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When Saturday Comes #6
Written by wessex_exile on Sunday, 19th Sep 2021 13:48

After over a month of absence, the U’s finally make a welcome return to the JobServe for a home league fixture. Sutton seem to have quickly got over their Covid-19/ injury crisis/ international call-up woes, fielding a team the following Tuesday that was strong enough to push Cardiff City hard in a narrow 3-2 defeat to the Championship side. But enough of that, I haven’t seen the outcome of the EFL investigation, but I don’t doubt the decision has either already been or will be rubber-stamped. Gamesmanship – maybe, but I hope at least the EFL are now a bit more alert to the fact that some might think they can treat them like chumps when it suits their purpose? Still – it’s great to be back home isn’t it!

On this day in 1961 UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld died in a plane crash under somewhat mysterious circumstances. “Who?” I hear you say. Swede Hammarskjöld was elected to the role of Secretary-General in 1953 and re-elected unanimously in 1957. In 1960 the newly independent Congo asked for UN help to defuse the Congo Crisis, and Hammarskjöld subsequently made four visits to the Congo between 1960 and September 1961 in his efforts to find a diplomatic solution, efforts that were treated with distain by the Soviet Government.

Meanwhile, on the ground, UN forces launched Operation Morthor, a military offensive against mercenary forces serving the State of Katanga, which had seceded from Congo at the start of the Congo crisis. Into the midst of this operation were thrust “A” Company of the Irish army 35th Battalion, 155 men under the command of Commandant Pat Quinlan. “A” Company were ordered to hold Jadotville, a small mining town comprising a few scattered properties, no defensive perimeter, bisected by a public road, and of no obvious strategic value.

On the morning of Wednesday 13th September 1961, whilst most of the Irish troops were at mass, a combined estimated force of 3-5,000 attacked the town, a force comprising mostly Katangese soldiers and local settlers, but supported by many Belgian, French, German and Rhodesian mercenaries, mostly veterans of the Algerian War. The surprise offensive might have worked too, but for the vigilance of Private Billy Ready on sentry duty, who fired a warning shot to alert his comrades.

Five days of battle followed, with wave after wave of attacks from the besieging forces repelled by “A” Company, armed mostly with just personal firearms and a small number of water-cooled Vickers machine guns and 60mm mortars. Unable to break out of the siege, UN forces attempted to get relief to “A” Company on a number of occasions, all to little or no avail. After refusing one invitation to surrender, and with no ammunition or food left and very little drinkable water, Quinlan finally surrendered on Sunday 17th September. Although several Irishmen were wounded (including Private Ready), Quinlan did not lose a single man in the conflict. The Katangese were not so fortunate, with an estimated 300 killed (including 30 mercenaries) and up to 1,000 wounded.

[b]”[i]We will hold out until our last bullet is spent. Could do with some whiskey.[/i]”[/b]

The following day Hammarskjöld was en route to Congo to try and negotiate a ceasefire with the Katangese troops under Moise Tshombe when his Douglas DC-6 airliner crashed in Northern Rhodesia. All on board perished, in circumstances that are still unclear. A 1962 Rhodesian investigation concluded it was pilot error, while a subsequent UN investigation could not positively identify what the cause was, though there was compelling evidence to suggest the plane had been shot down. A CIA report was more definitive, claiming the plane had been shot down, and that the KGB were responsible.

“A” Company were held as prisoners-of-war, bargaining chips by the Katangese government in an attempt to extort beneficial terms for a ceasefire from the UN. The men were eventually released about a month after capture. The entire incident had been a huge embarrassment to the United Nations. So much so that the Irish Defence Forces’ leadership did not overtly acknowledge the battle, even perhaps ashamed that Quinlan had been forced to surrender an impossible situation. The derogatory term “Jadotville Jack” was often used as a term of derision about the Irish Defence Forces following the battle.

Quinlan died in 1997, still with an implied black mark against his name. Dubbed the Irish Thermopylae, not one veteran of the Siege of Jadotville were decorated for their courage against overwhelming odds, and it would take until 2004 before an inquiry finally ‘cleared’ Quinlan and “A” Company of soldierly misconduct allegations. A year later a commemorative stone recognising “A” Company was erected at Custume Barracks in Athlone, and in 2017 as one of his last public office actions, former Taoiseach Enda Kenny unveiled a plaque commemorating Pat Quinlan in his native County Kerry.

