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Letters from Wiltshire #36
at 18:12 2 Mar 2021

So, Wayne Brown isn’t yet the Messiah it would seem, but nor necessarily is he a very naughty boy either. In a tricky fixture at Forest Green Rovers on Saturday evening, what I saw started as encouraging – the U’s out of the blocks fast, showing pace, urgency, passion even – but sadly lacking in actual quality on the ball. By comparison, FGR had plenty of that, and very quickly gained total dominance across all areas of the pitch, and sliced through us for two goals in quick succession with alarming ease. It probably would have been more of the same in the second half, but for the red card. It looked fair enough at the time, but following an appeal it has now been rescinded. However, even with just ten men and happily sacrificing possession, we still had nothing to open them up, and still conceded a third from the simplest of free kicks. Worrying signs for Wayne, and lots of work to do, so let’s see how things may have improved tonight…

Cambridge United v Colchester United
Saturday 30th March 2019
Sky Bet Football League Division 2 (Tier 4)
Attendance 5,515




Letters from Wiltshire #36 comes right up to date (more or less), towards the end of the 2018/19 season, and a visit to near-neighbours and local rivals Cambridge United. Back in the day, when I first started following the U’s, the CUFC derby always seemed a much more ‘edgy’ affair, with the propensity for fisticuffs much more likely. Maybe that was a 70s thing really, but it always feels these days that the fixture is a much more gentile civilised affair.

Halcyon days…
Aaah, remember the days when we used to moan about hanging around the fringes of the play-offs but never quite consistently breaking into them and staying there…what we wouldn’t give for a bit of that now. March 2019 was very much one of those moments – after working hard with some decent results through the first half of February we’d finally seemingly cemented a place in the play-offs. Then March arrived, and four defeats from five matches saw us slide ride back to where we’d been, undoing all that good work.

With games running out, a result from our trip to the Abbey was therefore vital if we were to get back into play-off contention (although mathematically feasible, automatic promotion had long gone as a realistic possibility). Cambridge were having a mare of a season too, and were still under the threat of relegation out of the Football League (though to be fair, Yeovil and/or Notts County would have had found a remarkable upturn in form for that to have happened).

Do you want fries with that?
No, not a brutally harsh assessment of where manager John McGreal’s career may be going if we didn’t get back into the play-offs, actually a reference to one of the more bizarre incidents that occurred in the week leading up to the game. YouTuber Tom Stanniland decided to strap a Big Mac to a helium-filled weather balloon, and launch it into space with a GoPro attached (#SpaceBurger, and why wouldn’t you). Cut a long story short, the chap launched it from somewhere in NW England and it landed at Florence Park – if you need a reminder, here’s the YouTube video.



Tickets please
As usual, a decent following from the U’s was expected, and as there was no pay on the day available, I bought three tickets (me, Alfie and my mate Jon) in advance (but no programme on the day). We were also planning to meet up more family on the way, including nieces, nephews and partners, so it was looking like it would be a good day out. Me and Alfie trained it over, meeting up with everyone for pre-match pints at the Old Ticket Office next to the station. It was a beautiful day too, perfect weather for relaxing outside with friends and family, even if that did also include passing interest from PC Plod. Still, no grief, and once we were ready, we jumped into a couple of Ubers over to the Abbey Stadium, never an easy drive given the traffic congestion that Cambridge is famed for.

As anticipated, there was a large following from Essex for the match, probably about 1,200, and not far from a sell-out in the away stand. For the first half, me, Alfie and Jon squeezed ourselves into space up at the back on the stand, to the right of the goal as we looked out, whilst t’others went off in search of the remaining family they were supposed to rendezvous with. Of note, also up the back of the stand and just to our right to begin with, was Harry Pell, Frank Nouble, Todd Miller and Ollie Kensdale (Miller having made his debut for the U’s two weeks earlier at Exeter). All in club tracksuits, they’d presumably travelled with the U’s but had been given the afternoon off to enjoy the match in amongst the fans, and according to The Gazette, Harry even had a go on the drum too.

John McGreal’s U’s lined up as follows:

1….Dillon Barnes
2….Ryan Jackson
22..Kane Vincent-Young
6….Frankie Kent
5….Luke Prosser (captain) (Mikael Mandron 78’)
4….Tom Lapslie (Sam Saunders 83’)
17..Ben Stevenson
10..Sammie Szmodics
7….Courtney Senior
39..Abobaker Eisa (Brennan Dickenson 84’)
9….Luke Norris

One-way traffic at the Shabby
The atmosphere was everything expected of a raucous local derby for the most part, with the U’s faithful in full voice cheering on. We had plenty to cheer about too, with a dominant start from the U’s looking to impose themselves on the match. That didn’t mean it was entirely one-way traffic, with Cambridge dangerman Jevani Brown snatching a shot from 25 yards after just four minutes that flew narrowly wide – wonder what happened to Jevani Brown?. But that was about the sum total of Cambridge United’s attacking endeavour in the first half.

Wave after wave of U’s attacks either broke against the Cambridge defence, or went wide, or lacked power – it was just relentless. Sammie dribbled his way along the edge of the box before firing wide, Abs Eisa went wide with a slightly mis-hit shot, latching on to a delicate headed pass from Chuck, Sammie again dived in with a peach of a glancing header which flew agonisingly wide of the far post. When we did get attempts on target, like Frankie Kent’s brilliant header from Eisa’s in-swinging free-kick, goalkeeper Dimitar Mitov was on hand to pull of an excellent block – a double whammy because Norris blasted the rebound over the bar when it looked easier to score.

The charmed life that the Cambridge goal enjoyed just wouldn’t go away, with a wonderful, curled effort from Senior deflecting narrowly wide for a corner when it looked destined to squeeze inside the post. And thus half-time arrived, the U’s dominant in possession, attempts, corners, everything but the one statistic that counted – goals. Time for a bunch of chips, a Bovril and catch up with the rest of the gang.

Into the second half, and manager Colin Calderwood had clearly given his side a bit of the hairdryer at half-time, and for at least the first twenty minutes or so Cambridge looked like they would have some credible attacking intent. The game was certainly more even, though the U’s were still largely in control, but still the break-through goal eluded us. Ten minutes in, Ben Stevenson saw a decent effort saved under the bar by Mitov after Jackson and Senior had exchanged neat passes with each other.

Szmodics in particular was in magnificent form, constantly running at and bamboozling the Cambridge midfield and defence. Breaking down the right wing 20 minutes into the second half, he fired in a perfect cross for Norris, who again blazed over from all of 12 yards. Attempting to stifle the one-way traffic, Calderwood made a double substitution at the midpoint of the half, bringing on Paul Lewis and Jake Doyle-Hayes, which was unfortunate for Lewis, who was subbed himself six minutes later with a hamstring injury.

Tick tock, tick tock
However, time was running out, and it was worryingly starting to look like one of those games where despite all efforts, we just weren’t going to score. Mandron replaced Norris with 12 minutes to go, then Sam Saunders came on for his debut, replacing Lapslie. McGreal’s last throw of the dice was subbing the hard-working Eisa with Brennan Dickenson a minute after Saunders came on, but still we couldn’t break through.

…and still the clock ticked down.

Deep in injury-time, a Szmodics effort inside the box was scuffed agonisingly wide of the post – surely that was it? I’ll be honest, I’d pretty much given up hope – we’d made our way down the front to rejoin the rest of the family group, and to get ready for the exodus. The 90 minutes had been up some time ago, the referee had checked watches and linesman already, and he must have been ready to blow for full-time as soon as the ball went out of play.

We have lift-off
And then, almost in slow motion, an incredible thing happened. Jacko worked his way down the right wing, and rather than try beat his man, took the first opportunity to cross low into the box. There was Mandron, back to the goal, trapping the cross perfectly whilst holding off his marker, before tapping into the path of Kane Vincent-Young. KVY left fly from 20 yards, more of a side-foot with venom than a full-blooded pile-driver, aimed perfectly over the despairing fingertips of Mitov in full flight and just under the crossbar.

…and then we exploded in unison! The roar of victory, relief, belief even was truly something to behold, virtually the entire squad gathered in celebration with the U’s faithful – just magnificent!

There was barely time to kick-off, it was more or less the last kick of the game, and what a way to win it.

Cambridge United 0 Colchester United 1 (Kane Vincent-Young 90+6’)

Getting back from the Abbey has always been as much of a ball-ache as getting there to be honest, and despite our euphoria, this day was no different. We tried two separate Ubers trying to get to the station, eventually giving up on both and settling for the long trudge. On the way, we discovered that the feisty edge had returned briefly, with the police blocking both the road and access to one of the pubs where a bunch of U’s fans had been holed up to prevent further mischief on the streets.

It took well over an hour to finally get back to the train station and head on our separate journeys home, but a minor inconvenience in the overall scheme of things – the U’s had won 3pts and the promotion challenge was back on.

The postscript – we faltered again, losing the next two matches, and despite a late run of three wins and a draw in our final four matches, missed the play-offs by one place and one point. Worse still, one of our Ubers eventually arrived at a deserted pavement outside the Abbey…and billed me for the privilege!

The explosion as the ball hits the net really does need to be heard to be believed!



Up the U’s
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Letters from Wiltshire #35
at 14:59 28 Feb 2021

As many were predicting, time finally ran out for Steve Ball mid-week, after the U’s lost 2-1 at home to Exeter City. Although a considerable improvement in score-line compared to the 6-1 thrashing they handed out at St James Park earlier in the season, apart from the first 10-15 minutes and very brief glimpses throughout the remainder of the game, it was a poor performance, leaving Robbie Cowling with no choice. After a brief interlude, Robbie named Wayne Brown as our new Interim Head Coach (that’s caretaker as far as I’m concerned), and after an even briefer interlude, Robbie and Wayne in a joint statement put to rest any lingering concerns about Wayne’s attitude to race. If Wayne can show the same sort of leadership on the training ground and in the dressing room as he used to show for the U’s on the pitch, I am certain he’s going to do very well in the job.
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Letters from Wiltshire #35
at 14:43 27 Feb 2021

As many were predicting, time finally ran out for Steve Ball mid-week, after the U’s lost 2-1 at home to Exeter City. Although a considerable improvement in score-line compared to the 6-1 thrashing they handed out at St James Park earlier in the season, apart from the first 10-15 minutes and very brief glimpses throughout the remainder of the game, it was a poor performance, leaving Robbie Cowling with no choice. After a brief interlude, Robbie named Wayne Brown as our new Interim Head Coach (that’s caretaker as far as I’m concerned), and after an even briefer interlude, Robbie and Wayne in a joint statement put to rest any lingering concerns about Wayne’s attitude to race. If Wayne can show the same sort of leadership on the training ground and in the dressing room as he used to show for the U’s on the pitch, I am certain he’s going to do very well in the job.

U’s Caretaker Managers
A performance review


To mark the occasion, Letters from Wiltshire #35 is another ‘special’, this time looking back at the record of our previous caretaker managers over the years, and specifically their first matches in the role. I won’t be doing an in-depth report of each match, there just isn’t the time (even with the 5.30pm kick-off), just a short summary accompanied by a bit of narrative about what was going on with the U’s at the time. To clarify, for the most part I am using the Wikipedia page for Colchester United caretaker managers and their performance record, with Graeson’s excellent ColUData website to fact-check where there appears to be inconsistencies.

