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When Saturday Comes #11
Written by wessex_exile on Sunday, 24th Oct 2021 09:44

This blog is a little earlier than usual, to give me and Alfie time to load up the car and sally forth for our first awayday of the season together, on the road to Vale Park – “[i]He who would valiant be, 'gainst all disaster, let him in constancy follow the Master[/i]”. Not quite sure who the master is in that analogy, but let’s hope it’s Hayden Mullins on Saturday. All being well, I’m looking forward to catching up with fellow U’sual boarders ([b]Noah[/b], [b]Durham[/b] maybe?, anyone else) when I get there. I won’t be meeting up with Clampin (Covid) or Judge (calf injury) who will miss out on making the trip, nor of course Tchamadeu (see below).

It seems a fairly quiet week out there in the big wide world – Her Madge has spent a night in hospital following a check-up, apparently because it was then too late at night to be driven home. The remains of Brian Laundrie, believed to be responsible for the death of fiancé Gabby Petito, have been found. Most assume his death was by his own hand, but for Ms Petito’s family, being cheated out of justice for their daughter can only heap further heartache on a family who surely have suffered enough.

Bubbles or no bubbles, Covid-19 infection rates continue to rise, in the last month going from just over 26k new cases daily to nearly 44k. That exceeds the huge spike back in July and is fast approaching what was virtually an all-time high of 54k new cases in a day back in January. The good thing, if that’s the right expression, is that the level of vaccinations in the UK is keeping the death count from these infections very low, with barely 100 people a day dying at the moment – that’s still a lot of people though.

The other good news on the coronavirus front is the announcement that the 3rd jab booster may be rolled out just five months after 2nd jabs, not six as originally stated. This would mean all over-70s are eligible now, and most over-65s by early November. A clinical study published yesterday demonstrated that a third booster dose of Pfizer was 95.6% more effective than just two jabs at preventing infection.

[b]Closer to home[/b]
Fixtures are coming thick and fast at the moment, with the rearranged game at home to Sutton next Tuesday, home again to Scunnie the following Saturday, then of course AFC Sudbury on the telebob for Bonfire Night, Portman Road the following Tuesday in the EFL Trophy, and finally capped off by what should be my third trip of the season, Forest Green at the New Lawn on Saturday 13th November. By the end of that I wonder whether we’ll be out of two cups and embroiled in a relegation dogfight or wondering what on earth we were all worrying about – we shall see.

Still, with so many fixtures coming up it really wasn’t a good time to lose promising right-back Junior Tchamadeu to a needless red card and automatic 3-match suspension (at least I hope it’s still three, and our appeal hasn’t added another game on to the tally). The good news, thanks to Sutton United playing the system to their advantage, is that Junior should be available again in time for the AFC Sudbury game in front of the cameras, which the young lad and his family definitely deserve.

I said at the time that Junior should have just gone down and not given the hapless referee Graham Scott another chance to show why he’s not fit to referee League 2, never mind the Premier League. But Junior didn’t, and in the argy-bargy handbags that followed, Mr Scott took the easy route and sent both victim and aggressor off – and let’s face it, how often will an FA appeals committee overturn the decision of a Premier League referee.

[b]Stat attack[/b]
Not much really to say about our record against Port Vale, it’s about as average as you can get – played 62 times in the league, won 24, drawn 16, lost 22. We’ve played just once in the FA Cup too, a 1st Round 3-1 victory at Layer Road back in 1951. There’s nothing really of any note in terms of sequences either – we haven’t won any of the last four games, but then again if you look back to April 2015 onward we’ve won 4, drawn 4, lost 3.

Probably the only sequence of any significance, in relation to our relative fortunes, was the 14 year spell from 1986 to 2000 when we lost touch with each other completely. It probably won’t come as any surprise this coincided with Port Vale’s more recent sustained period of success in the 3rd and 2nd tiers of English football, whilst we trolled round in the basement and non-league.

Often touted as one of the few English football clubs not named after their geographical location, Port Vale’s origin is somewhat shrouded in mystery. The official story (and on the club website) is that the team were formed in 1876 following a meeting at a building called Port Vale House, from which they took their name. Club historian Jeff Kent isn’t so sure, and through his research believes the club were actually formed in 1879 and took their name from a nearby canal wharf called Port Vale.

