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Sutton United (a)
at 18:26 16 Jan 2022

Probably not a bad thing in the circumstances, but if you haven't noticed, Sutton United have decided not to provide a streaming service for Tuesday's game. I presume we'll still have the iFollow commentary.

When Saturday Comes #22
at 14:32 16 Jan 2022

It’s the 15th of January, and still the U’s are attempting to play their first home match of 2022. Weather looks good (check), players have returned from injury (check), no on-day Covid testing to get in the way (check), so barring fire famine or flood, I reckon we must have at least a 50:50 chance of a game at the JobServe this afternoon. Whether it’ll be three much-needed points or not, and if you’ll pardon the pun, I at least did see green shoots at the New Lawn on Tuesday. We still lost, and the table doesn’t lie, but definitely signs to encourage me that whilst it’s not going to be a comfortable journey, we’ll be alright by May.
When Saturday Comes #22
at 14:32 15 Jan 2022

It’s the 15th of January, and still the U’s are attempting to play their first home match of 2022. Weather looks good (check), players have returned from injury (check), no on-day Covid testing to get in the way (check), so barring fire famine or flood, I reckon we must have at least a 50:50 chance of a game at the JobServe this afternoon. Whether it’ll be three much-needed points or not, and if you’ll pardon the pun, I at least did see green shoots at the New Lawn on Tuesday. We still lost, and the table doesn’t lie, but definitely signs to encourage me that whilst it’s not going to be a comfortable journey, we’ll be alright by May.

Today we take on Barrow, and a chance for a rare double if we pull it off. A bit more of the camaraderie and togetherness shown on that cold night back in September would certainly help.

Crikey though, if Boris’s parties are so good he can’t actually remember being there, those are the parties I want invitations to. But seriously, I’ve mentioned this subject before, but the trial by tabloid has now been picked up by the broadsheets, with multiple rule-breaking events allegedly taking place at no. 10 – well, some alleged, but Boris has already admitted to quite a few – not least on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral, for which Downing Street has apologised to the Queen.

The matter will be investigated by top civil servant Sue Gray, a normally private individual, but well-known by those that walk the corridors of power for her professionalism and influence. Indeed, in a conversation with then Liberal Democrat minister David Laws, Oliver Letwin advised him “It took me precisely two years before I realised who it is that runs Britain. Our great United Kingdom is actually entirely run by a lady called Sue Gray, the head of ethics or something in the Cabinet Office - unless she agrees, things just don't happen”. We wait to see what her investigation unearths.

Covid infections in the UK have fallen for the ninth day running and have finally again dropped below 100,000 new cases a day, prompting rumours that Boris may scrap his Plan B restrictions. It’s still far too many infections, but like the U’s, perhaps we are starting to see the green shoots of the world coming out of this accursed pandemic? Not helped of course by cases such as tennis star Djokovic’s ‘will he, won’t he’ attempt to participate in the Australian Open despite publicly stating he’s not vaccinated. His visa has been revoked, reinstated and revoked again, and his hearing appealing the decision is set for 10.30pm tonight (UK time).

U’s World
I didn’t listen to Robbie’s BBC Essex Q&A phone-in, a move that might be considered both brave and foolhardy in equal measure, but plenty that did have posted the highlights on various social media platforms.

In summary:
- We return to blue and white stripes next season, welcome news to most U’s fans. Personally, whilst I’m definitely looking forward to that, I’ve not been too fussed about the all-blue kit whilst it’s been used, in fact I’d go so far as to say with the white socks it actually looks quite good.

- Reference to a broad 433 ‘philosophy’ as far as playing style at all levels of the club, but categorical denial he has any involvement in the day-to-day team and tactics selection, in fact actively avoids having conversations with Hayden to avoid any even unintentional influence.
- Playing budget (after various wildly inaccurate figures have been floating around) was £1.6m this season, slightly above the originally proposed salary cap of £1.5m which was rejected by League 2 EFL chairmen. As his other businesses start to recover from the financial impact of the pandemic, he expects that budget to increase next season.
- He’s already discussed the ticketing arrangements he put in place at the start of the season, that they can’t be ‘turned off’ mid-season, and the good intentions behind the ticketing system, but in the phone-in he admitted he simply hadn’t expected the levels of outrage that it prompted amongst the fanbase. Really Robbie, being a U’s fan and outrage go hand in hand – it’s not like you’ve been living in a cage for the last 16 years 😊.

Stat attack
I figured that not playing at home in January until the 15th ought to be close to some sort of record, but not so it turns out. In fact, throughout our history we had to wait much later than that for our first home fixture. For instance, in only our second season as a football club, it took until 21st January to play Newport Reserves at home (obviously in a season that would be curtailed shortly after).

In 1948 Cheltenham arrived in town on the 22nd, and two years later Aldershot had to wait until the 27th. In 1955 Shrewsbury Town went one better, playing at Layer Road on the 28th of January, and in 1958 Doncaster Rovers achieved the ultimate record, as our first new year opponents at home on 31st of January.

Match of the Day
Chesterfield v Colchester United
1st October 2011
Npower Football League One (Tier 3)
Attendance 6,295

© ColUData

Match of the Day for WSC22 is chosen by the random match selector, and a trip to watch the U’s at Chesterfield. It’s one of those I don’t have a programme for, just a scribbled note on my calendar (including an outrageous use of exclamation marks – think I might have been quite excited about this one), plus of course my memories of what turned out to be quite a weekend with my friend Craig, his brother and a bunch of other Spireites. Hence the programme cover is courtesy of Graeson’s ColUData website.

In context, me and Em first met Craig and his wife Jo at antenatal classes back in early 2004 and have remained close friends ever since. It didn’t take long to discover that we shared a passion for lower league football, and over the years have been to many matches together, mostly involving our two teams, but not always. In fact I’m off with him, his brothers, one or two cousins and no doubt hundreds of other Spireites for their trip to Eastleigh at the end of the month.

For the previous five years or so we’d been operating in different leagues, so this was one of our first opportunities to plan an awayday to see our two teams play each other. It was also the U’s first visit to their new stadium, at the time unimaginatively named the B2net Stadium, and a very similar development to the JobServe – only in the centre of town rather than at a frozen outpost. With his brother Adam still living in Chesterfield, we drove up bright and early on the Saturday morning, parked up at Adam’s to drop the bags off, and then taxied into town to meet others and begin the pre-match libations.

We started off in the Donkey Derby, normally a home fans only establishment, but they didn’t appear to be too fazed by my presence in the company of a bunch of Spireites. After one or three in there, we headed over to the Derby Tup, another popular pre-match watering hole, and where if memory serves, we had the pleasure of bumping into Noah and many more U’s fans. A few more in the Derby Tup, and we were all ready for an afternoon of football.

As we often do when at matches against each other, to allow all parties to enjoy the game free from inhibitions, I took my place amongst the surprisingly large crowd of nearly 300 that had travelled up from Essex, whilst Craig and the rest headed for the opposite end of the stadium. Also amongst the faithful was Durham somewhere, and I think I recall Gerry might have been amongst the Spireites with his daughter. Well, I say surprisingly large visiting support, but it didn’t take my Spireite mates long to spot where I was amongst them and start peppering me with light-hearted abusive text banter.

The U’s at the time were managed by John Ward, in his second season as manager, and having achieved a credible 10th place finish the previous season, we were hopeful of better this time around. Chesterfield had been promoted champions from League Two the previous season, and what with the new ground and all, were riding a wave of unbridled optimism at the time. Optimism not completely matched by performances on the pitch, and whilst the U’s were bumbling along mid-table, the Spireites were already slipping into a relegation dog-fight.

John Ward’s U’s lined up as follows:

1….Ben Williams
4….Magnus Okuonghae
5….Pat Baldwin
20..Brian Wilson
24..Ben Coker
10..Kemi Izzet (captain)
14..Andy Bond
22..Anthony Wordsworth
11..Michail Antonio (27.Karl Duguid 80’)
15..Kayode Odejayi
16..Ian Henderson

Given the pre-match refreshments, I could be forgiven for having only hazy memories of the game itself, but it actually is one I remember quite well. Making a welcome return following nearly a season out with a viral infection, Ben Williams was chosen ahead of Mark Cousins, who had recently picked up a shoulder injury. Livewire Michail Antonio, on loan from Reading, had also been impressing the faithful, and it was reported at the time that John Ward was hoping to extend his loan for a third and final month.

For all the hope and expectation, it was lowly Chesterfield who started strongest in the match, playing a neat compact passing game that we were struggling to get to grips with. In fact, on 14 minutes we almost had a most calamitous of starts, when Ben Williams allowed Pat Baldwin’s back pass to roll under his foot. Fortunately, it rolled inches wide for a corner, but it was definitely an early wake-up call.

Following that, the U’s rallied, and for the next quarter of an hour it was a much more even contest, until on the half hour mark Michail Antonio collected a blocked shot from Ian Henderson and drill a low-shot through a congested penalty area to give the U’s the lead. Needless to say, the flow of text-based abusive banter was reversed for some time after that. The U’s didn’t sit back either, and Wordsworth went close on a couple of occasions between then and half-time. However, it was Chesterfield who went closest to scoring, with Craig Westcarr’s ferocious shot excellently parried away by Ben Williams – more than making up for his potential howler earlier.

Into the second half, and Chesterfield very much picked up where they left off, but again Ben Williams pulled off a blinding save to prevent Alex Mundy from equalising. Approaching the hour mark, danger man Leon Clarke rattled the base of the post with Williams beaten, but as the second half wore on, that was very pretty much the last real threat from a flagging Chesterfield.

The U’s were starting to control midfield, and whilst we weren’t creating many chances of note ourselves, Chesterfield were effectively neutralised. One comedy moment was Antonio going down apparently injured out on the wing and ending up prostrate off the pitch – but not so badly injured that he couldn’t crawl back onto the pitch for ‘treatment’. I think he might have been booked for that 😊.

With ten minutes to go, Ward decided to sacrifice the flair and pace of Antonio for the shithousery of Duguid, and that was the match comfortably won – our first visit to post-Saltergate Chesterfield, and another welcome 3 points. It wasn’t quite win ugly, but it had been a ruthlessly efficient performance.

Chesterfield 0 Colchester United 1 (Michail Antonio 30’)

Not to let a simple game of football get in the way, we all met up post-match outside the ground and headed off for a debauched evening touring the ale houses of Chesterfield, and I think there might have been a curry at the end too? There was no differences of opinion, or indeed hard feelings, overall the U’s had been the better team on the day, and it was a fair result.

Chesterfield couldn’t escape the relegation back to League Two that haunted them, along with dear friends Wycombe Wanderers, Exeter City and Rochdale. They did, however, reach the EFL Trophy final, for which we had one big massive boozy reunion as they faced much-fancied Swindon Town. Technically lower league opposition at the time, Swindon were still strong favourites to lift the trophy, so we were all delighted when Chesterfield won 2-0.