[b]Closer to home[/b]
No news yet regarding the investigation into the disgraceful racial abuse of Shamal George, but if you want to have a wander through a selection of thoroughly unsavoury responses from some of the Barrow supporters, take a look at the 10-page thread currently running on their unofficial forum (https://www.barrowafc.net/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=29225). I warn you though, you might need to shower after the unpleasant experience. To be fair, and to their credit, there are also many decent Barrow supporters who are equally ashamed of some of the responses, and just as vocal in saying so.

Closer to home for me, my tickets arrived this morning for the U’s trip to the County Ground next Saturday – which remarkably (for me) will be my first football trip of the season – can’t bloody wait. My Spireite mate is coming with me for a beer awayday, and we’re hoping the Merlin will allow us to use just one of their many TVs to watch Chesterfield at home to Torquay at 5.20pm on BT Sport. All of this means if I don’t manage a blog next Saturday, you know why 😊.

[b]Stat attack[/b]
Creepy Crawley are in town, normally not something to look forward to given the league record stats between us and them. Formed as Crawley Football Club in 1896, and founder members of the West Sussex League, it would take until 2011 under the dubious privilege of Steve Evans as manager for Crawley Town to finally gain promotion to the football league.

Much of the credit for this success should go to then co-owner Bruce Winfield, who alongside fellow majority shareholder Susan Carter managed to attract significant investment in the club, allowing Evans to build the team to gain promotion. Sadly, Winfield died from cancer in March 2011, just 19 days before Evans clinched promotion to the football league. Three days before his death, and against doctor’s orders, Winfield signed himself out of the hospice to go and watch Crawley play AFC Wimbledon, stating “[i]well, what’s the worst thing that can happen?[/i]” – respect Bruce, and Crawley won 3-1.

Our paths would first cross in 2012, drawing 1-1 at the JobServe (Weston Homes as it was then). It would take nine more matches before we’d finally record a victory over the Sussex bogey side, winning 3-1 at home almost exactly four years ago under John McGreal. It seemed the worm had turned, and we’d go on to win the next two encounters as well, including a Szmodics-inspired Boxing Day 2-0 victory at the Broadfield Stadium. But that was it, three league victories in quick succession are the only ones out of 16 attempts.


[b]Match of the Day
[i]Crawley Town v Colchester United
Tuesday 29th October 2019
Carabao Cup (4th Round)
Attendance 5,612[/i][/b]

WSC06 is a special for the occasion, dipping into the archive to take a look at without doubt our most significant match against Crawley Town, away in the 4th round of the League Cup back in 2019. It had been an eventful journey to this point too. Next weeks’ opponents Swindon Town were the first to fall, crashing out 3-0 in the first round in a match that if I’m honest, there were the better in for much of, but hey – who’s complaining.

A sterner test awaited in the second round, away at Premier League Crystal Palace, but the U’s rode their luck at times, defended when they needed to, and on more than a few occasions to the match to Palace. Come the penalty shoot-out, up stepped brave young Noah Chilvers to confidently hammer the U’s into the 3rd Round, and a home fixture against Tottenham Hotspur. That match may well feature in a blog one day, so I won’t go into too much detail, suffice to say after another spirited performance, increasingly putting the megastars of Spurs under pressure as the match wore on, it was diminutive Tom Lapslie who would score the penalty shoot-out winner to set up Crawley in the 4th Round.

And so I found myself on the train over to Crawley for the evening fixture. Having already exhausted all possibilities of getting back to North Wiltshire post-match, particularly given the possibility of penalties for a third successive time, I’d booked myself into the local Ramada for the night. Needless to say, tickets for the match were in high demand, with an estimate 1,800 U’s fans making the journey, including six more of my extended family – time for a family gathering and some pre-match beers in the Railway.

