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When Saturday Comes #1
Written by wessex_exile on Sunday, 8th Aug 2021 14:29

So here we go for another rollercoaster ride on the trials and tribulations of being a U’s supporter. 2021/22 is a noteworthy personal milestone, as we start my 50th season following Colchester United Football Club. Nowhere near as long-suffering and venerable as some of you out there I know, but it’s significant to me that’s for sure. More of less this time next (on my birthday as it happens) will be my actual 50th anniversary – will I be celebrating with the U’s in League 1? Who knows, but with the players that Hayden Mullins has added to the squad during the summer, hope springs eternal.


I still haven’t reconciled quite what the format of the new blog is going to be, but one thing is for sure, I won’t be able to do these per match, it will have to be a Saturday thing, hence the copyright challenging title of the blog. Of course, a U’s match will feature, but potentially also commentary on the events of the week at times, some stats maybe, really anything that has grabbed me that seems appropriate.

[b]Euro 2020[/b]
The delayed Euro 2020 competition was in many respects a real shot in the arm for English football in general, with Gareth’s brave lions doing the nation proud with their conduct both on and off the pitch. To reach our first major final since 1966 was one hell of an achievement, and with a squad brimming with youthful talent it really does bode well for years to come. I’m really looking forward to seeing how we fare in next years’ World Cup (pandemic permitting).

Euro 2020 did also, unfortunately, remind us that football still has a long way to go to rid itself of the scourge of racism, with Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho on the wrong end of shameful vile racist abuse from alleged England ‘supporters’ after missing their kicks in the penalty shoot-out (inevitable) defeat to Italy in the final. I’m delighted to see that some of those responsible have since been arrested, but if anyone was in any doubt why footballers feel the need to make a stand against racism by taking the knee, there’s your answer – and why protests like these are still needed.

[b]Closer to home[/b]
On the home front, Col U TV has been launched, and whilst still a bit ‘wooden’ at times, it is a welcome addition to the ways and means we hear news about the club. I didn’t win one of the commemorative shirts from the Southend United victory (how much fun was that! Cheerio Southend), but I did still earn enough loyal supporter tokens to get a replica anyway, and a loyal supporter mug too, to add to my growing collection (several of which courtesy of Daniel).

With, for now, social-distancing regulations relaxed, the EFL has reintroduced the ban on streaming matches in the Saturday afternoon slot. I can understand why, as disappointing as it is to no longer be able to watch matches as an exile from afar, all clubs will be suffering financially, and streaming revenue just can’t match revenue from bums on seats – nor, as we saw in Euro 2020, the difference a decent atmosphere inside a ground makes. I will take my consolation from the fact that I (and others) was able to watch every single match of the 2020/21 season – a feat never achieved before, and likely never to be achieved again.

As some will have already seen, and on behalf of others involved in the concept, I have a Club United proposal active, aiming to raise £5k in pledges to deliver a seat design suggestion that would add “1937” to the North Stand and a stylised version of the club crest eagle to the South Stand. Thanks to any of you who have already pledged – at the last count it has raised £731.87. Not a bad start since going live on Wednesday, but still a way to go yet if it’s to reach the target by the 1st January 2022 deadline.

All donations gratefully received btw 😊

[b]Stat attack[/b]

Releasing my inner nerd, I thought I’d have a quick look at opening day fixtures throughout the history of the club since 1937. Our excellent presence on Wikipedia (never mind Graeson’s excellent www.coludata.co.uk) rightly states that 2021/22 will be Colchester United’s 85th season as a football club, and they’re not wrong. However, this includes the five years of the Second World War, when competitive football was suspended (barring four matches played in 1939/40 before the outbreak of war). In reality, this is actually our 80th competitive season, meaning there have been 79 previous first day fixtures for the U’s. Mostly league matches, there have been a few season’s where our opening game was a cup match, mostly including a run of League Cup games in the mid to late 70s, but of course also including our 1972 Watney Cup semi-final against Luton Town.

Overall, we’ve scored 128 goals on the first day, and conceded 108 – a reasonably positive return over the years. It will come as no surprise that the highest score was our magnificent seven at Carrow Road in 2009, but who also can forget the 6-3 demolition of Chesterfield at Saltergate in 2001, the 4-1 victory at QPR the season before (in the League Cup), or most recently winning 4-2 at Preston North End in 2011 (one I had the pleasure to witness and featured in MoY #18). Remarkably, these were all away from home, but Layer Road also witnessed a couple of thumping victories under Benny Fenton back in the 60s too, 4-0 in 1960 against Hull City, and 4-1 against Barnsley in 1963.