So, without further ado, and from most recent backwards, here goes…

Steve Ball (W-0; D-0; L-1)

In charge: 4th – 8th May 2016
First game: U’s v Rochdale (08-05-16)
Sky Bet Football League Division 1 (Tier 3)
Attendance 3,435


We start back at the very end of 2015/16. The U’s were already relegated, and Rochdale out of the running for a play-off spot, so it was one of those pointless end-of-season occasions. The previous manager Kevin Keen had ‘left by mutual consent’ once relegation was confirmed, and David Wright was supposed to be caretaker for the last two matches. However, following a family bereavement, the role of caretaker for the very last game was handed to Steve Ball. Our new John McGreal had already been appointed, but he chose to take up the reins once the season had finished.

For a meaningless end-of-season fixture, and with the U’s already relegated, there was a surprisingly good crowd that afternoon, bolstered by a couple of hundred from Greater Manchester. Ball handed a debut to goalkeeping understudy James Bransgrove, after Dillon Barnes got stuck in traffic on the way to the match. Rochdale took the lead, after a neat one-two between Mendez-Laing and former U’s Ian Henderson saw Mandez-Laing slot home with ease. Shortly after half-time Joe Edwards levelled the score with a sweet strike, served up on a plate by Chris Porter. However, Rochdale restored their lead when Calvin Andrew curled in a lovely finish after some penalty area ping-pong.

Colchester United 1 (Joe Edwards 53’) Rochdale 2 (Nathaniel Mendez-Laing 18’; Calvin Andrew 69’)


David Wright (W-0; D-1; L-0)

In charge: 26th April – 4th May 2016
First game: Barnsley v U’s (30-04-16)
Sky Bet Football League Division 1 (Tier 3)
Attendance 12,021


Another caretaker manager for 2015/16, and this time David Wright. As noted above, Keen had left Colchester United on 26th April once relegation was confirmed, so David Wright took over for the next game – a very tough fixture away at play-off contenders Barnsley. It turned out to be a fantastically spirited performance, and maybe a few more like that might have seen us avoid relegation. In front od a huge home crowd (and a fair few from Essex), the U’s took the game to their high-flying opponents, and two minutes before half-time, Elliot Lee drove at the flat-footed Barnsley defence before squaring to Moncur, who finished superbly.

Barnsley came back at the U’s in the second half, and two goals from Fletcher, the second with just ten minutes to go, seemed to have wrapped things up for the Tykes. Our cause wasn’t helped by ‘keeper Elliott Parish being stretchered off injured in the 80th minute, and with all substitutes already used, Macauley Bonne of all people had to go in goal. However, no one had reckoned on the tenacious spirit of diminutive Tom Lapslie, who in the 8th minute of injury-time dived in to head home Joe Edwards’ cross for a deserved equaliser.

Barnsley 2 (Andrew Fletcher 57’, 80’) Colchester United 2 (George Moncur 42’; Tom Lapslie 90+8’)


Wayne Brown (W-1; D-0; L-2)

In charge: 2nd – 21st December 2015
First game: U’s v Altrincham (06-12-15)
FA Cup (Second Round)
Attendance 2,592


Yep, another from the 2015/16 season, and this time none other than our present incumbent Wayne Brown. Tony Humes had been sacked in November, and initially the caretaker role was given to Richard Hall and John McGreal as a sort of tag-team duo. However, Wikipedia goes with Richard Hall as nominally in charge, so I’ll go with that. There tenure didn’t go well, nor last long, so Wayne Brown was appointed in time for our FA Cup Second Round match against Altrincham.

It didn’t start well, with Altrincham going into a 3rd minute lead with an exquisite 30-yard lob from Jake Moult. However, deft footwork from Callum Harriott levelled the scores shortly after, catching the defence napping to slide his shot under ‘keeper Adam Griffin. Altrincham restored their lead literally straight after half-time, with big striker Michael Rankine finishing well after a bout of midfield head tennis – after just 18 seconds! Tom Lapslie pulled the U’s level less than ten minutes later, heading in an inch-perfect cross from Marvin Sordell. Despite conceding twice, Griffin was actually playing a blinder, keeping out numerous clear-cut chances, but he could do nothing about Harriott’s winner deep in injury-time, blasted in after leaving his marker for dead on the edge of the box.

Colchester United 3 (Callum Harriott 14’, 90+4’; Tom Lapslie 53’) Altrincham 2 (Jake Moult 3’; Michael Rankine 46’)


Richard Hall (W-0; D-0; L-1)

In charge: 26th November – 2nd December 2015
First game: Burton Albion v U’s (28-11-15)
Sky Bet Football League Division 1 (Tier 3)
Attendance 2,893


As above, Richard Hall was our previous caretaker manager once Humes had been sacked, technically alongside John McGreal, but as above I’ll stick with just Richard Hall for this one. On reflection, I’d rather it hadn’t been, because this was dreadful. It was, to be fair, a thoroughly demoralised squad, staring down the barrel of relegation, but in a season of many lows, this was right down there, away at promotion hopefuls Burton Albion

It started brightly, with that man Callum Harriott putting the U’s into an early lead with an excellent 25-yard drilled strike, beating Burton ‘keeper Jamie Jones at his far post. However, that was very much the high point that afternoon. El Khayati equalised for the Brewers midway through the first half, with Duffy making it 2-1 less than ten minutes later. Into the second half, and the U’s just fell apart, with goals from Naylor, Akins and Thiele emphasising just how porous our defence was, and how much trouble we were in.

Burton Albion 5 (Abdenasser El Khayati 25’; Mark Duffy 34’; Tom Naylor 51’; Lucas Akins 72’; Timmy Thiele 81’) Colchester United 1 (Callum Harriott 4’)


Joe Dunne (W-1; D-1; L-2)

In charge: 18th August – 1st September 2009
First game: U’s v Gillingham (18-08-09)
Coca-Cola Football League Division 1 (Tier 3)
Attendance 4,849


After a stunning opening fixture under then manager Paul Lambert, thrashing Norwich City 7-1 at Carrow Road, followed by shady shenanigans by the carrot-crunchers, Lambert cooked up a deal worthy of Delia and walked out on his contract with the U’s to take over at Carrow Road. Needless to say, Robbie hosed them for compensation, but this still left a managerial vacancy to fill. Step forward U’s legend Joe Dunne, who took over as caretaker in time for our third match of the season, at home to Gillingham.

Needless to say, the U’s were top of the league following the first two matches, and showed in in this game. Curtis Weston snatched an early lead for the Gills, but Scott Vernon soon levelled the score for the U’s, set up beautifully by Lisbie. Into the second half, and there was Vernon to return the complement, inviting Kevin Lisbie to drill home an impressive goal to make it 2-1 on the night, and consolidate the U’s position at the top of the table. Although a very bright start for Joey as caretaker, Robbie Cowling eventually decided on a more experienced manager, appointing Aidy Boothroyd at the start of September.

Colchester United 2 (Scott Vernon 38’; Kevin Lisbie 66’) Gillingham 1 (Curtis Weston 11’)


Kit Symons (W-2; D-0; L-3)

In charge: 22nd September – 9th October 2008
First game: Tranmere v U’s (26-09-08)
Coca-Cola Football League Division 1 (Tier 3)
Attendance 5,713


After a poor start to the season, our first following relegation from the Championship, incumbent manager Geraint Williams was struggling, with only one win from the first six league games. Robbie decided a change was needed, which personally at the time I thought was too hasty. However, dispensing with the services of George, Robbie appointed Kit Symons as caretaker manager, in time for a tricky mid-week visit to Prenton Park. It turned out to be an absolute thriller, with Symons immediately staking a strong claim for the permanent position.

The U’s got the ball rolling in the 4th minute, with slick one-touch passing from a Gerken roll-out cutting right through Tranmere, with Perkins on hand to finish superbly. Tranmere levelled soon after, a deep cross which Kay headed in past a stranded Gerken. Were we downhearted – were we heck as like. Three minutes later our lead was restored when Yeates curled in a superb 25-yard free-kick. Not to be outdone, with five minutes to go before half-time Clive Platt made it 3-1, expertly controlling a Yeates pass with his back to goal, before swivelling and blasting home.

Into the second half, and as if 3-1 wasn’t enough, Johnnie Jackson made it 4-1 straight after the break, blasting home a peach of a left foot shot from outside the box. Inevitably, with the U’s sitting back on their lead, Tranmere pressed forward relentlessly, but it took a Gerken howler, letting a speculative 35-yard effort squirm through his hands and into the net, to throw Tranmere a lifeline. They gratefully grasped it, with Shotton blasting home an absolute thunderbolt for their third – and this time there was nothing that Gerken could do. However, we tightened up defence and stifled any further chance of Tranmere getting an equaliser. Although Kit Symons went on to win another of his five matches as caretaker, Paul Lambert was eventually appointed as full-time manager…and we all know how that worked out.

Tranmere 3 (Anthony Kay 12’; Andy Taylor 76’; Ryan Shotton 78’) Colchester United 4 (David Perkins 4’; Mark Yeates 15’; Clive Platt 40’; Johnnie Jackson 47’)


Geraint Williams (W-2; D-3; L-0)

In charge: 29th January – 25th February 2003
First game: Stockport County v U’s (01-02-03)
Nationwide Football League Division 1 (Tier 3)
Attendance 4,011


After a difficult start to the season, which left the club in the relegation zone by January, chairman Peter Heard, with some regrets for his long-serving friend, decided he’d seen enough and had to let manager Steve Whitton go. Whilst looking for a replacement, Geriant Williams, Whitton’s assistant, was appointed as caretaker. He did a damn fine job of it too, starting with a trip to Stockport, lower mid-table at the time. It was a solid performance from the U’s too, so when Luke Beckett shot the Hatters into the lead in the 34th minute, it was definitely against the run of play. Try as the U’s might, Stockport’s deep defence looked like it was going to hold out to preserve a much-needed 3 points for the Hatters, until that is Joe Keith fired home a richly-deserved equaliser with just two minutes to go.

George would go on to oversee three victories and another draw to finish his caretaker term undefeated, one of the best records for a caretaker in the history of the U’s. However, the die had been cast, and an unknown former player from Reading Football Club, Philip Parkinson, was appointed manager – and the rest is history.

Stockport 1 (Luke Beckett 36’) Colchester United 1 (Joe Keith 88’)


Steve Whitton (W-0; D-1; L-0)

In charge: 21st January – 28th February 1999
First game: U’s v Stoke City (23-01-99)
Nationwide Football League Division 1 (Tier 3)
Attendance 12,507


Our first season back in the third tier of the Football League, following the play-off victory over Torquay. After a fairly decent start to the season, the manager who had guided us to that promotion, decided unexpectedly that had taken the U’s as far as he could, and stood down. Whilst Peter Heard looked around for a replacement, Steve Whitton was given caretaker control, for just one match as it would happen, away at high-flying Stoke City.

