line-up, probably with the exception of Marcus Stewart, who back in the day had been a formidable striker for the likes of Bristol Rovers, Huddersfield, Ipswich and Sunderland. But that had been a while earlier, and at 37 he was clearly at the tail-end of his career – still dangerous though.

Despite their lowly position, Exeter City – roared on by a bumper Easter weekend crowd, including a couple of hundred from Essex – started the brightest. With the U’s struggling to get a grip on the game, Barry Corr, latching on to an inch-perfect pass from warhorse Marcus Stewart flashed a cross-shot right across the face of Ben Williams’ goal which just needed a touch from anyone (on either side) to be a guaranteed 1-0 lead for the Grecians.



There wasn’t though, and after that lucky escape, slowly the U’s started to assert themselves more on the game. We should have taken the lead in truth, about 20 minutes in. A David Prutton header looked certain to score, but ‘keeper Paul Jones pulled off a stunning one-hand block, only for the ball to rebound to Ian Henderson in the box. Henderson let fly, but defender Richard Duffy threw himself in the way to save a certain goal. Prutton went even closer shortly after, blasting a free-kick against the crossbar, and I was beginning to wonder if it was going to be another one of those days.

Mind you, Exeter were giving as good as they were getting, and it took a brilliant piece of last-ditch defending from Okuonghae to hook the ball off the line from underneath his own crossbar to prevent Steve Tully from opening the scoring. The pivotal moment, of sorts, was an injury to Exeter defender Rob Edwards just before the half hour mark. Bringing on Stuart Fleetwood, Tisdale was either forced to, or chose to make a formation change too – and one that the U’s weren’t prepared for, nor adapted to particularly well.

Five minutes later, Exeter City were in front. Good work from Marcus Stewart saw Fleetwood wriggle free of the attentions of Okuonghae, latch on to the pass and prod low past a helpless Ben Williams. Not content with one, and with the U’s still trying to adapt their game plan, it was Exeter’s turn to hit the woodwork just before half-time, with Ryan Harley’s free-kick clipping the top of the bar, though it looked like Ben had it covered.

We looked better balanced into the second half, and spent most of it looking for an equaliser, without creating too many clear-cut chances, whilst Exeter looked happier to soak up most of the pressure and try and catch us on the break. Just before the hour mark Boothroyd subbed Henderson for Anthony Wordsworth, a change that improved matters. Almost immediately, Wordsworth announced his arrival with a drilled 30-yard free-kick, which again smashed against the crossbar. Two more changes by Aidy as the half wore on, bringing on Gillespie and Vincent for Platt and Ifil, tried to unlock the Exeter defence.

Bovvered?



Again, Woody went close with a goal-bound header with less than ten minutes to go, but again Jones was up to the task with a fine diving save to keep it out. Eventually, inevitably, with the U’s pressing hard for an equaliser and committing more and more men forward, the sucker-punch came along. In injury-time Exeter broke forward and seizing their chance Richard Logan forced a fine save from Ben Williams. Fleetwood picked up the loose ball at the edge of the box and fired in a second shot which seemed to strike Gillespie’s arm, and despite protestations, referee Phil Gibbs had no hesitation pointing to the spot.

As Ryan Harley gleefully buried the opportunity past Ben Williams to make it 2-0, many U’s fans were already streaming out of the ground – they’d seen enough, and the winless run continued.

Exeter City 2 (Stuart Fleetwood 33’; Ryan Harley 90’p) Colchester United 0

In his post-match interview Boothroyd commented “I am disappointed with that. We've done really well. We have done enough to create chances, we have had more closes [sic] and shots than we have had for a long time. It was an outstanding save by their keeper Paul Jones to keep out David Prutton. Goals change games”.

The result left the U’s hanging on to the last play-off spot by the skin of our teeth. The very next game, a home defeat against promotion contenders Millwall, would see us finally leave the play-off zone, where we’d been constantly since 12th September. We’d never get back either, as the poor end of season run continued, leaving the U’s just two places but a significant 8pts short of the play-offs.

An 8th place finish should normally have been something to celebrate, but slipping out of contention in that final run of games when we’d done all the hard work up to that point left a bitter taste in the mouth. Aidy Boothroyd was courted by Coventry City for their vacant manager’s position, and Robbie seemed happy to agree to it – perhaps wary he couldn’t bankroll too many more seasons under Boothroyd without some return?



I certainly wasn’t complaining too much – undeniably there had been success, but the tactics had been a bit too one-dimensional and direct for my liking. I won’t deny it was effective, and Boothroyd’s win stats put him right at the top of the manager list alongside Parky and Lambert in our recent (i.e. last 25 years) past, it just wasn’t the prettiest to watch.

