|When Saturday Comes #28|
Written by wessex_exile on Sunday, 6th Mar 2022 14:47
So here we are, [i]When Saturday Comes[/i] and the must-win three home games left is now just one, and probably the trickiest of the set too, at home against promotion-chasing Port Vale. As demoralising as it was to succumb to an injury-time equaliser against the O’s, it was at least a slightly improved performance, certainly worthy of 3pts most days. Still, it is what it is, so we find ourselves yet again desperate for points, and more so still looking for our next morale-boosting home win.
As ever in these situations, it’s just as much about how others fare today. Yes, we have to win, but with Barrow playing Walsall, Leyton Orient playing Stevenage and Oldham playing Carlisle there are many permutations that could either spell disaster or triumph for the U’s. Personally, I’d be happy to sacrifice moving up the table if we can just increase the points gap from the relegation zone, so I’d be happy to see Walsall, Leyton Orient and Carlisle victorious come 5pm.
Australian cricket, indeed the global cricket community, mourned yesterday the passing of both Rodney Marsh MBE (aged 74) and shortly thereafter Shane Warne (aged just 52). Warne’s passing was particularly tragic, given his young age, and occurred just a few hours after he had posted his own tribute to Marsh on his twitter account.
There are many here far better qualified to talk of their talent as cricketers – all I know is I grew up knowing they were names you really didn’t want to see line up against England. Cricketers and cricket teams around the world have paid tribute particularly to Shane Warne, and such was his standing in Australia that Prime Minister Scott Morrison has offered the family a state funeral for him.
[b]Rodney William Marsh and Shane Keith Warne
4th March 2022
Rest in Peace[/b]
All three have received a pair of tickets for today’s game as a reward, and whilst us cynical old buggers might think that’s more of a punishment than a reward, particularly in this day and age, the real driver behind this is the EFL coordinated dedicated campaign this weekend aimed at female football supporters. This campaign celebrates female supporters, recognises the barrier they face in attending football matches, and aims to raise awareness of the work of football clubs and community organisations who seek to break down these barriers.
[b]Vale Park Oct ’21 – says it all really[/b]
That result closed up our all-time record against Port Vale to 24 wins, 23 defeats and 16 draws, with 80 goals scored and 78 goals conceded. Without wishing to pour cold water on our hopes and aspirations this afternoon, what price a 2-0 win for Vale to completely even the record between our two sides? Certainly hope not.
As a bit of light-relief, Port Vale cite four notable ‘famous’ supporters in their ranks (and with thanks to the [b]OneValeFan[/b] website for the info). Obviously top of the list must be [b]Robbie Williams[/b], a lifelong Vale supporter and football supporter in general. Robbie invested £240,000 in Port Vale and in 2006 became a major stakeholder in the club (and one of the restaurants at the ground is named after him). In June he is playing a concert at Vale Park, which I think is a first for him.
Depending on your interests, having [b]Phil “[i]The Power[/i]” Taylor[/b] listed as one of your supporters is a pretty big thing too. A legendary darts player, who through his career won an incredible 214 professional tournaments, including 85 major titles and 16 World Championships. Not bad for a pub game.
Depending on your definition of famous, [b]Jonathan Wilkes[/b] might be stretching it a bit, given his main claim to fame is just as a mate of Robbie Williams, but he did also play for Port Vale, joining them aged just 7 years old, and went on to Everton after that. As for [b]Simon Webbe[/b], I had to google just to find out who he was – a former member of pop group [i]Blue[/i] apparently, and like Wilkes also a former Port Vale player, his football career brought to an end aged 17 through injury.
[b]Match of the Day
[b]Birthday of John Lithgow and Evander Holyfield – who knew?[/b]
[i]Match of the Day[/i] for this blog, and the random match selector takes us way back to what I’m pretty certain was my first ever visit to Ashton Gate back in October 1999. Our previous visit had been a League Cup 2nd leg match in 1995 (we lost 1-2 and went out on penalties 5-4) which I’m certain I wasn’t at, and the match before had been a league match back in 1984 when I was still living in Yorkshire. I don’t have a programme or ticket stub for the game, just a one-word entry “ASHTON” on my calendar, but that’s enough, as I remember the trip very well, albeit less so the precise matchday details.