In a thrilling end-to-end match, the U’s took the lead in the 9th minute through Simon Betts. An unfortunate David Gregory own goal got the Potters back into it, an opportunity they took full advantage of scoring two more before half-time to make it 3-1. However, right on the half-time whistle, David Gregory made amends for the OG with another at the right end to make it 3-2. The second half was hard work against a well-organised Stoke City defence, and always carrying considerable threat up front, but with ten minutes to go Jason Dozzell grabbed the equaliser, and a very commendable first point for Steve Whitton’s side.

In a rare error of judgement, Peter Heard unfortunately decided to appoint external Mick Wadsworth to the managerial position instead of Whitton, though Steve would get his chance later the same year when Wadsworth walked out.

Stoke City 3 (David Gregory OG 30’; Kyle Lightbourne 34’; Larius Sigurdsson 42’) Colchester United 3 (Simon Betts 9’; David Gregory 44’; Jason Dozzell 80’)


Dale Roberts (W-1; D-1; L-3)

In charge: 24th December 1994 – 12th January 1995
First game: U’s v Northampton Town (26-12-94)
Endsleigh League Division 3 (Tier 4)
Attendance 5,064


Our third season back in the Football League after the Conference promotion, and we were going well under manager George Burley…and then, out of the blue (no pun intended), Burley walked out on the U’s to take up the manager position at Ipswich Town. Burley had rescued the U’s from a poor start, and as Christmas approached we were in the play-offs. Few will forgive Burley for his treachery, but it fell on Dale Roberts as caretaker to pick up the pieces.

His first game was Boxing Day against near-neighbours Northampton Town, at the time struggling in lower mid-table. However, clearly unsettled by Burley’s departure, and in front of a bumper 5k crowd at Layer Road, the U’s slipped up, losing 1-0 to a Darren Harmon first half penalty. Although Roberts guided to the U’s to a win in his second game, away at promotion hopefuls Fulham, and drew two of the next three, it wasn’t enough to convince chairman Gordon Parker, who appointed Steve Wignall as manager. Tragically, Dale died of cancer in 2003, aged just 46.

Colchester United 0 Northampton Town 1 (Darren Harmon 35’p)


Steve Foley (W-2; D-0; L-1)

In charge: 20th December 1989 – 2nd January 1990
First game: Southend United v U’s (26-12-89)
Fourth Division (Tier 4)
Attendance 5,563


This was a very difficult season for the U’s, always struggling at the wrong end of the table. Despite that, chairman Jonathan Crisp may well have stood by manager Jock Wallace, who had saved us from relegation the previous season, but Wallace had to stand down because of ill health. Whilst Crisp looked for a replacement, Steve Foley stepped forward for his second spell as caretaker, and what a way to start, away at Southend, challenging for promotion into the Third Division.

This was one match I was definitely at, and belying our low-lying position, took the game to Southend United throughout. It was no more than we deserved when Martin Grainger and then Tommy English scored in rapid succession in the middle of the second half to give us a well-deserved and most-welcome 2-0 victory at our Essex rivals. Foley’s team would go on to secure another victory on New Years’ Day, 3-1 at home to Hartlepool, but the full-time position went to Ipswich legend Mick Mills. Despite Steve Foley’s efforts, who holds the record for points per game for a caretaker manager, the U’s were relegated to the Conference, and Southend were indeed promoted to the Third Division.

Southend United 0 Colchester United 2 (Martin Grainger 65’; Tommy English 69’)


Steve Foley (W-8; D-5; L-9)

In charge: 21st October 1988 – 12th January 1989
First game: U’s v Cambridge United (21-10-88)
Fourth Division (Tier 4)
Attendance 2,138


Unofficially, Steve Foley’s first spell in charge as caretaker manager at Colchester United commenced pretty much on the final whistle of our infamous 0-8 defeat at Leyton Orient, replacing the inept Roger Brown, but officially he wasn’t in place until the following Friday night fixture at home to Cambridge United. It is a lasting urban myth that the U’s threw that Orient game deliberately to have Brown sacked, but I have no idea whether there’s any truth in that or not? The U’s were needless to say struggling at the wrong end of the table, whereas Cambridge were in the hunt for promotion.

After a tense goalless first half, Cambridge United finally broke the deadlock midway through the second half, with a goal from Anderson, who added a second with just over ten minutes to go. Although Tony English grabbed one back with a couple of minutes to go, it wasn’t enough and t’other U’s returned to the Abbey with the win. Although a disappointing start, Foley would go on to preside as caretaker manager over another 21 matches in all competitions, with a fairly impressive overall record of 8 wins, 5 draws and 9 defeats (impressive in that we were a poor team at the wrong end of the table at the time).

As Christmas approached, Crisp persuaded the legendary Jock Wallace out of retirement, with Alan Ball as assistant alongside. The effect was instantaneous, and Wallace steered the U’s clear of relegation.

Colchester United 1 (Tony English 88’) Cambridge United 2 (Doug Anderson 65’, 79’)


Dennis Mochan (W-1; D-4; L-6)

In charge: 8th September – 1st October 1972
First game: U’s v Crewe Alexandra (08-09-72)
Fourth Division (Tier 4)
Attendance 2,767


This is one of the more controversial and dare I say unsavoury moments in the history of Colchester United, involving our then manager and U’s legend Dick Graham. At a tense shareholders annual general meeting held in September, Graham found himself facing significant criticism from shareholders, and particularly a personal attack from police sergeant Alan Frost (who ironically had won his five shares in a raffle). Dick Graham was both incensed and shattered, coming so soon after the Leeds victory, and indeed our subsequent Watney Cup triumph, and walked out with immediate effect. While the club worked hard to try and persuade Graham to change his mind, Dennis Mochan was installed as caretaker.

He certainly didn’t do his cause for consideration any harm, immediately turning around a fairly poor start to the season with a thumping 5-1 victory over Crewe Alexandra, with goals from Dave Simmons (a hat-trick), Mick Mahon and John McLaughlin. Although emphatic, it would turn out to be his only victory whilst in charge, and having failed to persuade Dick Graham to change his mind, chairman Roy Chapman appointed ‘Bald Eagle’ Jim Smith as manager of Colchester United.

Colchester United 5 (Dave Simmons 8’, 58’, 71’; Mick Mahon 55’; John McLaughlin 88’) Crewe Alexandra 1 (Terry Nicholl 66’)

…and finally
So what does this all tell us? To date, Colchester United caretaker managers have never go on to be appointed as the full-time manager straight away. Steve Whitton, George Williams, Joe Dunne and Steve Ball have done so eventually, just not promoted direct from a caretaker role.

Out of twelve debut matches for caretaker managers, the overall record is fairly even, with five victories (Dennis Mochan, Steve Foley’s 2nd spell, Kit Symons, Joe Dunne and Wayne Brown), three draws (Steve Whitton, Geraint Williams and David Wright) and four defeats (Steve Foley’s 1st spell, Dale Roberts, Richard Hall and Steve Ball).

Does this bode well for Wayne Brown and the U’s this evening? I certainly hope so…

Up the U’s
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Letters from Wiltshire #34
at 23:00 24 Feb 2021

I won’t dwell on Robbie’s latest message to the supporters – we’ve all read it, and we’ve all probably drawn our own conclusions about what it doesn’t say as much as what it does. To me, bottom line, I suspect the clock is now ticking for Steve Ball (at least), turn around this terrible form pretty damn quick, or start clearing out your locker. Regardless of personal opinions on any of the individuals concerned, I would like to think none of us actually wants to see people made redundant in the current climate. But, these are difficult times that require tough decisions. If Steve Ball is up to the job and can turn this around, I’ll be more than happy to support him. If he’s not, he has to go before irreparable harm is done…and we all know what that will look like, we’ve been there before…
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Letters from Wiltshire #34
at 18:44 23 Feb 2021

I won’t dwell on Robbie’s latest message to the supporters – we’ve all read it, and we’ve all probably drawn our own conclusions about what it doesn’t say as much as what it does. To me, bottom line, I suspect the clock is now ticking for Steve Ball (at least), turn around this terrible form pretty damn quick, or start clearing out your locker. Regardless of personal opinions on any of the individuals concerned, I would like to think none of us actually wants to see people made redundant in the current climate. But, these are difficult times that require tough decisions. If Steve Ball is up to the job and can turn this around, I’ll be more than happy to support him. If he’s not, he has to go before irreparable harm is done…and we all know what that will look like, we’ve been there before…

York City v Colchester United
Tuesday 27th November 2001
FA Cup (1st Round replay)
Attendance 2,888




Letters from Wiltshire #34 goes right back to 2001, and our first round replay against York City in the FA Cup. My apologies in advance, with this evening’s 7pm kick-off approaching fast, and such a crucial game for the U’s as well, this blog is going to be perhaps shorter than usual.

In the context of where we are, and the potential fate that befalls us if we don’t start pulling some results together, having the random match selector choose York City as the opponent is a sobering reminder. In the 4th Division at the time of this replay, York City did of course slip out of the Football League in 2004. It took until 2012 for them to finally get back into the Football League, only to be relegated again four years later, and a year after that relegated to National League North for the first time in their history (though they did win the FA Trophy in the process).

How come?
How come I was there, not how come York City are now in Tier 6. Well, first and foremost, I was there because the U’s failed to beat the Minstermen in the original FA Cup 1st Round match at Layer Road ten days earlier, drawing 0-0 in front of 3,350. We were a league above York at the time, so although we’ve experienced far worse in our time (let’s not forget the 1st round 5-1 exit at Yeovil the previous season for instance), another cup upset in the replay was therefore on the cards.

The other reason I was there was work-related – we’d been working on a major road scheme in the Midlands at the time, so when the need for a post-fieldwork on-site progress meeting was called for, it was an easy matter to look in my diary and casually suggest Tuesday 27th fitted well. From there, it was an even easier detour on a post-meeting cold and occasionally wet November evening to watch and see if the U’s could get through to the 2nd Round (for a home tie against Reading, riding high in our league).

I drove over after work, and parked up on one of the local neighbourhood streets around Bootham Crescent, where York City still plied their trade. No doubt as a result of financial difficulties, York City had ceased owning the ground a couple of years earlier, when it was transferred to holding company Bootham Crescent Holdings. It was announced at the time the ground would close and York move to a new stadium in June 2002, but at the time of my visit, there was still no sign of this fabled new ground. This was my first (and last) visit to Bootham Crescent; it was a nice little ground, even if (as usual) us away fans were housed on the shallow open terrace – much like tonight’s opponents Exeter’s old St James Park away terrace before they swapped it for the bouncy-bouncy stand.

Where we were
The U’s were doing okay in the league, had spent the first couple of months in the promotion and play-off places, and although we’d slipped a bit, were still healthily placed for a renewed promotion challenge. Just a week earlier I’d been one of the 53 to witness a valiant point rescued at Ninian Park, following an 87th minute equaliser from Joey Dunne (which would turn out to be his last goal for the club). York were having a harder season in the basement, only six points and five places off the bottom and the trapdoor that awaited.

