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When Saturday Comes #9
Written by wessex_exile on Saturday, 9th Oct 2021 16:58

After the complete horror-show that was U’s v Salford last Saturday, we find ourselves desperately clinging on to our away form like a drowning man to a lifebuoy…and I have no doubt Tranmere will be seriously stamping on our fingers in that regard. As a Friday night kick-off, I can look forward to the live match stream, which I was fortunately spared for the Salford game (it sounded bad enough). Swings and roundabouts though, if this hadn’t been rearranged to a Friday night, I may well have joined my Tranmere mate Chris and his family for the weekend – Prenton Park is always a good visit for an awayday, so safe travelling and good luck to [b]Durham[/b] and the rest of the U’s faithful who make the trip.

[b]TWTWTW [/b]
One week on, and the country seems to be limping out of the fuel crisis, with most garage forecourts now with pumps getting back to being fully operational – mainly it would seem because everyone now has a full tank of fuel and can’t squeeze any more in. Covid possibly played a part in the shortage of HGV and fuel tanker drivers, and Brexit certainly did, but never underestimate the impact of a government saying “there’s no need to panic” for a perfect storm. It’s times like this you realise quite what a visionary Douglas Adams was – “[i]Let us think the unthinkable, let us do the undoable, let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all[/i]”.

What I didn’t realise, however, was quite how precarious most industry systems are. Ever since the 1940s, when developed by car manufacturers Toyota, pretty much most industries in the UK, including petrol stations, have operated under the principle of JIT systems – Just In Time. The closer companies take delivery of raw materials, stocks etc. to point of sale, the less storage cost they incur, the greater profit margin they make, and ultimately the cheaper it makes goods and services for the consumer. But clearly it’s a fine and fragile line they walk, and it only takes a few dominoes to topple, delays to occur and panic to set in. With the impact from Brexit not getting any better, I suspect this won’t be the first ‘panic-buying’ problem we see in the coming months.

The whole-life sentencing of former Met Policeman Wayne Couzens for the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard has shone a much-needed light on not only the massive problem of male sexual violence towards women, but more alarmingly on a police force which either missed, or chose to ignore, too many red flag behaviours exhibited by not only Couzens, but others within the Met. Much has been said around this case, from the Met, Boris, other ministers etc. about cracking down on perpetrators of sexual violence against women. This is sadly not backed up by action, with only a pitifully low estimated 5.7% of [b][u]reported[/b][/u] rape cases ending in conviction. Something is seriously wrong there.

[b]Closer to home[/b]
Enough about the woes of following Colchester United – last Saturday was dreadful, and more than enough has been said about quite how dreadful too – time to look forward to putting it right as soon as possible. Lots too about reasons why it was so poor too, whether perceived problems with Robbie and the management team, Hayden’s (in)ability, the ‘philosophy’, the lack of Tisdale as support, poor matchday experience, lack of va-va-voom on the pitch, crap catering off the pitch, shite weather, apathetic locals etc etc etc. For me, I’m kind of with Durham on this one – a two-fold problem that combines (a) lack of a genuine no. 9 centre forward, and (b) Mullins playing square pegs in round holes to try and keep the bigger personalities in his squad happy.

Ironically, I actually don’t think Tranmere away is the match to try and fix those problems – Friday night at Prenton Park is going to be hard enough as it is, and certainly not the time to play a revolutionary new line-up/ system of fancy-dans full of vim, vigour, youth and energy – Tranmere would tear us a second one, and we’d be no better off. No, tomorrow night is all about grinding something out using gnarly and grim experienced pros, guts, grit, even cynical gamesmanship if we need to…then use the eight days we have to really focus on the problems and how to fix them.

The fact is though that unless we wait until January the elusive centre forward that everyone can see we need is going to have to be a free agent, and let’s face it, if they are it’s probably for a good reason. Folivi might have been the solution, but personally I’m not getting my hopes up he’ll even be match fit by January. If you’re reading this Frank, don’t take it the wrong way – I still see you as an essential starter for most matchdays, just out on the left, not centre forward. Longer-term, I’d stick Sears in the middle, have Frank out left, and somehow find a place for both Dobra and Jasper. Eastman and Smith have to start, Hannant needs some serious bench-time, as will Coxe if he doesn’t improve. Tchamadeu should probably be a regular starter, with Tovide ready as an impact sub, or to take over if Sears or Frank don’t start scoring for fun.