Given we’re currently desperately trying to keep clear of relegation, it is always worth recalling that we’ve been in dark places before, none more so than back in late 1999 as the 2nd millennium drew to a close. Mick “Bigger B’stard than Mick Wadsworth” Wadsworth had been in charge at the start of the season, before leaving for a role at Crystal Palace to be ‘closer’ to his beloved North East. No loss, and after a brief caretaker spell Steve Whitton was handed the reins.
It could be argued that the damage had already been done by Wadsworth, ripping the heart of the team, but to be fair even after his first game saw the U’s beat Reading 3-2, Whitts then lost four on the bounce, scraped a home 2-2 against Wrexham, and then lost again badly (5-2) at the Abbey, to leave the U’s rooted at the bottom of the table going into the Ashton Gate visit. All the more worrying because Bristol City had promotion aspirations of their own, so a tough match was expected.
Living in Salisbury at the time, it was an easy train trip over for this match, catching a local connection to Parsons Street from Temple Meads for the short walk to Ashton Gate. I did also have time to grab a couple of pints amongst some very friendly locals at the pub next to Parsons Street station on Bedminster Down Road. The name of the pub escapes me (possibly The Plough?), but it’s yet another pub that seems to have disappeared from the awayday map unfortunately. I think, but I’m by no means certain, this is that pub, now converted into residential flats.
Taking my place among maybe no more than 150-200 brave souls who’s made the long trip over from Essex, my immediate impression of Ashton Gate, apart from a grand old stadium that at the time had seen better days, was the acoustics. There weren’t many of us, but what a racket we were making in the old Wedlock stand. The layout was very reminiscent of Ninian Park, us in one third of the stand, and somewhat vexatious and belligerent City supporters occupying the remaining two thirds to our right.
Steve Whitton’s U’s lined up:
Bristol City had been hoping to complete the big-money transfers of goalkeeper Billy Mercer from Chesterfield for £300k and forward Peter Beadle from Notts County for £200k, but the Mercer paperwork wasn’t finished in time for this match. As Steve Whitton ruefully observed after the game, his entire squad didn’t cost that much and yet the expectation was on the U’s to compete in the league. However, we did of course have LuaLua in our team, who was already making waves throughout the football bubble with his trickery. From a personal perspective, even though it had been nearly 10 years, I was interested to see Brian ‘Tin Man’ Tinnion in the Bristol City line-up, who I’d last seen back in the late 80s playing for Bradford City.
However, despite the massive disparity in financial terms, nor indeed our respective league positions, there was little evidence of either, as the U’s took the game to Bristol City right from the off. LuaLua in particular was proving a real nuisance, and before too long the excellent acoustics of Ashton Gate started to work against Bristol City, with their passionate partisan support growing increasingly frustrated that they were struggling to get a hold of the game against lowly Colchester United.
An early set-back for the U’s saw Andy Arnott taken off injured on 20 minutes, to be replaced by Steve McGavin, but the U’s barely faltered in their stride and continued to dominate the proceedings – roared on my our small band of the faithful. However, when you’re at the wrong of the table luck seems to desert you, and although the U’s should have been comfortably in the lead, a simple defensive blunder by David Greene just after the half hour mark let in that man Tinnion for the easiest of goals to give City an ill-deserved lead.
Having eventually been thrashed 5-2 in the preceding game against Cambridge United, and that rout starting with a Greene defensive blunder, most of us probably thought ‘here we go again’. But that night at Ashton Gate the U’s were having none of it, and despite the setback immediately picked up where they left off, with Bristol City desperately hanging on to their slender lead at half-time, and muted boos as they trudged wearily off for the break.
Post-match Whitton revealed "[i]I simply said to the boys at half-time you've now got yourselves a great challenge to come from behind against a big club, with expensive players, on their own ground. I urged them to believe in themselves[/i]”. It worked too, as the U’s came out like demented tigers for the second half. LuaLua was all over the place, turning his markers inside out as he carved out chance after chance.
McGavin was capitalising on the misfortune of Andy Arnott, causing no end of problems for the Bristol City back line, and oft-maligned utility player Aaron Skelton was running himself into the ground chasing everything. Jason Dozzell had scored both of our consolation goals at the Abbey on Saturday and was therefore looking for his 100th football league career goal at Ashton Gate.