Steve Whitton’s U’s lined up as follows:

29..Andy Woodman
3….Joe Keith (Dean Morgan 45’)
4….Gavin Johnson
5….Ross Johnson
12..Scott Fitzgerald
20..Micky Stockwell (Lloyd Opara 96’)
17..Bobby Bowry
15..Thomas Pinault
7….Karl Duguid
22..Kevin Rapley (Alan White 72’)
9….Scott McGleish

Steve Whitton was in charge at Layer Road, and had been since the departure of Mick Wadsworth two years earlier. York were managed at the time by Terry Dolan, who I knew very well from his time managing Bradford City whilst I lived in West Yorkshire during the 80s. None of the York City players ring any particular bells with me – Alan Fettis in goal is a name I think I ought to know, and maybe Lee Nogan and Michael Porctor up front? If I had more time I’d do a bit more research – maybe another day?

The match
There was a small but reasonably vociferous gang of U’s fans on the open terrace that night, probably no more than maybe 100-150 at the most, but considerably more than had been at Ninaian Park a week earlier. We were rewarded with a fairly strong line-up as well – for the most part full strength, just with the one significant change of Andy Woodman in goal in place of regular Simon Brown – though to be fair, Woodman was also ‘keeper for the original fixture at Layer Road.

The U’s started brightly, and it only seemed like a matter of time that we’d take the lead, so imagine our surprise when Chris Brass did exactly that for York City in just the 8th minute. It was against the run of play, but following a needless foul by Bowry on the edge of the box, York City played head tennis in our box from the free-kick, with Brass heading home powerfully his chance.

From there through to half-time, and playing towards the far end in the first half, it was difficult to see quite how close we were getting, but most of the action was definitely in and around the York City box for the first half, but with nothing to show for it at half-time. The York Press described it as ‘laying siege’ and so it was – an endless succession of corners, blocked efforts, sublime stops from Fettis, York City throwing everything on the line and holding out.

Into the second half, and more, so much more of the same. Virtual one-way traffic from the U’s, bearing down on the goal right in front of us, with us merry band of frozen supporters just roaring and roaring them on. Dean Morgan, coming on for Joe Keith at half-time, somehow managed to get his feet in a twist when it looked easier to score a virtual open goal – Fettis superbly palmed out a Micky Stockwell thunderous volley, with Brass sliding in to deny McGleish a certain equaliser from the rebound.

Finally, eventually, and with less than ten minutes to go, we got the equaliser we richly deserved. Alan White swung in an inch-perfect free-kick, and up rose spring-heeled McGleish to head in the equaliser in front of a demented away terrace. Everyone then checking watches now – did we have enough time for a second, York City supporters wondering if there was enough time (and momentum) to regain the lead, and probably everyone wondering on a very cold evening if there was going to be extra-time and penalties (brrrr).

To their credit, under the cosh for most of the game, it was York City who responded to the challenge first, and within three minutes they had unbelievably restored their lead. Proctor hammered an effort narrowly wide as a taster, before Cooper passed wide to Darren Edmondson, who just set off on a bee-line straight to Andy Woodman, with defenders closing to intercept, Edmondson unselfishly squared right into the path of Graham Potter, who made no mistake from there. Talk about having the guts ripped out of you, but even then the U’s didn’t give up, and back they came, this time without a doubt against a ten-man York City defence.

With seconds of normal time to go, a frantic goalmouth scramble say the ball rebound out to Kark Duguid, who calmly slammed home the equaliser, before virtually joining us on the away terrace in celebration. And still we weren’t done – in the 6th minute of extra-time, a crisp shot from Morgan was parried by Fettis, and there was Opara (who’d only be on a second or two) to slot home the rebound. It was one of those awful moments when some of the supporters simply couldn’t stop celebrating long enough to notice the linesman’s offside flag.

And that was that, no further goals in extra-time, and so to penalties…

The penalties were taken at the far end in front of the home support, and it was a long time ago, so please don’t ask me to remember the sequence of them. In short, we came to the last kick of the match, and it was Karl Duguid against Alan Fettis, with Doogie needing to score to keep us in the tie. It was a good spot-kick from my vantage point, to the ‘keeper’s side, low and hard, but Fettis chose the right direction, dived well, and pulled off an exceptional save to knock the U’s out of the cup.

York City 2 (Chris Brass 8’; Graham Porter 84’) Colchester United 2 (Scott McGleish 81’; Karl Duguid 90’)
3-2 on penalties aet


I will finish as I witnessed the match finishing – as everyone around the ground was ecstatically celebrating, supporters on the pitch, players hugging each other, with a dignity that did him so much credit, Karl Duguid calmly walked up to Alan Fettis and shook him warmly by the hand, in celebration of a job very well done on the night.

Though I haven’t got a copy these days, I remember an excellent report written in one of the broadsheets the following morning – I think it was the Telegraph, which gave a very balanced account of the match, and including focusing on Doogie’s dignity and professionalism in defeat. We might have gone out of the FA Cup, but it made me proud to read the report.

York would go on to defeat Reading in the 2nd round, and indeed Grimsby Town (after another replay) in the 3rd round, and would eventual fall against Fulham in the 4th round, but I have no doubt the cup revenue helped them enormously.

Up the U’s
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Letters from Wiltshire #33
at 13:09 21 Feb 2021

Today we face a trip to Crawley, not usually a venue that bears fruit for the U’s it has to be said. In nine visits we’ve only won once in the league, and once in the League Cup. Of course, we’ll all remember that League Cup victory, indeed many of us were probably there to see us progress through to 5th round and the dream fixture against Manchester United at Old Trafford. All of our goal-scorers that night, Luke’s Norris and Gambin, and Cohen Bramall (okay, technically an O.G.), are no longer with us, so let’s hope at the very least that recent departee and subsequent returnee Frank Nouble can bag another like his late equaliser against Mansfield. Steve Ball commented during the week about how tight the league is at the moment, and he’s right that a couple of back to back victories would see us move significantly up the table away from danger – but we’ve got to win them first Steve – something we’ve failed to do since our 1-0 victory at Scunthorpe on December 8th.
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Letters from Wiltshire #33
at 13:09 20 Feb 2021

Today we face a trip to Crawley, not usually a venue that bears fruit for the U’s it has to be said. In nine visits we’ve only won once in the league, and once in the League Cup. Of course, we’ll all remember that League Cup victory, indeed many of us were probably there to see us progress through to 5th round and the dream fixture against Manchester United at Old Trafford. All of our goal-scorers that night, Luke’s Norris and Gambin, and Cohen Bramall (okay, technically an O.G.), are no longer with us, so let’s hope at the very least that recent departee and subsequent returnee Frank Nouble can bag another like his late equaliser against Mansfield. Steve Ball commented during the week about how tight the league is at the moment, and he’s right that a couple of back to back victories would see us move significantly up the table away from danger – but we’ve got to win them first Steve – something we’ve failed to do since our 1-0 victory at Scunthorpe on December 8th.

Colchester United v Torquay
Saturday 23rd March 1996
Endsleigh League Division 3 (Tier 4)
Attendance 2,888




The random match selector for Letters from Wiltshire #33 goes right back to March 1996, and a home game against Torquay United. Very much like the U’s, Torquay’s football history is predominantly about bouncing back and forth between the third and fourth tier. Unlike the U’s, they’ve never been higher than that, but like the U’s have spent time in the National League – in fact they’re there right now. However, given they are riding high at the top, and look on track to be promoted back into the football league, I’m sure many of us would look on at their current success with a degree of envy.



Lest we get too dewy-eyed about our own Conference campaigns, winning and scoring for fun, brushing opponents aside on the pitch whilst taking over stadiums off the pitch, I really wouldn’t want to find ourselves back in non-league these days. One look at the National League table today shows a division chock full of professional former league sides; Torquay, Notts County, Stockport, Hartlepool, Wrexham, Yeovil, Chesterfield, Barnet and others – to slip back into that particular pond would take a herculean effort to get out again.

The way we were
Going into this particular fixture on March 23rd 1996, the U’s under manager Steve Wignall in his first full season in charge, were going well. We were 8th in the league, comfortably in touch with the play-off spots, even and an outside chance of nicking the 3rd place automatic promotion slot (the top two, Gillingham and Preston, were 10+ points ahead and more than likely already out of reach). Torquay, on the other hand, were having a shocker – 15pts adrift at the foot of the table, and doomed to certain relegation into non-league football, for the first time in their history.

Only they weren’t…

Despite their hopeless situation, they had a very tangible lifeline. In the conference, Stevenage were going great guns at the top, and looked certain to win the title. But not promotion. Their Broadhall Way ground had already been deemed unfit for league football by the FA back in October 1995, so all Torquay had to hope for was that Stevenage didn’t falter, and the Gull’s survival was assured.

Torquay actually hadn’t started the season too badly, but whether or not the Broadhall Way decision had an effect on their performance, they started tanking at the very end of September. By the time we met them at the back end of March, they’d won just three league matches in six months. Possibly more closely associated with their terminal dip in form was the transfer of Paul Buckle to neighbours Exeter City in October. Despite leaving just two months into the season, with four goals before departure, Buckle would still finish as Torquay’s leading goal scorer in 1995/96. Buckle would join the U’s in November 1996, and spend a very successful next three years at Layer Road.



The ground regulations were very clear, by the end of December Stevenage had to have a minimum capacity of 6,000, at least 1,000 of which must be seated. They didn’t, and needless to say Stevenage chairman and the ever-colourful Victor Green was furious:

It’s completely unfair. We have still not had a satisfactory reason from the Football League for the deadline being December 31st, when we can give a concrete guarantee that our ground will be ready by the start of next season”.

Maybe they just didn’t like you Vic…and can you wonder why? Green was found guilty by the Football Association of telling Torquay they had to cough up a £30k bung, or he’d sell Stevenage’s leading goal-scorer and thus jeopardise their chances of winning the league. If that happened, and nearest challenger Woking had won the league, their ground did pass muster and Torquay would have been relegated. Green was fined £25k by the FA, though it was suspended for two years, should he breach the rules again – I’m not sure if he did eventually have to pay or not.

Is that a fact?
Interesting match stat from our New Years Day game at Plainmoor earlier in the year – I wasn’t there, so am relying on the dubious power of the internet to share real facts – apparently Mark Kinsella opened the scoring after 15 seconds, and Simon Betts scored our third to win 3-2 with 15 seconds to go!

Back to it
So there we have it, the U’s hunting promotion, the Gulls reliant on another team to keep winning, surely all set up for a comfortable victory at Layer Road? We drove over for the weekend, stopping at my Mum’s to catch up with family, and as usual me and my brother-in-law took in the match on the Saturday afternoon, after a couple of beers in the Drury naturally.

There were a couple of changes in Wignall’s line-up compared to the back of the programme, Adam Locke (Locke Locke) was favoured over Tony Dennis and Super Scotty McGleish started ahead of a youthful Karl Duguid – Doogie in his debut season at Layer Road, and this match just two days after his 18th birthday. Not sure if he was nursing a monster hangover, but Doogie was on the bench, alongside Steve Whitton and Tony Dennis.