Mind you, what wouldn’t I give for a few of them between now and the end of the season…

Up the U’s
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Letters from Wiltshire #40
at 15:57 21 Mar 2021

Today we learned the sad news that Peter Lorimer has passed away, aged 74, after a long-term illness. Love or loathe Revie’s Leeds, no one can deny that “Hotshot Lorimer” was a truly magnificent footballer, and his passing is a sad day for the global football family.
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Letters from Wiltshire #40
at 13:32 20 Mar 2021

Today we learned the sad news that Peter Lorimer has passed away, aged 74, after a long-term illness. Love or loathe Revie’s Leeds, no one can deny that “Hotshot Lorimer” was a truly magnificent footballer, and his passing is a sad day for the global football family.


Peter Patrick Lorimer
14 December 1946 – 20 March 2021
Rest in Peace


For years I thought I supported Stenhousemuirnil…

There’s been much discussion on various boards, social media etc. about when will we score another goal away from home, particularly on the back of Tuesday night’s gutsy and spirited 0-0 at promotion hopefuls and rich men’s plaything Salford City. Particularly, when were the U’s plagued by a similar goal drought? So, I’ve decided for Letters from Wiltshire #40 to run another special and have a bit of a stat attack nerd look into that dreaded moment when James Alexander Gordon’s pitch would drop, and you knew without looking the next word would be “Nil”.



First off, without anyone realising it, we reached a significant milestone on Tuesday night. As far as I can tell from my records, Tuesday night was our 1,000th match in all competitions without scoring. For those who care, that’s out of 4,003 attempts since 28th August 1937, so an average of almost exactly 1 in 4 matches. Probably not really a particularly alarming stat I suppose – even though I’ve never really thought about it much, I guess that would seem about right? I guess we have to remember that failing to score doesn’t necessarily mean ignominy – take for instance our two 0-0s against Palace and Spurs last season, or any number of spirited backs-to-the-wall ground out 0-0 draws away from home, or even those pyrrhic moments when we’re beaten on goals, but not on skill, or pluck, or just plain belligerent in-your-face-ism.



Seasons in the sun?
Of course, some seasons are better (or worse) than others. Leaving aside the curtailed 1939/40 season, when we only completed four matches (still maintained the average though, didn’t score in a 0-0 against Ipswich Reserves), 1947/48 is top of the list, firing blanks only four times in 50 matches. Of course, back then football teams scored for fun and defence was entirely optional, so it’s worth noting that joint second in that list was our Conference 1991/92 promotion season with only five games without scoring (out of 56 matches!).

As far as seasons to forget are concerned, if we think this one is bad, spare a thought for long-suffering U’s supporters who sat grimly through the 1987/88 season, when we failed to find the net a whopping 23 times! Of course, we’re currently on 15 games without scoring, so there’s still time to overtake that total I suppose. Remarkably, we actually finished 9th in Division 4 in that season – don’t ask me how! In fact, for the joint second seasons 1953/54, 1972/73 and 1977/78, when we missed the net 20 times each, we weren’t relegated on any of those occasions either. Seems the correlation between failing to score and relegation isn’t as clear-cut as I’d probably assume?

So what about sequences?
In all competitions, home or away, our longest barren spell is actually just five matches, an unenviable feat we’ve achieved four times in our history, and three of those were in the 80s. At the tail-end of the 1980/81 season under Bobby Roberts, after a 1-1 draw at home against Sheffield United, we failed to score away at Barnsley, Swindon Town and Gillingham (drew that one), at home to Brentford and away at Newport County. Yes, we were relegated that season, even after finally breaking our duck to beat Carlisle 1-0 on the final day of the season.

It was worse in 1985/86, with a three-week barren spell in late October and early November seeing the U’s lose five games in a row without scoring, against Northampton Town (h), Hereford (a), Chester City (a), Rochdale (h) and Wycombe Wanderers (a). Mind you, we clearly recovered, and went on to finish that season in 6th place. We did it again the following season, failing to score in the last three matches of the season, against Halifax (a), Aldershot (h) and Preston North End (a). Despite that, we made the play-offs for the first time in our history but couldn’t score in either of the legs against Wolves – thus five on the trot.

Most recently, in 1994/95 we had a dreadful start to the season, and after a 1-3 defeat at home to Torquay at the beginning of August, we had non-scoring defeats against Mansfield (a), Doncaster (h) and Exeter (a), interspersed by a brace of 2-0 reverses against Brentford in the 2-legged League Cup 1st round. Again though, we weren’t relegated, and ended up in 10th place.

Those who have never suffered the iniquities of exile cannot possibly understand the significance, the gravitas, of a mattress” – Ariel Dorfman



So what about on the road? It goes without saying that our current run of nine consecutive matches on the road without a goal is out there in front, but actually not by the significant margin you might imagine. In fact, we’ve done similar with eight fruitless journeys in a row starting mid-March in the 1987/88 season in a 0-0 bore-draw at Leyton Orient, and finished early September of the 1988/89 in a League Cup 5-0 drubbing at Northampton Town.