John Ward went on to repeat a tenth place finish in his second season in charge, but the gloss of that achievement very much dulled by a dreadful run from mid-February through to the end of the season with just three victories. But for that we could have and should have been competing for at least the play-offs. After a terrible start to the 2012/13, Robbie had seen enough, and let John Ward go.
When Saturday Comes #21
at 14:45 9 Jan 2022

Here we are then, what should have been the first home game of 2022, and I discover seconds before posting this that the game is called off because of a waterlogged pitch. Having gone to the trouble of writing this, even though we’re not playing I’m going to post it anyway – it’s not like you’ve got anything else to do this afternoon.
When Saturday Comes #21
at 14:44 8 Jan 2022

Here we are then, what should have been the first home game of 2022, and I discover seconds before posting this that the game is called off because of a waterlogged pitch. Having gone to the trouble of writing this, even though we’re not playing I’m going to post it anyway – it’s not like you’ve got anything else to do this afternoon.

Whenever we do next have a game in this league, we must hope for a better result than our first two fixtures of the New Year, albeit the performance against high-flying Sutton United in the Pizza Slice Trophy deserved more than a 2-1 defeat. Certainly, my New Year’s Day trip to Crawley witnessed a significantly below par performance against just an average Crawley Town, taken apart with ease on three occasions to hand the 3pts over on a plate. Even then though, it was so frustrating that for prolonged periods in the second half, admittedly when we were chasing the game, we seemed to have Crawley at sixes and sevens, but apart from our long awaited first away league goal since Barrow, just couldn’t convert any of the chances.

In the wider world, the judge in the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial has handed down sentences to his killers, Travis McMichael, father Gregory McMichael and William ‘Roddie’ Bryan. All were facing a mandatory life sentence, that was already known, the only uncertainty was whether the judge would listen to pleas for clemency and allow any or all an entitlement to parole after 30 years.

Not so for Travis McMichael who blasted Arbery with his shotgun at point-blank range, nor his father Gregory McMichael, neither of whom will ever see freedom again and will die in prison. Roddie Bryan, the only one who has shown even a shred of remorse, and who was not armed that day, will be entitled to parole in 30 years, but at 52 years of age whether he reaches that point is another matter. In a chilling and emotionally charged ruling, the judge made the courtroom sit in silence for just one minute of the five minutes the three men chased down Arbery in their trucks, in his words to put in context just how long he fled for his life.

The three men still face hate crime charges because of the compelling racial element to this case. One might wonder, what’s the point, they can’t serve any longer in prison than they’re going to anyway – but that’s missing the point. In a society riven by racial injustice, in a community policed by those who would do nothing about the vigilante lynching of black Ahmaud Arbery by three white men until Bryan’s video of the murder was leaked two months later, it is vital that the potential racial motivation for this dreadful crime is scrutinised, and if proven, the perpetrators sentenced.

Closer to home, and in its way intimately related, the so-called Colston Four, Sage Willoughby, Rhian Graham, Milo Ponsford, and Jake Skuse (no relation, I assume?), were found not guilty of causing criminal damage for their role in toppling the statue of slave trader Edward Colston and, after a black man in the crowd knelt on the neck of the statue for 8 minutes and 48 seconds – the same length of time that Derek Chauvin knelt on the neck of George Floyd until Floyd died, unceremoniously rolling the statue into Bristol harbour.

Notwithstanding this was a show trial almost demanded by Priti Patel, given a police witness in the case had testified that literally thousands had been involved in toppling the statue, appearing as a witness for the prosecution, Bristol Council head of Culture and Creative Industries Jonathan Finch had admitted under cross-examination that there had been efforts to have the statue removed as far back as the early 20th century, with concerted campaigns from at least the 1990s onwards.

Efforts that were constantly thwarted and/or ignored by the Council, often with the support of the wealthy elite of the Society of Merchant Venturers, responsible for the erection of the statue in the first place. Indeed, many believe erecting Colston’s statue, a man responsible for the enslavement of an estimated 84,000 Black people, including 12,000 children, and the deaths of 19,000, 170 years after his death, was in direct response to the erection of a statue of Anglo-Irish statesman, economist and philosopher Edmund Burke, a noted opponent of the slave trade, and often cited as the source of the famous quote “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.

Tom Wainwright, defence barrister for Milo Posford, summed the case up eloquently.
If you have a cancer like Colston festering in your city, you cut it out. Even a new plaque would only have been a sticking plaster. Cutting it out will leave a scar, so that people remember what was there in the past and make sure it doesn’t return, but only once it is gone can the body heal. You have heard during this trial of the positive impact this action had, in prompting action where there was lethargy, promoting understanding where there was ignorance, provoking discussion where there was silence. Not just in this city, not just in this country but around the world. Bristol, like its tower, is no longer weighed down by the name of Colston but is a beacon showing how to bring communities together”.

U’s World
Closer to home, and with the January transfer window opening, we have seen the first flurry of activity at the JobServe. Not the rumoured Ryan Loft, he’s gone to Bristol Rovers instead, nor so far the departure of Brendan Sarpong-Wiredu to Nottingham Forest, or anywhere else for that matter. One of the small rays of sunshine on New Year’s Day was seeing him out on the Crawley pitch warming up – I was certain if he was off he wouldn’t be played. Of course, there’s still a lot of January to go, so I’ll be pleasantly surprised if he’s still with us when the transfer window closes.

No, the first addition is Tom Dallison – a centre back/ left back defender of indeterminate height from Crawley. A product of the West Ham youth set-up, and latterly Arsenal, Dallison began his professional career at Brighton, and then spent the next five years out on loan at Dartford, Braintree, Crawley, Cambridge United and Accrington Stanley. In a somewhat odd move geographically, when he was released by Brighton in 2018 he moved to Falkirk, before returning after one season to sign for Crawley Town three years ago, a contract Crawley were happy to renew last January. Welcome Tom, I hope you have a long and productive stay at the U’s.

Welcome Tom!

The other news, which has sent ripples throughout the Colchester United community, is the permanent signing of former Solihull Moors loanee Cameron Coxe. Now, I will be the first to admit that I haven’t been too impressed with some of Coxe’s performances so far this season, though as Noah has pointed out, he actually had a very good game at Sutton on Tuesday night.

If we can find the right position and formation for Coxe, I for one will be delighted and more than prepared to forgive and forget some of his previous gaffs. The point has already been made elsewhere, he’s a young lad and deserves the chance to prove his doubters wrong. Having met his mates post-match in a Swindon pub earlier in the season, mates who were prepared to travel over from Cardiff to support Cameron, I feel somewhat emotionally-invested in Cameron Coxe.

Good luck to you lad, do us proud!

Stat attack
We’ve played today’s opponents Rochdale 49 times in the league so far, including our Friday night 1-1 at Spotland earlier this season. This was a specially rearranged match to mark the centenary celebration of their football league status, joining the Third Division North in 1921.

2021 commemorative programme for the U’s match

Overall, the U’s have won 18 matches, drawing 18 and losing just 13. Notable victories include a 4-0 at Layer Road under Cyril Lea back in 1983, and a couple of 4-1 victories under Allan Hunter in 1982 and Roger Brown in 1987, the latter remarkably at Spotland. On the flipside, one of our earliest visits to Spotland back in 1969 resulted in a 4-0 tonking for Dick Graham’s U’s, and there have been a couple of 5-2 defeats as well, both under Roy McDonough and both in 1993 – the September 1993 result was actually at Layer Road too. Roy is also responsible for one of the more entertaining games too, entertaining if you’re not a defensive coach that is, a 4-4 draw at Layer Road in November 1992.

However, all of those league results pale into insignificance when compared to our two vital FA Cup games. In the 4th round of the 1970/71 FA Cup Dick Graham’s Fourth Division U’s forced a replay with a spirited 3-3 draw against Third Division Rochdale at Spotland on 23rd January, no thanks to two very late goals from Lewis (85’) and Simmons (87’). In the replay two days later at Layer Road and knowing the U’s faced Leeds United in the 5th Round, the U’s blew Rochdale away with a 5-0 demolition, courtesy of goals by Lewis (42’), Simmons (44’), a Parry own goal (50’), Crawford (70’) and Mahon (76’) – and the rest as they say is history.

Match of the Day
Exeter City v Colchester United
25th January 2020
Sky Bet Football League Two (Tier 4)
Attendance 4,745

Match of the Day for WSC21 is again from the random match selector, and a slightly odd one from my perspective, as it’s kind of in my memorabilia collection, but actually not for reasons that will become apparent. We go back just over two years ago for the visit of Colchester United to one of my regular local stomping grounds, Exeter City.

It’s also worth recalling that leading up to this game some enterprising Col U scallies broke into St James Park on the Friday evening and stole the banner of the Exeter Ultra group Red Legion. It seems us and Exeter flags are a bit of a thing, made all the more hilarious by then boasting about it on Twitter, portraying the banner upside down apparently to demonstrate Red Legion’s humiliation and dishonour. All a bit silly really, but even sillier that Red Legion then announced that by the ethical code of Ultra groups, as they had ‘lost their colours’ they had to disband. The banner was eventually returned, I believe in exchange for an agreed charitable donation, but an amusing sidenote to the match.

At the time the U’s were on a prolonged run of unbeaten games going all the way back to a 0-0 at Crewe Alexandra on 22nd October 2019, and whilst many of the more recent results had been drawn, we were still firmly in the play-off zone, and perhaps an outside (but fading) chance for automatic promotion. Even if we weren’t so well placed, I rarely pass on the chance for a visit to St James Park, so me and Alfie set off in good time from Chippenham for the train journey down to Exeter.

With Em dropping us at the station, the journey for the most part was unremarkable, a short hop over to Westbury to meet our connection from there down to Exeter St David’s. Passing through the picturesque town of Castle Cary we rumbled on to our penultimate stop at Taunton. Alfie was happily playing on his phone, I was zoned out with a beer and music on, so it took a while to realise that we were still sat at Taunton train station far longer than normal.

Turning my music off and starting to pay a bit more attention to my surroundings, and indeed the announcements from the guard, it became apparent that there was something further down the line holding us up. A quick google, particularly looking on the Exeter City unofficial forum Exeweb, soon identified the problem, a trackside fire on the outskirts of the city that had temporarily closed the line.

The guard was reasonably upbeat that eventually the train would continue on its way to Exeter, just he had no idea when. This left us in a bit of a quandary – (a) would we now get to the game on time, and (b) more importantly, would we actually be able to get back. It was decision time, a decision that was kind of forced on us by the realisation that approaching from the opposite direction was the last train out of Exeter to Bristol before the fire blocked the track – effectively for the time being our last train home. That was the clincher, so me and Alfie dashed across to the other platform and managed to squeeze ourselves into a very full train back to Wiltshire via Bristol.

Hence, this match is kind of in my memorabilia collection, but at the same time not – it’s my Schrodinger’s Cat match I guess.

Remarkably, with excellent connections and a mercy dash pick up by Em from Chippenham station, we actually managed to get home to dial into the iFollow commentary moments before kick-off. Hence this Match of the Day report is derived mostly from that commentary, the Evening Gazette archives, supplemented of course by Graeson’s ColuData website and Wikipedia.