1….Andy Petterson
2….Chris Fry
3….Simon Betts
4….Tony McCarthy
5….Gus Caesar
6….Peter Cawley
7….Mark Kinsella
8….Adam Locke
9….Scott McGleish
10..Tony Adcock (Steve Whitton)
11..Paul Gibbs (Karl Duguid)

Although not really significant news at the time, only demanding a footnote on page 6 of the programme, the following short piece is particularly relevant in the context of where we are today:



Torquay were managed at the time by Eddie May, who had taken over in November from caretaker Mick Buxton, after the previous manager Don O’Riordan had been dismissed as they slipped towards oblivion. May had enjoyed a decent playing career, including several seasons at Roots Hall, and a pretty good management CV as well, including as Assistant at both Leicester and Charlton, and in charge at both Newport and Cardiff (twice). U’s connection Paul Buckle had already gone to Exeter, but that did still leave Scott Stamps in their line-up that afternoon. Stamps would go on to play just under two seasons for the U’s from 1997 to 1999, of course including our play-off final against Torquay, with our own Paul Gibbs trading places and appearing for the Gulls.



They also had Rodney Jack in their line-up. Not necessarily a household name outside lower league football, Jack would go on to be quite a tidy goal-scorer at not only Torquay, but Crewe and Rushden & Diamonds as well. He also made nearly fifty appearances for his national side, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, averaging an impressive goal every two games in the process. In the matches I’ve seen him play over the years, Jack had always impressed me as a tricky dangerous player, definitely one to be watched carefully.

The match
Apart from knowing why I was there, who with, and that we were on the Barside, there’s not too much I remember about the actual game itself – other than despite being in a strong challenging position for promotion, it was a surprisingly poor crowd that afternoon, less than 3,000. Mind you, that wasn’t actually unusual that season, with most home games struggling to get over the 3k mark – the notable exception being our Boxing Day match against Leyton Orient, when nearly 5,000 squeezed into Layer Road. Typical U’s, bumper festive crowd, and we ground out a drab 0-0 draw.

Looking at the match stats, it was clearly as comfortable a game as I was expecting. ‘Twiggy’ Fry put the U’s ahead in just the 6th minute, and although this didn’t bode well for beleaguered Torquay, they managed to keep it at just 1-0 right the way through to half-time. Clearly the Gulls struggled to get into matches, because just two minutes into the second half, Scott McGleish made it 2-0, and almost certainly game over as far as Torquay was concerned.

Now it was just a question of not whether we could score any more, but also how many. I can’t remember the reason, certainly there were no red card incidents, but our third duly arrived in the 74th minute with Simon Betts converting from the penalty spot at the Layer Road end. That seemed to be that, and the U’s appeared happy to settle for an easy 3-0 victory. However, finding a spirit they could really have done with more of, Torquay rallied, and in the 86th minute substitute Ellis Laight grabbed a late consolation for the Gulls. Still a comfortable victory for the U’s though, as we moved inexorably closer to the play-offs.

Colchester United 3 (Chris Fry 6’; Scott McGleish 47’; Simon Betts 74’p) Torquay United 1 (Ellis Laight 86’)

Thanks to Paul Gibbs’ fortuitous cross-cum-shot in our final match against Doncaster Rovers, already featured in LfW#23, we did squeeze into the final play-off slot at the end of the season. There we faced Plymouth Argyle in a somewhat bad-tempered and hostile two-legged semi-final. One day the Home Park leg may well feature in these blogs, but I’ll say no more about it now.

Torquay did of course finish rock bottom of the league, without winning another match for the remainder of the season. Remarkably, picking up a few draws, they actually managed to close the gap on 2nd from bottom Scarborough to just 11 points, but a -54 goal difference has got to be some sort of record?

Conversely, Stevenage romped home at the top of the Conference, 8 points clear and with a +57 goal difference…and stayed exactly where they were. Torquay were saved, and after a season of rebuilding in 1996/97, would meet the U’s in the play-off final in May 1998. They were of course unsuccessful, and eventual lost their fight to stay in the Football League in 2007.

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Letters from Wiltshire #32
at 17:46 15 Feb 2021

Fifty years ago yesterday, Colchester United of the 4th Division pulled off the greatest cup giant-killing ever, beating 1st Division Leeds United 3-2 at Layer Road. Watched by 16,000, and the Match of the Day cameras, Dick Graham’s U’s, a rag-tag band of mostly aging journeymen, defied the odds to defeat arguably the greatest club side in Europe at the time. “The greatest cup giant-killing ever” is a bold claim, and over the years various football magazines and websites have run their own polls of which was the greatest. Whilst that day at Layer Rd always features, as the years have gone by other feats fresher in the memory have been put forward as a candidate – we probably all remember Ronnie Radford’s screamer against Newcastle, Sutton’s exploits, or even Bradford City quite recently at Stamford Bridge – but these pale into insignificance when you pause to reflect on the Don Revie side that we beat that day. Sprake, Cooper, Charlton, Hunter, Lorimer, Giles etc – all full internationals, all household names – the only one missing was Billy Bremner, and that was because he was injured. By comparison, all we had to offer was Ray Crawford – at his peak arguably on a par with some in the Leeds side, but that peak had been ten years earlier playing for Ipswich and England. Eleven heroes didn’t just try and hold out against Leeds United, they took the game to their illustrious opponents with such tenacity, grit and no small amount of flair, and before we knew it, the U’s were 3-0 in the lead. As legs tired, Leeds got back into the game with goals from Hunter and Giles, but we held firm – typified at the death by Graham Smith pulling off an impossible save to ensure the U’s achieved the greatest cup giant-killing ever!
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Letters from Wiltshire #32
at 14:51 14 Feb 2021

Fifty years ago yesterday, Colchester United of the 4th Division pulled off the greatest cup giant-killing ever, beating 1st Division Leeds United 3-2 at Layer Road. Watched by 16,000, and the Match of the Day cameras, Dick Graham’s U’s, a rag-tag band of mostly aging journeymen, defied the odds to defeat arguably the greatest club side in Europe at the time. “The greatest cup giant-killing ever” is a bold claim, and over the years various football magazines and websites have run their own polls of which was the greatest. Whilst that day at Layer Rd always features, as the years have gone by other feats fresher in the memory have been put forward as a candidate – we probably all remember Ronnie Radford’s screamer against Newcastle, Sutton’s exploits, or even Bradford City quite recently at Stamford Bridge – but these pale into insignificance when you pause to reflect on the Don Revie side that we beat that day. Sprake, Cooper, Charlton, Hunter, Lorimer, Giles etc – all full internationals, all household names – the only one missing was Billy Bremner, and that was because he was injured. By comparison, all we had to offer was Ray Crawford – at his peak arguably on a par with some in the Leeds side, but that peak had been ten years earlier playing for Ipswich and England. Eleven heroes didn’t just try and hold out against Leeds United, they took the game to their illustrious opponents with such tenacity, grit and no small amount of flair, and before we knew it, the U’s were 3-0 in the lead. As legs tired, Leeds got back into the game with goals from Hunter and Giles, but we held firm – typified at the death by Graham Smith pulling off an impossible save to ensure the U’s achieved the greatest cup giant-killing ever!

Colchester United v Derby County
Saturday 29th January 1977
FA Cup (4th Round)
Attendance 14,030




To mark the golden anniversary of that famous victory over Leeds United, Letters from Wiltshire #32 is another ‘special’, as we go back to my first serious encounter with our oft-proud (and occasional calamitous) FA Cup pedigree. Hopefully this’ll please Durham, as we go back to January 29th 1977, just six years after that Leeds victory, and our fourth round match against Derby County. Although this one wouldn’t normally be in contention for consideration, as it’s not in my memorabilia collection (the programme photo above was from an Ebay listing), in the context of the anniversary it seemed fitting to be chosen as a special.

A brief encounter
Although perhaps not quite at the level of Leeds United, we shouldn’t overlook quite the force that Derby County were in English football in the 1970s. Like us, they are a member of the select group of Watney Cup winners, winning the first competition 4-1 against Manchester United in 1970 (the other winners are Bristol Rovers in 1972, and Stoke City in 1973). Under Brian Clough and Peter Taylor the Rams had won the league in 1971/72, and they also reached the semi-final of the European Cup under Clough in 1972/73, going out in controversial circumstances to Juventus.

Such was the popularity of Derby County back then, that even I as a teenager flirted with the notion that Derby were my ‘second’ team (I was easily bought, my first flirtation being Arsenal and the Charlie George final). I even found myself with four other mates up the back of the Portman Road North Stand, quietly supporting Derby County as they thrashed Ipswich 6-2 at the tail end of the previous season. That was the last Rams appearance for legend Franny Lee, so I was both delighted and proud to have witnessed his last two goals for Derby County.



Dave Mackay, signed as a player by Clough, repeated their league title success when he managed them to the title in 1974/75. This took them back into Europe in the UEFA Cup, beating Servette and then Atlético Madrid (on penalties) before going out in the third round against Velež. Mackay took Derby County back into Europe for the 1975/76 European Cup, and although they didn’t get past the second round, that competition probably gave the Rams their greatest night in European football, defeating the mighty Real Madrid 4-1 at the Baseball Ground (including a hat-trick by that man Charlie George). Real Madrid turned it around in the second leg, winning 5-1 at the Bernabéu, in front of an estimated 120,000, the largest attendance to watch a Derby County game.

Although they didn’t hold on to their league title in 75/76, they certainly went close, finishing fourth behind champions Liverpool, QPR and Manchester United. This qualified them for the 1976/77 UEFA Cup again, and pulled off the result of the first round demolishing League of Ireland runners-up Finn Harps 12-0 at the Baseball Ground (and 16-1 on aggregate – well done Finn Harps for getting one!). Their UEFA Cup journey was however short lived, defeated 5-2 over two legs by AEK Athens in the second round.

All caught up
Our journey to the fourth round had been reasonably uneventful, drawing 1-1 at the Abbey before easing past Cambridge United 2-0 in the replay. I went to both those, but I’m not sure I was at the second round 3-2 home victory over Brentford. The third round draw had been unkind, pitching us against non-league Kettering Town, but we eased through 3-2 in a close-fought and somewhat tempestuous match (on and off the pitch). The fourth round draw finally came good for the U’s, a home game against recent league champions Derby County, provided of course they could get through their replay against Blackpool.



They did, winning 3-2 on a damp Wednesday evening in January, and on a typically dreadful Baseball Ground pitch. I remember watching avidly the Match of the Day highlights, waiting to see who our opponents would be. I also remember vividly after the highlights the presenter (I think it was Motty?) remarking along the lines of “…so Derby progress through to the fourth round, and a trip to Layer Road to face Colchester United. Not a journey they’ll be relishing given it was only a few years ago they did this…” – then followed by a clip of Ray Crawford’s second goal against Leeds – I felt sooo proud!!


© My Layer Road – Matt Hudson and Jim French

Under (I believe) much-underrated Bobby Roberts as manager, the U’s line-up that afternoon was probably as close to my all-time dream team for the U’s. Without any disrespect intended for subsequent U’s players, present squad included, what wouldn’t I give to see this team run out again for the U’s. Apart from perhaps Bobby Svarc, poached by Jim Smith 18 months years earlier, and maybe with Mick Packer starting, this was about as good as it got for me.

