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When Saturday Comes #17
Written by wessex_exile on Sunday, 5th Dec 2021 13:03

Honestly dahling, playing on a Saturday is so passé these days. Yep, When Saturday Comes and yet again we’re not playing on a Saturday afternoon, meeting the 2013 FA Cup winners Wigan Athletic at the dreadfully uncivilised kick-off time of Sunday lunchtime at 12.30pm. Mind you, the only one of our six games in November that we lost, the Stevenage horror show, was also the only one played on a Saturday afternoon, so maybe I shouldn’t complain too much about rearranged kick-offs? If our improved performances avoiding Saturday afternoon continues into December, I certainly won’t be complaining, with five of our seven scheduled matches also on days other than a Saturday.

Fortunately, Alfie’s PCR test result (and his Mum’s) came back negative midweek, though Granny was less fortunate and is currently convalescing at home feeling grotty with Covid. Having taken the precaution of staying away from the County Ground until we had those results, me and Alfie are now fit and raring to go and will be in the South Stand on Sunday along with four others in our bubble. Mind you, the lunchtime kick-off does mean a stupid o’clock departure from Wiltshire.

I must admit, given the match has only been selected for ‘extended highlights’ I was a bit perplexed as to why the kick-off had to be rearranged at all. I’m still not crystal on it, but am led to believe it might be to do with broadcasting the game live overseas (or something like that?) – as in the Beeb have gone to all the trouble of deploying an outdoor broadcast team, so presumably want to recoup some of that expenditure overseas? Can’t imagine U’s v Wigan would be much of a draw, but there’s nowt so queer as folk I suppose. Still, the extra £12k in January’s transfer kitty will do very nicely indeed thank you very much.

[b]TWTWTW[/b]
Much of the column inches this week, virtual and actual, have been taken up with the emergence of the Omicron variant of the Covid-19. If you didn’t know, the World Health Organisation decided to name each of the Covid variants after letters of the Greek alphabet, to provide a global referencing system that everyone could follow. Omicron is the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet, but this is the 13th variant – why the difference I hear to say? Apparently, WHO skipped the 13th letter [i]Nu[/i] simply because everyone (well, English-speaking nations at the very least) would hear [i]new[/i] instead and skipped 14th letter [i]Xi[/i] because of the obvious Chinese connotations associated with that name.


[b]You might feel a little prick…[/b]

For those of you who are already ‘boosted’ (mine’s due the weekend before Xmas), medical researchers believe the booster jab will not only massively strengthen the body’s defence against Covid in general, but in particular against the Omicron variant. This is great news, but it would be even better news if we still didn’t have far too many people refusing to get vaccinated, refusing to observe simple social-distancing measures, spouting no end of internet self-taught hogwash about the dangers of the vaccines, and their precious right to ‘individual liberty’ (Ed. “…be a worthless member of society” surely?).


[b]The numbers don’t lie, even if anti-vaxxers do[/b]

Taking of diseases that are a plague on society, the Yorkshire cricket racism scandal continues to fill the headlines. To date, 16 people have left the club because of the scandal, including director of cricket Martyn Moxon, head coach Andrew Gale and every other member of the coaching staff. Much of the focus so far has been the racially abusive treatment meted out to former player Azeem Rafiq during his time at the club, in a climate described by Rafiq as both “[i]institutionally racist[/i]” and “[i]toxic[/i]”. So far, thirty-six people have contacted an independent whistleblower hotline set up to provide the opportunity for other victims of discrimination at the club to have a voice – and that’s in just the first week of it being live!

[b]Closer to home[/b]
Well of course the big news for the U’s was our imperious mid-week victory at Swindon Town to progress through the first knock-out stage of the Papa John’s Trophy. I say imperious, because as the first half wore on, and with the U’s in complete control, we could have easily been 4 or 5 nil up. Were it not for a goal line clearance we could have had the remarkable first half hat-trick of three headed goals by Chambers from three inch-perfect assists by Judge.