We’ve done a seven as well, and this time wholly within one season. Back in 1977/78, a heyday in my time following the U’s, we started an unwelcome run losing 4-0 at Deepdale. Subsequent trips to Hereford, Oxford, Peterborough, Lincoln, Swindon and Exeter were all goalless, before finally halting the slide emphatically with a 3-0 victory away at today’s opponents Port Vale. Although that slump probably cost us a half chance to challenge for promotion, we still finished 8th, with Bobby Gough top-scorer with 17 goals. Life seemed simpler to me then, the U’s won their home games and lost their away games – that’s how it worked.

At home, as you would expect, our record goalless streaks are largely unremarkable. Twice we’ve gone four games at home without scoring; the last two matches of 1986/87 (Aldershot and then Wolves in our play-off first leg) and first two matches of 1987/88 (Torquay and then Fulham in the League Cup); and the last four home games of the 2008/09 season, losing to Crewe, Leeds, Brighton and Peterborough on the bounce.

Not a good way to finish our first season back in League 1, but we bounced back reasonably well at the start of 2009/10 with a trip to Carrow Road…



…and finally



So, I made the observation after Tuesday night that I’d gladly take 0-0s from now to the end of the season, as it would almost certainly guarantee we’d avoid relegation. But how much could we take, or more to the point (no pun intended), what have we had to endure in the past? Overall, the U’s have drawn 0-0 269 times in all competitions. In 2007/08 we managed the entire season without a single 0-0 result, the first and only time we’ve done so. We’ve had ten seasons were there was just a single double-blank, the last one back in 1984/85. Notably, the three seasons from 1946 to 1949 and again from 1960 to 1963 were both consecutive seasons where our copybook was blotted by solitary goalless draws.

I’ve already mentioned that feast or famine season of 1977/78, and that holds the record with ten matches in all competitions drawn 0-0 (nine in the league). I guess that goes to show, even when we weren’t scoring back then, we were still hellish hard to beat. 1987/88 comes close, with nine matches (eight in the league) finishing 0-0, but this season (currently on six no-score draws) still has the potential to challenge that top spot.

Incidentally, before we get too downcast, it’s worth remembering that our most likely opponent over the years for a 0-0 result (ten occurrences) was Bury – kind of puts our current woes into some sort of perspective I suppose?

Up the U’s
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Ainsley's on the plane
at 10:26 18 Mar 2021

Called up to play for Guyana apparently, matches 25th and 30th March, and word on the OMB is he's already departed (recently released Scarlett too). Naturally I'm pleased for them both, but that leaves a hole in the squad ahead of yet more crucial games.
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Letters from Wiltshire #10 - the missing edition
at 13:23 14 Mar 2021

As I rather expected, work has been somewhat manic in recent days, so I'm not going to have time for a blog ahead of the match tonight, so soz about that.
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Letters from Wiltshire #39
at 13:21 14 Mar 2021

Editorials are tricky these days without being too downcast, but let’s be honest, there’s not much good news around the club and fanbase at the moment. On a personal positive note, I have my first vaccine jab booked for next weekend, which is a blessed relief. Seemingly being one of the young’uns on the U’sual, I hope many of you have already trod that path, and those yet to won’t be too far behind. It’s a cliché of course, but there really are more important things than football at present. Stay safe and get vaccinated folks, let’s make sure we all get through this together and come out the other side, wherever the U’s will be at that point…
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Letters from Wiltshire #38
at 13:21 14 Mar 2021

So the green shoots of recovery we saw emerging last Tuesday night were firmly trampled on Saturday afternoon, as Crawley shone an uncomfortable spotlight on our deficiencies. If we must take some solace from this, Wayne Brown must surely be getting a clearer idea, match by match, of what’s needed for survival. And let’s be honest, as unpalatable as that must be for us, survival is 100% the only concern right now – anything after that is a bonus. So we go again tonight, only this time it’s a very tricky long trip to new arrivals Harrogate, probably the surprise package in the league in my opinion. It’s all about taking chances – Harrogate have lost more games than the U’s, but they’ve won significantly more too, which is why they’re challenging for the play-offs, and we’re…not ☹.
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Letters from Wiltshire #39
at 13:18 13 Mar 2021

Editorials are tricky these days without being too downcast, but let’s be honest, there’s not much good news around the club and fanbase at the moment. On a personal positive note, I have my first vaccine jab booked for next weekend, which is a blessed relief. Seemingly being one of the young’uns on the U’sual, I hope many of you have already trod that path, and those yet to won’t be too far behind. It’s a cliché of course, but there really are more important things than football at present. Stay safe and get vaccinated folks, let’s make sure we all get through this together and come out the other side, wherever the U’s will be at that point…

Colchester United v Brentford
Saturday 24th August 2002
Nationwide Football Division 2 (Tier 3)
Attendance 3,135




First off, nothing epitomises the ‘relegation six-pointer’ moniker more than our trip to Grimsby today. As mentioned on the board, win and we open up a 14-point gap over the Mariners, lose and it’s just an 8-point gap – at this stage that’s a massive swing. I guess, as much as I hope for the win, a draw would have to be considered adequate, just to stay 11 points clear of the bottom? I’m a great believer that goal difference is always good indicator of how things will pan out, so whilst our -14 GD is alarming, it’s nowhere near as alarming as the -28 for both Grimsby and Southend.