1….Mike Walker
2….Micky Cook
3….Johnny Williams
4….Steve Leslie
5….Lindsay Smith
6….Steve Dowman
7….Colin Garwood
8….Bobby Gough
9….John Froggatt
10..Ray Bunkell
11..Paul Dyer (Mick Packer 55’)

Like Leeds United before them, Derby were clearly going to take the competition seriously, and played basically a full-strength side. Charlie George was absent, and I can only assume he must have been injured,as he’d played (and scored) in the Blackpool replay, but that still left players like Roy McFarland, Colin Todd, Archie Gemmill, Leighton James and of course swashbuckling Derek Hales. Hales was well-known in football circles, and a goal-scorer to be feared. During his time at Charlton Athletic between 1973 and 1976, he made 129 appearances and scored an incredible 72 goals. This included 28 league goals the previous season, making him their still all-time record goal-scorer, before then moving to Derby County for the start of this season.

Mind you, seems he was a miserable bugger too, as this matchday programme Q&A interview with him from 1979 really does demonstrate 😊.



The big day
I wish there was more I could remember about the actual game, so I hope others reading this have memories to share. I’m not sure if getting tickets was a problem or not, but I went to this game on my own. I say on my own, but on my own with 14,029 other people obviously. I had to check to be certain, but our home crowd attendance hasn’t been bettered since, nor will it until Robbie fills in the corners of the Jobserve…and maybe puts another tier on top to boot.

Despite the crowd jammed into Layer Road, traditions still had to be followed, so I found myself jammed in near the front of the Clock End for the first half, just to the right of the goal as you look out onto the pitch. That was quite close to the main throng of Derby County supporters, who had brought about 1,000 supporters I reckon. There was no segregation, but also no immediate signs of any problem, but more of that later.

What I do remember from the game, for most of the match, was that this was a very tight close battle, and at times you would struggle to tell who was First and who was Fourth Division. Derby clearly had some very good players at their disposal, and were a constant threat throughout most of the game. That’s not to say we didn’t have our chances, and I remember from my angled vantage point watching as a drilled effort (from I think Bobby Gough) scudded agonisingly just past the post of beaten ‘keeper Colin Boulton.

That was, as I recall, our first serious effort on goal, and would rue that miss shortly after. From my distant vantage point at the Clock End it was difficult to see the detail clearly, just a bit of ping-pong football going on, Hales muscling his way through, and the net rippling as he drove home in the 23rd minute. I wouldn’t say quite against the run of play, Derby had been the stronger side, but it didn’t bode well if we let our heads drop. The cohort of Derby supporters off to my right were in full voice, which brings me to another memory.

Where I grew up (on Greenstead) there was a particular family who had a very well-deserved reputation, and who the rest of the residents gave a very wide berth too if at all possible. One of the brothers was an occasional visitor to Layer Rd, so whilst it shouldn’t have been a surprise, I was actually quite surprised to realise he had suddenly appeared right next to me in the crowd. Fortunately, his attention was clearly on the Derby supporters off to our right, and before too long disappeared into the crowd in that general direction. A few minutes later, all hell broke loose amongst the Derby supporters, with fists flailing in all directions, and after a moment or two later out was hauled my fellow resident by the police, together with a couple of Derby supporters under the care and attention of the St John’s Ambulance. It’s not big, and it’s not clever, but I did chuckle that day.

Halftime arrived, time for me and a large part of the Open End to make the customary change to the Layer Road end. It was a hell of a squeeze, but I managed to get about a third of the way in from the corner flag, no more than two of three from the front – it turned out to be an excellent viewpoint. On the subject of crowd trouble, I did bump into a slightly lary Derby supporter walking the opposite way down the back of the main stand, who decided to try and snatch the scarf around my wrist from me. He hadn’t reckoned on it being part of a 6’ monster knitted by my Nan, which went up my sleeve and tied around my neck as well. Although his attempt was therefore doomed to failure, I did take a slight throttling as a result.

Into the second half, and despite only holding on to a very slender 1-0 lead, Derby chose to sit deeper and deeper, inviting more and more pressure from the U’s. With 15 minutes to go, they had reverted from ‘sitting back’ to not only parking the bus, but engaging in the most outrageous time-wasting I’ve ever witnessed, short corners, challenging every referee decision, anything they could do to hold on, wind down the clock and get the hell out of the Layer Road cauldron. A particular favourite was booting the ball out of the ground at every opportunity. I lost count of how many times, but I seriously suspect we must have been getting close to running out of footballs.


© My Layer Road – Matt Hudson and Jim French

As infuriating as it was, it was working, and we just couldn’t seem to fashion that killer chance against a First Division defence who had decided to park the bus. That was, until the 7th minute of injury-time – extra-time explicitly added because of Derby’s time-wasting according to referee Ron Crabb after the game. Bunkell launched a speculative long ball into the Derby box, which was unceremoniously booted clear – which I thought was going to herald the final whistle. Packer picked up the rebound in midfield, and via Bunkell it went out to the right wing. Gough (I think) hosted it one more time into the box, Froggatt rose highest to hed it down, and there right in front of me was Colin Garwood to drill into the far corner to send Layer Road absolutely mental!

Colchester United 1 (Colin Garwood 90+7’) Derby County 1 (Derek Hales 25’)

The scenes in that moment were incredible, and something I will always remember. Players hugged each other, a fans spilled on to the pitch, police were on trying to restore law and order, and throughout Layer Road just roared and roared. I recall the clipboard of one of the St John’s staff on pitch-side being frisbeed into the air in celebration. The newspaper articles following the match reported that the roar was heard on the High Street.

The replay was nothing more than we deserved, but being only 14 at the time, sadly not a game I could travel to the following Wednesday evening. However, the BBC still hadn’t given up on an upset, so were there instead. It was almost like a carbon-copy of the previous match – Derby snatching a 1-0 lead (this time Leighton James just before half-time), and then grimly holding on with more disgraceful time-wasting tactics – only this time we couldn’t fashion an equaliser despite going very close. I recall Motty (I think it was him) commentating that as the First Division side, Derby should be ashamed to have to resort to such blatant time-wasting…but they did nevertheless, and the U’s FA cup run for 1976/77 was over.

We had, however, maintained our prod tradition at the time of never being defeated at home by a top-flight side, and there had been plenty, including Leeds United, who had tried. It would take a full-strength Manchester United to eventually take that record.

There is a YouTube Colin Garwood tribute video, which Graeson has also linked in his ColuData website. It’s not a particularly good video, but it does show both goals from the Derby game (from the start, through to 1m15s).



Up the U’s
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U'sual Champions League 2021 - Round of 16
at 20:05 10 Feb 2021

So here we are, in the week approaching the start of the next 'snouts in the trough' Champion's League. The 12 qualifiers (qualification ranking in brackets), including holder thrillseeker, have been passed through the random group selector meat grinder, and have emerged as follows:

Group A
thrillseeker (1)
unitedwhites (6)
wessex_exile (11)

Group B
sevebalo (4)
mfb_cufc (5)
Sector4 (10)

Group C
ghughes11 (3)
burnsieespana (9)
Daniel (12)

Group D
concordman (2)
durham_exile (7)
TheFatGooner (8)

Fixtures
The fixtures to predict are as follows:
16/02/2021: Barcelona v Paris Saint Germain
16/02/2021: RB Leipzig v Liverpool
17/02/2021: FC Porto v Juventus
17/02/2021: Sevilla v Borussia Dortmund
23/02/2021: Atlético Madrid v Chelsea
23/02/2021: Lazio v Bayern Munich
24/02/2021: Atalanta v Real Madrid
24/02/2021: Borussia Mönchengladbach v Manchester City
09/03/2021: Borussia Dortmund v Sevilla
09/03/2021: Juventus v FC Porto
10/03/2021: Liverpool v RB Leipzig
10/03/2021: Paris Saint Germain v Barcelona
16/03/2021: Manchester City v Borussia Mönchengladbach
16/03/2021: Real Madrid v Atalanta
17/03/2021: Chelsea v Atlético Madrid
17/03/2021: Bayern Munich v Lazio

Rules
Basic stuff
As always, there will be no first-to-post tie-break deciders, only most spot-ons. However, remember you are only allowed one exact match prediction with each one of your group members for this entire round (1st and 2nd legs together), so first to post may be a factor in this regard.

If I spot too many exact matches I will do my best to give advance warning, but please don't rely on me to do this - you must watch this one yourselves too.

3pts for a spot-on result, 1pt for the correct outcome (home win, draw or away win). All predictions are the result at the end of normal time, extra-time and/or penalties will not count.

Round of 16
Top two from each Group will go through. If a tie-break is needed in any Group, and given the usual attendance prediction is likely to be futile, the tie-break prediction will be the total number of goals scored in League 2 on March 20th (the Saturday after the final Champion's League matches).

Only those involved in the tie-break will need to make a prediction, so this can be done any time before the first League 2 match kicks off on the Saturday (Stevenage v Carlisle is currently scheduled to be a 1pm kick-off). The closest to the right amount will win the tie-break in their Group, so obviously you can't predict the same amount as another Group member. First to post will count here if necessary.

Quarter-finals
The Group qualifiers will then form two mini-leagues of 4, and play off against each other predicting all of the Quarter-final matches. Mini-leagues will be comprised as follows: Winner A, Runner-Up B, Winner C, Runner-up D and Runner-up A, Winner B, Runner-up C, Winner D.

Semi-finals
The top two from each mini-league will then be drawn from a hat to play off in head-to-head matches, all predicting the semi-final matches.

Final
The finalists will play-off predicting the Champions League Final, this will include predicting different aspects of the game, not just the score - and will be submitted as concealed bids (via PM to me). Should I be fortunate enough to still be involved in the competition at the semi-final or final stages, a neutral third party will be found to do the draws and/or receive the finalist's predictions.

…and finally
It remains to be seen if FIFA will keep the two-legged approach for the post Round of 16 phase, depending I guess on how Europe is faring in the pandemic. Like last season I may have to tweak the rules for these rounds to provide more scoring opportunities, and indeed any further tie-break questions after the Round of 16 - I'll keep you posted on those.


