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

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

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

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

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

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

You might feel a little prick…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Birthday Freddie!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A match made in heaven 😊

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

When Saturday Comes #15
at 13:35 21 Nov 2021

When Saturday Comes, and finally the U’s return to the league programme after what seems an age as a result of our international break. The Forest Green match has been rearranged for 21st December, the last Tuesday before Xmas, and it will no doubt be a chilly night on top of the hill overlooking Nailsworth. Originally billed as a 7pm kick-off, it seems to have been pushed back to 7.45pm now – better make sure before I set off on the short drive for that one. Talking of short drives, bravo to our U18s winning 2-0 at Swindon in the FA Youth Cup midweek, to set up a mouth-watering home tie against Arsenal in the 3rd Round.
When Saturday Comes #15
at 13:32 20 Nov 2021

When Saturday Comes, and finally the U’s return to the league programme after what seems an age as a result of our international break. The Forest Green match has been rearranged for 21st December, the last Tuesday before Xmas, and it will no doubt be a chilly night on top of the hill overlooking Nailsworth. Originally billed as a 7pm kick-off, it seems to have been pushed back to 7.45pm now – better make sure before I set off on the short drive for that one. Talking of short drives, bravo to our U18s winning 2-0 at Swindon in the FA Youth Cup midweek, to set up a mouth-watering home tie against Arsenal in the 3rd Round.

This weekend is another common destination in my football calendar, Stevenage at the Lamex Stadium, though I confess with an awful lot of other things going on this weekend, I’m still undecided whether to make the trip. It was definitely off for dog-sitting duties at one point, then potentially back on with dog-sitting probably now rearranged to midweek next week (trying to keep the hooch entertained whilst I watch the Exeter City iFollow stream). I think it’ll wait until the morning for a decision whether to travel to Stevenage or not (probably depend on whether the boy has made plans with mates to go terrorising the locals around town or not…).

Not really much to say really, other than to shake my head in utter dismay and disbelief about the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict, one of the most blatant miscarriages of justice in recent years. Not just the verdict either, but the performance of his defence counsel to systematically deny as many black faces from sitting on the jury (all, apparently, within the rules) as possible.

Nor indeed Judge Schroeder, who went to any lengths to steer the jury towards that verdict, virtually demanding it in fact. Referring to a juror in a previous trial as “the Black” (the only person of colour on that particular jury as well), singing “Autumn Leaves” a capella to a smiling Rittenhouse, insisting the victims of Rittenhouse be referred to as looters or rioters during the trial, not victims, demonstrating clear bias repeatedly admonishing the prosecution – a catalogue of deeds which in any decent world would show him to be not fit to preside.

Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL star, stated the verdicts were the result of a racist justice system. “We just witnessed a system built on white supremacy validate the terroristic acts of a white supremacist. This only further validates the need to abolish our current system. White supremacy cannot be reformed”. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hit the nail on the head in a post to her Twitter account “What we are witnessing is a system functioning as designed and protecting those it was designed for”.

Donald Trump has written to Rittenhouse congratulating him on the verdict – says it all really.

Closer to home
First off, we now know our FA Cup 2nd Round opponent at the JobServe will be League One pace-setters Wigan Athletic, with the match selected for ‘extended highlights’ by the BBC and rescheduled to be a 1230 kick-off on Sunday 5th December. I’m not quite sure what ‘extended highlights’ means literally, but I assume more or less exactly what it says on the tin, to be broadcast after the match has finished? Quite why the kick-off time had to be rearranged as a result is beyond me – all I do know is iFollow don’t have broadcasting rights for anything other than the league and Papa Johns EFL Trophy, so I’ll only be watching it live if I make the journey to Essex. Still, another £12k of broadcasting fees for the January transfer window pot won’t go amiss.

As if one cup competition wasn't enough, through a stroke of good fortune thanks to Ajibola Alese’s appearance for the West Ham U21s, we now also face a tricky visit to Swindon Town in the 2nd Round knock-out stage of said Papa Johns EFL Trophy. Still, if the youth team can do it at the County Ground, why not the 1st XI. Though I couldn’t make it over for the U18 match, I’ll hope to be there on Tuesday 30th November for that one.

Have you seen this man?

It's proving tricky to keep tabs on all of the rearranged dates, and to add to the confusion our midweek trip to Bradford City on Tuesday 7th December has been pushed back to the Wednesday to accommodate our Sunday FA Cup kick-off against Wigan. Between now and the end of the year we now have eleven fixtures to complete in less than six weeks, and some bloody tricky ones in the league too – Exeter (h), Newport (h), Bradford (a), FGR (a), Leyton Orient (h) and Sutton (a) to name but a few. Where we will be going into 2022 is anyone’s guess but looking at the games coming up if you offered me right now mid-table obscurity, in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup and Folivi fit and well and raring to go, I’d bite your hand off.

Stat attack
As win ratios are concerned, if you ignore the teams we’ve only played a handful of times and stick to those who are actually in double figures, our 58.82% win ratio against Stevenage (17 games, won 10, drawn 4, lost just 3) is about as good as it gets. There are a small number of clubs above that, but it’s the likes of Folkestone, Bath, Barry, Dartford or reserve sides, all way back in our formative years. Incidentally, if you’re wondering, our bête noire is Rotherham United – played 25 times, won just three of them ☹.

Following their promotion to the Football League in 2010, our paths first crossed back in 2011 when Stevenage won back-to-back promotions to League One via a play-off victory over Torquay United. Remarkably, given our overall record against the Boro, we were hammered in that first encounter 6-1, and only managed a 0-0 draw in the return fixture at Broadhall Way. Thereafter, we won the next six in a row, and it would take until 2018 for Stevenage to win again, though to be fair they did do the double over the U’s that season (thanks Guthrie!). At Broadhall Way our record if anything is even better – in nine attempts (including an EFL Trophy game) we’ve won five times, drawn three times and just one defeat in 2018.

Match of the Day
Swindon Town v Colchester United
1st January 2005
Coca-Cola Football League One (Tier 3)
Attendance 6,468

Like the U’s, Match of the Day for WSC14 returns to football league action this weekend and given there’s a bit of a Swindon theme going on at the moment for both the Junior and Senior U’s, coincidentally the random match generator has chosen another of my many trips to the County Ground. I’ve already covered my Cuckoo Farm petition signature harvest at Torquay (WSC05) back in November of the previous year, and this was another of them, again coordinated by the inestimable Rob Knight.

With work to do, this wasn’t to be a beer-fuelled away day, so after returning from a stay away at the in-laws, I met up with Rob and the rest of the petition team outside the ground to plan our strategy. Whilst most headed off around the ground pre-match to start gathering signatures from mingling fans, my eyes set upon the adjacent County Hotel – “I’ll take that Rob 😊”. Normally a home fans only drinking venue, and with me in my U’s shirt, the doormen were a little befuddled to start with – could I go in to collect signatures in “that” shirt? Eventually, after a bit of a mental coin toss, they decided f’ck it, it was my funeral if it went south.

They needn’t have worried, the Swindon supporters, once they’d got over the shock of seeing a U’s shirt in their midst, listened to what I had to say, why we were raising a petition, and virtually every one of them more than happy to sign the petition. Of course, there were more than a few comments along the lines of “anything to get rid of that Layer Road dump”, but heart-warming solidarity as soon as they realised the petition was really to try and persuade a reluctant council to actually do something – council being the magic word.

Less than an hour later, and with half a dozen sheets completed, it was time to regroup and ready ourselves for the game. I decided I’d probably pushed my luck as far as I should and decided to not try and sneak a cheeky half in the County Hotel – in fact if memory serves, I don’t think I even had time for one at the ground either.