Wikipedia graph © EclecticArkie

The random match selector has chosen the early stages of the 2002/03 season, with the U’s in the hallowed ground of the third tier of the Football League for the fifth season running. The U’s had been on a generally upward trajectory since we’d returned to Division 2, in fact we’d been on that upwardly mobile path pretty much constantly since our Conference low point more than 10 years earlier. Under Steve Whitton, it’s also fair to say that improvement in Division 2 had been fairly gradual, and by very modest increments. However, hopes were high that this season we’d finally make a decent challenge for promotion.

Bzzzzz….
The Bees, on the other hand, were a well-established solid Division 2 side, and had been so pretty much since the late 70s, even spending a couple of seasons in the (then) First Division (post formation of the Premier League) ten years earlier. There’d been one blip as well, slipping into the basement for one season in 1998, but they’d bounced back immediately, and at the end of the previous season had made the play-offs. As older supporters might recall, Brentford FC and play-offs were not and continue to not be happy bedfellows, and they had developed a reputation for stumbling at this most important of hurdles. My copy of Football Fans Guide relates the story of their 1996/97 play-off final, when supporters commissioned barges to sail down the Grand Union Canal, rather than face the public transport chaos of a trip to Wembley – “…livening up a sleepy west London Sunday morning with fog horns and booming renditions of ‘We’re the famous Brentford FC and we’re going to Wembley’. The return trip was a little quieter: they lost”.



Thus it was at the end of 2001/02, again losing in the final, this time to Stoke City. Since the introduction of the play-offs, this was their fourth failed attempt out of four. All told, I believe their record stands at nine play-off campaigns at various levels, with a zero-success rate – including four as losing finalists. That defeat against Stoke, and an off-field financial crisis brought about by the collapse of ITV Digital, had sparked a break-up of the team, with high-earners such as Ingimarsson, Lloyd Owusu and club captain Paul Evans released. Their only hope of survival was selling the lease for Griffin Park to developers Wimpey, but the deal faltered, and they only avoided going into administration – just – by the late sale of defender Darren Powell for £400k on the eve of the season. This still left Brentford £4m in debt though.

With his team torn apart beneath him, manager Steve Coppell didn’t fancy the challenge ahead and resigned during the summer, to be replaced by his assistant and Crazy Gang founder Wally Downes. The clear-out was replaced by as many free agents as they could lay their hands on, including naughty boy Rowan Vines on loan from parent club Pompey, as well as the opportunity for virtually unknown Barbadian Mark McCammon to step up as first-choice striker. The remainder were mostly drawn from loans and their youth set-up – sounds familiar? Despite all of this, the Bees under Wally Downes had made an excellent start to the season with two victories and a draw and were top of the table.



…and the U’s?
Our start had been more mixed, an opening day victory against Stockport, a decent draw at Tranmere, and then a disappointing defeat at Crewe, leaving us in lower mid-table. I found myself that weekend a free agent – Em was away at Cladh Hallan, Outer Hebrides on a university excavation, the kids were with their mum, so what better opportunity for a trip over to see family and friends in Essex. I’d been on school holiday annual leave the week before (coinciding with my birthday), so travelled over on the Friday afternoon to have a longer weekend back home with mum, and as usual went to the match with my brother-in-law Steve and his son.

Steve Whitton’s starting XI lined up:

31..Richard McKinney
3….Joe Keith
4….Gavin Johnson
6….Thomas Pinault
8….Mark Warren (Danny Steele 41’)
10..Kem Izzet
11..Dean Morgan
15..Adrian Coote (Lloyd Opara 77’)
17..Bobby Bowry
19..Alan White
20..Micky Stockwell (Kevin Rapley 64’)

Like Brentford, the U’s hadn’t exactly had a quiet pre-season, bringing in a raft of players, including Danny Steele from Millwall, Mark Warren from Notts County, Richard McKinney from Swindon and Pat Baldwin from Chelsea – needless to say, all free transfers – and Leke Odunsi on loan also from Millwall. This season also saw youngsters Dean Gerken and Greg Halford graduate from the youth set-up. Making room for this influx were departees Con Blatsis to Turkish side Kocaelispor, Anthony Allman to Woking, legend David Gregory to Canvey Island and Ross Johnson to Daggers. No, there weren’t any fees involved. Reminiscent of Mike Masters, we’d also learned in the week leading up to this match that talented Trinidad and Tobago international Avery John, who had impressed greatly during pre-season, had been denied a work permit and unfortunately wouldn’t be joining us.