The U’s lined up:
1….Dean Gerken
2….Ryan Jackson
3….Cohen Bramall
18..Tom Eastman
5….Luke Prosser (captain)
24..Ben Stevenson
14..Brandon Comley
49..Kwame Poku (Luke Gambin 74’)
7….Courtney Senior (Tom Lapslie 83’)
45..Frank Nouble
9….Luke Norris (Callum Harriott 61’)

The significant connection for this match was of course Maltese Luke, who had played on loan at Crawley Town the previous season, and who I had the misfortune of watching tear us apart on New Year’s Day, scoring both goals in a dreadful 2-0 defeat. This time, fortunately, Luke Gambin was on our side, though he started on the bench. Crawley also fielded Dannie Bulman, still playing at the tender age of 40, and at the time the oldest active player in the EFL. Of the usual U’s regulars that season, Brendan Wiredu and Theo Robinson were cup-tied.

Pre-match refreshments on board, we headed down to join the U’s faithful on the unimaginatively named but packed-out KR-L Terrace. Given generally the U’s support might best be described as small but vocal at away matches, it must be some kind of record that we were partly responsible for both Crawley’s record attendances that season, 2,636 in the league, 5,612 in the League Cup.

The match started brightly, with both teams getting the ball down early and passing it around, with no apparent nerves on show for what was a big occasion for both sides – the opportunity for a rare Quarter-Final draw in the League Cup. In truth, Crawley were probably having the better of it, and nearly took the lead in the 10th minute, Gerken doing well to save a curling 25-yard strike from Tarryn Allarakhia (apparently a former U’s academy player, though I didn’t know that at the time). However, just as we seemed to be getting more into the game, veteran Dannie Bulman threw back the years, surged forward and from outside the box blasted an absolute rocket past Dean into the net. Reminiscent of Halford’s goal against Sheffield Wednesday, I honestly can’t remember a goal struck with such power.

It remained to be seen how the U’s would respond to that set back, but we didn’t have to wait long – straight from kick-off in fact. The ball broke to Big Frank out on the left (take note Hayden), who twisting and turning his marker inside out floated a delightful chip over straight onto the head of Chuck Norris, who made no mistake to immediately wipe out Crawley’s opener. And now ths shoe was on the other foot, and most of the remainder of the first half, roared on by the U’s faithful, the U’s had Crawley on the back foot. Norris nearly made it two, with a deft flick which clipped the bar, and just before half-time Ben Stevenson fired in a 25-yarder which might have troubled goalkeeper Luyambula if it hadn’t been straight at him.

Into the second half, and the U’s picked up just where they’d left off, and now it just seemed to be a matter of not if but when would we take the lead. It didn’t take long, when on 53 minutes Norris was fouled by Dallison just outside the box. Up stepped Cohen Bramall to curl a wicked shot over both the wall and the despairing dive of the Luyambula – only to strike the bar and rebound off the back of the unfortunate goalkeeper and into the net for an own goal of comedic proportions…and the away support erupted!

On the hour mark Luke Norris was taken off injured, replaced by Callum Harriott. This brough big Frank back into a more central role, which somewhat stifled our attacking threat to a degree. Stifled but not eradicated however, and Courtney Senior nearly made it 3-1 fired over from a well-worked move with Poku, when he really should have done better (sounds familiar?).

Gambin was introduced with just over 15 minutes to go, I’m sure in an attempt by McGreal to protect our lead. He went one better, and combining well with Frank up the middle, and following a deft pass from Harriott, swivelled on a sixpence to drill the ball high into the net, sparking delirium amongst the U’s faithful both on and off the pitch. We had further chances as well, from both Lapslie and Comley, but to his credit unlucky goalkeeper Luyambula saved well. It didn’t matter though, the match finished 3-1, we celebrated like mad people and the U’s were in the hat for the League Cup Quarter-Final.

[b]Crawley Town 1 (Dannie Bulman 20’) Colchester United 3 (Luke Norris 22’; Michael Luyambula 53’og; Luke Gambin 79’)[/b]

Just under two months later, our reward from the draw was Manchester United at Old Trafford, with over 5,000 U’s packing out the away end. The U’s performed valiantly, holding the Premier League giants 0-0 at half-time, mostly through a doggedly defensive performance. Into the second half, the U’s actually started to take the game to Man U, but three goals in quick succession left the U’s playing for pride – and there was a lot of that that night.

For those who weren’t there, enjoy the Crawley highlights.

Up the U’s

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When Saturday Comes #10 by wessex_exile
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