The U’s lined up:
13..Dean Gerken
5….Wayne Brown
12..Pat Baldwin
18..Liam Chilvers
25..Sam Stockley
4….Gavin Johnson (14 Stephen Hunt 85’)
6….Kevin Watson
26..Neil Danns
28..Richard Garcia (23 John White 82’)
2….Greg Halford
9….Craig Fagan

Veteran ‘keeper Aidan Davison was rested for this one, still recovering from a groin strain, and a youthful teenage Dean Gerken was given the nod in goal. Before we go any further though, can we all just take a moment and bow our head in prayer that we ever see a line-up like that again for the U’s. Parky, in his second full season in charge, was starting to assemble a really impressive squad, and whilst the results weren’t yet matching that potential, there were clear signs we were heading in the right direction. His signings included Neil Danns, who had been on loan from Blackburn as injury cover for a couple of months earlier in the season, and finally signed permanently for the U’s just two days before Christmas – a real coup as far as the faithful were concerned.

Swindon had a deserved reputation as a good footballing side at the time, and were handily placed in 10th spot, just three points outside the play-offs. With a game in hand and a six-point margin to the relegation zone, I wouldn’t say the U’s were in a comfortable place in the league, and really needed the points to keep any nagging worries about relegation at bay. We’d had a poor December really, without a win at all since that match at Torquay, but a battling 2-2 at Luton just after Christmas had certainly helped morale.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t really much of a surprise that for the opening 20-25 minutes Swindon were pressing the U’s hard, stifling most opportunities for us to get up the pitch and pose a threat of our own. Mind you, the defence were more than a match for what Swindon had to offer, and whilst the %age stats might have been skewed in Swindon’s favour, it was by and large a fairly even contest between two teams trying to play the right way.

And then everything started to click for the U’s – first off, Gavin Johnson timed his run perfectly to meet a corner and bullet home a point-blank header which stunned the County Ground into silence – well, apart from our merry gang that is. We weren’t done there either, and seven minutes later it was 2-0. A long throw from (I think) Greg Halford bounced back out to him and whipping in a peach of a cross the ball broke kindly for newbie Neil Danns to hammer home past the despairing dive of ‘keeper Rhys Evans – Dannsy’s first goal since signing full-time.

Swindon were shell-shocked (in fact, rumoured to be hungover as well after a New Years Eve party allegedly), and needed half-time to regroup and have some fire put in their belly by manager. Whatever he said to them, within two minutes of the second half kicking off it was all undone by a rampant U’s. A surging mazy run from midfield by Danns saw Swindon players just backing off and backing off, before (whether by accident or design) the ball broke perfectly for Richard Garcia to drill into the bottom left corner of the goal and send the travelling faithful into raptures (with boos and jeers echoing around the rest of the County Ground).

And that was that, Swindon had had the stuffing literally knocked out of them, and there was no way back. The U’s defence marshalled what little lacklustre effort they made to get back in the game. We didn’t really even have to try too hard to get a fourth, though it would have been nice, the match was done, time to just keep things tight and return to Essex with a much-needed 3pts and a welcome clean sheet for youngster Gerks (in fact, I think his first victory in a U’s shirt?). A couple of tactical substitutions by Parky with less than ten minutes to go, bringing on John White and Stephen Hunt for goalscorers Garcia and Johnson, was the final nail in Swindon’s coffin, and the U’s had made a perfect start to the New Year.

Swindon Town 0 Colchester United 3 (Gavin Johnson 31’; Neil Danns 38’; Richard Garcia 47’)

That result kind of put the mockers on any serious promotion challenge by Swindon Town, and they finished mid-table. The U’s, although buoyed by the result, and a follow-up battling 0-0 at Layer Road against Oldham, still struggled to find real consistency in their form through most of January and February.

But Parky wasn’t going to be swayed from his path and following a decent point in a 0-0 at Port Vale in early March, the U’s went unbeaten for the rest of the season, eventually finishing lower mid-table and comfortably clear of any serious relegation worries. That run of form, matched in equal measure by dogged resilience when needed, for the final 11 games of the season was heartening to see, and with the benefit of hindsight, clearly a portent of better things to come the following season.

Remarkably, the highlights are still available on YouTube for your entertainment.

[Post edited 20 Nov 13:35]
Commiserations to Ethan Ross
at 20:12 17 Nov 2021

In goal tonight in Stockport's FA Cup replay against Bolton. 2-0 down after five minutes, and nothing he could do about either - a wicked deflection left him completely stranded, then a freakish incident when a defender cleared a dangerous cross he had covered, only for it to rebound off the standing leg of the defender and back into the net.

Stockport, remarkably, are still in it, just got one back from the penalty spot.
San Marino v England World Cup qualifier
at 19:33 15 Nov 2021

I wasn't planning on starting a thread for tonight's match, but seeing the "One Team in Essex" Southend United flag behind the goal, I feel compelled to comment that it's remarkably gracious of them to acknowledge it
[Post edited 15 Nov 19:33]
When Saturday Comes #14
at 14:06 14 Nov 2021

This week, When Saturday Comes the U’s find themselves on an international break and a weekend off for the WAGs to get in some Christmas shopping. Just as well too, given the U’s have inconsiderately eased past AFC Sudbury to deny them the customary FA Cup Second Round break in December to do likewise. We wait to hear who our opponent will be at the JobServe – it’ll be either top of League One Wigan Athletic or Cameron Coxe’s National League parent club Solihull Moors, who replay at Damson Park on Tuesday evening. Incidentally, Solihull Moors may be part of history being made today, with their match at Meadow Lane already expected to easily top 10,000, and may break the record attendance for that league, which currently stands at 11,083 when Bristol Rovers faced Alfreton Town in 2015.
When Saturday Comes #14
at 14:04 13 Nov 2021

This week, When Saturday Comes the U’s find themselves on an international break and a weekend off for the WAGs to get in some Christmas shopping. Just as well too, given the U’s have inconsiderately eased past AFC Sudbury to deny them the customary FA Cup Second Round break in December to do likewise. We wait to hear who our opponent will be at the JobServe – it’ll be either top of League One Wigan Athletic or Cameron Coxe’s National League parent club Solihull Moors, who replay at Damson Park on Tuesday evening. Incidentally, Solihull Moors may be part of history being made today, with their match at Meadow Lane already expected to easily top 10,000, and may break the record attendance for that league, which currently stands at 11,083 when Bristol Rovers faced Alfreton Town in 2015.

Tommy Smith, Armando Dobra and Sylvester Jasper are all away at the moment representing their national sides. Smith played in a non-cap behind-closed-doors game against an Algerian A side, a warm-up match in preparation for their full international friendly against Zambia next week. The All Whites recorded an impressive 2-1 victory over one of the top ranked sides in Africa, albeit this was their ‘A’ side, and Smith certainly started and I think also finished the game.

Armando’s Albania U21 side were less fortunate against Slovenia U21s in the UEFA U21 Championship, losing 3-0 to reverse their 2-0 victory last month (with Armando scoring the second). Armando started, but was subbed with ten minutes to go, Albania already 3-0 down at the time. They play again on Tuesday night, away at Kosovo U21, a game they must win to keep in touch with the top two sides in Group 7, Czech Republic and England.

Meanwhile in Holland, Sylvester made his international debut for Bulgaria, starting the game against Netherlands U21s. Bulgaria took a surprising early lead against a strong Dutch side, but by early in the second half were 2-1 down. Jasper was subbed with just over 20 minutes to go, but to no avail as the Netherlands scored and injury-time penalty to make it 3-1. Bulgaria’s next match isn’t until 24th of March, the return fixture against Netherlands, so I’d imagine Sylvester will be heading back to Blighty soon.