[b]Stat attack[/b]
Tranmere Rovers are one of those sides that generally more often or not we find ourselves pitted against, but also one of those sides who seem to go missing for prolonged periods. Traditionally a consistent Tier 3 side, those years going missing have mainly been down to the U’s being in a lower league, though notably our paths never crossed throughout the 90s whilst Tranmere enjoyed their most prolonged period of success in the Championship.

Like the U’s, they too know the perils of falling into non-league, doing so in 2015 and taking three seasons to clamber their way out again (take note Southend). Since then, and unlike the U’s, they have carried on that trajectory and achieved promotion to League 1 in 2019/20, only to fall immediately back to League 2 in the covid-curtailed 2020/21 season. I guess they could count themselves unlucky, being relegated on the points per game metric, when chairman Mark Palios argued that they had every chance of winning enough points to avoid the drop if the season had continued…but, those were the rules, just a tough break really.

Over the years since our first ever meeting on 27th September 1958, the U’s have played the Superwhites 61 times in all competitions, winning 17, drawing 21 and losing 23. I say all competitions, but we’ve only ever played Tranmere once in a cup game – 3rd Round of the League Cup in 1981 at Prenton Park, and we lost 1-0. Overall then, a fairly indifferent slight-leaning-towards-Tranmere kind of record, and not too bad, but it kind of looks worse when we consider just visits to Prenton Park, where we’ve played 31 times and won just six of them. However, it really does depend quite how you slice that pie, look at it another way, and since September 1985 we’ve played 17 times at Prenton Park and lost just three times!

So, all in all, we’ll probably lose…or win…or maybe draw – I’m not certain, but I bet it’s one of them.

Tranmere enjoy quite a clutch of famous supporters, certainly makes our solitary Steve Lamacq pail into insignificance a bit (not that we don’t love you Steve). These include (apparently) Elvis Costello, referee Mike Dean, Ray Stubbs (and played for them as well), the Dimbleby brothers and Craig ‘Lister’ Charles. However, and of particular relevance to [b]Whalebelly[/b] and anyone else who enjoys the fusion of football and music, Half Man Half Biscuit are passionate supporters, apparently once turning down an opportunity to appear on The Tube because Tranmere were playing that night.

[b]Match of the Day
[i]Yeovil Town v Colchester United
30th October 1991
Vauxhall Conference (Tier 5)
Attendance 2,385[/i][/b]

If you’re a big believer in fate, I’m not quite sure quite what you’d make of the random match selector for WSC09 (or to be more precise this week [i]Thank f’ck it’s Friday[/i]), which goes all the way back to almost exactly 30 years ago today, and a mid-week difficult trip to Yeovil Town for the U’s, at the time struggling to get out of the Conference for the second time of asking. Those of you whose glass is half-full will undoubtedly point to the victory in the face of adversity analogy, whereas the half-empty sorts will probably go pfft – Conference, how poetic, because that’s just where we’re heading now.

Although there’s not too much specific detail I can remember from that match, it is still one of those that I recall for a number of reasons very well indeed. First off, after a working holiday touring Ireland for about two months with my then partner, I’d returned to Wiltshire in the summer, and for this match had been posted down to the South West working on the new Ilchester to Odcombe Reservoir pipeline, staying overnight in a tidy little holiday let between Ilchester and Tintinhull, and just a few miles from Huish Park. This would be my first of many visits to Huish Park, built just a year earlier, and whilst I haven’t always enjoyed the result, I have always enjoyed the occasion.

The U’s under new player-manager Roy McDonough had made a pretty decent start to the second season in the Conference, and with the only blemish in the opening dozen matches being a surprise 2-3 home defeat against then leaders Farnborough Town, were third in the league going into the Yeovil game, behind guess who and Farnborough at the top. Yeovil were having a harder time of it, third from bottom and perilously close to relegation to the Southern League. However, any team underestimated Yeovil Town at their peril, and the Glovers had just got through the qualifiers to an FA Cup 1st Round match against Walsall, so certainly couldn’t be taken lightly.