However, it was the master of shithousery Karl Duguid who beat him to if, smashing home the equaliser just before the hour mark, to send the already vociferous faithful to another decibel level. From there it looked like there was only going to be one outcome, but City manager Tony Pulis was no fool, and brought on Tony Thorpe and Scott Murray (both excellent footballers at that level) to try and stem the blue and white tide. On 73 minutes Skelts had run his legs off and had to be replaced by Jamie Moralee, and with ten minutes to go Pulis made his final change bringing Marvin Brown on to replace the ineffectual new-boy Peter Beadle.
Still though it was all Colchester, Bristol City just couldn’t handle us that night, but despite it all they desperately clung on to rescue an ill-deserved point.
[b]Bristol City 1 (Brian Tinnion 34’) Colchester United 1 (Karl Duguid 58’)[/b]
For what I think must have been the first time I’ve ever witnessed it, the U’s were given a standing ovation from the Bristol City supporters as they left the field. Steve Whitton commented after the match about how proud he was of the team that night, in a performance that he “[i]…thought they deserved ten points for the way they played, not just one[/i]”. Jason Dozzell would eventually score his 100th league goal in a 3-0 victory over Luton Town in December, the same match that saw Joe Dunne’s welcome post-Wadsworth return to the U’s.
Still, the point took the U’s off the foot of the table, and just over a month later we finally clambered back out of the relegation zone. We stayed out too, eventually finishing in 18th place and 8 points comfortably clear of the bottom four of Cardiff City, Blackpool, Scunthorpe United and Chesterfield. Although Bristol City finished in 9th place, they a mile off the play-off places on points, and a very distant second to their local rivals Bristol Rovers, who finished 7th and just 2pts behind Stoke City in the last play-off slot.
Finally, over the many visits since to Bristol for an awayday, I have always had great pleasure talking with both the red and the blue side of the city. It was in a later visit that I was told be a City supporter that the club made a £1m approach for LuaLua after this match – an offer that was politely declined needless to say. LuaLua was eventually sold to Newcastle United for £2.25m in September of the following year.
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When Monday Comes #37 by wessex_exile
[i]When Saturday Comes[/i] and we reach the end of a topsy-turvy season, much of which hasn’t been that much fun if I’m honest, though latterly considerably improved under Wayne Brown. If I can, I always like to do the first and last game of the season, but sadly a trip to Hartlepool just wasn’t on the cards, not if I actually wanted to get home again tonight, so I had to console myself with a pretty enjoyable trip to the JobServe last weekend – not quite the victory the U’s deserved over Walsall, but a great day out anyway. I know it’ll be too late for the Player of the Year awards, but wouldn’t it be nice to see a Freddie Sears hat-trick this afternoon to round off the season.
When Saturday Comes #36 by wessex_exile
[i]When Saturday Comes[/i] tomorrow, and I will be on a train heading over to God’s own county for my last U’s game of the season. That should have been last Friday’s trip to the Principality, but as posted elsewhere I was more than happy to be pre-booked to dog-sit Emma’s collie Reggie that night and had to be content with one of Nadine’s ‘downstreams’ on iFollow. Given both the performance and the result, whilst I was sorry to miss it in person, I was more than happy with how Friday night turned out in the end. Tomorrow will be a gathering of the clans for us, with at the last count at least 8, possibly more, of the family gathering for the match. Ironically, I’ll see them all again on Bank Holiday Monday for a family birthday, but I’ll be driving over for that one.
When Saturday Comes #35 by wessex_exile
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When Saturday Comes #34 by wessex_exile
[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.
When Saturday Comes #33 by wessex_exile
[i]When Saturday Comes[/i] and there was a time, not too long ago, when today’s game against the charmless Steve Evans and Stevenage was looking like it might be a relegation 6-pointer. Whilst we’re not out of the woods quite yet, back-to-back victories over Tranmere Rovers and Harrogate mean we go into this game knowing even if we were to slip up against Stevenage, we’ll still be 8pts plus goal difference ahead of them, and only five games left to play. Still, let’s not dwell on negatives, because three wins on the bounce will be the confidence-booster we’ll need ahead of the tough trip on Good Friday to St James’ Park.