As Boris continues to refuse to deal with the sleaze scandal surrounding the Tories, or even apologise for his handling of it, a Daily Mail (of all people) poll puts the Labour party 6 points ahead. Still, I firmly expect Kier Starmer to ineffectually fritter that away in due course, so I’m not buying red rosettes yet.

Negotiators at the COP26 climate talks are hopeful an agreement can be reached today to keep the Paris Accord alive and commit over 200 nations (thankfully now including America again) to significant measures to avert the worst impacts of global warming climate change. Okay, so the irony that most of these flew in on private jets for the event is not lost on most people, but humanity must start to realise that we exist in a fragile ecosystem that will have no hesitation in cleansing us from the surface if we continue to f’ck it up.

Over the pond, former mentalist Britney Spiers has finally been released from a 13 year conservatorship controlling both her finances and her personal affairs that was imposed by her father. I was surprised to learn these are not uncommon arrangements in the US apparently, though human rights activists are fighting hard to try and make them as extinct as we will be if we don’t sort out climate change.

In lighter news, alleged mail fraud and money launderer Steve Bannon finds himself back in hot water, after a federal grand jury indicted Bannon for contempt of Congress. He is charged with one count related to his refusal to appear for a deposition and another related to his refusal to produce documents and could face up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine. Unfortunately for Bannon, he doesn’t have Trump on hand to escape prosecution with a presidential pardon this time – couldn’t happen to a more deserving individual.

Closer to home
Of course the big news for Colchester United this week focused on the EFL Trophy. After a spirited, gutsy, determined performance at Portman Road on Tuesday, to earn a much-deserved point, our country cousins took the bonus point courtesy of the penalty shoot-out. It was gutting to go out in that manner, particularly for young Chay Cooper who was so unlucky as his final spot-kick glanced off the inside of Hladký’s right post, careened spinning along the goal line and narrowly missed going in off the far post.

© Rex Features

As disappointed as we all were, we needn’t have been, as we learned the following morning that it had already been determined that the West Ham U21 side would be docked 3 points for fielding an ineligible player in their game at Gillingham last month – a game they won 2-0. West Ham’s England Youth defender Ajibola Alese had already been booked in the previous two ties, and should have been suspended, but whoever’s job it was to make sure these things didn’t happen didn’t do their job, and is presumably now dusting down their CV. Gillingham were awarded the £10k win bonus, West Ham deducted 3 points, and the U’s finished in the second qualification slot with 4 points.

The draw for Round 2 of the EFL Trophy is at 2pm this afternoon (on Sky I think?), we will be away at either Exeter City, Swindon Town, Leyton Orient or Cambridge United – yes, Special Duties’ Wembley Wembley is already echoing around in my head.

Match of the Day
England v Poland
26th March 1999
UEFA U21 Championship (Qualifiers)
Attendance 15,202 (The Dell)

It seemed fitting, with the U’s on an international break, that Match of the Day for WSC14 would do likewise, featuring England’s U21 qualifier against Poland way back in 1999. I must confess I’m very much an armchair supporter where England is concerned – I’ll always watch the matches, and always support England, but generally don’t have the same urge as others to follow England in person. In fact, I’ve only been to three internationals that I can recall, England’s 1978 4-1 victory over Hungary in a Wembley friendly, this match at the Dell, and another U21 game against Republic of Ireland at St Mary’s in 2008.

The backstory to the Poland game begins with a good friend, former colleague and avid Southampton supporter, someone who has accompanied me to more than a few U’s games, not least whenever we face Pompey at Fratton Park. Getting wind early that the Friday night match was coming to the Dell, he started gathering interest from myself and other football following colleagues. I could go one better (two actually) because my brother-in-law and son had already arranged to travel down to me in Salisbury that afternoon in readiness for the U’s game at Bournemouth on Saturday. In the end there was a dozen of us jammed into a packed-out Dell, my first and as it would turn out only visit to the grand old stadium before she was replaced with St Mary’s. I still have two of our three ticket stubs from the match - £10 for an adult was a snip btw.

Peter Taylor’s England line-up that evening was a veritable who’s who of England stars in the making:
1….Richard Wright
2….Danny Mills
3….Michael Ball
4….Wes Brown
5....James Beattie
6….Seth Johnson
7….Frank Lampard (captain) (14 Hayden Mullins 79’)
8….Jamie Carragher
9….Lee Bowyer
10..Matt Jansen (17 Jason Euell 62’)
11..Lee Hendrie (12 John Curtis 73’)

Yep, you read that right – until I started researching this match I had never realised that I’d seen Hayden Mullins on a pitch instead of just on the side lines. In fact, this wasn’t just any old international appearance for Hayden Mullins, it was his England debut – I have to be honest though, there’s nothing much I actually remember about it. At the time with Crystal Palace, Hayden would go on to make two more appearances for England U21, against Hungary the following month and Bulgaria in June of the same year.

As for the match, given the final score this was a surprisingly tight closely-fought affair for most of the first half. England were comfortably in control, roared on by a proper old skool Friday night football atmosphere, but Poland were resilient, organised, and managed to cope with most of what England had to offer. That was until with less than five minutes of the half to go, Jansen expertly hooked over his shoulder to send Bowyer racing down the right wing. Bowyer still had a lot to do, but twisting and turning his defender inside out, cut inside to drill across the face of Bledzewski’s goal and into the far corner. It was no more than England deserved, but it had taken a long time to arrive.

Into the second half, and despite their setback, the resolve of the Poles was admirable, and still they kept England at bay. Admittedly they weren’t really testing Richard Wright at the other end, but at 1-0 they were always in the game. That resolve was finally broken after 15 minutes with a penalty awarded right in front of us. Hendrie sent Johnson down the left wing, who’s pinpoint cross was right on to the toes of Saints sweetheart James Beattie. Bringing it under control, Beattie looked to be ready to squeeze the trigger when he appeared to have his standing leg knocked from under him. Up stepped Frank Lampard to make no mistake from the spot to give England a much more comfortable two-goal cushion.

And that was that really, the Polish spirit was broken and the floodgates opened. Five minutes later Lampard got his second with an absolute screamer, latching on to a mis-controlled ball that kind of bounced off Beattie to send a left-foot rocket into the top corner of the net. With the game now more or less safe, Taylor immediately subbed Jansen for Jason Euell, and less than ten minutes later it kind of paid off. Another cross into the box from (I think) Bowyer should have been flicked in by Euell, but he got his feet all wrong and it unexpectedly came through to Hendrie on the edge of the six-yard box. Showing composure beyond his years, he sat the ‘keeper on his arse, rounded Euell’s marker like he wasn’t there and tapped into an empty goal.

His reward was a rest from any further action, being immediately subbed for John Curtis, and less than ten minutes later just after Hayden Mullins replaced Frank Lampard, it was 5-0. The Polish defence was in complete disarray now, with England carving them open at will, and it was another pinpoint cross that finished the rout. A delightful angled cross from Michael Ball was headed back across the box by Euell, Beattie missed his chance to connect when taken out by a Polish defender, but Lee Bowyer made no mistake coming in behind. In truth, if Bowyer had missed I suspect it would have been a penalty for the foul on Beattie.

And that was that, what started as a real struggle finished as a complete rout for England.

England 5 (Bowyer 41’, 81’; Lampard 55’, 60’; Hendrie 72’) Poland 0

That result put clear space between England and second place Poland in the qualifying group, and England would go on to win the group. Qualification for the actual 2000 tournament was hideously complicated. The nine group winners were joined by the seven best runners-up (this included Poland), with all 16 drawn in a two-legged mini knock-out draw to decide the final eight qualifiers.