Shiny’s on show
As for the match, it was a lovely bright summers day, but with the youngster in tow although we still managed a couple of pints in the Drury beer garden, our seats for the match were in the Clock End. However, this wasn’t before a visit to the club shop to purchase myself a ‘Tiptree shiny’ U’s shirt birthday pressie, and still my favourite U’s shirt from the last 20+ years. No doubt a combination of our somewhat indifferent start to the season, the annual clash with the Chelmsford V-Festival, and the usual truancy during school summer holidays, the crowd was only just over 3,000, and that despite a sizeable following making the relatively short trip from west London (not by boat this time).

Whitton started with two of his three new signings, with McKinney in goal and Mark Warren in the heart of defence (and cover-boy for the matchday programme), and Danny Steele on the bench. We started brightly, pressing Brentford throughout most of the first half, and it was clear that despite the relative difference in our league placings, we were more than a match for the patched-up Bees. We really should have been in front by half-time, but inevitably it was in fact quite the opposite.

Mark Warren had unfortunately been injured late in the first half, bringing on fellow newbie Danny Steele for his debut. Whether inexperience or just bad luck, with the game in injury-time at the end of the first half, Steele clumsily bundled into Mark McCammon in the box, and referee Paul Taylor had no hesitation pointing to the spot. Gutting as it was, as it wasn’t a clear-cut decision, it was certainly one of those incidents where you’ll see them given. Irishman Stephen Hunt wasn’t complaining, and calmy slotted past Richard McKinney to give Brentford an ill-deserved lead.

The second half was all about the U’s spirit, fight and determination to get back into the game, and they certainly gave it a decent go. With no breakthrough approaching the halfway point of the second half, Whitton sacrificed Mick Stockwell in midfield, bringing on striker Kevin ‘Krapley’ Rapley, and 15 minutes later Lloyd Opara for Adrian Coote in a straight swap. All to no avail though, and although both Dean Morgan and Lloyd Opara brought off excellent saves from ‘keeper Paul Smith, we just couldn’t find the breakthrough we deserved in a dominant second half display. Credit also must go to Bees, despite their early season form, and their relatively young age as a squad, they were savvy enough to know they were under the cosh and needed to shut up shop effectively if they wanted to head home with 3pts – which they did.

Colchester United 0 Brentford 1 (Stephen Hunt 45+2’p)

Not the result I was hoping for on what was basically my birthday weekend, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom. It had been a spirited performance, with the U’s clearly the better side, we just couldn’t break through a determined Brentford rearguard after they’d nicked a lead with a somewhat contentious penalty decision. However, didn’t stop me heading down to the Greyhound to spend the evening with mates I hadn’t seen for a while.

Winning the last two matches in August, the U’s seemed to be heading in the right direction, before a disastrous run from September to the end of January, winning just three more matches and leaving us deep in the relegation zone, saw Steve Whitton hand in his resignation. The Parky effect when Phil Parkinson took over was almost instantaneous, and by the end of the season we reached 12th place, our highest league placing for 23 years.

Brentford’s early form continued through August, earning Downes the Manager of the Month award, but it was clearly papering over the cracks of a young inexperienced squad hastily bolted together. They struggled for the remainder of the season, and with more players released in March, including McCammon, and an injury list as long as your arm, they eventually finished well behind the U’s in 16th place.

Up the U’s
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Letters from Wiltshire #38
at 18:41 9 Mar 2021

So the green shoots of recovery we saw emerging last Tuesday night were firmly trampled on Saturday afternoon, as Newport shone an uncomfortable spotlight on our deficiencies. If we must take some solace from this, Wayne Brown must surely be getting a clearer idea, match by match, of what’s needed for survival. And let’s be honest, as unpalatable as that must be for us, survival is 100% the only concern right now – anything after that is a bonus. So we go again tonight, only this time it’s a very tricky long trip to new arrivals Harrogate, probably the surprise package in the league in my opinion. It’s all about taking chances – Harrogate have lost more games than the U’s, but they’ve won significantly more too, which is why they’re challenging for the play-offs, and we’re…not ☹.

Colchester United v Lincoln City
Saturday 15th August 1992
Third Division (Tier 4)
Attendance 4,131




Always apparently with a flair for the dramatic, as the U’s struggle to avoid relegation out of the Football League, Letters from Wiltshire #38 returns to our first league match after getting back into the Football League. It was August 1992, and after two balmy seasons in the Football Conference, and on the back of winning the non-league double, Roy McDonough’s U’s were up against Lincoln City. Lincoln had also experienced the trauma of relegation to non-league football in their recent history, seven years earlier, in their case only taking one season to bounce straight back.