On the win, lose or draw front, again our first day form is reasonably healthy, with 34 wins, 19 draws and 26 defeats. Our longest successful run was six on the trot from 1997/98 through to 2002/03. Our worst streak was just three on the bounce from 1964/65 to 1965/66, but before we get our hopes up too much, it’s sobering to reflect that our last victory on the opening day of a season was back in 2013/14 (1-0 at Gillingham under Joe Dunne), since when we’ve drawn five and lost twice.

[b]Match of the Day
[i]Gillingham v Colchester United
Saturday 3rd August 2013
Sky Bet Football League Division 1 (Tier 3)
Attendance 6,792[/i][/b]

If I’m going to sued for copyright infringement, I might as well go down in flames with the title for this section of the blog. [i]Match of the Day[/i] for WSC#1 goes back to that Saturday afternoon on 3rd August 2013 at the Priestfield Stadium (known today as the MEMS Priestfield Stadium for sponsorship reasons). Managed by Joe Dunne, this was our sixth consecutive season in League 1, and after narrowly avoiding relegation the previous season, Joe was determined to get the season off to a good start against his former club Gillingham (Joe is still seen very much as a club legend by Gills as well as U’s). I travelled over on the train for this one, meeting up with my mate Jon at Hamilton Hall for a few fresheners before the relatively short journey out into Kent, to take our place up at the back of the open end at the Priestfield alongside what must have been about 500 of the faithful.

Joe had been reasonably busy in the close season, meaning today saw debuts for Ryan Dickson, and technically Craig Eastmond and big Sam Walker as well. Craig originally joined the U’s on loan back in 2012, on the day Joe Dunne took over as manager, but an injury forced him back to his parent club Arsenal in December of that year. When Arsenal announced they were releasing Eastmond, Joe was straight in there to get Eastmond signed up for the start of this season. Sam had signed on loan for the second half of the previous season, and then rejoined on a new loan deal (and hence a new debut) for the start of this season.

The U’s lined up that day:
44..Sam Walker
2….David Wright
3….Ryan Dickson
4….Magnus Okuonghae
6….Craig Eastmond (Andy Bond 87’)
11..Freddie Sears (Drey Wright 78’)
15..Marcus Bean (Alex Gilbey 74’)
17..Jabo Ibehre
18..Tom Eastman
20..Brian Wilson (captain)
21..Gavin Massey

First off, it was a very hot day, so being bleached on the open terrace after a lunchtime bunch of beers was not the most comfortable of surroundings. However, the Gillingham scally away to our left kept the U’s faithful both amused, and therefore in good voice. For much of the game, it was too solid sides very evenly matched and largely cancelling each other out. There were moments, Danny Kedwell for Gillingham hit the woodwork with Walker beaten, and both Freddie and Jabo went close at the other end, though from our vantage point quite how close was difficult to ascertain.

Into the second half, and the game started to open up a bit more with decent chances for both sides. Sam did well keeping out an effort from Charlie Lee, and Alex Gilbey had at least two clear-cut chances to take the lead without really testing Nelson in the Gillingham goal. Just before his substitution, Marcus Bean went close too, but it was Joe’s subs that would ultimately make the difference.

As the second half wore one, and with a 0-0 stalemate looking on the cards, Joe Dunne introduced Alex Gilbey (for Bean) and Drey Wright (for Freddie) in rapid succession, and then finally with just three minutes of normal time to go, Andy Bond replaced new-boy Craig Eastmond. It paid off too, as Drey Wright jinking and swerving in the box, provided the inch-perfect pass for Andy Bond to drill home with just a minute to go (and with what I think was his first touch of the game). The away terrace erupted in bedlam, and we were still celebrating like maniacs as the mass exodus from the Priestfield was in full flow.

[b]Gillingham 0 Colchester United 1 (Andy Bond 89’)[/b]

Come the end of the season, the even balance between the two sides was born out, with the U’s finishing 16th on 53 points and Gillingham 17th on the same points. Albeit we hadn’t really ever challenged for promotion (though 2 wins and 2 draws at the start had kept us briefly in the play-offs), Joe had at least delivered on his promise to improve on the previous 20th place finish.

First off, there is a good post-match interview with Joe Dunne on YouTube that was aired by Gillingham Football Club. Joe’s somewhat downbeat demeanour clearly a testament to his respect for Gillingham Football Club.

There is also a match highlights video, though it looks like it was filmed on a potato, and there’s no sound.

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When Saturday Comes #14 by wessex_exile
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