Good luck everyone!
[Post edited 10 Feb 21:47]
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Saturday 13th February
at 08:31 10 Feb 2021

Obviously a significant date for any U’s fan. For those who might be interested, the club have produced a commemorative programme for Saturday’s game against Mansfield.

https://www.cu-fc.com/news/2021/february/mansfield-programme/
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Tranmere (h) 16/2/21
at 22:59 9 Feb 2021

This rearranged game has been postponed again - Tranmere are playing at Oxford Utd in an EFL Trophy semi-final, which apparently is also being televised. No chance we’d pull rank there.
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Letters from Wiltshire #31
at 18:29 6 Feb 2021

And so the dust settles on another transfer window closing, and despite (my) expectations that the possibility of incoming business was going to be remote, we have instead seen a veritable flurry of activity, with no less than three coming in. Big Frank Nouble, making a very welcome return on loan from Plymouth Argyle, of course needs no introduction. Neither really does feisty Brendan Sarpong-Wiredu, here on loan last season, and this time signed full-time from Charlton Athletic for an undisclosed fee. Actually paying hard cash for someone did come as a surprise, presumably offset by the sale of Cohen Bramall to Lincoln for a similarly undisclosed fee. However, the fact that the Addicks have insisted on not only a sell-on clause, but a rarely used buy-back clause too, suggests (a) Wiredu’s signing fee probably wasn’t too high, and (b) Charlton are protecting those finances with these clauses. The last one, which would have been a complete surprise for me were it not for a contact leaking me the news earlier yesterday, is left-back Josh Doherty on loan from Crawley. Josh was only announced once outgoing left-back Bramall was confirmed, and presumably his loan is directly related to part-time fashion model, TV and radio celeb and former left-back Mark Wright signing for Crawley on a non-contract game-by-game basis in December. We have also released seven from the academy, Ollie Kensdale, Miquel Scarlett, Sammie McLeod, Michael Fernandes, Ollie Sims, Danny Collinge and Matt Weaire, and I’m sure we all wish them the best for the future.
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Letters from Wiltshire #31
at 18:30 2 Feb 2021

And so the dust settles on another transfer window closing, and despite (my) expectations that the possibility of incoming business was going to be remote, we have instead seen a veritable flurry of activity, with no less than three coming in. Big Frank Nouble, making a very welcome return on loan from Plymouth Argyle, of course needs no introduction. Neither really does feisty Brendan Sarpong-Wiredu, here on loan last season, and this time signed full-time from Charlton Athletic for an undisclosed fee. Actually paying hard cash for someone did come as a surprise, presumably offset by the sale of Cohen Bramall to Lincoln for a similarly undisclosed fee. However, the fact that the Addicks have insisted on not only a sell-on clause, but a rarely used buy-back clause too, suggests (a) Wiredu’s signing fee probably wasn’t too high, and (b) Charlton are protecting those finances with these clauses. The last one, which would have been a complete surprise for me were it not for a contact leaking me the news earlier yesterday, is left-back Josh Doherty on loan from Crawley. Josh was only announced once outgoing left-back Bramall was confirmed, and presumably his loan is directly related to part-time fashion model, TV and radio celeb and former left-back Mark Wright signing for Crawley on a non-contract game-by-game basis in December. We have also released seven from the academy, Ollie Kensdale, Miquel Scarlett, Sammie McLeod, Michael Fernandes, Ollie Sims, Danny Collinge and Matt Weaire, and I’m sure we all wish them the best for the future.

Sheffield United v Colchester United
Saturday 17th August 2013
Sky Bet League One (Tier 3)
Attendance 17,167




The past two blogs have covered an undeserved defeat, and a richly deserved victory (both against Plymouth Argyle), so it seems fitting that Letters from Wiltshire #31 features a draw to maintain the balance. This blog goes back to the early days of season 2013/14, and a relatively rare visit to Bramall Lane to play Sheffield United. As portents of things to come, neither LfW#29 nor LfW#30 made any difference to the subsequent abject defeats for the U’s, nor indeed the quality of the performances, so let’s see if this one does. I rather fancy if there is to be a change of form tonight that it’ll have more to do one, some or all of our new signings (if match fit) – so let’s see if any start, or are at least on the bench.

As for back in 2013, the universe harmonised to provide that most auspicious of celestial alignments for me, a free weekend, one of the first matches of the season, and virtually on my birthday – all of which resulted in kids being despatched to others and me on the train bright and early for the trip to Sheffield. It’s an easy trip too – living in Warminster at the time it was one short hop to Bristol Temple Meads and then direct to Sheffield, and likewise on the way back – all of which allowed me to relax with some good music and a beer or two for the journey. Even better though, for reasons I was unclear on (think it might have been some sort of family day), Sheffield United decided to reduce adult ticket prices for this match to £10.

Apart from one season in the Championship, the league paths of Colchester United and Sheffield United didn’t cross between 1982 and 2011, and since 2016 haven’t crossed since. So my memories of visits to Bramall Lane are pretty thin on the ground, but I think that apart from our noble 1-0 defeat in the FA Cup back in 2004, this was only my second visit to Bramall Lane. I would go on to make it three visits in 2015 for the infamous ‘three penalties’ victory, but don’t have a programme for that game.



Back in 2004 I’d met up with other U’s fans in the Howard pub, right outside the train station, and although I had one in there again in 2013, there wasn’t much going on, so I headed over to the Rutland Arms nearer the ground. This was much more like it, with a decent crowd of U’s supporters crammed into the small pub, as usual making themselves heard on occasions. There were a fair few Blades in there too, who I guess were grinning and bearing the hicks for the sticks up for their ‘cup final’ against the mighty Sheffield United. Anyway, after a very pleasant few pints catching up with mates, drinking and singing, we headed over to the ground.

The U’s had made a decent start to the season, with victories away at Gillingham and at home to Port Vale, and as a result there was a decent turnout from the faithful (maybe 250-300?), which definitely included Durham and Gerry (I met them) and I think at least Noah and Daniel as well. Not just a decent turnout either, in good voice to cheer the UI’s on against a team rather unimaginatively tipped to be amongst the promotion contenders. Not quite the massed ranks that were there for the FA Cup game, but a good crowd nonetheless.

The U’s were still managed by Joe Dunne at the time, in his first full season in charge after taking over from John Ward. Over the summer, Joe signed a whole host of new talent, including permanent contracts for Craig Eastmond and Sancez Watt from Arsenal, James Bransgrove (Brentford) and Conor Hubble (QPR), as well as loans for Daniel Pappoe and Sam Walker from Chelsea. Out went, amongst others, John-Joe O’Toole, Matt Heath and John White, to be followed not too long after this match by Kemi Izzet.

The U’s lined up that afternoon:

44..Sam Walker
20..Brian Wilson (captain)
4….Magnus Okuonghae
18..Tom Eastman
3….Ryan Dickson
2….David Wright
6….Craig Eastmond
21..Gavin Massey
11..Freddie Sears (Andy Bond 66’)
7….Sanchez Watt (Drey Wright 61’)
17..Jabo Ibehre (Clinton Morrison 80’)

Over their history, Sheffield United have played at all levels within the professional leagues, and many of the faithful will remember meeting them back in the 1981/82 season down in the old Division 4. Indeed, when they encountered each other back in 1979, Sheffield Wednesday v Sheffield United at Hillsborough set the still unbroken Division 3 attendance record of 49,309 spectators. Leading up to this match, following relegation from the Championship at the end of the 2010/11 season, they had failed two years running to get out via the play-offs, and were determined to get it right this time. New manager David Weir had a strong squad to work with, which of course included current Manchester United and England superstar Harry Maguire.



However, superstars or not, the U’s were far from in awe of their big name opponents, and went toe to toe with the Blades right from kick-off. Admittedly most of the early pressure was coming from Sheffield United, with Tony McMahon curling one effort narrowly wide, and Sean McGinty shooting straight at Sam Walker when it looked easier to score, but otherwise we were more or less keeping Sheffield United at bay, whilst always carrying the threat of a breakaway, particularly with the pace of such like Sanchez-Watt, Sears and Eastmond on the pitch.



Eastmond particularly was having a great game in midfield, showing some great touches and vision to pick out killer passes in an instant, alongside David Wright starting to control the middle third. Dickson was having a cracker too, causing no end of torment down the left wing. In the 25th minute Sheffield United were awarded a corner, which broke kindly for the U’s, and on the break Sanchez-Watt received the ball and bore down towards the Blades penalty area. Timing it to perfection, at the last second he slipped the ball across to the onrushing Sears, who drilled his low shot past the dive of ‘keeper George Long and into the back of the net – and then the away end erupted!

It was nothing more than we deserved, and working tirelessly for the remainder of the first half, managed to negate anything that Sheffield United could throw at us. Indeed, the library that Bramall Lane became after Freddie’s goal began to turn positively hostile from the home crowd at times. However, that was until the stroke of half-time, when none other than Harry Maguire tried a speculatively long punt at goal, more in hope than expectation. The ball zipped off the surface, which was a bit greasy, and although Walker seemed to have it covered, it somehow squirmed through his grasp to nestle agonisingly just inside the post...and thus our turn to endure the taunts and catcalls of the home support.

Although there was nothing actually wrong with the half-time pint and pasty, quite nice if I’m honest, it tasted like ashes, I can tell you…

Still, as the second half kicked off, two things were imperative – carry on doing what we were doing so well in the first half, and don’t let their goal give them any momentum. I suppose, on reflection, it’s probably better to concede straight before half-time than straight after, the latter undoing your half-time team talk in an instant, and I’ve always assumed as an ex-U’s player through and through Joe Dunne knew how to talk to the dressing room. It certainly proved to be the case this afternoon, with the U’s very much picking up where we’d left off in the first half, denying Sheffield United at every opportunity.

Obviously Sheffield did come back out with a spring in their step, and we had to defend well for a while, with Walker pulling off excellent saves from Lyle Taylor and Conor Coady efforts, and rushing out to smother the ball at the toes of Taylor from a Fabien Brandy through ball. But we had our moments too, including the referee ruling out Jabo Ibehre converting a Dickson free-kick for offside (harshly I thought, but then again I would, wouldn’t I).



With less than half an hour to go, Joe Dunne brought on Drey Wright and then Andy Bond to tighten up the midfield. With just ten minutes to go, the pantomime boos that greeted the arrival of former-Owl Clinton Morrison were amusing – he enjoyed them, that’s for sure, and the U’s comfortably saw out the remainder of the match, always in control and thoroughly deserving the draw.

Sheffield United 1 (Harry Maguire 45’) Colchester United 1 (Freddie Sears 25’)

The post-match stats show Sheffield enjoying the majority of possession with 54%, and dominating attempts on goal (12, with five on target), compared to the U’s managing just three attempts on goal, with only one on target. It just goes to show that sometimes these stats are meaningless...

On my walk back to the train station, a gnarly (but certainly not distinguished) man of Yorkshire decided to try and fill my face with a vitriolic profanity-laden rant about how undeserved our point was, much to the embarrassment of what I assume must have been his grandson in tow. I was having none of it, and whilst not an overtly aggressive person, decided to stop and laugh full in his face, and ask whether he’d actually been at the match, because he clearly hadn’t been watching the same one that I had – and then just stood there face to face waiting for his next move. His next move was to shuffle away muttering, leaving me to recommence my journey home.

For a season that started so positively for the U’s, it gradually petered out to be a lower mid-table finish with first round exits in all cup competitions. I don’t think it would have been significantly improved, but we weren’t helped by a fixture pile-up after a string of postponements in January and February, either due to cup clashes for others, or waterlogged pitches.

Despite their promotion billing, although Sheffield United finished considerably better than we did, they too missed out on even the play-offs, admittedly by only one place, but with a whopping 7pt gap behind Peterborough United in the last play-off slot. Harry Maguire would leave for £2.5m (to Hull) in the summer, and it would turn out to be another four years before they eventually escaped League 1 back into the Championship.

As I can’t find any highlights for this game, here’s that 80s match from back in Division 4 for you to enjoy. Incidentally, Sheffield United had to use our reserve kit, because their shirts included sponsor’s logos, at the time not permitted on the BBC.