The U’s lined up:
1….Scott Barrett
2….Warren Donald
3….Paul Roberts (programme lists Ian Phillips)
4….Mark Kinsella
5….Tony English
6….Shaun Elliott
7….Eamonn Collins
8….Gary Bennett (James Goodwin 30’)
9….Roy McDonough
10..Steve McGavin
11..Nicky Smith

I’ll be honest, even googling one or two names, there’s no one from the Yeovil line-up who rings any bells with me – even the player-manager Steve Rutter was a complete unknown, and still is now (though I have learned he had the honour of being the final player to touch the ball on the infamously sloping pitch of Huish Athletic Ground a year earlier). Mind you, James Goodwin on the U’s bench completely threw me as well, which is pretty poor when I discovered of the five U’s matches he’d taken part in (three from the bench) I was at two of them (he would start in our FA Cup replay at Exeter a month later, subbed in the second half).

I drove the short distance to this one, so decided to forego the opportunity for a quick pre-match pint and joined a pretty decent gathering on the away end open terrace. There must have been somewhere about 100-150 that had made the long trip that day, pretty much all of whom wouldn’t be home until well into Halloween. All the more impressive when I learned on the terrace that three of the U’s faithful had missed the CUSA coach departure from Layer Road. Undeterred, a quick call to a local taxi firm agreed a round-trip fee of £150 and they were on their way – they even paid for a match ticket for the taxi driver. Even at the time, I had to marvel at actually how cost-effective that was – okay, they’d already paid for a coach seat, but still – £50 each for a door-to-door round trip to Somerset from Essex was even then way cheaper than trying to do it by train, not that in the time allowed the journey would have been possible by train anyway.

It was a desperately cold night too, a crisp cloudless late October evening, with the scent of a heavy frost in the air for the morning. Not necessarily ideal for supporters on an open terrace, but perfect for a flowing passing game of football on a firm pitch. The U’s didn’t disappoint either, taking the game to Yeovil from the kick-off, though to be fair on occasion Yeovil gave as good as they got and refused to roll over in front of their high-flying opponents. It was a robust game, as you’d expect in non-league, but never really dirty. Even when Gary Bennett was taken off injured on the half-hour mark, to be replaced by the aforementioned Goodwin, it was really nothing more than a heavy physical challenge.

The change seemed to unsettle the U’s game for a period, and the remainder of the first half was a much more even contest, Yeovil on occasions going close themselves, but without ever really testing Scott Barrett. 0-0 at half-time, and the news of the Taxi Three had filtered through to the stadium announcer, who was more than happy to broadcast their efforts to the crowd, drawing a generous round of applause from all sides of the ground.

It’s also worth noting that for a freezing cold October evening, on an open terrace, the vocal support for the U’s was both unrelenting and magnificent. We didn’t let up into the second half either, and as the game wore on, and with the U’s playing towards their support, if anything it increased in volume. Eventually, inevitably, some brave hardy souls decided that was the night to go shirts off, and whilst there wasn’t a cat in hells chance of me doing likewise, you had to marvel at their passion on what was a bitterly cold night.

But, despite all of the magnificent support, despite wave after wave of U’s attacks, we just couldn’t break down a resilient Yeovil Town, and whilst on balance it wouldn’t necessarily have been a bad point to earn, just a point nevertheless was looking to be our meagre return for the effort…

…and then in the dying seconds, from a cross out on the right, up rose diminutive Steve McGavin, salmon-like, to head past the despairing dive of Glovers ‘keeper David Fry and into the back of the net. The away terrace erupted, fans were on the pitch, the players virtually on the terrace, complete and utter bedlam ensued – and it was nothing more than we all, including the Taxi Three and driver, deserved!

[b]Yeovil Town 0 Colchester United 1 (Steve McGavin 90’)[/b]

Tellingly, given how the season would eventually pan out, that result, which was our game in hand on Wycombe, moved the U’s level on points with the Chairboys and into second place on goal difference. Ten days later, avenging our earlier home defeat with a 2-0 victory at Farnborough (in front of huge numbers of U’s fans) the U’s moved to the top of the table where we stayed for the remainder of the season.

People often point to Scott Barrett’s remarkable last-minute goal at Adams Park as the crucial moment in our promotion campaign, and I’d be hard-pressed to disagree, but it would have counted for nothing without McGavin’s oh so late winner at a freezing Huish Park that night.

Up the U’s

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