John McGreal lined up his charges as follows:

1….Dean Gerken
2….Ryan Jackson
21..Ryan Clampin
18..Tom Eastman
5….Luke Prosser (captain)
8….Harry Pell
14..Brandon Comley
26..Luke Gambin (24. Ben Stevenson 81’)
49..Kwame Poku
15..Callum Harriott (7. Courtney Senior 70’)
13..Theo Robinson (9. Luke Norris 89’)

Frank Nouble was out with a back injury, to be replaced by Luke Gambin in the no. 10 role, with Kwame Poku switching out to the right flank. Like the U’s, Exeter were riding high in the league, and a tough game was expected – an expectation that didn’t disappoint right from kick-off. Exeter came out of the traps at a sprint, and with less than a minute on the clock nearly took the lead with a shot from Nicky Ajose that had Gerken at full stretch but flashed just outside the near post. A few minutes later, that constant thorn in our side Ryan Bowman found himself through on goal with only Gerken to beat but snatched at his shot and dragged it wide of the goal.

Slowly though the U’s started to grab a foothold in the game, and on 15 minutes Harry Pell stung the hands of ‘keeper Jonny Maxted with a fierce 25-yard drive. Still though the pace and movement of Exeter was creating problems for the U’s, with only a perfectly timed challenge in the box from Poku preventing Archie Collins from scoring a break-away goal. On the half hour mark, after Prosser had headed over a half-chance from a free-kick, Gerken did well to save a low shot from Exeter captain Jake Taylor. However, from there through to half-time the U’s came into their dominance, and should really have scored from a close-range Callum Harriot shot that was remarkably blocked on the line by Pierce Sweeney.

We started the second half as we’d finished the first, though Robinson’s weak effort after creating his own chance early in the half was easily saved by Maxted. As the half wore on, I got the feeling that both sides were becoming just as anxious about risking defeat as winning the game, and it became much more of a midfield battle. Exeter were still creating occasional chances, Jayden Richardson blazed an effort across the face of the goal, Bowman saw his shot deflect up and over the bar, and following the introduction of Senior for the tiring Callum Harriott, Parkes fired over the bar when he really should have done better.

We were still in the game though, and with a long throw from Jackson creating mayhem in the Exeter City penalty area, Ryan Clampin failed to capitalise on the confusion, drilling his shot wide of goal. In the dying seconds a flurry of chances for Exeter City saw a shot from Law deflect narrowly wide, and in the dying seconds Gerken did well to save a fierce shot from Collins – and the U’s held on for a hard-earned point.

Exeter City 0 Colchester United 0

Short highlights of the match are still available on YouTube for those that care to remember when we last competed at t’other end of the table.

A credible point kept both the U’s and Exeter in the promotion race, and whilst our unbeaten run would finally come to an end at the Shabby a week later, further victories against Plymouth at home, Salford away (both of which I was at) and finally and most significantly Carlisle United away meant that when the 2019/20 season was curtailed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we had just about earned enough points per game to qualify for the play-offs in 6th place.

Exeter had too, though they were probably more disappointed they didn’t have the chance of carrying on their more realistic challenge for automatic promotion. The U’s were drawn against Exeter City in the two-legged semi-final, taking a narrow 1-0 lead from the home leg following a beauty from Cohen Bramall with less than ten minutes to go.

However, in the return leg, after drawing level on aggregate with a Senior goal on 78 minutes to make it 2-1, and 2-2 on aggregate, that man Bowman did the damage with a 111th minute winner to make the score 3-1 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate. Exeter City would go on to be utterly dismantled in the final, losing 4-0 to Northampton Town, the team that had finished bottom of the play-off zone.

McGreal departed following this disappointment, and the guts of the team dismantled to meet costs resulting from the financial impact of Covid-19, and something we still seem to be dealing with to this day.
[Post edited 8 Jan 15:08]
U's v Dale streaming on iFollow
at 10:51 7 Jan 2022

For those (like me) who didn't realise, tomorrow's game is being streamed on iFollow as well. It's not an international break, so I guess it must be because of the 3rd Round of the FA Cup?

When Saturday Comes #20
at 16:45 1 Jan 2022

Finally, When Saturday Comes…and the U’s (for now at least) have a match to play. Mind you, I’m writing this on Friday afternoon, so there’s still time yet for yet another Covid/ injury postponement, I guess. I certainly hope not, as I’m planning on heading over to Crawley for this one. Mind you, now that the EFL have decreed there will be no on the day testing to eliminate the possibility of last-minute cancellations, I think I’ll defer buying a train ticket until this evening. Needless to say, a repeat of our last visit to Broadfield (The People’s Pension Stadium under the terms of a sponsorship deal) would do very nicely indeed.
When Saturday Comes #20
at 16:41 31 Dec 2021

Finally, When Saturday Comes…and the U’s (for now at least) have a match to play. Mind you, I’m writing this on Friday afternoon, so there’s still time yet for yet another Covid/ injury postponement, I guess. I certainly hope not, as I’m planning on heading over to Crawley for this one. Mind you, now that the EFL have decreed there will be no on the day testing to eliminate the possibility of last-minute cancellations, I think I’ll defer buying a train ticket until this evening. Needless to say, a repeat of our last visit to Broadfield (The People’s Pension Stadium under the terms of a sponsorship deal) would do very nicely indeed.

Ghislaine Maxwell, socialite daughter of noted media mogul and fraudster Robert Maxwell, has been rightly convicted of sex-trafficking underage girls for the gratification of paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, herself and no doubt many others. Notably the ‘others’ might include Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, who is facing a civil case brought against him by Virginia Roberts Giuffre, one of those trafficked by Maxwell when she was only 17.

Maxwell will be sentenced in due course, but for the crimes she’s already been convicted of faces up to 65 years in prison. I’d like to think she’ll never see another day of freedom and die in prison, but the wealthy always seem to have a way of dodging these things, so let’s see. She also faces more time in court, fighting two perjury charges related to her 2016 deposition in the Giuffre case. Commentators have observed that Maxwell now faces a difficult decision, keep schtum and spend the rest of her days behind bars, or start naming names of others involved for a reduced sentence. I’d imagine there are more than a few wealthy depraved old men out there currently shaking like a sh’tting dog.

In a related matter, the BBC has apologised for broadcasting an interview with Epstein’s lawyer Alan Dershowitz following the Maxwell verdict. Despite also being cited as an offender in the Giuffre case, and only introducing him as a “constitutional lawyer” without mentioning his connection to Epstein, the BBC have since admitted that he was not “a suitable person to interview as an impartial analyst” and that the interview “did not meet the BBC’s editorial standards”.

In a retweet that really should have won them the internet for the day, the Sunday Sport hilariously responded…

U’s World
To say the Covid pandemic has been occupying the U’s headlines is something of an understatement, with swathes of matches being postponed and the fixture list decimated throughout most of December, as the Omicron variant sweeps through the population (over 145,000 new cases yesterday alone). Whether our own cases or others, and compounded by an injury crisis, as a result we haven’t played a game since 11th December, and that the particularly dispiriting 3-0 defeat at Warsaw.

Inevitably we’ve slipped a few places in the table as a result, to within 3pts of the relegation zone. If there is a silver lining, we do have a significantly better goal difference than the four below us, and of course games in hand over pretty much everyone around us. Obviously, games in hand mean jack if you don’t win them, give me the points any day of the week and twice on Sundays. Crawley are in a very similar position, 3pts ahead of the U’s and also just 20 games played. What will be more galling to the Red Devils was they were on quite a good run prior to the Covid disruption, so fingers-crossed the hiatus has messed that up for them.

As for who emerges blinking into the sunlight from the Col U squad mini-lockdown remains to be seen, but chances are it won’t include Brendan Sarpong Wiredu even if he’s fit and raring to go. With strong rumours he’s off in the January transfer window – front-runners currently reported to be Nottingham Forest – there’s no way that he’ll be put at risk of injury this close to what should be a pretty big money deal. Quite how big is moot, and no doubt Charlton Athletic (who wanted a first dibs buy-back option) will get a decent sell-on slice, but whatever the return is, I’ve no doubt it’ll go someway to improving the club finances.

As most have been clamouring for throughout most of the first half of the season, transfer rumours also suggest that we are about to spend some of the cup run and TV money on a striker. Perhaps not the big name some might have been hoping for, but the current name in the frame appears to be 6’ 3” striker Ryan Loft at Scunthorpe for a rumoured fee of £50k.

U’s bound?

Opinions are mixed on the Iron Bru messageboard ( https://www.iron-bru.co.uk/forums/topic/loft-to-colchester/ ), some bemoaning it’s a pittance to receive, his recent improved form but frustrating inconsistency, but also suggesting he should be aiming his sights higher at League 1 level. If the sale of Loft to the U’s goes ahead, Scunthorpe have the dual problem of being one of eight clubs under a transfer embargo at the moment, after taking advantage of an EFL Monitored Loan to see them through the financial impact of Covid last season (remember, Robbie’s ‘kicking the can down the road’ analogy). One of the general principles of the loan is that it couldn’t be used to fund transfer fees or wages, so whoever Scunthorpe replace Loft with, they’ll have to be free transfers.

Stat attack
A New Year and fresh start for us all, so let’s take a look at New Years Day fixtures over the years. Since 1937 we’ve played 27 times on New Years Day, 16 times away and 11 at home. As usual with the festive period fixture lists, these are generally against relatively local sides, certainly for the last 30 years or so. Our home form has been solid, winning and drawing five apiece, and losing just once (ironically to Scunthorpe United back in 1988).

One year on, and just as relevant…

Away is a bit more hit and miss, with six victories, three draws and seven defeats, and we have to go back to 2008 at the Valley for our last New Years Day victory on the road. In fact, from 2008 onwards it’s kind of been all about the “C’s”, playing Cambridge United once, Charlton Athletic twice and of course tomorrow’s opponents Crawley Town three times. Only MK Dons mess up that pattern, but they mess up everything…

Our record victory was our very first New Years Day match, beating Barry 6-1 at Layer Road in 1938, matched closely by a 1977 5-0 home win over Newport County. Honourable mention must also go to a comprehensive 4-2 victory at Gresty Road in 1972. At the other end of the spectrum, Jim Smith presided over a 1975 4-1 battering at Charlton Athletic, and there have been a couple of 3-0 defeats also – the Scunthorpe game at Layer Road mentioned above, and of course most recently at Broadfield against Crawley in 2013.

Match of the Day
Coventry City v Colchester United
11th September 2002
Worthington Cup (1st Round)
Attendance 6,075

Match of the Day for WSC20 is back to the random match selector, as we go back nearly 20 years to a Wednesday evening League Cup first round fixture at Highfield Road (the League Cup sponsored by Worthington at the time). Not quite our last visit to Highfield Road, that would come two years later in the fourth round of Parky’s 2003/04 FA Cup run, but it was certainly my first and only visit to Highfield Road.

Although Highfield Road was eventually demolished and redeveloped for housing in 2005, the tale of Coventry City’s move to a new home is an ongoing and sorry one to say the least. The new ground should have been ready for the 2001/02 season, but a combination of relegation, financial problems, withdrawal of both financiers and contractors, and not least England’s failure to land the 2006 World Cup competition required significant downsizing of the previous very ambitious plans for the new stadium.