It gets murkier, because after become founder members of the Football League Second Division in 1892, then playing as Burslem Port Vale, the club were then relegated back to the Midland League in 1896. Returning two seasons later in 1898, they struggled on but by 1907 were forced to resign from the league, and indeed were subsequently liquidated. Not deterred, local ambitious non-league side Cobridge Town took on the name and eventually, replacing Leeds City who were disbanded because of financial irregularities, returned to the Second Division at the end of the Great War – technically therefore, surely that isn’t the same club?

Since then, Port Vale have been ever-present in the Football League, never achieving the top flight, and never dropping down into non-league. In all fairness, they’ve never really come close to doing so either, apart from maybe 2017/18 when they finished in 20th place and just one point and plus one goal difference better than relegated Barnet.

Anyone who has visited Vale Park will appreciate that, like Notts County for instance, Port Vale play in a vast stadium, far greater than demand has been for many years. In the 1950s post-war supporters boom they did peak at crowds of about 20k, but it was short-lived, and apart from their sustained spell in the second tier in the 90s, when averages approached 10k, they’ve since consistently bimbled along at about the 5k mark. I know, we’d give our eye-teeth for averages of 5k these days, but then again, the JobServe is half the size of Vale Park.

[b]Match of the Day
[i]Scunthorpe United v Colchester United
Sunday 4th May 2008
Coca-Cola Championship (Tier 2)
Attendance 5,554[/i][/b]

[i]Match of the Day[/i] for WSC11 remembers happier days (sort of) following the U’s, only maybe not that much happier because we find ourselves comfortably bottom of the Championship, relegation assured several weeks earlier, and having just played our last ever game at Layer Road. Still, who lets minor inconveniences like form, league position, quality etc. get in the way when there’s an awayday to be had following the U’s, and particularly for the last game of the season. I couldn’t be there for the last match at Layer Road, I sure as hell wasn’t going to miss out on our last day in the Championship.

Or that was the plan anyway but shifting the final day of the Championship to a Sunday didn’t help with train travel arrangements. Nor indeed did dicking about with the kick-off time to bring it forward to 2pm – although finishing by 4pm did actually make it easier (in fact, possible) to get home again. However, we were living in Warminster at the time, so the seemingly insurmountable obstacle was there were simply no trains on the Sunday morning to get me there in time for a 2pm kick-off.

I can’t remember whether that was down to engineering works or simply delays with connections, that was the reality and creative thinking was needed. After endless permutations and combinations were tried using the National Rail journey planner, I realised there was a very slim chance, but it relied on my long-suffering wife conveying me by car 20 miles north to Chippenham train station for a local train to Swindon, from there to join the Bristol to Paddington service, tube across to Kings Cross for the Doncaster train, and then finally another local train across to Scunthorpe.

No doubt glad to have me out of her hair for the day, Emma was more than happy to ferry me at stupid o’clock in the morning up to Chippenham in time for the Swindon train, and thus safely ensconced in my seat I could relax, listen to some music and enjoy a pre-yard arm ale in preparation for the long journey ahead. Happy in my own world, headphones blaring, it took a while before I became dimly aware we hadn’t arrived in Swindon, in fact didn’t appear to be moving at all. Slight tinges of panic started to surface, as what should have been a comfortable connection window started to get smaller and smaller.

Tinges became alarm bells, and alarm bells became those damn sirens that Hitler put on the Stukas, as still we sat waiting. The guard over the tannoy assured us we would be moving shortly, and that there was some sort of signals problem up ahead that was holding us outside Swindon station. Eventually, inexorably we started rolling again, and finally pulled into Swindon station once the London train I was to connect with had done the decent thing by getting out of the way – yep, on its merry way off to London without me.

So now I was in a bit of a quandary – short of some sort of miracle, it was no longer possible to get to Scunthorpe in time for kick-off. There were remote possibilities, mainly centred on a connection further down the line being delayed long enough to join it and get (kind of) back on track, but what was the alternative. Mope home, give up on the day out, give up on the Championship, give up on the U’s? Nah, f’ck it, somehow I’d find a way…and anyway, I really couldn’t face calling Emma and asking her to turn back around to Chippenham station to come get me.

And so I soldiered on, always one step behind my preferred connections, never quite catching up, but still nevertheless a both uneventful but also curiously relaxing journey. As I pulled into Doncaster it was gone 1pm, and less than an hour to kick-off. This was me supping at the last chance saloon – would there be some sort of delayed local train to get me to Scunnie – not on your nelly – or even a local bus service – no chance.