Tonight’s blog will have to be briefer than usual, as there isn’t much time to kick-off, and to be honest, there’s not too much I can remember in detail from this day. Of course I remember it as an occasion vividly, who wouldn’t remember that first match back in the Football League. Putting it in context, it was also less than a month after the birth of my first-born, so an ideal opportunity to show off the new arrival to the family, and of course take in a trip to Layer Road in the process – I know, I’m a bad person, what can I say 😊?

Driving over on the Friday night to stay with Mum, me and my brother-in-law headed over to the match, via of course a few beers in the Drury en route. I recall a better than average turnout from Lincoln City as well, one of those clubs that’s always seemed a bit of an enigma at times as far as support is concerned. At times seemingly stuck out on the edge of nowhere barely able to attract four-figure attendances, and then sweeping all before them in non-league on regular 10k+ crowds. I guess sometimes there’s really not much else to do in Lincoln on a Saturday afternoon – apart from drink I suppose, the pubs really are excellent.

Having guided us back to the Football League, chairman Gordon Parker was perfectly happy to stick with son-in-law Roy McDonough. Roy’s only pre-season signing was unknown Darren Oxbrow, a free-transfer centre-back from Maidstone United, though he did also take goalkeeper Paul Newell on loan from Leyton Orient. Big Roy started both in his first Football League line-up, and including of course himself at no. 9.

1….Paul Newell
2….Warren Donald
3….Paul Roberts
4….Mark Kinsella
5….Tony English
6….Darren Oxbrow
7….Robbie Devereux (Paul Abrahams)
8….Gary Bennett
9….Roy McDonough
10..Martin Grainger
11..Nicky Smith

Lincoln City were managed at the time by Steve Thompson, very much a fans favourite following a long playing career for the Imps in the early 80s (and a shorter second spell immediately before moving into the manager role in 1990). There were a couple of names of note in the Lincoln line-up that afternoon, not least Keith Alexander, a well-renowned journeyman striker in football circles. Alexander would go on to take over from Thompson at the end of this season, becoming the first full-time black professional manager in the Football League. He sadly died in 2010 aged just 53, and was posthumously awarded a lifetime achievement award at the 2010 Black List celebration of African Caribbean figures in British Football.



The other name, certainly with hindsight, was Jason Lee. Now I’m pretty sure at the time this was nothing special, because I’m pretty sure this was before David Baddiel decided he needed to ‘black-up’ to ridicule Jason Lee, and particularly his ‘pineapple’ hairstyle. Apart from the systematic bullying, for someone who’d probably consider himself a bit of a lefty, his caricature is a very nasty chapter in Baddiel’s career, and one I would hope he is suitably ashamed of.

Anyhow, enough about politics, how about the game? Well, frenetic is the first word that comes to mind. We had literally only just squeezed in at the back of the Barside when Dean West put the Imps ahead with less than a minute on the clock. Their supporters were still singing “Welcome to Division 3” when McDonough equalised two minutes later, and we were still laughing about that when new-boy Darren Oxbrow made it 2-1 to the U’s.

And that was that, the game finally settled down, both sides realised they were allowed to defend as well as attack, and basically cancelled each other out. Still, although the goal-scoring fun was over, it was still a day to celebrate, on the sunny Barside terrace watching the U’s back in the Football League, and winning as well.

Colchester United 2 (Roy McDonough 3’; Darren Oxbrow 7’) Lincoln City 1 (Dean West 1’)

Also was a false dawn as it happened, with the U’s losing the next four on the bounce, by which time we were back in the relegation zone. Roy McDonough’s tenure as manager was very much death or glory, and whilst the Conference had been very much glory, this first season back was much more an even mix. This was typified by our match stats over the season, we either won or lost – there were only five drawn matches all season, and three of those were in a four-match spell early in 1993. Take for example our run-in at the end of the season, win five out of seven (plus another of those draws), then get spanked 7-1 at Crewe!

All of this meant we finished 10th, and only four points out of the play-offs. This was an extremely credible performance for McDonough in his first season managing in the Football League, but I think also started to show some of his managerial weaknesses too. Gordon Parker would stick with Roy for one more season, but I suspect the writing was starting to appear on the wall during this campaign.