Originally sponsored by local car manufacturer Jaguar, they pulled out before the stadium had even been opened, to eventually be replaced by Ricoh. Construction delays forced Coventry City to play their first three matches of the 2005/06 season away from home, eventually opening their doors on 20th August 2005 against QPR. The previous financial constraints meant that Coventry City did not own the stadium and had to pay rent to stadium managers Arena Coventry Limited, always a very difficult relationship, and further complicated when Wasps Rugby Club became the lease holder in 2012, and effectively therefore Coventry City’s landlord. This relationship was further strained with abrasive London-based Hedge Fund SISU in control of Coventry City.

By 2013 Coventry City had had enough and announced contingency plans to move out of the Ricoh for the upcoming 2013/14, promoting petitions sent to all 72 Football League clubs urging them to reconsider. Eventually, and with the club facing administration at the time, ACL offered to let Coventry City remain rent-free, at least until they were no longer in administration. However, things were so toxic by then the offer was rejected, and Coventry started the 2013/14 season ground-sharing at Sixfields. In August 2014 an uneasy agreement was reached to allow Coventry City to return to the Ricoh, with none other than Frank Nouble scoring the only goal in a 1-0 victory in front of 27,306.

And still the unease continued – in 2016 news broke that Coventry City were looking at a groundshare arrangement with Coventry Rugby Club, a concept eventually buried by the rugby club who confirmed there would be no deal whilst SISU remained in charge. In 2019 talks between SISU and Wasps over a new lease broke down, and out went Coventry City again, this time to groundshare at St Andrews, eventually returning at the start of this season. Still though they haven’t settled and have already announced plans to co-develop a new stadium in partnership with the University of Warwick.

All in all then, and with the benefit of hindsight, Coventry City fans must be wondering whether they should have ever left Highfield Road in the first place – a city centre venue famed for its hostile intimidating atmosphere. Still, not something for Steve Whitton to worry about as the U’s lined up:

31..Richard McKinney
4….Gavin Johnson
19..Alan White
24..Pat Baldwin
10..Kem Izzet
6….Thomas Pinault (23..Leke Odunsi 45’)
20..Micky Stockwell
17..Bobby Bowry
3….Joe Keith
9….Scott McGleish
11..Dean Morgan (26..Lloyd Opara 66’)

This was of course a bit of a home-coming for Steve Whitton, after spending the first five years of his professional career at Coventry City. At the time, Coventry City were a First Division side, and although struggling to break into the play-off zone, still had players of a calibre such as the G-Men Gary Caldwell, Gary McSheffrey and player-manager Gary McCallister available. They also had David Pipe on the bench too – not a big name to me then, but someone who many years later I’d watch tear Brennan Dickenson a new one at Newport County, in a face-off that the Geneva Convention should have had something to say about.

I drove up for this game, and after a bit of a struggle trying to find street-parking anywhere within walking distance of the ground, I eventually took my place amongst quite a sizeable (and definitely vocal) following of what must have been 2-300 of the faithful from Essex in an otherwise poor crowd of just over 6,000. Before the match a respectful silence was observed for the first anniversary of the Twin Towers attack, a moment also commemorated on the front cover of a remarkably slim programme.

Good job I got there in time too, because 14 seconds after kick-off the U’s were 1-0 down. A calamitous rash challenge from Alan White was easily evaded by Dean Gordon, who racing away swung in a perfect cross for Gary McSheffrey to volley into essentially an empty net. Not the best of starts, and with their tails up Coventry continued to press and show why they were a division above the U’s. After 15 minutes player-manager McAllister demonstrated his class by curling in a 20-yard free kick, awarded for a soft foul by Pat Baldwin pulling the shirt of captain John Eustace.

And that, I thought, was that – we didn’t look likely to be able to get back into the game, and far more likely to completely fold and concede a hatful. But the U’s rallied, and having already gone close with a swivelled shot from Micky Stockwell that the Sky Blues ‘keeper Fabien Debec did well to stop, started to get a foothold in the game. I wouldn’t say we were dominating, but certainly holding our own without really carving out any clear-cut chances. We weren’t helped on occasion by officials who seemed to be struggling with the ‘you can’t be offside from a throw-in’ rule, but it would be wrong to suggest that was the only reason we were losing.

Into the second half Whitts subbed Odunsi for Pinault to try and stiffen up the midfield, and whilst it kind of worked, still we weren’t really carving out any decent chances. It was turning into a bit of a battle off the pitch too, with a solitary Coventry City supporter inviting the lairier elements of our following to come and join him on the other side of the netting separating us – an invitation our own were keen to try and take up, though thwarted by said netting…and eventually the stewards.

As the half wore on, our efforts to try and get back into the game grew more and more frantic, inevitably leaving gaps at the back as a result. Dean Morgan was replaced by livewire Lloyd Opara, which briefly made a difference – only to be countered shortly after by the introduction of David Pipe. Eventually, with six minutes to go a gap in the U’s defence was exploited, with that man Pipe swinging in a peach of a cross for Lee Mills to make no mistake with a far-post header. And that was that, we’d made a valiant effort, and the 3-0 score line was a little harsh, but still it was the right result and the U’s departed the Worthington Cup.

Coventry City 3 (Gary McSheffrey 1’; Gary McAllister 15’; Lee Mills 83’) Colchester United 0

As if that wasn’t bad enough, this game was the start of a run of six successive defeats through September and into October for Steve Whitton’s U’s, by the end of which we found ourselves in the relegation zone. Steady improvement from there through to nearly Christmas saw the U’s climb back up to lower mid-table, and whilst there was still some ups and downs to come, an excellent run through February to April saw the U’s finish in a respectable 12th place.

I’ll be more than happy with a repeat of that in 2022, so Happy New Year everyone, and fingers-crossed I’ll see some of you somewhere on our travels before the end of the season.
Transfer rumours
at 11:26 29 Dec 2021

Two currently doing the rounds - Wiredu might be off to Forest, presumably for a decent fee and/or player exchange, and we’re close to signing Ryan Loft from Scunnie for a reported £50k fee.
U'sual Champions League qualification
at 13:39 24 Dec 2021

Given the ongoing impact that Covid infection cases are having on the fixture list, and having consulted with mfb_cufc, this is to confirm that the preference is that the qualifiers will be determined after the requisite 160 predictions. Whilst we still hope that concludes on Saturday 1st January, which as things stand will be a 14-match round following the loss of four (so far) of the Boxing Day fixtures, if further postponements impact those 14 games chosen and thus fail to achieve the 160 predictions required, to be equitable to all qualification will extend to Saturday 8th January, but no further. If we still haven't reached 160 matches by then, we will call a halt and identify the qualifiers at that point.
When Saturday Comes #19
at 14:54 19 Dec 2021

When Saturday Comes…and the U’s find themselves fixtureless again, following Hartlepool’s request to postpone the game because of positive Covid tests amongst their squad. To heap further fixture congestion problems on the U’s, in short order Forest Green Rovers did likewise for our already rearranged match at the New Lawn on Tuesday night, and for the same reason. They’re not on their own either, with in all (so far) four Premier League and 19 EFL matches postponed today – all for positive Covid tests in their squads.
When Saturday Comes #19
at 14:53 18 Dec 2021

When Saturday Comes…and the U’s find themselves fixtureless again, following Hartlepool’s request to postpone the game because of positive Covid tests amongst their squad. To heap further fixture congestion problems on the U’s, in short order Forest Green Rovers did likewise for our already rearranged match at the New Lawn on Tuesday night, and for the same reason. They’re not on their own either, with in all (so far) four Premier League and 19 EFL matches postponed today – all for positive Covid tests in their squads.

TWTWTW for U’s World
For this blog, which I confess will be shorter than usual as a result, it therefore seemed appropriate that the world at large and life inside the Col U bubble be treated as one, because the only thing dominating both headlines is the Covid pandemic. Whilst specific details haven’t been released, it seems reasonable to assume a large proportion of these positive tests must be down to the new Omicron variant – reportedly less hazardous to health than previous variants, but significantly more infectious.

It is alarming that the UK infection rates, rapidly increasing day on day, have now exceeded the post-Christmas spike at the beginning of the year, and don’t look like slowing down any day soon either. Whilst it is some consolation that the mortality rate at the moment remains relatively low, at about 100 deaths per day through December, that’s still 100 personal tragedies for bereaving families to deal with, and frankly 100 too many.

The UK is currently at about 75% of the population having received one or more vaccine jabs (I have my booster tomorrow), with the older age categories (i.e. 40+) now levelled off since more or less the middle of the year. Since becoming available to younger age groups, although vaccination levels for many age brackets are still rising, alarmingly the rates for those in the 20-39 range (i.e. most professional footballers) are likewise starting to level off.

In this context, the world of football probably shouldn’t be surprised that an estimated 25% of players in the EFL are reportedly stating they do not intend to get vaccinated. As unpalatable as that sounds, particularly given the responsibility these young men carry as role models in their community, it is nevertheless proportionate with attitudes in the general public. It is both disgraceful and selfish in equal measure, but sadly not surprising. I have no idea how Colchester United vaccination rates compare to these figures, nor indeed do I have any right to know. We’ve had a few positive cases since the pandemic began, not least Tom Eastman relatively recently, but I would hope given Robbie’s clearly stated position on Covid, and of course use of the JobServe as a vaccination centre, that these factors has been a significantly positive influence on players and officials alike.

So, what can government, or the EFL, or even clubs do about the unvaccinated. I’ve offered one suggestion already, sh’t-can every one of them to the stiffs (or better still, send them home) until they do get a vaccination. Harsh, and no doubt that would have the “you can’t take away my freedom” crowd foaming at the mouth, but whilst they hang around the socially responsible, they threaten not only the health of others, but the health of their clubs too. In time, as this situation undoubtedly worsens, I fear they’ll threaten the likelihood that this will season even finish.

Boris’s Plan B (from Outer Space?) is a typically limp lacklustre effort – proof of vaccinations for nightclubs and larger venues is good, a somewhat ambiguous mandatory but not really mandatory requirement for facemasks in most indoor settings much less so. We already have clubs like Lincoln City and Carlisle United officially reducing their capacities to 9,999 just to side-step the guidelines. The truth is, even if the Omicron variant is significantly less fatal, there is a very real threat that our NHS will be overwhelmed with hospitalisations, and all because far too many people are still refusing to get vaccinated. Needless, to say, the effectiveness of Boris’s Plan B was always going to be undermined by the parallel news of how willingly his party decided to ignore Covid restrictions when it suited their own purpose.

Of course, the real solution must be education – understand why people are refusing to be vaccinated, explain the facts and science behind any vaccination programme, and allow logic and reason to take control. There are always going to be those who for good reason can’t be vaccinated (even down to needle phobia), and we do have to respect this, but sadly most of the anti-vaxxers are simply fed on a diet of social media misinformation and conspiracy theories. For me, that’s why it’s time to get tough – if logic and reason won’t work for them, time they were ostracised. No access to social venues, no access to public transport, no access to overseas travel. It’s tantamount to bullying, and feels wrong on every level, but if the socially irresponsible can’t be relied on to protect themselves and the rest of the community, what else can we do?

