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Matches of Yesteryear - Cheltenham v U's 22/2/03
Written by wessex_exile on Friday, 10th Jan 2020 19:25

The U’s travel to the Globe Arena tomorrow, aiming at the very least to keep the unbeaten run going – though in truth after three somewhat disappointing draws against Exeter, Crawley and Stevenage, surely nothing less than three points is acceptable? Ahead of this trip, the Matches of Yesteryear random number generator has chosen a match which for me has a particularly bitter-sweet poignancy.

Cheltenham Town v Colchester United

Saturday 22nd February 2003

Nationwide League Division 2 (Tier 3)

Attendance 3,607

Match #36, and for the first time in the series a trip to Whaddon Road, home of Cheltenham Town. Cheltenham had been in the football league since gaining promotion from the Conference in 1999, and following a successive promotion via the play-offs at the end of 2001/02, this was the very first season we were to play each other in the football league (we had of course already met in both of our Conference seasons). This wasn’t quite my first visit to Whaddon Road, we’d also been drawn away at Cheltenham earlier in the season for a 1st round LDV Vans Trophy match on a freezing night in October, for which I had made my first trip to Whaddon Road. Rather wished I hadn’t in some ways, after the U’s were trounced 4-1 mainly as a result of a Richard McKinney horror-show which concluded on 45 minutes conceding a penalty for their first goal, with the bonus of a straight red for his troubles.

Cheltenham, managed by Bobby Gould at the time, were finding life in the third tier a bit of a struggle, and at the time of this match were bottom of the league, albeit only by one point and still well in touch with those above them, and with only five points separating the bottom nine clubs. The U’s were one of those nine, only two points above the relegation zone, and looking to make some serious progress away from danger and towards the relatively hallowed ground of mid-table obscurity (and safety). Our poor start to the season had lead former manager Steve Whitton to conclude he could do no more for the U’s, and he resigned on 29th January following a home defeat against Blackpool that saw us deep in the relegation mire. As a result, for this game we had Geraint Williams as caretaker manager – his first spell in charge of the U’s – and he wasn’t doing too badly either, getting a decent point at Stockport, victory at Ashton Gate, and then a home win against Mansfield.

The U’s lined up:

1….Simon Brown

25..Sam Stockley (Micky Stockwell 45’)

5….Scott Fitzgerald

19..Alan White

18..Liam Chilvers

7….Karl Duguid

10..Kem Izzet

6….Thomas Pinault

3….Joe Keith

23..Gareth Williams (Dean Morgan 63’)

9….Scott McGleish

My in-laws lived just outside Cheltenham, and my father-in-law particularly was a proper football supporter – born and bred within sight of Old Trafford, and a genuine Manchester United fan as a result (unlike the hordes from the Home Counties etc.). He would take any opportunity to get to a match, and was therefore delighted when his daughter hooked up with the sort of football fanatic who was always trying to get to any games that were possible. This was our second visit together to Whaddon Road, as he had braved the elements to be there with me for the dreadful LDV game too. We were never happier than with a glass of scotch or two watching Match of the Day on a Saturday night, marvelling at the skill, and howling with laughter at the incompetence in equal measure. Over the years we shared many excellent trips together to watch football, mainly Colchester United, sometimes Gloucester City, and even Salisbury City on occasion, before he was tragically taken from us by cancer at far too young an age. I can genuinely say he was one of the finest people I have had the privilege to meet, and I miss him terribly to this day. My trip to Old Trafford was tinged with the regret that he wasn’t there with me – he would have loved it.

Prior to kick off, as neither of us were wearing colours, we popped into the large home-only Cat and Fiddle pub on Whaddon Road for a pre-match beer. This is another football pub that has since disappeared, converted into flats in 2009, and subsequently demolished and rebuilt as some form of housing facility – not sure, but it looks like warden-assisted flats or some such now? I can only assume calling this new-build “Arkells” is in reference to the former pub that occupied the site?

The Cat and Fiddle shortly after closure

Back in 2003, away supporters were housed at the south end of the Wymans Stand – the new Whaddon Road End stand where we gather these days wasn’t built until 2005. I don’t recall it being a huge U’s following that day, probably no more than about 150-200 I’d guess, but we were in good voice hoping to see the positive uplift in results continued. Unfortunately, we’d barely warmed our seats when giant striker Julian Alsop headed home his tenth goal of the season after just 90 seconds. Although a massive set-back right at the outset, I always console myself in these situations with the belief that we still had plenty of time to put things right.

Cheltenham were proving to be no slouches on the pitch, despite their lowly position, but the U’s gradually began to impose themselves in the game as the first half went on. We rightly received our reward following good approach work by Joey Keith, when Gareth Williams drilled home an equaliser just before half-time. This was the first goal scored for the U’s by Williams, who had signed on loan from Crystal Palace a month earlier, along with Liam Chilvers from Arsenal. They were, I think, the last two players bought into the club by Steve Whitton – not a bad brace to finish on I reckon.

Both managers changed things around at half-time to try and gain an advantage. Gould replaced McAuley with David Bird, and George brought on Micky Stockwell for Sam Stockley (incidentally, it had been Micky Stockwell who was sacrificed following McKinney’s red card in the LDV, to allow benched Simon Brown to go in goal). The second half was just as evenly contested, with both teams well-matched on the pitch. Gould mixed it up further after 58 minutes, bringing on Damian Spencer for Tony Naylor, which was countered by George five minutes later, replacing goal-scorer Gareth Williams with Dean Morgan. The final roll of the dice was Bobby Gould’s, replacing Devaney with Marvin Brown with just over twenty minutes to go, but to no avail, and the match finished without any further goals.

Cheltenham Town 1 (Julian Alsop 2’) Colchester United 1 (Gareth Williams 44’)

Geraint Williams had finished his caretaker manager spell with two wins, two draws and no defeats, and had rightly put himself forward to become the new permanent manager. Peter Heard interviewed George and two other (then unknown) short-listed candidates in London – the Evening Gazette at the time reported on the Sunday that the interviews had taken place the day before (on the matchday!). I can’t believe that to be the case, it must have been either Friday 21st February, or Monday 24th February, and on Tuesday 25th February the relatively unknown (and completely untested) Phil Parkinson was announced as the new manager. Without the benefit of hindsight, I thought that was unfortunate for George, who I believed had earned his chance. But Parky clearly recognised the value of Geraint Williams as well, and moved swiftly to get him signed up as his assistant – and the rest, as they say, is history.

Cheltenham were to continue to struggle to adjust to life at this level, and although they did climb off the bottom eventually, they couldn’t escape the relegation zone, and finished fourth from bottom in May. Although it took a few seasons, it was our very own John Ward who eventually steered them back into League 1 via the 2006 play-off final.

Off the field, it was being widely reported that the broadcaster ITV Digital was in serious financial trouble, beset by low audience figures, piracy issues and a frankly unaffordable broadcasting rights multi-million pound deal with the Football League. This was proving to be a serious financial problem for many clubs, who based on the hype surrounding the broadcasting deal, had budgeted on the expectation of substantial revenue from the arrangement. Bradford City and Barnsley both went into administration, clubs were forced to cut staff and sell players, and ticket prices were increased to mitigate the shortfall in revenue from broadcasting. In all, 14 clubs went into administration in the four years following the collapse of ITV Digital, and many believe it was a major factor in most of these cases. Fortunately, the ever-wise and ever-prudent Peter Heard had refused to believe the hype surrounding ITV Digital, had never budgeted more than the U’s could afford, and as a result we were largely unaffected by the collapse.

Up the U’s

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