Inevitably Swindon did finally get themselves into some semblance of order and snatched a barely deserved goal back on the stroke of half-time. We held on though and will discover our opponents in the next round draw on Saturday afternoon. Also in the Southern Section hat are Cambridge, Charlton, MK Dons, Sutton Utd, Chelsea U21s and the winner of the Exeter v Portsmouth being played later in the month. Amusingly, it will also include Arsenal U21s, after our dear friends up the A12 managed to throw away a two-goal lead over them, eventually losing in the penalty shoot-out.

Certainly of interest to the Faithful, former consultant advisor Paul Tisdale signed on the dotted line for Stevenage during the week. A somewhat surprising move as far as I was concerned – I would have assumed he could have done much better than that with his CV. Inevitably some have speculated why therefore could we not have persuaded him to stay at Colchester United following his successful stint alongside Hayden saving us from relegation last year?

It’s a good question, and the fact that he has taken a pure ‘Manager’ role at Stevenage, rather than the ‘Head Coach’ style structure at Colchester United might have something to do with it. However, I’m not so certain – in fact I’m not so certain staying more permanently at the U’s was ever even an option, from either party’s perspective. He came, did a good job, and went way again, and for that I am grateful and wish him well in his time at Stevenage (though obviously not at our expense please). Stevenage play at the JobServe on 9th April next year – if Tis is still there it will be interesting to see the reception he receives.

[b]Who are ya?[/b]
Wigan’s arrival on Sunday will be the first time we’ve played them in a cup competition, all other encounters being in the Third and Fourth Divisions. Like us, the Latics are a relatively young club in the grand scheme of things, founded just five years before the U’s in 1932. However, unlike the U’s it then took them until 1978 to make it into the Football League, albeit in slightly controversial circumstances.

Finishing second behind champions Boston United in the Northern Premier League, Wigan were put forward for election to the Football League because Boston’s ground at that time didn’t meet Football League requirements. However, with no automatic promotion and relegation, that required one from Hartlepool United, York City, Southport or Rochdale to be voted out. As often seems to be the case in these situations, this effectively became a popularity contest for those facing re-election, a popularity contest that Wigan eventually won in a re-vote at the expense of local rivals Southport (who finished 7pts ahead of bottom club Rochdale).

Our paths first crossed a few years later in 1981, with Wigan winning 2-1 at Layer Road over Bobby Roberts side. In fact, they did the double the following March with a 3-2 victory at Springfield Park. And that was that, at the end of the season Wigan were promoted, the U’s finished in 6th place, and our paths wouldn’t cross again for over ten years.

The 90s and early 00s were really the heyday of matches between the fellow blue and white stripes, and between 1993 and 2003 we’d play 18 times home and away, the U’s winning eight, drawing three and losing seven – not a terrible record to be fair. During that ten-year period we neither scored nor conceded more than three goals in a game, only failed to score on four occasions, and more worryingly only managed a clean sheet on three occasions – and we’ve never finished 0-0 either, so expect some goals on Sunday.

At the end of the 2002/03 season our paths diverged again, with Wigan crowned champions of Nationwide Football League 2, and on their way to their longest period of sustained success, including eight years in the Premier League. Ironically, in the same 2012/13 season under Roberto Martinez that they were eventually relegated from the Premier League, they also won the FA Cup – an unenviable record that no one else has ever laid claim to.

Their decline didn’t stop there either, and two years later lined up against the U’s back in the 3rd tier of English Football. However, it was a tough reality check for Tony Humes and the U’s, who were battered mercilessly 5-0 in October 2015 (in front of a record attendance of 8,048 for matches between us). The return fixture was a better performance for the U’s, conceding a 90th minute equaliser to finish an entertaining match 3-3. At the end of the season Wigan were promoted champions, and we were relegated to the basement.