Stat attack
Enough doom and gloom graphs and numbers, let’s think about more joyous occasions, like for instance Christmas just seven days away. As there’ll be no more football for the U’s until Boxing Day, I thought a quick look at Christmas Day fixtures would be appropriate. I figured we must have played at least once on Christmas Day in our history but was surprised to learn that post-war and well into the 1950s it was a surprisingly regular feature of the festive period. In fact, more surprising still, often these were home and away fixtures against the same team played on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. I think I’m correct in saying that Christmas Day matches were morning kick-offs, presumably to leave time for the family turkey roast after?

The U’s have played eight times on Christmas Day between 1946 and 1956, six of these matches at Layer Road. Nearly always against relatively local sides, for good reason, Gillingham have featured three times in these matches. Likewise in the general Southern/ Eastern England bracket were matches against Queens Park Rangers, Aldershot and Norwich City, but the trend was bucked somewhat in 1948 and 1950, pairing us with Gloucester and Nottingham Forest respectively.

Overall, we’ve won three Christmas Day fixtures, drawn four and lost just one – the latter our very first Christmas Day fixture, a 1-0 defeat at home to Gillingham. Graeson’s ColuData website has included a transcription of the Essex County Standard’s report of that very first festive encounter on his match details page, which is definitely worth a read.


Match of the Day
Colchester United v Queens Park Rangers
25th December 1953
Third Division South (Tier 3)
Attendance 6,155

Match of the Day for WSC19 is a festive special, simply because I’m unlikely to be able to post anything next Saturday, what with it being Christmas Day and all that, as we go back to our 1953 Christmas Day fixture at home to Queens Park Rangers. It’s also going to be inevitably sparse on details too I’m afraid, by virtue of the fact it took place nearly ten years before I was born, and a match for which there seems to be very little record of on the internet.

What would appear to be a bumper crowd of 6,155 gathered at Layer Road for the visit of QPR. At least at first look it resembles a bumper crowd, but in truth back then our average gate was significantly higher, and this was actually quite a poor attendance in comparison. I can’t be absolutely certain, but I think only our home attendance of 6,035 against dear friends Southend United on the last day of the season (more on that later) was lower? In context, just six days earlier than the QPR game, 10,316 had jammed into Layer Road to watch us lose 2-1 to league leaders Ipswich Town.

At the time, the U’s were managed by Jack Butler, but therein lies a fascinating story. Our previous manager Jimmy Allen had resigned at the end of the previous season after narrowly avoiding re-election. With the U’s also struggling financially off the pitch at the time, on 11th June the Board appointed relatively unknown Ron Meades as player-manager – a kind of two for the price of one deal I guess. Ron’s CV included time at Cardiff City, and more recently as manager at Wadebridge Town, but local journo Arthur Wood smelled a rat and started digging. Within a few days Ron’s experience was exposed as mostly the work of fiction, and four days later the Board reversed their decision and politely asked Mr Meades to depart.

Ron Meades (right)…apparently?

As a result, former Arsenal player (and Belgium World Cup finalist manager) Jack Butler was hurriedly appointed, but with very little time to prepare for the season ahead, and despite winning three of our four opening fixtures, we rapidly slid down the table and into the re-election zone after that 2-1 home defeat against Ipswich. Desperate to turn things around, Jack Butler’s U’s lined up on Christmas Day:
1….George Wright
2….John Harrison
3….Fred Lewis
4….Harry Bearryman
5….Roy Bicknell
6….Jimmy Elder
7….Augie Scott
8….Bert Barlow
9….Kevin McCurley
10..Johnny McKim
11..Doug Keene

I’m not certain who was what from the squad above, but in the context of the world at large at that time it is worth remembering that of a squad of 28 Butler had to call upon, just 16 were full-time professionals and the remainder were either part-time or National Servicemen posted to Colchester Barracks.

That being said, the match stats indicate that those who gathered at Layer Road on that cold Christmas Day were served up some suitably festive entertainment. Inside forward Herbert ‘Bert’ Barlow, signed from Leicester City for £1,000 in 1952, opened the scoring on 22 minutes. Just six minutes later another inside forward, this time Scotsman Johnny McKim (also signed for £1,000 though this time from Chelsea in 1950), doubled the U’s lead, and that’s how it stayed until half-time.

Courtesy of https://www.coludata.co.uk/

Into the second half, and Colchester’s dominance continued, with Barlow getting his second of the match and the U’s third on 56 minutes. Not to be outdone, inside forward Augustus ‘Augie’ Scott weighed in with another eight minutes later to make it 4-0. Augie had been signed in 1951 from Southampton by previous manager Jimmy Allen, for a then record transfer fee of £2,000. There is a degree of uncertainty here, as both Coludata and Wikipedia state that Scott’s last goal for the U’s was our consolation against Ipswich on the 19th December, but here he is seemingly scoring another. I can only assume therefore that this Christmas Day goal must have been his last for the U’s.

To wrap up the perfect Christmas present for the long-suffering U’s faithful that season, two minutes later Johnny McKim grabbed his second to deliver an emphatic 5-0 victory for the U’s.

Colchester United 5 (Bert Barlow 22’, 56’; Johnny McKim 28’, 66’; Augie Scott 64’) Queens Park Rangers 0

The very next day the U’s travelled to Loftus Road for the return fixture and ground out a credible Boxing Day 0-0 draw in front of 10,674. Although heralding a brief upturn in form, and with a subsequent victory at fellow relegation strugglers Crystal Palace and then a draw at home to Newport County, the U’s clambered their way out of the re-election zone.

To no avail though, and by the end of January we were back in the mire and would stay there until the end of an abysmal season, with Barlow highest goalscorer on 10 goals. Alongside perennial wooden-spoonists Walsall, the U’s had to apply for re-election for the first time in their history. Though these things were never quite guaranteed, the U’s received 45 votes to comfortably see off any danger of being relegated, an experience we would sadly repeat the very next season, this time finish bottom of the league.

Anyway – enough of that – wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, and a healthy, wealthy and prosperous New Year!
When Saturday Comes #18
at 14:48 12 Dec 2021

A little later than usual today I’m afraid – ‘tis the season to be jolly and all that, so I have just been out for the obligatory Xmas tree – bah humbug. Mind you, I was treated to the sight of literally hundreds of Santas (and the occasional elf) on a charity fun run through Calne on the way, which for want of a better expression was certainly surreal. Officially entitled Santa’s Scamper, the entry fee for participants goes to charitable causes, and to date the organisers have raised nearly £8k for charities such as Wiltshire Air Ambulance, Dorothy House, Hope for Tomorrow, Barnardos and of course their main charity every year, Hannah’s Trees – well done Santas!
When Saturday Comes #18
at 14:46 11 Dec 2021

A little later than usual today I’m afraid – ‘tis the season to be jolly and all that, so I have just been out for the obligatory Xmas tree – bah humbug. Mind you, I was treated to the sight of literally hundreds of Santas (and the occasional elf) on a charity fun run through Calne on the way, which for want of a better expression was certainly surreal. Officially entitled Santa’s Scamper, the entry fee for participants goes to charitable causes, and to date the organisers have raised nearly £8k for charities such as Wiltshire Air Ambulance, Dorothy House, Hope for Tomorrow, Barnardos and of course their main charity every year, Hannah’s Trees – well done Santas!

Santa’s Scamper 2020

So of course, much of this week has witnessed government ministers and officials trying to cope with collective amnesia about the Conservative Party…sorry, the Conservative Party party. Remember last Christmas? Boris didn’t exactly give us his heart, but the very next day he certainly threw it away. As families faced the reality they couldn’t be with loved ones because of the government lockdown rules, for some of whom it would probably have been their last chance to see each other, 10 Downing Street decided it was okay to throw a Christmas bash.

Let’s be clear here, on 16th December 2020 Boris put London on Tier 3 lockdown, banning mixing indoors between households. Whilst the vast majority of Londoners got on with cancelling plans to be together over the festive period, two days later the Conservative Party ignored its own rules (no surprise there, I’m amazed they didn’t decide to hold it in Barnard Castle), stuck two fingers up at the electorate, and partied on. The video of Allegra Stratton and colleagues laughing and joking about it on 22nd December makes this all the more galling.

Not fit to govern

Of course, it’s not just about them following the same rules we must, it’s about setting an example – a test they seem to fail time and time again. The real damage, and recent surveys back this up, is that a whopping 77% of the general population now feel far less inclined to follow any further Covid restrictions, and with the omicron variant surging through the population at a rate of nearly 50k new cases every day, heaven knows what this will mean in our struggle just to be rid of this fecking pandemic.

Closer to home
Only one story to report here from U’s World – the incredible third round performance of our Young U’s in the FA Youth Cup last night. Fair play to the club, they did try to make the stream available for those who couldn’t be there to watch, but the technology failed them this time, and after barely 30 minutes of a predominantly static out of focus view of just one half of the pitch, the feed had to be cut.

No matter, I took to Twitter to keep tabs on progress, and despite what looked (through the fog of the match analysis camera feed) like a very talented Arsenal academy side, the U’s took the lead virtually on half-time with a Ryan Lowe penalty, after regular 1st teamer Samson Tovide was brought down in the box. Easily holding their own against their illustrious opponents throughout the second half, Tovide put the result beyond doubt with a delightful glancing header from a Lowe pinpoint free-kick with ten minutes late, and in injury-time Kaan Bennett put the cherry on the cake with a third goal drilled into the bottom right corner.

The U’s already know their fourth round opponents, away at Newcastle United – not sure if that’ll be at St James’s Park or not, but I think (?) I read somewhere it wouldn’t be – not sure. For those that sometimes question the benefit of our Category 2 academy, it is worth pausing to consider that teams already through are dominated by Premier League, Championship and a smattering of League 1 sides (including academy officianados Crewe Alexandra). We join Cheltenham Town as the only League 2 representatives through so far, which is a fantastic performance.

Who are ya?
Formed from the amalgamation of Walsall Town and Walsall Swifts in 1888, the club originally took the name Walsall Town Swifts, and were admitted as founder members of the Second Division in 1892, a position they relinquished when failing to be re-elected two years later. For the 1895 season, after moving into Fellows Park, they joined the Midland League, and in 1896 changed their name to simply Walsall Football Club. After a brief return to the Second Division a year later, by then of the 19th-century they were back in the Midland League and wouldn’t return to the Football League until after the Great War. Since then, they’ve mostly been a Tier 3 club, occasionally (like now) dropping down to the basement, and very occasionally making it to the Championship.

Hence, like the U’s, Walsall have spent most of their existence in the bottom two tiers of English football, and hence are a common opponent for the U’s. Since we joined the Third Division South back in 1950, we’ve met each other 70 times, including once in an Associate Members Cup fixture back in March 1985 – a game we lost 1-0. Anyone now wondering therefore how come that leaves an odd number of league fixtures, Walsall was one of the fixtures we lost because of the Covid curtailment of the 2019/20 season.