England comfortably despatched FR Yugoslavia (aka Serbia these days) 3-0 in the first leg, but from I can discern did not play the second leg and thus qualified by default. I cannot find the reason for this anywhere, but I’d imagine political unrest had something to do with it. Poland were less fortunate, drawing 2-2 on aggregate against Turkey and going out on the away goals rule.

Despite the promise of the qualifications, the finals were a bit of a damp squib for England, and although they smashed Turkey 6-0 (the record for the finals), defeats to eventual winners Italy and Slovakia meant they came home without getting out of the finals group stage.

And as for the U’s, well they sadly couldn’t finish what would have been a perfect football weekend for me, my brother-in-law and nephew, and despite David Greene giving us a 20th minute lead at Dean Court, two first half replies by Warren and Hughes saw a 2-1 victory for AFC Bournemouth. We had, nevertheless, had a fantastic weekend all things considered.

There’s still a grainy YouTube video of England v Poland (with Polish commentary) available, which is definitely worth a watch. Check out particularly 4’54” when you get a fleeting glimpse of Hayden Mullins on his England debut, running across camera to congratulate Bowyer.

Southend FA Cup penalty
at 12:01 7 Nov 2021

If you want a laugh, how bad was this

When Saturday Comes #13
at 16:16 6 Nov 2021

When Saturday Comes…will we still be in the FA Cup? I heard somewhere during the week that the U’s have been eliminated from the FA Cup by non-league opposition more times than any other league club! Remarkable really when you consider that many non-U’s associate Colchester United with the greatest FA Cup giant-killing of all time. Following tonight, we travel to Portman Road on Tuesday night to see if we can stay in the Pizza Slice Trophy. Regardless that it is a much-maligned competition these days, surely that’s motivation enough for our tractor boy contingent?
When Saturday Comes #13
at 16:11 5 Nov 2021

When Saturday Comes…will we still be in the FA Cup? I heard somewhere during the week that the U’s have been eliminated from the FA Cup by non-league opposition more times than any other league club! Remarkable really when you consider that many non-U’s associate Colchester United with the greatest FA Cup giant-killing of all time. Following tonight, we travel to Portman Road on Tuesday night to see if we can stay in the Pizza Slice Trophy. Regardless that it is a much-maligned competition these days, surely that’s motivation enough for our tractor boy contingent?

Closer to home
But back to today and the matter in hand, and with today a workday, kick-off fast approaching this evening, and preparations to be made ahead of the main event, I’m going to have to keep this blog brief unfortunately, so let’s cut to the chase. First off, much talk during the week on whether or not loanees Armando Dobra and Sylvester Jasper will be permitted to be cup-tied by their parent clubs and available for the match tonight?

Armando is on a season-long loan, so for Ipswich to refuse permission for him to take part would seem somewhat churlish – and certainly counter-productive given the purpose of the loan would be for him to gain matchday experience. Ipswich Town may well of course not want him appearing against them on Tuesday night (and Regulation 54.8 backs them up on this) but that’s another matter altogether, and one I’m considerably less concerned about.

As for Sylvester, his half-season loan expires in January, and whilst I hope we can renew it at that point (are clubs allowed to do that?), it’s possible he’ll return to Fulham. Although clearly not a first-team choice back at Craven Cottage at this stage in his career, it’s still debatable whether Fulham will want him cup-tied or not, given they may well consider a run-out in the FA Cup a perfectly good opportunity to see how well he’s advanced during his time with the U’s?

The positive rumours on social media ahead of the line-up being announced is that both should be eligible for selection, which is great news considering the contributions they have made recently to our (slightly) improved form and greatly improved performances.

Blast from the Past
I confess until I read a lovely article in the Guardian ahead of tonight’s match ( https://www.theguardian.com/football/2021/nov/04/sudbury-eye-fa-cup-shock-colche I really hadn’t fully appreciated quite how intertwined Nicky Smith was with the history of not only Colchester United, but Sudbury Town and subsequently AFC Sudbury. Many of us these days know Nicky as Sgt Smith of Essex Constabulary, a common sight at most U’s awaydays (I saw him at Port Vale, though not to speak to on that occasion), so unless he’s there as a well-deserved guest of honour tonight, he’ll probably be there on duty I would imagine.

I’ve mentioned Nicky and his U’s career in the past but had overlooked that following his transfer to Northampton and subsequent release by the Cobblers, Nicky went on to make (according to Wikipedia) 154 appearances for Sudbury Town. And it was Nicky Smith with a pivotal role in their last FA Cup triumph, over Brighton back in 1996, scoring the final penalty shoot-out kick at the Goldstone Ground replay to set up a 2nd round match against Brentford (played at Layer Road to accommodate the demand for tickets), a match they lost 3-1.

Nicky moved on from Sudbury Town to Braintree Town (via Cambridge City) in 1997, and in 1999 Sudbury Town and Sudbury Wanderers were merged to form AFC Sudbury (playing at Wanderers’ Brundon Lane ground), with Sudbury Town in dire financial circumstances at the time. Whilst I have no local knowledge to add to the discussion, I have read that the merger was far from harmonious, leaving a particularly bad taste in the mouth of some Town supporters who felt it was less of a merger and more of an assimilation of their club’s identity.

Sudbury Town’s Priory Stadium ground was located right on the bank of the River Stour and as a result was prone to flooding. It was eventually sold to a housing developer in 2007 to build the Catesby Meadow estate, with money from the sale apparently used to pay off loans and build a new clubhouse and changing rooms at Brundon Lane. After a very successful spell at Braintree Town, Nicky Smith returned to AFC Sudbury in 2006 for another five years, the last three of which was as manager (presumably player-manager officially?). Nicky has also captained, coached and managed the England National Police Team, but we’ll always remember him as a key member of our Conference Double winning team under mercurial Big Roy.

Stat attack
I took a look at our own “giant-killers” in the past for WSC10, so by my reckoning if that worst FA Cup non-league opponent moniker we seem to be tagged with is correct, the count is currently a dirty dozen non-league cup exits out of the 77 FA Cup competitions we’ve taken part in. I might have overlooked one or two (or just blanked them from my memory), but I think the full list is Wisbech (1957), Leatherhead (1974), Dover Athletic (1975), Wycombe Wanderers (1985), Sutton United (1993), Gravesend & Northfleet (1995), Hereford United (1997), Bedlington Terriers (1998), Yeovil (2000), Chelmsford City (2012), Oxford City (2017) and AFC Marine (2020).

I have to say, when you look at it as a cold hard statistic, being knocked out by non-league opposition nearly 16% of the time is a pretty poor figure. Fingers-crossed tonight isn’t unlucky number 13.

But there’s no reason why it should be – approach the game with the right attitude, be both professional, and respectful of our opponents, and simply set about showing why they are four levels lower in the football pyramid. I sincerely hope everyone associated with AFC Sudbury has a fantastic evening, one that they can cherish for years to come, but their FA Cup journey must end here.

Match of the Day
Crewe Alexandra v Colchester United
12th November 2011
FA Cup (First Round)
Attendance 2,325

Match of the Day for WSC13 is a kind of a special, just to demonstrate we don’t always crash and burn against lower league opposition, and that sometimes we do actually show up and put in a thoroughly professional performance that befits our higher league status. I have slightly influenced the random match selector, by filtering for just FA Cup games in my memorabilia collection, but after that Madame Chance has come good for Durham yet again. Nestled between “swimming”, “Willow Class Assembly” and Remembrance Sunday, my only record of this match is an entry on the calendar to mark just such an occasion, our FA Cup First Round game at Crewe in 2011.