[b]Match of the Day
[i]Cardiff City v Colchester United
20th November 2001
Nationwide Football League Second Division (Tier 3)
Attendance 8,013[/i][/b]

[i]Match of the Day[/i] for WSC17 is a return to the random match selector from my memorabilia. However, Madame La Chance shows her impish side by yet again managing to pluck connections from the ether. With a hardy 58 making the trip to Swindon on Tuesday (could have been 59 with me there too), I was reminded at the time of what I think is still our fewest band of travelling supporters, just 53 making the trip almost exactly 20 years ago to Ninian Park. Lo and behold, what does the random match selector do but choose that very match from my list.

Being 20 years ago, I will of course have to rely on more than just memory from this one, not least having to also rely on our Wikipedia pages, Graeson’s excellent ColUData website and the Evening Gazette archives. What I do recall very clearly was why I was there in the first place. My company had been commissioned to produce a desk-based assessment of a former quarry high in the Brecon Beacons.

I can’t remember what the actual development threat was, but desk-based assessments always involve visits to local studies libraries, other archive repositories and of course a site walkover. Hence I found myself driving over the Principality early on the Monday morning to do just that. This was always going to be more than one day of work whilst away, so with one eye on the possibility I set about my duties determined if possible to get wrapped up with enough time to detour over to Ninian Park en route back to Wiltshire.

It was tight, particularly as the walkover took longer than expected (and the site was far more isolated than expected too), but nevertheless I managed to pull into the stadium car park with about 15 minutes to spare, grab a ticket and take my place amongst the brave 53. It was a very cold night, but even if it had been a balmy summers evening, Old skool Ninian Park was always a no colours, coat buttoned up tight sort of place to visit. As many others will have experienced, I was acutely aware that much of the ‘friendly’ locals in the pen to our right were far more interested in staring malevolently at us than watching the match they’d paid to see.

With Kemi Izzet missing due to an Achilles injury sustained in our FA Cup draw against York City at Layer Rd on the Saturday, Sideways Bob was recalled to Steve Whitton’s squad, and the U’s lined up that evening:
29..Andy Woodman
7….Karl Duguid
5….Ross Johnson
12..Scott Fitzgerald
4….Gavin Johnson
3….Joe Keith (21..Kevin Rapley 71’)
15..Thomas Pinault
17..Bobby Bowry
2….Joe Dunne
20..Micky Stockwell (16..Dean Morgan 77’)
9….Scott McGleish

The U’s were facing one of the most expensive squads assembled in our division at that time. Manager Alan Cork’s Cardiff City boasted a host of big names in their line-up, not least Peter Thorne, Graham Kavanagh, Leo Fortune-West and of course Robert Earnshaw – all of them £1m+ rated players, and Earnshaw on his own probably worth more than all of Colchester United, players and officials, combined. Throw in the talents of, for instance, long-throw specialist Andy Legg and it was clear we were going to face a very tough test that evening. As the Gazette succinctly put it on the eve of the match “[i]Steve Whitton takes his Colchester United squad into the Cardiff City lion's den tonight for another battle of the haves and have-nots[/i]”.

The hype wasn’t misplaced this time, either. Right from the start the U’s were penned back, desperately trying to cope with wave after wave of Bluebird attacks, all the while roared on by a hostile partisan crowd. We weren’t helping ourselves either, with wayward passing and lack of basic ball control constantly handing the ball back to Cardiff just as soon as we had a chance to steady things with a bit of possession of our own. It wasn’t all lame ducks though, and special mention has to go out to Ross Johnson and Scott Fitzgerald for throwing themselves into last ditch challenges to prevent near certain goals, nor indeed Andy Woodman who was a match for anything that got through the last line of defence.

At one point I thought (more in hope than expectation) that if we could maybe just hold out until half-time, regroup and re-focus, things might improve in the second half. But, inevitably, our defence was finally breached, albeit it was an annoyingly scrappy goal to concede right in front of us. On 33 minutes, a corner from Kavanagh was flicked on by giant Fortune-West, and in an unseemly struggle at the post, Collins managed to poke the ball in through a forest of legs. Ninian Park erupted.