As for the stats, it couldn’t really be more even, with 25 victories, 25 defeats and 20 matches drawn. Notable results include a 6-1, 5-1 and 5-0 victories at Layer Road, the last one under Phil Parkinson in January 2005. More recently, there was of course the epic 4-4 draw at the Jobserve under Tony Humes in October 2015. On the receiving end, Benny Fenton’s U’s were spanked 4-0 at Layer Road in March 1961, and there have been two 4-2 and one 5-2 drubbings, all at Fellows Park. Probably of greatest note, and with reference to the article earlier about longest sequences without defeat, Walsall were our 20th and final opponent in Benny Fenton’s record-breaking streak of games without defeat, a 2-1 victory at Layer Road in April 1957.

A bit like Griffin Park for users of the M4 elevated section in West London, the Bescot is a familiar sight for long-suffering users of the M6. Invariably, given the area is usually snarled up at the junction of the M5 and M6 just a few hundred yards to the east, they get a chance for a long careful look too. The Bescot is a relatively new ground, built in 1988/89, and opened in 1990 by the late great Sir Stanley Matthews. I never visited their previous ground Fellows Park, but the Bescot is an awayday I’ve made on more than a few occasions since opening – though sadly not today (Christmas tree etc.).

Match of the Day
Colchester United v Bristol Rovers
7th May 2011
Npower Football League One (Tier 3)
Attendance 4,759

Match of the Day for WSC18 and the random match selector has chosen another victory (I can hear the cheers from Durham from here). This is one of those matches that I have no memorabilia archive for, other than a scribbled entry on the family calendar “Last game of the season – Home to Brizzle Rovers”. I’ve already mentioned my preference to always try and get to the first and last games of each season, and this was one of those, as the curtain came down on the 2010/11 season.

It had been a difficult week for me too, after finally persuading Mum that she needed to move out of our family home on Greenstead and into something a bit more manageable for her at Highwoods, and in the middle of the week I found myself in Essex helping my sisters clear and clean our old home. Quite emotional really, we’d all been brought up there by Mum on her own and had watched as our edge of estate house with fields stretching off into the distance was engulfed in more and more housing. Still, as a young boy, building sites were excellent playgrounds, so I wasn’t complaining!

For the day of the match, Em was on an early shift at the hospital, so me and Alfie took the train over from Warminster, a pretty easy trip by any measure, undoubtedly helped enormously by the existence back then of the shuttle buses. At Liverpool Street we met up with a fair few of the Gas supporters, many in fancy dress and all out for a good day despite relegation for Rovers already confirmed. They were friendly good-natured bunch, in fact I’ve never encountered any animosity from Bristolian football supporters, whether red or blue.

With leading goalscorer loanee David Mooney side-lined (can’t remember why), John Ward’s U’s lined up that afternoon:
1….Ben Williams
3….Lee Beevers
20..Brian Wilson
25..John White
28..Matt Heath (captain)
8….John-Joe O'Toole (33..Jordan Sanderson 81’)
14..Andy Bond (10..Kemi Izzet 89’)
26..Lloyd James
7….Ashley Vincent
15..Kayode Odejayi
16..Ian Henderson

Rovers were already relegated, but it had been a reasonably solid season for the U’s, and although the play-offs were now beyond us, a credible upper mid-table finish beckoned for John Ward in his first season in charge. Always well-supported anyway, Bristol Rovers fans had arrived in very good numbers (and voice) to swell the crowd to nearly 5k and jammed into the East stand for this game.

As for the match, you could have been forgiven for not realising neither side had little to play for, as the U’s put Bristol Rovers under pressure right from kick-off. Very early on Gas ‘keeper Conrad Logan did well to save efforts from both JJ and Andy Bond, with his defender Charlie Clough coming to his rescue to clear an effort from Ian Henderson off the line. It only seemed a matter of time before the U’s would take the lead, and that moment finally arrived just before the half-hour mark.

Bursting down the wing, Lloyd James swung in a deep cross which, climbing highest, Odejayi headed back across the box, to be met by a sweet and unstoppable volley by Ian Henderson, and the travelling supporters were silenced by the JobServe roar. We weren’t done either, and barely had the celebrations settled down when Henderson, latching on to a blocked shot by Vincent and twisting and turning his marker Ben Swallow inside out, drilled home to make it 2-0 with his second after just 30 minutes.

It remained 2-0 through to half-time, but credit where it’s due, Bristol Rovers didn’t give up on the pitch, nor on the terrace, and roared on by their travelling support, took the game to the U’s into the second half. Although we were still making our own chances, with Clough clearing another effort off his line – this time from John-Joe O’Toole – and Logan dealing with a decent long-range effort by John White, much more of the action was now taking place in our own half.

On the hour mark Gas manager Stuart Campbell made the first change, bringing on Eliot Richards for Wayne Brown (no, not that one), and less than ten minutes later Rovers got the goal back their efforts probably deserved, with Richards rising highest to head home Gavin Williams deep free-kick. Now the U’s really were in a battle, and with less than ten minutes to go John-Joe O’Toole’s attacking threat was sacrificed for Jordan Sanderson’s more defence-minded capabilities. Still Bristol Rovers pressed, yet despite a flurry of additional substitutions as the 90th minute approached, they couldn’t break down a resilient U’s, who finished the 2010/11 season with a 2-1 victory.

Colchester United 2 (Ian Henderson 28’, 30’) Bristol Rovers 1 (Eliot Richard 72’)

Bristol Rovers, given their vastly inferior goal difference, were relegated to League Two. It was actually quite a bad season for the South West in general, with Plymouth and Swindon joining them, alongside our local rivals Dagenham & Redbridge.

The U’s finished 10th, four places and nine points from the play-offs, which all things considered was not a bad start for John Ward as manager. Ward would go on to repeat the feat the following season, again finishing 10th, before a disastrous run of nine games without a win in 2012/13 saw him sacked by Robbie Cowling. Ironically, he left Colchester to re-join Bristol Rovers as manager, a team he da originally manager back in the mid 90s.

David Mooney was released by his parent club Reading in the summer, and although we were very keen to sign him, John Ward had already admitted he was concerned we’d be priced out of the inevitable bidding war for his signature. That turned out to be the case, and Mooney eventually signed for fellow League One side Leyton Orient, who had missed out on the play-offs by just one point – that signature no doubt assisted by the chequebook of then chairman Barry Hearn.
[Post edited 11 Dec 2021 15:25]
U's v Arsenal FA Youth Cup
at 16:40 10 Dec 2021

If you've missed the announcement, this is going to be streamed via the match analysis camera this evening - kick-off 7pm.

When Saturday Comes #17
at 13:03 5 Dec 2021

Honestly dahling, playing on a Saturday is so passé these days. Yep, When Saturday Comes and yet again we’re not playing on a Saturday afternoon, meeting the 2013 FA Cup winners Wigan Athletic at the dreadfully uncivilised kick-off time of Sunday lunchtime at 12.30pm. Mind you, the only one of our six games in November that we lost, the Stevenage horror show, was also the only one played on a Saturday afternoon, so maybe I shouldn’t complain too much about rearranged kick-offs? If our improved performances avoiding Saturday afternoon continues into December, I certainly won’t be complaining, with five of our seven scheduled matches also on days other than a Saturday.
When Saturday Comes #17
at 13:02 4 Dec 2021

Honestly dahling, playing on a Saturday is so passé these days. Yep, When Saturday Comes and yet again we’re not playing on a Saturday afternoon, meeting the 2013 FA Cup winners Wigan Athletic at the dreadfully uncivilised kick-off time of Sunday lunchtime at 12.30pm. Mind you, the only one of our six games in November that we lost, the Stevenage horror show, was also the only one played on a Saturday afternoon, so maybe I shouldn’t complain too much about rearranged kick-offs? If our improved performances avoiding Saturday afternoon continues into December, I certainly won’t be complaining, with five of our seven scheduled matches also on days other than a Saturday.

Fortunately, Alfie’s PCR test result (and his Mum’s) came back negative midweek, though Granny was less fortunate and is currently convalescing at home feeling grotty with Covid. Having taken the precaution of staying away from the County Ground until we had those results, me and Alfie are now fit and raring to go and will be in the South Stand on Sunday along with four others in our bubble. Mind you, the lunchtime kick-off does mean a stupid o’clock departure from Wiltshire.

I must admit, given the match has only been selected for ‘extended highlights’ I was a bit perplexed as to why the kick-off had to be rearranged at all. I’m still not crystal on it, but am led to believe it might be to do with broadcasting the game live overseas (or something like that?) – as in the Beeb have gone to all the trouble of deploying an outdoor broadcast team, so presumably want to recoup some of that expenditure overseas? Can’t imagine U’s v Wigan would be much of a draw, but there’s nowt so queer as folk I suppose. Still, the extra £12k in January’s transfer kitty will do very nicely indeed thank you very much.

Much of the column inches this week, virtual and actual, have been taken up with the emergence of the Omicron variant of the Covid-19. If you didn’t know, the World Health Organisation decided to name each of the Covid variants after letters of the Greek alphabet, to provide a global referencing system that everyone could follow. Omicron is the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet, but this is the 13th variant – why the difference I hear to say? Apparently, WHO skipped the 13th letter Nu simply because everyone (well, English-speaking nations at the very least) would hear new instead and skipped 14th letter Xi because of the obvious Chinese connotations associated with that name.

You might feel a little prick…

For those of you who are already ‘boosted’ (mine’s due the weekend before Xmas), medical researchers believe the booster jab will not only massively strengthen the body’s defence against Covid in general, but in particular against the Omicron variant. This is great news, but it would be even better news if we still didn’t have far too many people refusing to get vaccinated, refusing to observe simple social-distancing measures, spouting no end of internet self-taught hogwash about the dangers of the vaccines, and their precious right to ‘individual liberty’ (Ed. “…be a worthless member of society” surely?).

The numbers don’t lie, even if anti-vaxxers do

Taking of diseases that are a plague on society, the Yorkshire cricket racism scandal continues to fill the headlines. To date, 16 people have left the club because of the scandal, including director of cricket Martyn Moxon, head coach Andrew Gale and every other member of the coaching staff. Much of the focus so far has been the racially abusive treatment meted out to former player Azeem Rafiq during his time at the club, in a climate described by Rafiq as both “institutionally racist” and “toxic”. So far, thirty-six people have contacted an independent whistleblower hotline set up to provide the opportunity for other victims of discrimination at the club to have a voice – and that’s in just the first week of it being live!

Closer to home
Well of course the big news for the U’s was our imperious mid-week victory at Swindon Town to progress through the first knock-out stage of the Papa John’s Trophy. I say imperious, because as the first half wore on, and with the U’s in complete control, we could have easily been 4 or 5 nil up. Were it not for a goal line clearance we could have had the remarkable first half hat-trick of three headed goals by Chambers from three inch-perfect assists by Judge.