Desperate times required desperate measures, so in a pique of both moral indignation and throwing myself at his mercy I went to see the station master. I explained my predicament, about the delay outside Swindon, about all the missed connections, about our last game of the season in the Championship, basically laid my soul bare. He listened calmly, and having called Swindon to verify the problems with my first connection, reached for his book of dockets, scribbled out a taxi travel voucher, and showed me out to the taxi rank with his best wishes that I made the kick-off in time. The taxi driver was superb, breaking all manner of highway code regulations on the way, and managed to drop me off at Glanford Park literally a minute before kick-off.

Thanks in no small part to Graeson’s excellent coludata website, I know the U’s lined up:
1….Dean Gerken
18..Phil Ifil (Medy Elito 56’)
21..Béla Balogh
16..Matt Heath
3….John White
7….Karl Duguid
10..Kem Izzet
4….Johnnie Jackson
14..Kevin McLeod
20..Kevin Lisbie
24..Scott Vernon (Clive Platt 71’)

Finding my place amongst what must have been nearly 400 of the U’s faithful literally as the ref started the game, there was no time to get a programme, and I no longer have a ticket stub (not even sure I had one to start with), so my only memorabilia archive record of this trip is a simple note on the calendar that year “[i]U’s @ Scunnie[/i]”. As a result, you’ll forgive me if my memory of the actual match is hazy at best.

Although we were beyond any hope of even getting off the bottom of the table, Scunthorpe United were equally doomed to relegation, one place and 8pts above the U’s. Technically, with just pride to play for, I was half expecting it to be one of those end-of-season meaningless fixtures, played out at a gentle pre-season friendly sort of pace. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The U’s took the game to Scunnie right from the outset, and after just ten minutes Kevin McLeod expertly headed in Kevin Lisbie's exquisite cross to send our travelling support into raptures.

However, Scunthorpe gave as good as they got, and just five minutes later we had the misfortune to witness Jonathan Forte equalise with a soft goal to concede, and to rub it home, right in front of us. 75 minutes to go, and we knew we had a game on. Seemingly unburdened by expectation, both sides continued to play free-flowing passing football for the remainder of the first half, but with neither side carving out many (any?) clear cut chances to break the deadlock.

All that was to change in the second half, and with barely a minute on the clock, Vernon blasted home to put the U’s back into the lead. With the faithful still celebrating, McLeod with his second doubled our advantage a minute later with an exquisite chip to make it 3-1, and the away end went ballistic. The game then settled for a while, and approaching the hour mark manager Geraint Williams subbed Phil Ifil for Medy Elito, presumably to keep control of the game?

Perhaps the change unsettled the U’s, who knows, but barely ten minutes later Paul Hayes cut the deficit to make it 3-2. Now it really did become a back to the wall game for the U’s, and for the next 15 minutes or so, during which George replaced goal scorer Vernon with big unit Clive Platt in more of a holding role than anything else, it genuinely did look like we might make it. Sadly not though, and less than a minute after Irons manager Nigel Adkins replaced Winn with Ian Morris, and with eight minutes to go, the scores were level. Paul Hayes (again) took full advantage of a mistake by Matt Heath to stroll past Dean Gerken and tap into an empty net. What was most galling as we had scored three fantastic goals and conceded three very soft ones – very much a metaphor for that second season in the Championship unfortunately.

In the closing ten minutes or so, despite the momentum of Scunthorpe United, it was the U’s who battled hardest to regain the lead, but all to no avail. Adkins removed youngster Jack Cork for the battle-hardened experience of Grant McCann in midfield, and the Iron held out for the point they wanted, and the match finished honours even, one point a piece, three goals each, and relegation for both of us. In truth, it didn’t really matter, we’d travelled to celebrate the U’s finally bowing out of the Championship in style, and they’d done us proud!

[b]Scunthorpe United 3 (Jonathan Forte 15’; Paul Hayes 67’, 82’) Colchester United 3 (Kevin McLeod 11’, 48’; Scott Vernon 48’)[/b]

Post-match, George reflected "[i]I think the players applied themselves well but that goes for the whole season. We haven't finished where we are because of a lack of effort - it's because we haven't been good enough. The effort and the application has been there right until the very last moment[/i]". He wasn’t wrong either.

After a poor start the following season new owner Robbie Cowling replaced him with Paul Lambert, a move I still believe was premature…and we all know how Lambert’s tenure finished. However, Geraint Williams still deserves recognition for taking Colchester United to the highest finish in our history during those Championship years.

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When Saturday Comes #36 by wessex_exile
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