Up the U’s
[Post edited 9 Mar 19:05]
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U'sual Prediction League
at 23:25 7 Mar 2021

Hi Daniel - I know you've said previously that you're not the administrator of this, but do you know if this is now redundant?
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Letters from Wiltshire #37
at 13:29 7 Mar 2021

On Tuesday night, long-suffering U’s fans, and after such a long wait, finally saw something truly remarkable. Yes, on that fog-bound night we witnessed not one but two miracles – Trevor Kettle making two catastrophically poor game-changing decisions, listening to arguments against those decisions, admitting he had been wrong, and reversing them. Oh my days, as I live and breathe, if I’m ever blessed with grandchildren in years to come, will they believe doddery old me when I tell them what happened that night? Oh, and the U’s finally threw the monkey off their back and won a game…
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Letters from Wiltshire #36
at 13:29 7 Mar 2021

So, Wayne Brown isn’t yet the Messiah it would seem, but nor necessarily is he a very naughty boy either. In a tricky fixture at Forest Green Rovers on Saturday evening, what I saw started as encouraging – the U’s out of the blocks fast, showing pace, urgency, passion even – but sadly lacking in actual quality on the ball. By comparison, FGR had plenty of that, and very quickly gained total dominance across all areas of the pitch, and sliced through us for two goals in quick succession with alarming ease. It probably would have been more of the same in the second half, but for the red card. It looked fair enough at the time, but following an appeal it has now been rescinded. However, even with just ten men and happily sacrificing possession, we still had nothing to open them up, and still conceded a third from the simplest of free kicks. Worrying signs for Wayne, and lots of work to do, so let’s see how things may have improved tonight…
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Letters from Wiltshire #37
at 12:59 6 Mar 2021

On Tuesday night, long-suffering U’s fans, and after such a long wait, finally saw something truly remarkable. Yes, on that fog-bound night we witnessed not one but two miracles – Trevor Kettle making two catastrophically poor game-changing decisions, listening to arguments against those decisions, admitting he had been wrong, and reversing them. Oh my days, as I live and breathe, if I’m ever blessed with grandchildren in years to come, will they believe doddery old me when I tell them what happened that night? Oh, and the U’s finally threw the monkey off their back and won a game…

Wimbledon v Colchester United
Saturday 7th January 1995
FA Cup (3rd Round)
Attendance 6,903




Letters from Wiltshire #37 dips into the distant past in my memorabilia archive, right back to match no. 18 in the collection, our FA Cup 3rd Round match against Wimbledon at adopted home Selhurst Park in January 1995. In the context of my recent performance assessment for previous Colchester United caretaker managers (LfW#35), it is ironic that the random match generator has chosen a moment in the history of one of them – Dale Roberts.

Our paths with Wimbledon haven’t crossed too much over the years – our first encounter being Wimbledon knocking the U’s out of the FA Cup in 1962, when they were non-league and we were the ‘big’ club. Once they’d been promoted to the Football League, we played each other in both the Third Division (1979/80) and Fourth Division (1982/83), but other than that the only other occasion had been an Associate Members Cup at Layer Road, which we won 2-1.

Nah, don’t go sarf of the river me ol’ china



Unlike black cab drivers, the U’s will indeed go south of the river, particularly on this day. We’d had an eventful FA Cup journey to this point, and no doubt many of you will remember our 1st Round game at Yeading (MoY#45), probably more for what happened off the pitch than on it. I wasn’t at the 7-1 demolition replay at Layer Road but did make the relatively short trip down to league rivals Exeter for the 2nd Round, a match we won 2-1 from a Tony English goal with minutes to spare. That game is also in my collection, so may well feature in the future.

Hopes were high that we’d get a decent draw out of the hat for the 3rd Round, a Premier League side at the least, and preferably one reasonably local for the travelling supporters. They say always be careful what you wish for, because Wimbledon ticked all those boxes and it still felt like a kick in the teeth – worse still, I think at the time our ball was drawn, we were still in the bag alongside only four others, one of which was Liverpool! Even worser, at the time Wimbledon were a pretty solid top flight side, and had been since long before the formation of the Premier League, so on the back of no glory, no big day out, no visit to a swanky state-of-the-art stadium, no TV money and no significant gate receipts, there was very little likelihood of success either.

Chin up son
Still, none of these were really good reasons to be downhearted, it was still the FA Cup after all, and as we should know anything could happen. The U’s were going well in the league, after a slightly shaky start, and had only lost two league matches since the start of September, so confidence was high that even if we couldn’t pull off an upset, we might just bring them back to Layer Road for a replay. At the time, Wimbledon were playing at their adopted home Selhurst Park, and with an average gate of only 10k that season, and considerably less expected for this game, tickets for the U’s faithful were not going to be a problem.

Passions were high amongst the U’s supporters for other reasons too, after traitor George Burley walked out on the U’s on Christmas Eve for that bunch up the A12. Burley had steered us from relegation zone to play-offs in four months, and who knows what he could have achieved if he hadn’t walked out – but such is the lot of small clubs and managers who use them as shop windows. Dale Roberts was appointed as caretaker whilst chairman Gordon Parker looked for a replacement, and Dale’s record going into this match was won 1, drew 1, lost 1.