Inevitably Swindon did finally get themselves into some semblance of order and snatched a barely deserved goal back on the stroke of half-time. We held on though and will discover our opponents in the next round draw on Saturday afternoon. Also in the Southern Section hat are Cambridge, Charlton, MK Dons, Sutton Utd, Chelsea U21s and the winner of the Exeter v Portsmouth being played later in the month. Amusingly, it will also include Arsenal U21s, after our dear friends up the A12 managed to throw away a two-goal lead over them, eventually losing in the penalty shoot-out.

Certainly of interest to the Faithful, former consultant advisor Paul Tisdale signed on the dotted line for Stevenage during the week. A somewhat surprising move as far as I was concerned – I would have assumed he could have done much better than that with his CV. Inevitably some have speculated why therefore could we not have persuaded him to stay at Colchester United following his successful stint alongside Hayden saving us from relegation last year?

It’s a good question, and the fact that he has taken a pure ‘Manager’ role at Stevenage, rather than the ‘Head Coach’ style structure at Colchester United might have something to do with it. However, I’m not so certain – in fact I’m not so certain staying more permanently at the U’s was ever even an option, from either party’s perspective. He came, did a good job, and went way again, and for that I am grateful and wish him well in his time at Stevenage (though obviously not at our expense please). Stevenage play at the JobServe on 9th April next year – if Tis is still there it will be interesting to see the reception he receives.

Who are ya?
Wigan’s arrival on Sunday will be the first time we’ve played them in a cup competition, all other encounters being in the Third and Fourth Divisions. Like us, the Latics are a relatively young club in the grand scheme of things, founded just five years before the U’s in 1932. However, unlike the U’s it then took them until 1978 to make it into the Football League, albeit in slightly controversial circumstances.

Finishing second behind champions Boston United in the Northern Premier League, Wigan were put forward for election to the Football League because Boston’s ground at that time didn’t meet Football League requirements. However, with no automatic promotion and relegation, that required one from Hartlepool United, York City, Southport or Rochdale to be voted out. As often seems to be the case in these situations, this effectively became a popularity contest for those facing re-election, a popularity contest that Wigan eventually won in a re-vote at the expense of local rivals Southport (who finished 7pts ahead of bottom club Rochdale).

Our paths first crossed a few years later in 1981, with Wigan winning 2-1 at Layer Road over Bobby Roberts side. In fact, they did the double the following March with a 3-2 victory at Springfield Park. And that was that, at the end of the season Wigan were promoted, the U’s finished in 6th place, and our paths wouldn’t cross again for over ten years.

The 90s and early 00s were really the heyday of matches between the fellow blue and white stripes, and between 1993 and 2003 we’d play 18 times home and away, the U’s winning eight, drawing three and losing seven – not a terrible record to be fair. During that ten-year period we neither scored nor conceded more than three goals in a game, only failed to score on four occasions, and more worryingly only managed a clean sheet on three occasions – and we’ve never finished 0-0 either, so expect some goals on Sunday.

At the end of the 2002/03 season our paths diverged again, with Wigan crowned champions of Nationwide Football League 2, and on their way to their longest period of sustained success, including eight years in the Premier League. Ironically, in the same 2012/13 season under Roberto Martinez that they were eventually relegated from the Premier League, they also won the FA Cup – an unenviable record that no one else has ever laid claim to.

Their decline didn’t stop there either, and two years later lined up against the U’s back in the 3rd tier of English Football. However, it was a tough reality check for Tony Humes and the U’s, who were battered mercilessly 5-0 in October 2015 (in front of a record attendance of 8,048 for matches between us). The return fixture was a better performance for the U’s, conceding a 90th minute equaliser to finish an entertaining match 3-3. At the end of the season Wigan were promoted champions, and we were relegated to the basement.

Match of the Day
Cardiff City v Colchester United
20th November 2001
Nationwide Football League Second Division (Tier 3)
Attendance 8,013

Match of the Day for WSC17 is a return to the random match selector from my memorabilia. However, Madame La Chance shows her impish side by yet again managing to pluck connections from the ether. With a hardy 58 making the trip to Swindon on Tuesday (could have been 59 with me there too), I was reminded at the time of what I think is still our fewest band of travelling supporters, just 53 making the trip almost exactly 20 years ago to Ninian Park. Lo and behold, what does the random match selector do but choose that very match from my list.

Being 20 years ago, I will of course have to rely on more than just memory from this one, not least having to also rely on our Wikipedia pages, Graeson’s excellent ColUData website and the Evening Gazette archives. What I do recall very clearly was why I was there in the first place. My company had been commissioned to produce a desk-based assessment of a former quarry high in the Brecon Beacons.

I can’t remember what the actual development threat was, but desk-based assessments always involve visits to local studies libraries, other archive repositories and of course a site walkover. Hence I found myself driving over the Principality early on the Monday morning to do just that. This was always going to be more than one day of work whilst away, so with one eye on the possibility I set about my duties determined if possible to get wrapped up with enough time to detour over to Ninian Park en route back to Wiltshire.

It was tight, particularly as the walkover took longer than expected (and the site was far more isolated than expected too), but nevertheless I managed to pull into the stadium car park with about 15 minutes to spare, grab a ticket and take my place amongst the brave 53. It was a very cold night, but even if it had been a balmy summers evening, Old skool Ninian Park was always a no colours, coat buttoned up tight sort of place to visit. As many others will have experienced, I was acutely aware that much of the ‘friendly’ locals in the pen to our right were far more interested in staring malevolently at us than watching the match they’d paid to see.

With Kemi Izzet missing due to an Achilles injury sustained in our FA Cup draw against York City at Layer Rd on the Saturday, Sideways Bob was recalled to Steve Whitton’s squad, and the U’s lined up that evening:
29..Andy Woodman
7….Karl Duguid
5….Ross Johnson
12..Scott Fitzgerald
4….Gavin Johnson
3….Joe Keith (21..Kevin Rapley 71’)
15..Thomas Pinault
17..Bobby Bowry
2….Joe Dunne
20..Micky Stockwell (16..Dean Morgan 77’)
9….Scott McGleish

The U’s were facing one of the most expensive squads assembled in our division at that time. Manager Alan Cork’s Cardiff City boasted a host of big names in their line-up, not least Peter Thorne, Graham Kavanagh, Leo Fortune-West and of course Robert Earnshaw – all of them £1m+ rated players, and Earnshaw on his own probably worth more than all of Colchester United, players and officials, combined. Throw in the talents of, for instance, long-throw specialist Andy Legg and it was clear we were going to face a very tough test that evening. As the Gazette succinctly put it on the eve of the match “Steve Whitton takes his Colchester United squad into the Cardiff City lion's den tonight for another battle of the haves and have-nots”.

The hype wasn’t misplaced this time, either. Right from the start the U’s were penned back, desperately trying to cope with wave after wave of Bluebird attacks, all the while roared on by a hostile partisan crowd. We weren’t helping ourselves either, with wayward passing and lack of basic ball control constantly handing the ball back to Cardiff just as soon as we had a chance to steady things with a bit of possession of our own. It wasn’t all lame ducks though, and special mention has to go out to Ross Johnson and Scott Fitzgerald for throwing themselves into last ditch challenges to prevent near certain goals, nor indeed Andy Woodman who was a match for anything that got through the last line of defence.

At one point I thought (more in hope than expectation) that if we could maybe just hold out until half-time, regroup and re-focus, things might improve in the second half. But, inevitably, our defence was finally breached, albeit it was an annoyingly scrappy goal to concede right in front of us. On 33 minutes, a corner from Kavanagh was flicked on by giant Fortune-West, and in an unseemly struggle at the post, Collins managed to poke the ball in through a forest of legs. Ninian Park erupted.

The goal was no more than Cardiff City deserved, but the manner of its arrival was a real gut-shot to all of us, players and supporters alike. Somehow, despite the setback, the U’s rallied, and whilst Cardiff City still chased and harried the U’s with an intensity, we held out to half-time without conceding another. Time for a Bovril, whilst the pen spent most of the break trying to memorise the faces of every one of us for later.

Into the second half, and a remarkable thing happened. Whether they were under instruction to be more cautious in protecting what they had, or the level of effort in the first half had taken its toll, Cardiff City started to sit back. They were still a first-class side mind you, and whilst we were controlling possession far better, on the hour mark we still hadn’t managed to force ‘keeper Neil Alexander into making a meaningful save.

With less than 20 minutes to go, and sensing we might get something from the game, Whitton rolled the dice and replaced midfielder Joe Keith with striker Kevin Rapley (I know, stop sniggering at the back). It would seem Alan Cork sensed the same possibility, and shortly after sacrificed Fortune-West with Leyton Maxwell to tighten up midfield, and hopefully stifle an area we were starting to control. The natives were restless too, sensing the Bluebirds were losing their grip on the game and loudly bemoaning and berating every lost possession or misplaced pass.

In a final all or nothing move, Whitton brought on Dean Morgan for Micky Stockwell, seemingly sacrificing the midfield to put as much firepower into the frontline as possible – we just needed one chance. Much to the annoyance of the pen, we’d found our voice too, and roared the U’s forward at every opportunity (in so much as 53 people can actually ‘roar’, but the acoustics at Ninian Park were always very good).

And then, with three minutes to go, something magically happened from the least likely of sources. Substitute Dean Morgan floated in a beautiful deep cross from the left, and there virtually on the edge of the box was diminutive Joe Dunne to meet it with a perfect volley, blasting in off the underside of the crossbar, and with Alexander helpless to prevent it. We went berserk, the players went berserk! The perimeter fencing daubed in sticky anti-climb paint was meant to keep spectators off the pitch, only this time it was preventing an ecstatic Dunne and the rest of team from clambering over it to join us in celebration! I remember vividly Joe playing the last few minutes in a shirt covered in gooey brown sludge.

Now my thoughts drifted to how, or even whether we were going to get away from Ninian Park intact, but the U’s hadn’t finished. With Cardiff now desperately holding on to the point, in the final minutes the imperious U’s were all over them, and with literally seconds to spare Scott McGleish charged onto a ball played across the 18-yard line and smashed it goalward. Time seemingly stood still, with Alexander rooted to the spot, but Scotty’s brilliant effort was just inches too high and cleared the bar. Mind you, if it had gone in, I might not be here today to relive it.

Cardiff City 1 (James Collins 33’) Colchester United 1 (Joe Dunne 87’)

As the full-time whistle blew, Cardiff City were booed off the pitch by their own supporters, whilst we cheered and cheered our hearts out. Getting away, I’m pretty sure most of the faithful there that day would have been on the CUSA coach, and all I had to do was mingle amongst others until I reached the safety of my car in the car park. I don’t recall hearing that anyone had any trouble post-match, even if the pen were seriously looking for some.

Although our run up to Christmas was quite positive, keeping distant hopes of squeezing into the play-offs alive, into the second half of the season we fell away badly, and eventually finished in 15th place. Cardiff City, despite all their spending, could only make the play-offs, losing in the semi-finals to eventual play-off winners Stoke City.

We didn’t know it at the time, but that would be the last goal Joe Dunne scored for Colchester United. The following Saturday, in a 1-0 home defeat against Bury, Dunne was stretchered off after 79 minutes with a serious knee injury, and despite major reconstructive surgery on his cartilage and ligaments, he never played for the U’s again – though of course he would still have an important role in the future of the U’s to come.
Jake Turner…
at 19:14 28 Nov 2021

…makes the $ky Bet League Two team of the week, two weeks running!

