|Letters from Wiltshire #42|
Written by wessex_exile on Saturday, 3rd Apr 2021 12:51
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!
[b]The New Men[/b]
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 “[i]form is temporary, class is permanent[/i]”, 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)?
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.
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 “[i]…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…[/i]”. 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.
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 #47 by wessex_exile
Here we are, at the penultimate game of the season, and our last game in front of the cardboard U’s faithful at the JobServe. It has been a long, difficult, and definitely strange season, which frankly I’ll be glad to see the back of. That’ll we’ll be here again in August is definitely going to be something to celebrate, but I suspect we’re facing a summer of significant rebuilding both on the pitch, and possibly off it too. I won’t be the only one, but the biggest oddity for me has been being able to watch every single game – not always easy viewing, but something I’ve never done before, and probably never will again. But it doesn’t really make up for not being there in person, the long train journey away-days, meeting fellow U’s and other supporters, and of course sharing a beer or three. Fingers-crossed we can return to the terraces in 2021/22.
Letters from Wiltshire #46 by wessex_exile
That was quite a week for us all then. In the space of four short but remarkably tense days we have gone from having to take shoes and socks off to check how many more points we need to guarantee survival, or whether we would even achieve it, to breathing a huge sigh of relief knowing we’re almost there. But close of play this afternoon, whether by our own actions or the failure of others, I am sure survival will be confirmed. Of course, Tuesday night not only all but guaranteed it, it also virtually condemned local rivals Southend United to non-league football for the foreseeable. Looking at the host of fully professional former football league sides currently battling it out for the two promotion slots out of the National league (including Hartlepool, Torquay, Stockport, Wrexham, Chesterfield and Notts County), it is not going to be a walk in the park for Southend to return any day soon.
Letters from Wiltshire #45 by wessex_exile
Tonight, Colchester United face Southend United in what may not necessarily be the most important game of our respective histories (though it’s certainly very close), but is almost certainly the most important Essex derby ever. However this season pans out, by the end of it there’ll either be only one team in Essex, or worst case scenario, none at all. If the U’s win, then Southend will be 9pts behind with just three games to go, and a minimum of a -12 goal difference to overturn if they want to overtake us. Certainly mathematically possible, but that would rely on a remarkable turnaround in their form, form that they’ve shown precious little sign of achieving so far this season. The stalking horse is Grimsby, with their game in hand, who have rather belatedly shown an improvement in form, so their match against automatic promotion chasing Morecambe tonight is equally important, particularly if we want to avoid the unthinkable, with both Essex clubs dropping out of the league.
Letters from Wiltshire #44 by wessex_exile
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Letters from Wiltshire #43 by wessex_exile
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