|Matches of Yesteryear - The Blue Eagle (Issue 39)|
Written by wessex_exile on Tuesday, 3rd Dec 2019 16:29
Well it had to happen eventually…
Some of you may recall when I first introduced the concept behind the Matches of Yesteryear series that my list of football memorabilia from which matches are selected includes not only a small number of non-U’s programmes, but also slightly more Colchester United fanzines. As a result, the random match selector ahead of our EFL Trophy match against Stevenage tonight has finally chosen a fanzine – in this instance Issue 39 of “The Blue Eagle” from back in February 2000.
I knew this would eventually happen, but hadn’t quite worked out what I was going to do about it. I’d considered just doing a blog about the fanzine itself, but that would be a bit dull to be honest. I also thought about throwing in another random match, but thought that would be a bit too…errr…random? In the end, I’ve decided to include a relevant additional match, either the closest to the date of the fanzine, or a match that had particularly relevance to the content of the fanzine. For this blog, the decision was easy – I bought the fanzine outside the ground ahead of the game between Colchester United and Burnley, and that match is also mentioned on a number of occasions in the fanzine itself, so there we have it.
Colchester United v Burnley
Saturday 26th February 2000
Nationwide League Division 2 (3rd Tier)
First off, for reasons I can’t recall, I have two copies of this issue of “The Blue Eagle”. I’ve no idea why, and certainly don’t need two issues, so if anyone out there wants one of them, I’d be happy to share. I don’t have too many copies of this fanzine, unlikely Daniel’s resurrected version “The U’sual” – of which I think I have pretty much all of them (thanks in no small part to Daniel himself). I’m not that familiar with the history and development of “The Blue Eagle” (other than I think it originated during our Conference years?), so if anyone can share more information, it would be much appreciated. By Issue 39 the fanzine was edited by Jason Skinner, whom I think I’m on “vaguely know your face” nodding terms, and the contributors to this issue include other well-known names in CUFC circles, including Bob Searle, Lea Finch and Dave Todd.
As mentioned, the editorial includes brief focus on the visit of Burnley, and indeed a notable recent signing for the Lancashire club “…it does seem that we only win against clubs doing well, so that should at least be an incentive when Ian Wright and Burnley are in town next week”. However, far more column inches are devoted to the fallout following the dismissal of Brian Launders, one of Wadsworth’s ill-fated signings. Launders was sacked for gross misconduct, and the fanzine isn’t shy about reporting that this allegedly involved fiddling his living expenses. Launders had reacted by taking the U’s to a tribunal, alleging that he was sacked for refusing to answer questions from the club about legal proceedings also being brought against the U’s by his agent Barry Silkman. The letters page is particularly entertaining, clearly the editor either had a very good lawyer on call, or in the true spirit of proper fanzines, really couldn’t give a sh*t…
As for the match, many of you reading this will have been jammed into Layer Rd that afternoon, with over 6k there on the day (including a packed out away terrace of Burnley fans). I was on the Barside terrace that day, for what would turn out to be quite a notorious and controversial day for the U’s faithful.
The U’s lined up:
2….Joe Dunne (Aaron Skelton 84’)
7….David Gregory (Lomana Tresor Lua Lua 50’)
10..Jamie Moralee (Tony Lock 62’)
As for names of note, there’s really only one worth talking about. Former England international and Premier League star Ian Wright MBE had been persuaded by manager Stan “The Man” Ternent to sign for Burnley just 12 days earlier (on Valentine’s Day apparently – that’s sweet!), and this was only his second game for the Clarets (and his first away from home). The media circus frenzy that followed was remarkable, rumour having it that Burnley recouped a large proportion of what it cost them in “Wright” replica shirt sales almost immediately. Without doubt a significant proportion of the increased gate for this match was specifically to see Ian Wright, and probably enjoy giving him a bit of bird in the process…
Although manager Steve Whitton was struggling to undo some of the post-Wadsworth fall-out from the previous season (like bringing back cast aside Joe Dunne to Layer Rd), going into this game we weren’t doing badly at all. Six wins out of eight since early January had propelled the U’s up to mid-table, and we were actually the form side of the league ahead of the Burnley game. Burnley were having a better season, in 3rd place for this match and challenging hard for automatic promotion.