1….John Cheesewright
2….Simon Betts
3….Tony English
4….Peter Cawley
5….Gus Caesar
6….Adam Locke
7….Trevor Putney
8….Steve Brown
9….Steve Whitton
10..Mark Kinsella
11..Paul Abrahams (Tony Dennis)

The Crazy Gang



Of course, most football supporters will know of the Wimbledon Crazy Gang, not least typified by celebrity hardman and media gangsta’ Vinnie Jones. Vinnie had really made a name for himself at Wimbledon, particularly after they defied all expectations to beat Liverpool and win the FA Cup back in 1988. Other famed members of the Crazy Gang at the time included of course Dennis Wise, John Fashanu, Lawrie Sanchez and Mick Harford, but it is little known Wally Downes who is usually credited with forming the group. Incidentally, Downes played a few games on loan for today’s visitors Newport County back in 1987.



Vinnie was the only member of the group to leave and then end up back at Wimbledon, in a pretty decent career that also took him to Leeds, Sheffield United and Chelsea, as well as an unlikely call-up to his ‘national’ side Wales (a proper Jack Charlton one this – Jones’ grandfather on his mothers side was born in Ruthin). Mick Harford was still at Wimbledon and also lined-up against the U’s that afternoon. What’s more, the Dons had Dean Holdsworth up front, Robbie Earle in midfield, and Hans Segers in goal, so really were going to be tough opponents. In Joe Kinnear, they had a pretty tough cookie as a manager too.

Are we there yet?
There was never going to be any debate about not making the journey over to Selhurst Park for this match. Although there wasn’t going to be a problem about getting tickets, after all the Arthur Wait stand we had been allocated could hold 8,000, I do recall it was nevertheless an all-ticket match, not least I suppose so the police and match officials had a decent idea about how many would be turning up in support of the U’s. Let’s not forget, the Metropolitan police had very recently had an up close and personal encounter with the Barside at Yeading, so were almost certainly going to be watching this one very closely.



My brother-in-law picked up my ticket for the match from Layer Rd in the week leading up to game, and we arranged to meet before the match at one of the local pubs. My memory is vague on which one this was – I can certainly remember that Selhurst Park was a sod of a ground to try and get to you on public transport, and I know for certain before the match we approached the ground walking up the hill along Park Road from Whitehorse Lane (and marvelling at the huge throng of U’s supporters outside the ground). From that I deduce we were probably in The Railway Telegraph, reasonably close to Thornton Heath overground station – I know I was in a pub, at least that much is certain 😊.

The match
If you thought my memory of pre-match was hazy, it’s nothing compared to the game itself. There must have been about a thousand U’s fans in the Arthur Wait stand that afternoon, and we were comfortably out-singing anything the Wimbledon support had to offer in a derisory crowd of less than 7,000. We needed to be in good voice, because less than ten minutes in we were 1-0 down, after ‘Crazy’ Mick Harford had put the Dons in front. However, it isn’t either my blue-tinted spectacles or poor memory at fault when I say this was really against the run of play.



We’d started very strongly, and with Kinsella in particular in excellent form, really had been causing our Premier League opponents plenty of difficulties. We’d continue to do so as well, more than a match for Wimbledon for most of the first half, but never quite fashioning a clear-cut chance that I can remember.

Into the second half, and it was more of the same really, though as the U’s legs began to tire, it became more containment than really posing enough threat to change the outcome. Dale Roberts tried to change things around a bit, bringing on Tony Dennis for the hard-running Paul Abrahams, but to no avail. Wimbledon appeared content with proceedings, and despite the vocal support we were giving the team, the Dons happily ground out a 1-0 victory and passage through to the 4th Round. There was certainly no disgrace though, we had given one of the better teams in the Premier League a very good run for their money and could leave Selhurst Park with our heads held high.

Wimbledon 1 [Mick Harford 9’) Colchester United 0

To put this performance into context, Wimbledon drew high-flying First Division side Tranmere Rovers at Prenton Park in the 4th Round, and had an easier match brushing them aside 2-0 away from home. They would eventually be eliminated after a replay by Liverpool of all teams, their victims in the 1988 final, with the FA Cup won by rivals Everton in a surprising 1-0 victory over Sir Alex’s all-conquering Manchester United.

Dale Roberts was replaced as manager by Steve Wignall the following week, a vacancy that apparently Mark Lawrenson was also interested in. Wignall struggled to maintain the form under Burley, and although finishing the league in 10th place was a reasonably solid start to his managerial career, for the supporters it was still disappointing given where we’d been at Christmas.

I think on balance Wignall made it up to us, taking us to the last two of our three Wembley appearances, and eventually promotion to the Second Division. If Wayne Brown can match that record, he’ll earn the freedom of Colchester without a doubt.

Up the U’s
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