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When Saturday Comes #34
Written by wessex_exile on Sunday, 17th Apr 2022 16:55

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

[b]On route to Exeter – Taunton, the Jewel in the South West’s Passage[/b]

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

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

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

[b]”[i]Russian warship – go to hell![/i]”[/b]

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

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

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

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

[b]U’s legend[/b]

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

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

Of course any consideration of stats where Bradford City is concerned would have to include the events of Saturday 30th December 1961, with the U’s winning 9-1 to record their greatest ever league victory, matched only by the FA Cup first round game against Leamington Spa in November 2005. Thanks to the sterling research of [b]pwrightsknees[/b], I have already covered this game in [i]Matches of Yesteryear #38[/i] here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[b]Manchester United 1 (Diego Forlan 77’) Aston Villa 1 (Olof Mellberg 35’)[/b]

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

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

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

Up the U’s!

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When Saturday Comes #36 by wessex_exile
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