At the time the U’s were doing okay in League 1 under manager John Ward, bouncing around in upper mid-table – never quite seriously challenging to get in the play-offs, but with little threat of slipping into the bottom half of the table. Crewe were in League 2, and after a disastrous run of four defeats to start the season, were slowly recovering and inching they way back up the table under Dario Gradi. Well, I say Dario Gradi, but as it turned out on the Thursday before this match Gradi announced he was stepping down as manager to return to his position as Director of Football. Our visit in the FA Cup on Saturday was therefore former assistant Steve Davis’ first game in charge of the Railwaymen.

Even without a programme, I know thanks to Graeson’s website ( https://www.coludata.co.uk/) the U’s lined up:
1….Ben Williams
4….Magnus Okuonghae
6….Matt Heath
20..Brian Wilson
14..Andy Bond
23..Lloyd James
24..Ben Coker
7….Ashley Vincent (Karl Duguid 82’)
15..Kayode Odejayi
16..Ian Henderson
??..Casey Thomas (Kem Izzet 56’)

I’m not certain what Casey Thomas’s squad number was, he’d only arrived on loan from Swansea City a week earlier (according to our Wikipedia page for that season), and this match was to be his debut. On the subject of debuts, this would also be my first visit to Gresty Road, and given it is located right next to Crewe train station, took one of my easiest awayday train journeys in the football calendar. Gresty Road is somewhat incongruous in layout, a modest north stand housing the away support, almost non-league stands at either end, and everything simply dwarfed by the enormous South Stand – which on its own provides nearly 70% of the capacity at Gresty Road.

Taking my place alongside about 200 other U’s supporters, we were in good voice considering it was a chilly afternoon. Despite the difference in level, it was Crewe who started the brighter, with no doubt some out there at least eager to make a good first impression for new manager Steve Davis. With the U’s struggling to get into any sort of rhythm within 20 minutes we were behind. Ben Williams did well to keep out his first attempt, but he could do nothing to prevent Byron Moore following up to tap in the rebound.

Probably no more than Crewe deserved at the time, even if there had been glimpses that the U’s were starting to get back into the game. Crewe may have pushed on from there given the chance, but two minutes later they were undone by a reckless challenge on Ben Coker which saw Ashley Westwood shown a straight red by referee David Coote. Down to ten men gave the U’s the opportunity to really start to take a grip and apply pressure of their own, and despite failing to score by half-time we were comfortably in control – just with nothing so far to show for it.

Into the second half, and it was more of the same from Colchester United. I can’t remember whether it was tactical or injury-related, but barely ten minutes into the second half debut player Thomas was subbed for tigerish Kem Izzet in midfield, and four minutes later thanks to Lloyd James we were level – rifling in a stunning thirty-yarder off the underside of the crossbar – not a bad way to open your goal-scoring account for Colchester United if I’m honest.

Now we were coasting, completely dominant, and after a succession of corners and some penalty area ping pong former Crewe player Andy Bond hooked the ball home from close range to put the U’s 2-1 in front, and the away stand erupted – a moment I fortuitously managed to capture on video.

And we weren’t done either – ten minutes later Andy Bond, also with his first goal for the U’s, made it 3-1 with an angled drive which ‘keeper Steve Phillips might have done better with, and as if that wasn’t enough in the fourth minute of injury-time James got his second to round off a comprehensive second half demolition of our lower league opponents, and put the U’s into the hat for the Second Round draw.

Crewe Alexandra 1 (Byron Moore 19’) Colchester United 4 (Lloyd James 60’, 90’+4; Andy Bond 77’; Ben Coker 87’)

And our reward for getting through to the Second Round? A home tie against Swindon Town, another League 2 side doing rather better than Crewe, who made no mistake knocking the U’s out of the FA Cup 1-0 at the JobServe. To show they were no slouches, they went on to beat then Premier League side Wigan Athletic 2-1, before finally bowing out 2-0 to Leicester City in the 4th Round. They were also promoted to League 1 as champions, and after their poor start Crewe did well to join them via the play-offs.
[Post edited 5 Nov 16:13]
When Saturday Comes #12
at 14:12 31 Oct 2021

A relegation six-pointer already, seriously! Grim news so early in a season which had such promise, but that may well turn out to be the reality when the dust settles in May. On the eve of All-Hallows Eve, I’m wondering whether the U’s will have served up Trick or Treat by 5pm this afternoon. Plenty has been written over the last week by supporters, the press, even the Chairman about the protests during and after the Sutton United rocky horror football show, and whilst everyone has the right to voice their opinion on the club’s fortunes on and off the pitch, that doesn’t give anyone (even the Chairman) the right to be abusive – it’s not big, it’s not clever, and if anything it undermines the validity of that opinion.
When Saturday Comes #12
at 13:50 30 Oct 2021

A relegation six-pointer already, seriously! Grim news so early in a season which had such promise, but that may well turn out to be the reality when the dust settles in May. On the eve of All-Hallows Eve, I’m wondering whether the U’s will have served up Trick or Treat by 5pm this afternoon. Plenty has been written over the last week by supporters, the press, even the Chairman about the protests during and after the Sutton United rocky horror football show, and whilst everyone has the right to voice their opinion on the club’s fortunes on and off the pitch, that doesn’t give anyone (even the Chairman) the right to be abusive – it’s not big, it’s not clever, and if anything it undermines the validity of that opinion.

This week it’s all about the numbers. US authorities have ruled out the possibility that Covid was developed as a biological weapon, and favour either animal-to-human transmission or a laboratory leak as the most likely source. Regardless, with an estimated 4.9m dead around the world, Covid has proven more deadly than pretty much all military conflicts combined since the start of the 3rd millennium – a chilling statistic.

In lighter news, David Bowie’s estate are in discussions about selling the rights to his entire songwriting catalogue for an estimated £200m, or in football terms one Neymar or two Jack Grealish’s. Who could have predicted, when Aston Villa paid the princely sum of £100 to West Bromwich Albion for Willie Groves back in 1893, quite where the madness would take us?

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about, with the UK adapting to the new normal of home-working, staycations etc., the Rail Delivery Group have reported that train journeys were down to 45% of what they were pre-Covid. I fear that will be a statistic that long-suffering rail users will be combating through their ticket prices before too long.

3.1 million hours – no, not the delay to the 1645 to Surbiton – that’s how long 403,171 spills pumped untreated sewage into our rivers and seas in 2020 according to the Environment Agency. Following public outrage over this problem, a landslide vote in the House of Lords, and indeed a back-bench revolt, the government has been forced into a u-turn and reluctantly agreed to put into place legislation to force water companies to clean up their act (quite literally).

Closer to home
So apart from all the banners, protests, programme paper planes, abuse etc., the main news this week is the announcement that our visit to Forest Green Rovers on 13th November has been postponed due to U’s player international call-ups. From this particular exile’s viewpoint, that is galling – even if my trip to the Fully Charged New Lawn may well have been uncomfortable viewing.

Usually international postponements require three players to be ruled out. Yes, Sutton United got away with two call-ups when they cited other injuries and a Covid infection, and I bet they’re bloody glad they did now. A lot of the speculation on the messageboards has been who is the third call-up? Obviously Tommy Smith and Armando Dobra must be the first two, but many believe the third is Wiredu for Ghana?

For the EFL to sanction the postponement these must be home nation confirmed intentions, rather than just idle speculation. Time will tell if it is Wiredu, or another member of our squad with non-English heritage links we’ve not thought of, but whoever it is, good luck to all our international U’s – even if you’ve buggered up a football awayday for me.

Lest we forget, not only will the match today mark the re-opening of the Noah Memorial Fan Zone, but as we don’t have a home fixture again this side of Remembrance Day, it will also be the occasion when the U’s family – club and supporters alike – gather to remember the fallen. Pre-match, the club is hosting the launch of this year’s Colchester Poppy Appeal, with the mayor Cllr Robert Davidson afforded the honour of donating for the first poppy of the appeal. Alongside Robbie Cowling, also joining the event will be Colchester Garrison Commander Lieutenant Colonel Ed Rankin, High Steward Bob Russell and Will Quince MP – should make for a tense corporate box if Bob stays for the match, wonder if he had to pay for his ticket 😊.

