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Letters from Wiltshire #09
Written by wessex_exile on Saturday, 17th Oct 2020 14:17

There’s enough doom and gloom about concerning the coronavirus pandemic to last several lifetimes, and let’s face it, 2020 really does suck. I’m pretty sure we’re all in need of some positivity right now, something to set our sights on, a goal if you will. Mine came to me in a blinding flash of inspiration as I prepared my wake-up mug of caffeine this morning – never, in all my years of following Colchester United, have I got even close to watching every single match of a season. I suspect I’m not alone in that, even diehards like noah must miss the occasional one or two each season. Kind of thanks to coronavirus (bizarre huh) and the relaxed approach to match streaming on Saturdays, I’m currently on 8/8, today being the 9th. Why not, I thought, make it all season without missing a game? There’s a lot of ifs, buts and maybes in that, not least if we do emerge from this crisis before the end of the season and the streaming gets canned, but for now I have my goal…

Carlisle United v Colchester United

Saturday 27th April 2013

Npower League One (Tier 3)

Attendance 5,427

Letters from Wiltshire #09 is another special pick, and as with the Walsall blog for #08, again another last match of the season, this time a year earlier at today’s opponents Carlisle United. Had I bothered to buy a programme that day, this would have been in my original Matches of Yesteryear pool, but I didn’t, so it isn’t – heyho.

F*ck it – I’m going to Carlisle…

…was my Facebook post at about 11pm on the Friday night when I finally decided I was going. No doubt drink had been taken, it was, after all, Friday night, but my diary was clear so to speak, the weather forecast looked good, and the U’s really needed the support. This would have to be a drive for me, there was no way British Rail could get me back post-match on the Saturday evening, and I really didn’t fancy kipping on a platform. For those who remember back then, we were perched precariously above the relegation zone, three points ahead of Scunthorpe, and with a very slim goal difference advantage – we were on -19, Scunthorpe on -22. We needed a point to guarantee survival, but even a modest defeat and Scunthorpe beating Swindon could have meant relegation. It was that close, there was actually a pretty good chance that the head-to-head record might have been needed for the first time ever – we would have been relegated if so.

On the Circuit

This would be my first trip to Brunton Park to watch the U’s, though certainly not my first trip to Carlisle – I actually sort of lived there over the winter of 1980/81. At the time, I was on the archaeological digging circuit, and got a job working with what was then known as the Central Excavation Unit. This was my second dig with the CEU, and followed on directly from the heady summer of 1980 excavating at Ardleigh. Back then, in the days before commercial archaeology was a thing, the CEU was ostensibly a government-funded operation, and most of the field archaeologists who worked for them were only paid a subsistence payment – pretty sure my weekly ‘salary’ was about £27 per week.

The CEU had been commissioned to excavate a wide swath through Hadrian’s Wall, in advance of a gas pipeline coming down from the Aberdeen oil fields if memory serves. The site was near Crosby-on-Eden, so we stayed (squatted more like) rent free at Carlisle Airport in one of the disused former airfield accommodation blocks. I think they dated back to WWII when the airport was in active service as RAF Crosby-on-Eden, originally used as a training facility for Hurricane pilots, and later repurposed for long-range Bristol Beaufort and Beaufighter fighter crew training.

When we arrived, it was pretty much just a municipal airport for civilian aircraft, and virtually abandoned for the most part. It was actually a really great time for me, met loads of friends I still have today, and I still remember fondly our trips into Carlisle each Saturday to spend a few hours and a few quid in what resembled civilisation to us paupers. For me, much of this was either spent in The Board pub, or relaxing in Carlisle Cathedral admiring the incredible ceiling, but never in all that time actually at Brunton Park.

The wanderer returns

And so there I was, 30+ years later on the road to Carlisle, more or less following a route I’d hitchhiked numerous times as a callow youth. Driving has never really been a thing for me, I actually quite enjoy it, so I wasn’t particularly fazed by the distance, but I’m pretty certain this was then, and still is, the furthest I’ve travelled following the U’s. The weather forecast didn’t disappoint, it was a beautiful day, and although the journey took nigh on five hours, I had my music on and all was good with the world. Once I reached the M6 for the final stretch, it was also really uplifting to pass, and be passed by other U’s fans on the journey – looked like I wasn’t the only nutcase on the road that day.

I opted for street parking when I got there, and then headed for the Carlisle Rugby social club for a quick pre-match pint, delightfully bumping into Durham and his boy in the process. The social club was heaving with U’s fans, all in excellent voice, all mingling happily and freely with t’other CUFC supporters. I’m certain I recall, not sure whether it was on our board or the OMB, the landlord of the club coming on after the game and praising us for our support and behaviour. After a swift one, I headed into the ground, to join what was already a well packed out away stand – must have been about 400 all told, which given the distance involved was a tremendous turnout. Our numbers were swelled even further by the welcome addition of unused squad players Drey Wright, Clinton Morrison, Josh Thompson and Matt Heath, who clambered into the seats down the front of the stand in a fantastic show of solidarity and support – a very special moment.

As the stuffed fox was bought out to herald the start of proceedings, Joe Dunne’s U’s lined up:

44..Sam Walker

2….David Wright

4….Magnus Okuonghae

15..Marcus Bean (Kemi Izzet 87’)

17..Jabo Ibehre

18..Tom Eastman

20..Brian Wilson (captain)

21..Gavin Massey

25..John White

39..George Porter (Bradley Garmston 70’)

41..Billy Clifford (John-Joe O’Toole 82’)

Who are ya…

There weren’t too many familiar names in the Carlisle line-up for me, the notable exception being their then manager Greg Abbott, who I’d seen play many times for the Bantams during my time in Bradford. He was part of that famous double act Abbott and Costello, after Bradford City also signed Peter Costello in 1988. It had been an indifferent season for the Cumbrians, and they were destined to finish lower mid-table, never really in any threat of getting dragged into a relegation scrap, but likewise never really challenging for the top half either – definitely Ceefax Page 4 material, like us.