Wrighty started on the pitch, and the game started at a high-tempo pace, with both teams spurred on by vociferous support, inevitably much emanating from the Barside being directed at Wright, and in particular his wife (more of that later). There are few specific details I can recall about the actual match itself, other than the chants, but the history books show that Steve Davis (not that one) put Burnley 1-0 up after just 17 minutes, side-footing home at virtual point-blank range from a wicked left-wing cross. However, that didn’t last long, following a bit of a cock-up by Crichton in the Burnley goal, who calmly side-footed a pass back to him straight to McGavin in the penalty area, who didn’t need another invitation to equalise. Burnley were however clearly the better side, and it really wasn’t unexpected when Davis grabbed a second to restore Burnley’s lead before half-time, this time rising high to bullet home an unstoppable header from a corner.
The second half was more positive, particularly following the introduction of our own star in the making Lua Lua on just 50 minutes. Burnley sat deeper, happy to try and hold on to their lead in the bear-pit atmosphere of Layer Rd, and despite all of our efforts, could not be breached to give the U’s a share of the spoils. With my blue-tinted glasses on, I’d say we deserved a point, but it wasn’t to be. The comedy moment, quite near the end of the match, was when Doogie and Wright got into a bit of a tussle right down next to the corner flag next to the Barside, and from my perspective appeared to square up to each other. The ref was having none of it, and promptly booked both players, much to the intense pleasure of the Barside.
Colchester United 1 (Steve McGavin 19’) Burnley 2 (Steve Davis 17’; 38’)
Now, to the elephant in the room, the chanting. I’m not going to repeat it here, suffice to say it was extremely disrespectful to both Ian Wright, and particularly his wife, much of it focussing oh her (ahem) fuller figure. It was harsh, it was unrelenting, and it clearly got to Ian Wright – some might say job done, even if Burnley still won the game. In some of the chanting, there was indeed reference to Mrs Wright’s skin colour, but I’ve always believed it was in a non-racial way. Is it possible to refer to skin colour in a non-racial way? I’d say so, because in the context of the chanting, it wasn’t her skin colour that was the focus of attention, it was her size. Extremely insulting – certainly, actually racist – I don’t believe say. However, I’m not living in some bubble here, I know only too well that there were indeed at that time quite a few on the Barside who were most certainly racist, and thankfully most were left behind when we moved to the new ground.
There was inevitably fall-out after the game, with Ian Wright demanding an apology “after derogatory comments were directed at his family during Burnley’s weekend win” – note, not racist according to Wrighty, derogatory. U’s spokesman Brian Wheeler refused to condemn the chanting as racist, stating “We have had no complaints from Burnley fans or anyone connected with Colchester, fans or officials. The facts are that the chants were offensive but they were not racist”. Colchester United had already arranged for the delivery of a large bunch of flowers to Mrs Wright by way of apology, and everything seemed to calm down fairly quickly.
That was until five years later in 2004, when Stan Ternent published his autobiography, in which he described Layer Rd as an “Essex fleapit” (fair enough), and the treatment of Wright as “the foulest racist abuse I'd ever heard at a football match”. Marie Partner, the U’s Chief Executive at the time, hit the proverbial nail on the head with this measured response “At the time, the club dealt with the incident in the appropriate manner and made a full apology to Ian Wright. With that in mind, we feel it is a shame that Mr Ternent – who has a reputation for being an extremely professional manager – has to stoop to that level to sell books and we will not be drawn into making similar comments”.
Ian Wright would go on to make 15 appearances for Burnley that season, of which at Layer Rd was one of only four that he started, mostly coming on as an impact substitute. At the end of the season he permanently retired from his playing career, embarking full-time as a TV football pundit. Whether it can be attributed to Ian Wright is debatable, but Burnley finished second and were automatically promoted back to Nationwide League Division 1 alongside PNE, with Gillingham promoted via the play-offs. The U’s slipped back from our mid-table position that Saturday, finishing in 18th place, albeit a relatively comfortable 8pts clear of relegation.
Incidentally, both Launders and Silkman lost their tribunals – and good riddance to the pair of them.
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