Stat attack
Like most of our festivals, the origins of Halloween go right back to pre-Christian pagan Britain, when we celebrated Samhain, the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the cold dark winter. It was a time when the boundary between the worlds of the living and dead was most blurred and spirits walked the earth. These days, it’s all about candy and pumpkins – our ancestors would be spinning in their graves…or they would if they weren’t up and about wandering the land.

So, for this week’s stat attack, I thought (even though I’m a day early) I’d take a look at how the U’s generally fair when the dead are roaming the earth (and no, I don’t mean our forwards). We’ve played 12 times on Halloween, 11 in the league and once in the League Cup (a 2nd round home game against Southampton back in 1960).

The line-up of opponents over the years is quite an impressive who’s who of sleeping giants (and one or two tiddlers thrown in for good measure), comprising Torquay United (1953), Bradford City (1959), Southampton (1960), Reading (1964), Wolverhampton Wanderers (1986), Fulham (1995), Scunthorpe United (1997), Manchester City (1998), Wrexham (2003), Norwich City (2006), Millwall (2009) and most recently Doncaster Rovers (2015). I think it’s more a measure of how far some of those clubs have fallen in their past rather than former glory days for the U’s – though of course that 2006 match against Norwich was in the Championship (we lost 2-1)

Admittedly the home to away spread is imbalanced, just four matches at home (Southampton, Reading, Wolves and Scunthorpe) and the rest away, but our fortunes are pretty poor on Halloween – just two victories, five draws and five defeats. Our solitary victories were an emphatic 3-0 victory for Mike Walker over Wolves at Layer Road, and a considerably less emphatic narrow 1-0 win at the Racecourse for Phil Parkinson over Wrexham.

The positives – well, for a side struggling to score goals, we generally do on Halloween, only failing to register three times (twice under Benny Fenton and that most recent game against Doncaster under Tony Humes). Then again, at the other end, we’ve only kept three clean sheets as well – the two victories mentioned and a 0-0 draw at the Valley in 1959.

Incidentally, keeping the horror theme going, that previous game against Scunthorpe United was a proper Jekyll and Hyde performance. The U’s raced to a 3-0 lead at half-time with goals from Isaiah Rankin, Paul Buckle and Mark Sale, only to roll-over in the second half and concede three goals. Okay, with the benefit of hindsight we were still promoted via the play-offs that season, and we all had another day out at Wembley, but those two points dropped meant the difference between the play-offs and automatic promotion.

Match of the Day
Forest Green Rovers v Colchester United
2nd April 2018
Sky Bet Football League Two (Tier 4)
Attendance 2,869

Match of the Day for WSC12 returns to the random match generator, and keeping the supernatural religious festival theme going, it has eerily chosen our 2018 Easter Monday visit to recently postponed opponents Forest Green Rovers. At the time my next-door neighbour worked as head groundsman for FGR, and happily laid on free tickets and complimentary programmes for me and Alfie. Not quite my closest fixture, these days that’s Swindon Town, but still a closer drive than, for instance, going into the office (not that I do a lot of that these days).

If I had a complaint, The New Lawn isn’t the easiest of venues to get to on public transport, so my visits have always been sober affairs, albeit I get home in plenty of time to make up for that 😊. In 2018 this wasn’t just my first visit to the New Lawn, it was the U’s first visit too, and after welcoming the Green Devils to the football league with a 5-1 thumping back in August, a sizeable following made the journey over from Essex, no doubt many of which to tick another ground off the list and maybe try their hand at vegan pies.

It had been a bit of a topsy turvy season by and large, and despite back-to-back victories over Stevenage and Luton Town coming into this match, realistic hopes of making the play-offs were fading. Not mathematically impossible, but we’d need an exceptionally good run in to do so. Forest Green Rovers on the other hand were having a difficult first season in the football league and were struggling to avoid going straight back into the National League.

The U’s lined up:
1….Sam Walker
2….Ryan Jackson
22..Kane Vincent-Young
18..Tom Eastman
5….Luke Prosser (captain)
14..Brandon Comley
17..Ben Stevenson
10..Sammie Szmodics (Liam Mandeville 87’)
20..Courtney Senior (Olamide Shodipo 70’)
7….Drey Wright (Sean Murray 78’)
19..Mikael Mandron

Gathering on the open terrace in plenty of time for the pre-match warm-ups, amongst 340 of the faithful, and after a quick pre-kick off chat with my neighbour (out on the pitch doing his thing), up went the traditional roar of support as the ref started the match. Sixteens seconds later, the U’s were 1-0 up after Mandron and Szmodics combined well for Szmods to cross to Drey Wright who somewhat awkwardly bundled the ball home, giving the travelling support something to really cheer about. Graeson’s Coludata website states that it was the fastest goal scored in League Two that season, and the 3rd fastest in the history of Colchester United – I’m struggling to think what might have been the other two, so any suggestions gratefully received?

You know how it is, suddenly you find yourselves thinking if we can score that quickly, that easily, how many are we going to get today, am I going to be a witness to another Bradford or Leamington? Of course it never really works out that way (take last Tuesday as a prime example), with the match settling down once FGR found their composure and shape. There we still chances for the U’s mind you, with FGR offering very little threat at the other end in the first 20-30 minutes. Wright very nearly returned the favour for Szmodics approaching the half hour, but Sammie hooked the cross just over the bar. Shortly after, Mandron went close with a low drilled cross which if I’m honest probably lacked the power to beat Bradley Collins in the FGR goal if it had been on target.

And then of course, after taking an early lead and pretty much controlling the game throughout, the U’s were pegged back to 1-1. An innocuous lofted ball into the penalty area was controlled well by Hollis, although going nowhere and with his back to goal, when a lazy sweep to take a leg out by Eastman gave the referee the easiest penalty decision of his career. Reuben Reid (why does he always seem to do well against the U’s!) made no mistake from the spot, and the U’s had conceded penalties two matches running.

Half-time arrived with very little further action, time to see if I could persuade Alfie to try a vegan pie – he wasn’t having it but was perfectly happy to take a very good tray of chips. If I’m honest, despite everyone moaning about vegan this and that, I thought the food at the New Lawn was some of the best I’ve experienced, certainly in the lower leagues.

Second half, could the U’s start brightly and get our faltering promotion challenge back on track? Yes was the answer. With echoes of the first half, within two minutes the U’s were back in front. Mandron did well down the right hand side, passed in to Ben Stevenson who beelined for the goal and from the edge of the box shot across the face of the goal to nestle just inside the far post. Not quite a rasper, it kind of bobbled a bit on its way, but still left Collins with no chance.

Surely this time we could capitalise on our advantage, take the game to FGR, kill it with a third goal? Well, the answer to that question was no, but not really for want of trying. As the game wore on there were decent chances for the U’s, probably the best being another Wright effort which Wishert did well to block on the line. As the second half wore on, it became more a tactical battle between John McGreal and his counterpart Mark Cooper, with a succession of substitutions being made by both managers to either hold on or grab something from the game – depending of course on your perspective.

It was Sean “always in a hurry” Murray who came closest to making a name for himself as a super-sub, shooting straight at Collins after good work from fellow substitute Olamide Shodipo. A minute later, Murray was at the other end mopping up after Sam Walker spilled a shot dangerously into the box, and eventually the final whilst blew for a tough but well-deserved victory over a Forest Green Rovers side who played better than their league position would have suggested.