That match!

As the U’s emerged from the tunnel, the roar was deafening, streamers flying, balloons, the lot – honestly, you’d think it was Wembley and we were on the eve of greatness, not fighting for our League 1 survival. The noise levels didn’t abate either, just wave upon wave of chants driving the U’s on and on. It was a tense nervy start to the game, neither side really taking control, and with some blooper reels moments too (Walker’s tendency to kick for touch had returned for instance). There was a couple of lengthy delays for Carlisle injuries, so by the time half-time arrived we already knew that Scunthorpe were holding Swindon 0-0 at the break. Everything therefore still on a knife-edge, and for me still far too close for comfort.

What was becoming clear, as the first half wore on, was that the U’s, buoyed by the fantastic support, were far more up for it than their hosts, and that was reflected on the terraces – there wasn’t a bad crowd in that day, even without the U’s faithful, but we hardly heard a peep from them all match. It was therefore imperative that the U’s came out with more of the same for the second half, and boy did they.

Wave after wave of attacks down both wings were eventually rewarded in the 65th minute, when a driven shot by Clifford cannoned back off the crossbar, to be met by Gavin Massey, whose looping header seemed to spin off the turf to nestle inside the post past a bemused Mark Gillespie in goal. The riotous celebrations that followed were simply incredible – the guttural roar that went up, part-celebration, part-relief, was deafening – we were falling over each other in ecstasy, and it was reflected on the pitch as well, with the U’s jubilant.

Thereafter, Carlisle never really had a look in, as this was one of those days were there was never a hint of sitting back and trying to hold on, and Joe Dunne’s side kept on pressing and pressing. Maybe, if there’d been a bit more of that throughout the season, we wouldn’t have been in that situation in the first place, but there you have it. George Porter had been more effective in the second half, but was subbed by Dunne in the 70th minute, replaced by Bradley Garmston.

Ten minutes later, we were in heaven, as a floated cross from Drey Wright was met by big Tom Eastman, who headed back across the face of the goal and into the far corner of the goal. If I thought the celebrations for the first goal were something, this was just bedlam! There was no way back for Carlisle now, and with a couple of game management substitutions by Dunne in the closing minutes, and the news filtering through that Swindon had gone 1-0 up at Scunthorpe, we were in full-on party mode, which erupted into a massive celebration as referee Carl Boyeson blew the final whistle.

Carlisle United 0 Colchester United 2 (Gavin Massey 65’; Tom Eastman 80’)


The post-match celebrations were something too behold, as the U’s, the bench, the rest of the squad, the club officials, even Robbie Cowling, were on the pitch in celebration sharing the moment with the U’s faithful. Shirts were thrown into the crowd, even big Sam lobbed his gloves into the stand. This was a bit of a shame for Carlisle, who had planned a lap of honour after the game, but to give them credit, it was clear many were staying just as much to applaud the U’s. There were some excellent videos of the goals and the post-match celebrations around at the time, and the bloke filming was just a few feet from me, but sadly they’re now no longer available unfortunately – wished I’d taken copies at the time, they really did capture the moment.

Perhaps conspicuous by his understated response, Joe Dunne didn’t get too heavily involved – we know how important Colchester United is to Joe, and perhaps he was reflecting that as great as this moment was, we had underperformed all season.

This was very much a parting of the ways for many, with Billy Clifford, Bradley Garmston, Kem Izzet, George Porter and Sam Walker all playing their last for the U’s that day. On the long drive home, I heard on the radio that Scunthorpe had managed to score three times in the last few minutes to win 3-1, but it didn’t matter and they were still relegated, alongside Bury, Hartlepool and Portsmouth.

After an uneventful trouble-free drive, I arrived home sometime after 10pm, I reflected on what had been a simply magnificent day out, and well worth the 615.4 mile round trip!

Up the U’s

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Letters from Wiltshire #09 by wessex_exile
Letters from Wiltshire #08 by wessex_exile
Lots of discussion this week on football forums, including here, on two subjects – the petition to lobby parliament to allow limited numbers of supporters back into football grounds, and of course the return of that old chestnut from Man City Chief Executive Ferran Soriano, introducing Premier League ‘B’ teams into the EFL. First off, I don’t mind admitting I’ve signed the petition ( https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/552036 ), as have 192,779 others at the time of writing, though I don’t actually think it’ll make any difference. I can completely understand why some do not think this is a good idea, as second-wave spikes of coronavirus infection pop up all over the country (mainly because – let’s face it – some people are dicks and can’t be trusted to sit the right way on a toilet). But to me, the two go hand in hand (not dicks and toilets) – whilst football clubs throughout the country struggle financially without spectators, we are always going to be under threat of this sort of ‘B’ team nonsense as a condition of financial support from the Premier League fat cats. They got their way in 2016 with the EFL trophy, who’s to say they won’t again when the financial squeeze really starts to tighten its grip without paying customers through the turnstiles? Robbie has featured prominently in this debate in recent weeks, and looks like he will again on Sky tomorrow if this tweet from Sophy Ridge is anything to go by - https://twitter.com/SophyRidgeSky/status/1313874336118341632
Letters from Wiltshire #07 by wessex_exile
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