The goal was no more than Cardiff City deserved, but the manner of its arrival was a real gut-shot to all of us, players and supporters alike. Somehow, despite the setback, the U’s rallied, and whilst Cardiff City still chased and harried the U’s with an intensity, we held out to half-time without conceding another. Time for a Bovril, whilst the pen spent most of the break trying to memorise the faces of every one of us for later.

Into the second half, and a remarkable thing happened. Whether they were under instruction to be more cautious in protecting what they had, or the level of effort in the first half had taken its toll, Cardiff City started to sit back. They were still a first-class side mind you, and whilst we were controlling possession far better, on the hour mark we still hadn’t managed to force ‘keeper Neil Alexander into making a meaningful save.

With less than 20 minutes to go, and sensing we might get something from the game, Whitton rolled the dice and replaced midfielder Joe Keith with striker Kevin Rapley (I know, stop sniggering at the back). It would seem Alan Cork sensed the same possibility, and shortly after sacrificed Fortune-West with Leyton Maxwell to tighten up midfield, and hopefully stifle an area we were starting to control. The natives were restless too, sensing the Bluebirds were losing their grip on the game and loudly bemoaning and berating every lost possession or misplaced pass.

In a final all or nothing move, Whitton brought on Dean Morgan for Micky Stockwell, seemingly sacrificing the midfield to put as much firepower into the frontline as possible – we just needed one chance. Much to the annoyance of the pen, we’d found our voice too, and roared the U’s forward at every opportunity (in so much as 53 people can actually ‘roar’, but the acoustics at Ninian Park were always very good).

And then, with three minutes to go, something magically happened from the least likely of sources. Substitute Dean Morgan floated in a beautiful deep cross from the left, and there virtually on the edge of the box was diminutive Joe Dunne to meet it with a perfect volley, blasting in off the underside of the crossbar, and with Alexander helpless to prevent it. We went berserk, the players went berserk! The perimeter fencing daubed in sticky anti-climb paint was meant to keep spectators off the pitch, only this time it was preventing an ecstatic Dunne and the rest of team from clambering over it to join us in celebration! I remember vividly Joe playing the last few minutes in a shirt covered in gooey brown sludge.

Now my thoughts drifted to how, or even whether we were going to get away from Ninian Park intact, but the U’s hadn’t finished. With Cardiff now desperately holding on to the point, in the final minutes the imperious U’s were all over them, and with literally seconds to spare Scott McGleish charged onto a ball played across the 18-yard line and smashed it goalward. Time seemingly stood still, with Alexander rooted to the spot, but Scotty’s brilliant effort was just inches too high and cleared the bar. Mind you, if it had gone in, I might not be here today to relive it.

[b]Cardiff City 1 (James Collins 33’) Colchester United 1 (Joe Dunne 87’)[/b]

As the full-time whistle blew, Cardiff City were booed off the pitch by their own supporters, whilst we cheered and cheered our hearts out. Getting away, I’m pretty sure most of the faithful there that day would have been on the CUSA coach, and all I had to do was mingle amongst others until I reached the safety of my car in the car park. I don’t recall hearing that anyone had any trouble post-match, even if the pen were seriously looking for some.

Although our run up to Christmas was quite positive, keeping distant hopes of squeezing into the play-offs alive, into the second half of the season we fell away badly, and eventually finished in 15th place. Cardiff City, despite all their spending, could only make the play-offs, losing in the semi-finals to eventual play-off winners Stoke City.

We didn’t know it at the time, but that would be the last goal Joe Dunne scored for Colchester United. The following Saturday, in a 1-0 home defeat against Bury, Dunne was stretchered off after 79 minutes with a serious knee injury, and despite major reconstructive surgery on his cartilage and ligaments, he never played for the U’s again – though of course he would still have an important role in the future of the U’s to come.




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