Forest Green Rovers 1 (Reuben Reid 37’p) Colchester United 2 (Drey Wright 1’; Ben Stevenson 47’)

Our third consecutive victory moved the U’s to within four points of the play-offs, and damn it all Madame Hope had returned to the faithful. Of course, having made a brief appearance she soon disappeared just as quickly after the U’s then lost the next three matches, two at home. To be fair, we had an incredibly difficult run-in, and those three matches were against leaders Accrington Stanley and play-off qualifiers Notts County and Lincoln City, but still…

Forest Green Rovers escaped by the skin of their teeth, just one point (and a significantly inferior goal difference) ahead of relegated Barnet. Of course, the irony is this season FGR are not only riding high at the top of the league, but with U’s goal scorer from 2018 Ben Stevenson as a regular part of their line-up.

The highlights are still available on YouTube if you want to see the 3rd fastest goal in Colchester United history!

AFC Sudbury ticket arrangements
at 15:22 25 Oct 2021

U's have been allocated the mandatory FA Cup allocation of 15% of AFC Sudbury's 2,500 capacity, which is 375 tickets. The first 375 seasonal permit holders for this season have been offered first refusal, which will pass to no. 376 and beyond if not taken up after 3 days.


Seems fair enough.
When Saturday Comes #11
at 09:44 24 Oct 2021

This blog is a little earlier than usual, to give me and Alfie time to load up the car and sally forth for our first awayday of the season together, on the road to Vale Park – “He who would valiant be, 'gainst all disaster, let him in constancy follow the Master”. Not quite sure who the master is in that analogy, but let’s hope it’s Hayden Mullins on Saturday. All being well, I’m looking forward to catching up with fellow U’sual boarders (Noah, Durham maybe?, anyone else) when I get there. I won’t be meeting up with Clampin (Covid) or Judge (calf injury) who will miss out on making the trip, nor of course Tchamadeu (see below).
When Saturday Comes #11
at 09:44 23 Oct 2021

This blog is a little earlier than usual, to give me and Alfie time to load up the car and sally forth for our first awayday of the season together, on the road to Vale Park – “He who would valiant be, 'gainst all disaster, let him in constancy follow the Master”. Not quite sure who the master is in that analogy, but let’s hope it’s Hayden Mullins on Saturday. All being well, I’m looking forward to catching up with fellow U’sual boarders (Noah, Durham maybe?, anyone else) when I get there. I won’t be meeting up with Clampin (Covid) or Judge (calf injury) who will miss out on making the trip, nor of course Tchamadeu (see below).

It seems a fairly quiet week out there in the big wide world – Her Madge has spent a night in hospital following a check-up, apparently because it was then too late at night to be driven home. The remains of Brian Laundrie, believed to be responsible for the death of fiancé Gabby Petito, have been found. Most assume his death was by his own hand, but for Ms Petito’s family, being cheated out of justice for their daughter can only heap further heartache on a family who surely have suffered enough.

Bubbles or no bubbles, Covid-19 infection rates continue to rise, in the last month going from just over 26k new cases daily to nearly 44k. That exceeds the huge spike back in July and is fast approaching what was virtually an all-time high of 54k new cases in a day back in January. The good thing, if that’s the right expression, is that the level of vaccinations in the UK is keeping the death count from these infections very low, with barely 100 people a day dying at the moment – that’s still a lot of people though.

The other good news on the coronavirus front is the announcement that the 3rd jab booster may be rolled out just five months after 2nd jabs, not six as originally stated. This would mean all over-70s are eligible now, and most over-65s by early November. A clinical study published yesterday demonstrated that a third booster dose of Pfizer was 95.6% more effective than just two jabs at preventing infection.

Closer to home
Fixtures are coming thick and fast at the moment, with the rearranged game at home to Sutton next Tuesday, home again to Scunnie the following Saturday, then of course AFC Sudbury on the telebob for Bonfire Night, Portman Road the following Tuesday in the EFL Trophy, and finally capped off by what should be my third trip of the season, Forest Green at the New Lawn on Saturday 13th November. By the end of that I wonder whether we’ll be out of two cups and embroiled in a relegation dogfight or wondering what on earth we were all worrying about – we shall see.

Still, with so many fixtures coming up it really wasn’t a good time to lose promising right-back Junior Tchamadeu to a needless red card and automatic 3-match suspension (at least I hope it’s still three, and our appeal hasn’t added another game on to the tally). The good news, thanks to Sutton United playing the system to their advantage, is that Junior should be available again in time for the AFC Sudbury game in front of the cameras, which the young lad and his family definitely deserve.

I said at the time that Junior should have just gone down and not given the hapless referee Graham Scott another chance to show why he’s not fit to referee League 2, never mind the Premier League. But Junior didn’t, and in the argy-bargy handbags that followed, Mr Scott took the easy route and sent both victim and aggressor off – and let’s face it, how often will an FA appeals committee overturn the decision of a Premier League referee.

Stat attack
Not much really to say about our record against Port Vale, it’s about as average as you can get – played 62 times in the league, won 24, drawn 16, lost 22. We’ve played just once in the FA Cup too, a 1st Round 3-1 victory at Layer Road back in 1951. There’s nothing really of any note in terms of sequences either – we haven’t won any of the last four games, but then again if you look back to April 2015 onward we’ve won 4, drawn 4, lost 3.

Probably the only sequence of any significance, in relation to our relative fortunes, was the 14 year spell from 1986 to 2000 when we lost touch with each other completely. It probably won’t come as any surprise this coincided with Port Vale’s more recent sustained period of success in the 3rd and 2nd tiers of English football, whilst we trolled round in the basement and non-league.

Often touted as one of the few English football clubs not named after their geographical location, Port Vale’s origin is somewhat shrouded in mystery. The official story (and on the club website) is that the team were formed in 1876 following a meeting at a building called Port Vale House, from which they took their name. Club historian Jeff Kent isn’t so sure, and through his research believes the club were actually formed in 1879 and took their name from a nearby canal wharf called Port Vale.

It gets murkier, because after become founder members of the Football League Second Division in 1892, then playing as Burslem Port Vale, the club were then relegated back to the Midland League in 1896. Returning two seasons later in 1898, they struggled on but by 1907 were forced to resign from the league, and indeed were subsequently liquidated. Not deterred, local ambitious non-league side Cobridge Town took on the name and eventually, replacing Leeds City who were disbanded because of financial irregularities, returned to the Second Division at the end of the Great War – technically therefore, surely that isn’t the same club?

Since then, Port Vale have been ever-present in the Football League, never achieving the top flight, and never dropping down into non-league. In all fairness, they’ve never really come close to doing so either, apart from maybe 2017/18 when they finished in 20th place and just one point and plus one goal difference better than relegated Barnet.

Anyone who has visited Vale Park will appreciate that, like Notts County for instance, Port Vale play in a vast stadium, far greater than demand has been for many years. In the 1950s post-war supporters boom they did peak at crowds of about 20k, but it was short-lived, and apart from their sustained spell in the second tier in the 90s, when averages approached 10k, they’ve since consistently bimbled along at about the 5k mark. I know, we’d give our eye-teeth for averages of 5k these days, but then again, the JobServe is half the size of Vale Park.

Match of the Day
Scunthorpe United v Colchester United
Sunday 4th May 2008
Coca-Cola Championship (Tier 2)
Attendance 5,554

Match of the Day for WSC11 remembers happier days (sort of) following the U’s, only maybe not that much happier because we find ourselves comfortably bottom of the Championship, relegation assured several weeks earlier, and having just played our last ever game at Layer Road. Still, who lets minor inconveniences like form, league position, quality etc. get in the way when there’s an awayday to be had following the U’s, and particularly for the last game of the season. I couldn’t be there for the last match at Layer Road, I sure as hell wasn’t going to miss out on our last day in the Championship.