Up the U’s
[Post edited 2 Feb 18:46]
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Letters from Wiltshire #30
at 18:37 30 Jan 2021

Friday night football – can’t beat it. Gives you that feelgood factor all weekend, sitting back to enjoy a stress-free Saturday afternoon watching others fail in your wake. Of course, you have to win first, which we’ve been struggling to do for a while now, so be prepared for the possibility of a miserable weekend just in case. We share this evening with Reading v AFC Bournemouth, albeit they kick-off an hour later than we do. In the real world, leaders of the UK’s five largest business groups have written to Boris demanding action on the substantial difficulties they are facing over Brexit bureaucracy, whilst French border authorities are reporting that two-thirds of lorries arriving from the UK are empty (i.e. no exports leaving the UK). Still, at least the NHS can enjoy their extra £350m per week…
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Letters from Wiltshire #30
at 18:36 29 Jan 2021

Friday night football – can’t beat it. Gives you that feelgood factor all weekend, sitting back to enjoy a stress-free Saturday afternoon watching others fail in your wake. Of course, you have to win first, which we’ve been struggling to do for a while now, so be prepared for the possibility of a miserable weekend just in case. We share this evening with Reading v AFC Bournemouth, albeit they kick-off an hour later than we do. In the real world, leaders of the UK’s five largest business groups have written to Boris demanding action on the substantial difficulties they are facing over Brexit bureaucracy, whilst French border authorities are reporting that two-thirds of lorries arriving from the UK are empty (i.e. no exports leaving the UK). Still, at least the NHS can enjoy their extra £350m per week…

Colchester United v Plymouth Argyle
Saturday 8th February 2020
Sky Bet League Two (Tier 4)
Attendance 4,768




In our current climate (no doubt both on and off the pitch), and in response to LfW#29 reporting on an undeserved defeat at Plymouth Argyle back in 2016, Durham bemoaned a blog on another defeat. Madame La Chance is indeed a capricious mistress, and by complete coincidence has not only rewarded Durham with a victory for Letters from Wiltshire #30, but against the very same Plymouth Argyle, this time in our most recent match against them.

He who would Valiant be...
However, before we get into that, and because I’ve never really explored this empirically, I thought I’d look into my ‘bang for buck’ return on following the U’s. I’ve mentioned on more than a few occasions that as an exile, I am much more likely to follow the U’s at away matches. Within the limitations of my memorabilia collection (by no means anywhere near all matches I’ve attended, just the ones for which I have some sort of physical evidence), this is born out, on a ratio of 2:1 away to home. To be honest, I’m surprised it’s not higher, but I suspect there is a bias involved, in that I’m probably more likely to buy a programme for a home match (and of course they’ve been free for a while now as well).

Since 1990 I have 114 away matches in my collection, of which just 25 are victories, 53 are defeats and 36 draws. To be honest, that’s kind of not bad I reckon, with just over half of my awaydays seeing me head home with at least a point. For the 57 home matches (Layer Rd and Cuckoo Farm), 29 are victories, 12 defeats and 16 draws, which is even better – nearly three-quarters of my long journey’s across to Essex see me heading home with at least a point, and just over half with a victory.

In terms of calendar years (not seasons), not surprisingly the glory years of the Conference feature prominently as good times to follow the U’s, with an average of 2.5pts and 2.2pts per match for me during those two years. 1993, 2005, 2009 and 2017 weren’t too shabby either, all with an average return of 2pts per match in my collection. 2010 was the pits, not a single point witnessed all year, and 1997 (0.3pts per match) wasn’t much better, but for whatever reason these were both years with very few matches evidenced in my collection.

Shifting focus to those years where I’ve got a more complete record of my usual 1+ matches per month (generally 9-12 matches per season), 1998 through to the end of 2002 were exceptionally hard years, with an average of less than a point per match across 50 matches – there ought to be some sort of medal for that. Conversely, 2004-06 was sublime – 21 matches and an average of over 1.75pts per match.

I’m not sure what all this is telling me, other than when it comes matches being selected by random from my memorabilia collection, I guess you have to get used to defeats, because there’s quite a few of them.

Happy Dayz!



…and so to one of those rare thumping victories. For this match, I’d made plans to meet up with my mate Jon, who needed some beer and football therapy – a common state of affairs it has to be said. As is often the case, we were to meet up at Hamilton Hall beforehand, which turned out to also be an opportunity to chat with some of the Pilgrims who’d had the same idea, before heading out to Colchester. Knowing a good deal when I saw one, I’d bought our tickets ahead of the match, and of course chose the print at home option.



Now, the plan had been to print these at work on the Friday, and it was only on the drive home that evening that I remembered I’d forgotten to do so. This required an emergency detour via Chippenham, where I just managed to get through the doors of PC World before they closed, to grab the cheapest printer off the shelf that they had. This kind of blew my financial acumen out of the water, but I still have the printer, it’s still working, and with the benefit of hindsight, with lockdown and home-working just around the corner, it actually turned out to be quite a sensible investment.

The U’s remarkably familiar line-up that day was:

1….Dean Gerken
2….Ryan Jackson
3….Cohen Bramall
18..Tom Eastman
5….Luke Prosser (captain)
8….Harry Pell (Luke Gambin 79’)
14..Brandon Comley
24..Ben Stevenson
15..Callum Harriott (Courtney Senior 82’)
45..Frank Nouble
13..Theo Robinson (Luke Norris 85’)

Well, I say familiar, but it’s of note to reflect on how many sort of big names for the U’s have moved on less than a year later – Jacko, Pross, Luke’s G and N, Theo and of course big Frank (plus unused sub Ethan Ross on the bench). On the day, Plymouth boss Ryan Lowe had former U’s player Joe Edwards on the bench, but I think not surprisingly that was the limit of any tangible connections between the two squads from opposite sides of the country that day. We had taken Tafari Moore on loan from the Pilgrims in January, making his debut on the day he joined in our home win against Macclesfield. He was subbed on 64 minutes, made one more appearance as an unused substitute at Exeter the following week, and that was the end of his Colchester United career (and, it would turn out, his Plymouth career too).

Context
Going into this match, Plymouth were sitting in 3rd place, with games in hand over pretty much everyone else in promotion contention (thanks to a couple of postponements in November and December). They were on a pretty impressive run of form too, having only lost two and drawn one of their last 13 league matches, which had propelled them from 10th into the automatic promotion slots. Although less impressive in terms of games won, the U’s weren’t doing badly either, with only one defeat since mid-October, albeit that had been the previous game away at Cambridge. But 9 of those 17 matches had been drawn, which was enough to keep us in the play-off slots, but not good enough to force us into the top three. All in all, a tough game against very good opposition was expected.

Me and Jon had gone for Row T seats right at the back of South Stand 2, so imagine my delight to discover we were right next to none other than Noah and friends. Wasting no time getting the introductions out of the way (though I’m pretty sure Jon and Noah had met on previous occasions), we settled back to enjoy the match. We didn’t have to wait long either, the U’s were at Plymouth right from the start, who frankly had nothing in their locker to deal with it. Maybe they were just used to teams playing a cautious cagey approach, inviting the Pilgrims to play a possession-based high press, but the U’s were having none of it.

Decent chances had already gone begging when Callum Harriot, who was playing a blinder, latched on to an inch-perfect punt into the right channel, sold his marker the dummy and rolled the ball into the path of Stevenson to side-foot passed the outstretched dive of ‘keeper Wootton. Less than 15 minutes on the clock, and things were looking good already.

Did we stop there, did we heck as like!
On the half hour big Frank weaved his way into the box from the left, bewitching and bamboozling his defender to the point that he virtually left him on his @rse, before chipping delightfully up to Theo Robinson, who buried his header into the top corner passed the (next) despairing dive from Wootton. 2-0 up, and the South Stand was in bedlam, falling over each other in celebration. It wasn’t just the goals, despite Plymouth Argyle looking a decent outfit, they simply could not cope with the U’s.

Pinch me someone…
Six minutes later and we were in dreamland. As if they’d kinda forgotten they were under the cosh, and in danger of being completely overrun, the Argyle defence contrived to dither and dally on the ball deep in their own half, rather than anyone deciding to put their foot through it. Harry Pell was having none of it, and as combative as ever, closed them right down, and was rewarded by a part-poach part-ricochet, which fell perfectly into the path of Robinson on the edge of the box. Holding off the attentions of two defenders, Robinson slotted in under the body of the onrushing Wootton to make it 3-0!!!



Half-time arrived, and amid the celebrations, the big questions were (a) how many more might we score if we kept this up, and (b) how many might Argyle score if we don’t?

We needn’t have worried, as the second half showed the U’s were equally fantastic in defence and game management as they were in attack during the first half. That’s not to say we were under the cosh, as we never really were, just comfortably keeping Plymouth at arm’s reach for most of it, whilst still carrying a significant threat up front when the opportunity presented itself. Robinson, who was on fire, could have grabbed his hat-trick, running on to a long clearance from defence, but with a virtual one on one with Wootton chose to go early and try and chip, which was caught comfortably. He went even closer shortly after, with a definite one on one, with his curling shot evading Wootton and sadly (just) the outside of the post.

Even as the second half wore on and Argyle posed more of a threat, as the U’s sat back more on, clearly happy with a job well done, still the defence was resolute. Even when they looked to breach that defence, there was Gerken keeping out whatever they threw at him. After a flurry of game-management substitutions from McGreal, full-time duly arrived with the U’s not just victorious, but so on top it was almost embarrassing.

Colchester United 3 (Ben Stevenson 14’; Theo Robinson 30’, 36’) Plymouth Argyle 0

It’s difficult to find the right superlatives to do this match justice – but it was without doubt the most consummate, finest performance from a U’s team I’d seen for many years. It wasn’t as if Plymouth Argyle were necessarily poor, they hadn’t been, but they’d been just blown away by our game.

Jon and I yomped back to North Station in time for the fast train back up to London, finding ourselves sharing our carriage with a bunch of Argyle supporters. They were magnanimous in defeat, happy to confirm that was the best team they’d played all season, and certainly no complaints about the result. To their credit, they weren’t taking the long train journey west licking their wounds, they were staying up in London for the weekend, determined to at the very least go out and drown their sorrows that night – and I’m sure they did.

Just over a month later the season was curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic, and after a protracted wait to see if it would ever resume, Plymouth eventually gained automatic promotion on the average points per game measure, and as we know the U’s sneaked the play-offs using the same criteria. Many will point to our final victory at Carlisle as the game that allowed that to happen, but I would argue this match was another significant contributing factor – the least said about the play-offs the better however.



Up the U’s
Blog
Letters from Wiltshire #29
at 18:50 27 Jan 2021

Looks like some around the world have started 2021 a bit cross. Never mind the attempted insurrection at the Capitol earlier this month, those normally laid-back Dutch have now been rioting for three nights running about the imposition of a night-time curfew to try and curb the spread of coronavirus. Farmers in Delhi have stormed through police lines and breached the Red Fort in protest against market reforms, and tragic Somalia has just passed the 30th anniversary of their ongoing civil war. In brighter news, President Biden has immediately begun dismantling and/or reversing some of Trump’s more contentious decisions, including rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, renewed funding for the World Health Organisation, revoking the ‘Muslim travel ban’, defunding the border wall, rescinding Trump’s report calling for a ‘more patriotic’ syllabus in schools, and overturning the ban on transgender people serving in the military.
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