Well done Jake!!
When Saturday Comes #16
at 14:29 28 Nov 2021

When Saturday Comes, and this time instead of an international break we played yesterday evening, and now have the luxury of sitting back and seeing what’s going to happen around us in the league table. A gritty display last night saw the U’s fight back from a being a goal down, with Freddy netting his 8th of the season, helped in no small measure by an inch-perfect through ball from Alan Judge. Whisper it, but with (at least) 30 competitive matches to go to the end of the season, Freddy’s average of 0.4 goals per game would actually see him reach that mythical ’20 goals per season’ figure – not bad for an Ipswich reject 😊.
When Saturday Comes #16
at 14:28 27 Nov 2021

When Saturday Comes, and this time instead of an international break we played yesterday evening, and now have the luxury of sitting back and seeing what’s going to happen around us in the league table. A gritty display last night saw the U’s fight back from a being a goal down, with Freddy netting his 8th of the season, helped in no small measure by an inch-perfect through ball from Alan Judge. Whisper it, but with (at least) 30 competitive matches to go to the end of the season, Freddy’s average of 0.4 goals per game would actually see him reach that mythical ’20 goals per season’ figure – not bad for an Ipswich reject 😊.

Happy Birthday Freddie!

Others have said, and it can’t be denied, we were second-best to a very good Exiles side last night. Some might even say our performance was actually better against Stevenage, but that is largely down to the quality of the opposition. The big difference though was the determination to fight for something from the game, that never say die attitude, and most importantly (like Exeter) clinical finishing when those few opportunities came our way. We moved two places up the table with the point, a move I fully expect us to relinquish as the results start coming in this afternoon. But that’s not too important right now, it’s the improvement in performances throughout the team that really matters.

Storm Arwen, the first named storm of the 2021/22 season, has been battering the UK overnight, with yours truly wakening this morning to a veritable blizzard howling outside. Fortunately it was short-lived, and what did manage to settle now rapidly melting outside. Others have been less fortunate, with two men sadly killed by falling trees in Northern Ireland and Cumbria, power cuts across the UK, significant structural damage to some houses, and blocked roads and rail tracks disrupting journeys for thousands. The rarely used ‘danger to life’ red warning from the Met office has now passed, but much of the UK is still under amber and yellow warnings, and likely to be for most of the weekend.

A YouGov poll has found that fewer than one in five people in Great Britain now think Brexit has been a success, and 52% actually believing things are worse because of it (compared to 40% at the start of the year). Whether you voted remain or leave, no one can deny that it has been a very difficult year, and one that doesn’t seem to be getting that much better – food and goods shortages on our shelves, the fuel crisis because we don’t have enough HGV drivers, the increasing isolation of Great Britain on the international stage, particularly with our fellow Europeans – all makes grim reading to me.

On the brighter side, we do have car-crash Boris stumbling and mumbling through his speech to the Confederation of British Industry. A truly shambolic incoherent performance by any measure in which he devoted three whole minutes to his family trip to Peppa Pig World. At one point he even compared himself to some form of biblical prophet descending from Mount Sinai to deliver his Net Zero framework to civil servants. As one shrewd commentator has observed, if Boris thinks he’s Moses he should keep taking the tablets.

Closer to home
Not too much to report on in U’s World today that hasn’t already been covered. Black Friday turned out to have a silver lining when Freddie lifted the ball over advancing ‘keeper Joe Day last night. It was good to see Junior Tchamadeu fit enough to be on the bench, and just as good to see Alan Judge alongside him. Even better to see Judge come off the bench to play his vital role in our equaliser. That is what we know he is capable of, so more like that and I reckon we’ll all be in a much happier place by the New Year.

Tuesday night I will be taking the short drive to the County Ground to see if we can progress any further in the Pizza Slice Trophy. I’m not expecting us too, as I suspect Swindon will be itching to exact some revenge after the first team’s smash and grab point in the league, and our U18s denying them a home game against Arsenal in the FA Youth Cup. Still, stranger things have happened, and I’m sure Hayden will want to keep his side in a positive frame of mind for the games that count. That being said, with so few teams in this competition, the prospect of Wembley does get alarmingly close very quickly – fingers-crossed eh.

Stat attack
Not really much point in a stat attack today, our next league opponent won’t be until Wed 8th December when we face a long (and difficult) trip to my former stamping ground Bradford City at Valley Parade.

However, following the U’s bringing Exeter’s 20-match unbeaten run to an end, I have looked a bit more into our own unbeaten run sequences. I’ve already mentioned some of these, but in terms of managers, Ted Fenton was the first to put together a decent run, going unbeaten in 14 matches back in 1947/48. Just under ten years later Benny Fenton set our record with a 20-match unbeaten run in 1956/57.

Roy McDonough managed two significant runs under his command, the first was 18 matches leading up to Xmas in 1991, and he went one better later the same season, a 19-match unbeaten run that finished post-promotion in Division Four in 1992. Steve Wignall equalled that 19-match run in 1997, the 19th and final match of that run our Layer Road victory over Northampton Town in the Auto Windscreens Shield en route to Wembley.

Northampton came to town, we brushed them aside, but admittedly…they gave us a fright

Most of our managers down through the years have taken us on 10+ match unbeaten runs, certainly those who have been around long enough to have the opportunity to do so. Hayden is yet to join that group, but after only 34 matches in charge (including as interim last season), perhaps its unreasonable to have expected him to do so already – tell you what, don’t answer that one. Special mention must of course go to Parky, who not only managed an 11-match run in 2004/05, but went one better with two such runs (10 and 12 matches) in the one season 2005/06. Annoyingly, those two runs were separated by just one match – our Boxing Day visit to the County Ground.

Match of the Day
Swindon Town v Colchester United
26th December 2005
Coca-Cola Football League One (Tier 3)
Attendance 5,531

With one eye on Tuesday’s game in the EFL Trophy, and with more than a nod to unbeaten runs, Match of the Day for WSC16 is a special – and a most rare of beasts, a match I wasn’t actually at. Hence no programme photo, and a complete reliance on whatever I can glean from online sources, not least our excellent Wikipedia presence, Graeson’s ColUData website and the Evening Gazette archives.

I know exactly where I was at the time, and why I wasn’t at the County Ground – Em’s family had decided for this year only rather than have all the hassle and hard work of a Christmas at home, they decided we’d all spend it at a swanky hotel. Not just any swanky hotel either, the one near Southampton that Em’s brother was managing at the time – another good reason to go there, as he couldn’t get off work to spend Christmas with the family, so the family came to him.

At the time of the match, Parky had taken the U’s on a 12 match unbeaten run which had propelled us from 16th up to 4th place – that run including victories in the 1st and 2nd rounds of the FA Cup and the 2nd round and quarter-final of the EFL Trophy (the LDV Vans Trophy as it was then). As a result, hopes were high going into this match, particularly as Swindon were struggling at the foot of the table. More commonplace these days, those of an older generation may also recall that Swindon Town (a classless act at the best of times) also refused to allow Jamie Cureton (then a Swindon Town player on loan to and on fire at the U’s) to take part in the match.

Garcia got the nod alongside Big Chris in place of Cureton, so the U’s lined up:
1….Aidan Davison
2….Greg Halford
5….Wayne Brown
17..John White
18..Liam Chilvers
25..Sam Stockley
4….Neil Danns (10 Kemi Izzet 79’)
6….Kevin Watson
14..Mark Yeates
11..Chris Iwelumo
28..Richard Garcia

There’s remarkably little I can glean from the internet about this game, which in the context is slightly surprising. It was a chilly bright December afternoon across most of the south of England – certainly in Southampton and definitely in Swindon from match reports. By all accounts it wasn’t a bad performance from the U’s, just not a particularly good one either – certainly compared to what U’s fans had grown used to over the previous couple of months.

Perhaps too much turkey and trimmings the day before, but the U’s struggled to impose themselves on a poor Swindon Town team. The U’s were still the better side first half though, with a handful of half-decent chances to take a deserved lead, but for once we’d left our shooting boots at home, or just couldn’t find the killer pass for a goal. As half-time approached, Swindon were gradually getting back into the game, helped in no small part by an impressive debut from striker Ashan Holgate.

The Robins continued this pressure into the second half, during most of which the U’s were starting to look like a team happy to hold on to a point, rather than one pressing for automatic promotion. It wasn’t all one-way traffic mind, and a blistering free-kick from (I think?) Danns or Chilvers had to be expertly finger-tipped around the post by Swindon ‘keeper Rhys Evans.

Swindon Town manager Iffy Onuora was the first to mix things up a bit, replacing Neale McDermott with academy graduate and local lad Michael Pook in midfield. Iffy’s faith in Pook is to his credit, because he had to drop him almost as soon as he was appointed manager after the young lad was convicted of drink-driving, banned for nineteen months and fined £300. The substitution tightened Swindon’s grip on the midfield, a grip that the U’s couldn’t loosen even with tigerish Kemi coming on to replace fancy dan Danns with barely 20 minutes to go.

Still it looked like the U’s might just hold on, and keep the unbeaten run going for one more match, However, deep into injury-time Hameur Bouazza, who’d been brought on to replace the tiring Ashan Holgate, tore down the U’s right wing, fired in a low peach of a cross into the six yard box, and there was Rory Fallon diving headlong to power a header past a helpless Aidan Davison. The County Ground erupted like they’d won the cup, and there was nothing the U’s could do about it.

Swindon Town 1 (Rory Fallon 90+4’) Colchester United 0

Post-match, the Gazette had this to say “Sickening and agonising but in no way unexpected. That is the only way you can sum up the end of Colchester United's superb unbeaten run. It is a rare thing for a team to go without defeat, it has to come. When it does, though, you always hope that it was because your team was beaten by a stronger opponent and that despite giving their all they were beaten and did not simply just allow defeat to happen. Sadly, that was not the case at Swindon Town, the team that are bottom of the Coca-Cola League One, on Boxing Day”.

Harsh words indeed, but Parky was more supportive when reflecting on what overall had been a disappointing performance, stating “ We're still performing well. I don't think one defeat in 13 games is a bad run, it's a good one”. To prove his point, the U’s metaphorically got straight back on the horse and proceeded to embark on another 10-match run, not just unbeaten either, ten straight victories including FA Cup wins over Sheffield United and Derby County (my first meeting with Mr Happy) and an EFL Trophy Southern Section semi-final victory at Cheltenham.

After the Wiltshire club refused to consider either a transfer or another loan period, Cureton returned to Swindon Town in January. To his credit, despite showing they clearly had no concern for Jamie’s development, just their own survival, Cureton stuck to his task and did his level best to save Swindon from relegation. To no avail, so taking his chance when he saw it, Cureton activated a relegation clause in his contract and returned to the U’s on a free transfer – and we all know how that worked out.

A match made in heaven 😊

Although the quality is exceptionally poor, the highlights of our wheels momentarily coming off at the County Ground is still available on YouTube – if you care to watch that is.

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