Or that was the plan anyway but shifting the final day of the Championship to a Sunday didn’t help with train travel arrangements. Nor indeed did dicking about with the kick-off time to bring it forward to 2pm – although finishing by 4pm did actually make it easier (in fact, possible) to get home again. However, we were living in Warminster at the time, so the seemingly insurmountable obstacle was there were simply no trains on the Sunday morning to get me there in time for a 2pm kick-off.

I can’t remember whether that was down to engineering works or simply delays with connections, that was the reality and creative thinking was needed. After endless permutations and combinations were tried using the National Rail journey planner, I realised there was a very slim chance, but it relied on my long-suffering wife conveying me by car 20 miles north to Chippenham train station for a local train to Swindon, from there to join the Bristol to Paddington service, tube across to Kings Cross for the Doncaster train, and then finally another local train across to Scunthorpe.

No doubt glad to have me out of her hair for the day, Emma was more than happy to ferry me at stupid o’clock in the morning up to Chippenham in time for the Swindon train, and thus safely ensconced in my seat I could relax, listen to some music and enjoy a pre-yard arm ale in preparation for the long journey ahead. Happy in my own world, headphones blaring, it took a while before I became dimly aware we hadn’t arrived in Swindon, in fact didn’t appear to be moving at all. Slight tinges of panic started to surface, as what should have been a comfortable connection window started to get smaller and smaller.

Tinges became alarm bells, and alarm bells became those damn sirens that Hitler put on the Stukas, as still we sat waiting. The guard over the tannoy assured us we would be moving shortly, and that there was some sort of signals problem up ahead that was holding us outside Swindon station. Eventually, inexorably we started rolling again, and finally pulled into Swindon station once the London train I was to connect with had done the decent thing by getting out of the way – yep, on its merry way off to London without me.

So now I was in a bit of a quandary – short of some sort of miracle, it was no longer possible to get to Scunthorpe in time for kick-off. There were remote possibilities, mainly centred on a connection further down the line being delayed long enough to join it and get (kind of) back on track, but what was the alternative. Mope home, give up on the day out, give up on the Championship, give up on the U’s? Nah, f’ck it, somehow I’d find a way…and anyway, I really couldn’t face calling Emma and asking her to turn back around to Chippenham station to come get me.

And so I soldiered on, always one step behind my preferred connections, never quite catching up, but still nevertheless a both uneventful but also curiously relaxing journey. As I pulled into Doncaster it was gone 1pm, and less than an hour to kick-off. This was me supping at the last chance saloon – would there be some sort of delayed local train to get me to Scunnie – not on your nelly – or even a local bus service – no chance.

Desperate times required desperate measures, so in a pique of both moral indignation and throwing myself at his mercy I went to see the station master. I explained my predicament, about the delay outside Swindon, about all the missed connections, about our last game of the season in the Championship, basically laid my soul bare. He listened calmly, and having called Swindon to verify the problems with my first connection, reached for his book of dockets, scribbled out a taxi travel voucher, and showed me out to the taxi rank with his best wishes that I made the kick-off in time. The taxi driver was superb, breaking all manner of highway code regulations on the way, and managed to drop me off at Glanford Park literally a minute before kick-off.

Thanks in no small part to Graeson’s excellent coludata website, I know the U’s lined up:
1….Dean Gerken
18..Phil Ifil (Medy Elito 56’)
21..Béla Balogh
16..Matt Heath
3….John White
7….Karl Duguid
10..Kem Izzet
4….Johnnie Jackson
14..Kevin McLeod
20..Kevin Lisbie
24..Scott Vernon (Clive Platt 71’)

Finding my place amongst what must have been nearly 400 of the U’s faithful literally as the ref started the game, there was no time to get a programme, and I no longer have a ticket stub (not even sure I had one to start with), so my only memorabilia archive record of this trip is a simple note on the calendar that year “U’s @ Scunnie”. As a result, you’ll forgive me if my memory of the actual match is hazy at best.

Although we were beyond any hope of even getting off the bottom of the table, Scunthorpe United were equally doomed to relegation, one place and 8pts above the U’s. Technically, with just pride to play for, I was half expecting it to be one of those end-of-season meaningless fixtures, played out at a gentle pre-season friendly sort of pace. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The U’s took the game to Scunnie right from the outset, and after just ten minutes Kevin McLeod expertly headed in Kevin Lisbie's exquisite cross to send our travelling support into raptures.

However, Scunthorpe gave as good as they got, and just five minutes later we had the misfortune to witness Jonathan Forte equalise with a soft goal to concede, and to rub it home, right in front of us. 75 minutes to go, and we knew we had a game on. Seemingly unburdened by expectation, both sides continued to play free-flowing passing football for the remainder of the first half, but with neither side carving out many (any?) clear cut chances to break the deadlock.

All that was to change in the second half, and with barely a minute on the clock, Vernon blasted home to put the U’s back into the lead. With the faithful still celebrating, McLeod with his second doubled our advantage a minute later with an exquisite chip to make it 3-1, and the away end went ballistic. The game then settled for a while, and approaching the hour mark manager Geraint Williams subbed Phil Ifil for Medy Elito, presumably to keep control of the game?

Perhaps the change unsettled the U’s, who knows, but barely ten minutes later Paul Hayes cut the deficit to make it 3-2. Now it really did become a back to the wall game for the U’s, and for the next 15 minutes or so, during which George replaced goal scorer Vernon with big unit Clive Platt in more of a holding role than anything else, it genuinely did look like we might make it. Sadly not though, and less than a minute after Irons manager Nigel Adkins replaced Winn with Ian Morris, and with eight minutes to go, the scores were level. Paul Hayes (again) took full advantage of a mistake by Matt Heath to stroll past Dean Gerken and tap into an empty net. What was most galling as we had scored three fantastic goals and conceded three very soft ones – very much a metaphor for that second season in the Championship unfortunately.

In the closing ten minutes or so, despite the momentum of Scunthorpe United, it was the U’s who battled hardest to regain the lead, but all to no avail. Adkins removed youngster Jack Cork for the battle-hardened experience of Grant McCann in midfield, and the Iron held out for the point they wanted, and the match finished honours even, one point a piece, three goals each, and relegation for both of us. In truth, it didn’t really matter, we’d travelled to celebrate the U’s finally bowing out of the Championship in style, and they’d done us proud!

Scunthorpe United 3 (Jonathan Forte 15’; Paul Hayes 67’, 82’) Colchester United 3 (Kevin McLeod 11’, 48’; Scott Vernon 48’)

Post-match, George reflected "I think the players applied themselves well but that goes for the whole season. We haven't finished where we are because of a lack of effort - it's because we haven't been good enough. The effort and the application has been there right until the very last moment". He wasn’t wrong either.

After a poor start the following season new owner Robbie Cowling replaced him with Paul Lambert, a move I still believe was premature…and we all know how Lambert’s tenure finished. However, Geraint Williams still deserves recognition for taking Colchester United to the highest finish in our history during those Championship years.
When Saturday Comes #10
at 14:32 17 Oct 2021

So here we are again, still looking for that elusive first home league win of the season, only this time against high-flying (and recently non-league) Harrogate Town. That isn’t meant to be in any way disrespectful for Harrogate Town, they should be applauded for what they have achieved so far, but it is nevertheless a measure of how far our stock has fallen in recent years that we find ourselves in this situation. I have no doubt that today will be a difficult game, but it’ll be even more so if Hayden Mullins doesn’t take anything from recent performances and realise that what he’s trying just doesn’t seem to be working – he simply has to change things around. Whether he will or not remains to be seen – maybe he will, maybe won’t and the old guard will finally come good? I guess we’ll know one way or another by 5pm.
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