|Letters from Wiltshire #07|
Written by wessex_exile on Saturday, 3rd Oct 2020 14:26
Welcome to Matchday #4 everyone, with the U’s making a reasonably solid start to the league campaign, undefeated, two clean sheets, only one goal conceded and sitting comfortably just outside the play-offs. I’d probably feel more comfortable if we were scoring a few more at the other end, so it’s good to see Chuck getting back into action. The big news that’s grabbing most of the column inches now is of course that President Trump is in hospital with coronavirus. Now there are many out there in the social media world who consider this somewhat poetic irony, given his (mixed) messaging on the subject since the crisis began, and there are more than a few wishing that it ends very badly for Trump. I’m not one of them, but I was reminded this morning of a famous quote “[i]I have never killed anyone, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction[/i]”. Often misattributed to Mark Twain, it was Clarence Darrow in his 1932 work [i]The Story of My Life[/i]. For those, like me, who consider [i]Inherit the Wind[/i] probably the best courtroom drama ever made, Darrow was the lawyer in the real [i]Scopes Monkey Trial[/i].
[b]The U’sual – The Colchester United Fanzine
Yep, my memorabilia random match selector has final not chosen a match, but a fanzine – and what a significant one in the history of Colchester United. For those that are unaware, this was produced by our very own webmaster [b]Daniel[/b], and followed on from the previous [i]The Blue Eagle[/i], which had ceased production about three years earlier. This was back in the day of ColuOnline when we were on the old Rivals network. To put my fanzine purchase into context, I’m pretty sure I picked up my copy when I travelled over to Layer Rd for my traditionally ‘closest to my birthday’ football treat on 24th August 2002, to watch the U’s take on Brentford.
Not so much of a treat it turned out, as we lost 1-0. That match remains a possible choice for future blogs, so I won’t go into it now – I’ll spare you that at least. Worryingly, like today, this was our fourth match of that season, so I sincerely hope that isn’t a portent of things to come this afternoon…
I’ll have a trawl through Issue 1 of The U’sual in due course, but for now lets have a look at some stats related to the occasion, the opponent, the date etc. Most of this is derived from Graeson’s excellent www.coludata.co.uk website, plus my own paltry records on occasion.
[b]…will play ball #4[/b]
There is a slight flaw in my data, in that matchday numbers per season don’t differentiate between league and cups, but when Matchday #4 coincides with a league match, it’s a reasonably auspicious occasion for the U’s. Sixty-seven occurrences since 1937/38, and we’ve won 27, drawn 17 and lost 23. If you translate that into a 46-game league, that’s about 67 points – ironically, probably somewhere just outside the play-offs (sounds familiar).
[b][i]”Hold them…Hold them!”[/i][/b]
Oldham Athletic began life as Pine Villa FC in 1895, playing in the Manchester and Lancashire Leagues. When Oldham County folded in 1899, Pine Villa moved into Boundary Park and changed their name to Oldham Athletic. After winning the Lancashire Combination title in 1906/07, they were elected into the football league for the 1907/08 season – and they’ve been here ever since.
Unlike the U’s, Oldham’s football record is interrupted by both World Wars, the Great War coming at a particularly inconvenient time for the Latics, as they were in their ascendency and had missed out winning the Division 1 title by just one point. The inter-war years were not kind to Oldham, who had gradually slipped all the way back to Division 3 North by the time Hitler came to the rescue. Mind you, it didn’t get much better once normal football hostilities resumed after the war and following a single season foray back into Division 2, they ended up as one of the founding members of Division 4 in 1959/60. With echoes of Barrow’s plight, the following season they had to apply for re-election, which they were granted at the expense of Gateshead (who had finished above Oldham). Gateshead were sacrificed for our dear friends and neighbours Peterborough United.
After bouncing around between Divisions 3 and 4 for the next fourteen seasons or so, they eventually gained promotion back to Division 2 in 1973/74 under player-manager Jimmy Frizzell. There they stayed until 1990/91, when under Joe Royal they finally returned to the top flight, and having survived one season, therefore became a founding member of the newly formed Premier League in 1991/92. A somewhat ignominious claim to fame – surely they must be the only team who were founding members of both Division 4 and the Premier League? Whatever, it didn’t last long, and they were relegated in 1994. Since then, it’s pretty much been a downward trajectory through to today – 4th from bottom on zero points and three straight defeats in the league. Cheer up though Latics, where there’s a Southend, there’s always hope for you!
[b]Score on the Doors[/b]
Don’t get yourself too excited about a potential cracker here – since our first meeting with Oldham back in 1961/62, we have played each other 49 times, and twenty of those have been draws. It’s pretty much honours even for the remainder too, we’ve won 14 and Oldham 15. As a portent of things to come, the very first game was a 2-2 draw at Boundary Park, but the return match at Layer Rd two days before Christmas saw a 5-1 victory for Benny Fenton’s U’s (two each for Martyn King and Bobby Hunt, and one for Peter Wright). That’s as good as it’s ever been for the U’s, though we came close in 2011 with a 4-1 victory at the Weston Homes. Oldham have returned the compliment on a few occasions, thrashing the U’s 4-0 at Boundary Park in 1967 and 1971, and 4-1 in March 2002. Oddly, we’ve never played each other in a cup competition.
[b]Not you as well![/b]
Graeson’s ‘Played For Both’ function throws up a veritable rogues gallery of names to consider, which include Wayne Andrews, one of my all-time favourites Colin Garwood, Scott Vernon, Guy Branston, Big George Elokobi (of course), Chris Iwelumo, Jabo, Chris Porter, Mark Yeates and dear old Brian Launders!
[b]Those hazy crazy days[/b]
Here’s an interesting fact – we’ve played on October 3rd twelve times in our history, and never drawn a single match – won six and lost six. We’ve even played Oldham Athletic on this date, losing 1-0 at Boundary Park in 1998. It’s less optimistic if we look at just matches on Saturday 3rd October, played eight, lost five – and if we filter down to only home matches, it’s even worse, played three, lost two. Our best performance, without doubt destroying QPR 4-2 at Layer Rd in 2007 and those heady days in the Championship. The pits? Probably our very first match on this date, losing 3-1 at Gay Meadow in 1953.
[b]Get on with it![/b]
Anyway, back to [i]The U’sual[/i]. In Daniel’s editorial , having first introduced the concept of why a new fanzine, went on to reflect on matters that were pertinent to the U’s faithful at the time – such as the shortage of fit centre-halves at the time, why Whitton didn’t seem to want to pick Alan White in that role, and the perennial problem of a mis-firing strike-force (sounds familiar – again!). The benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing, so reading material on Dean ‘he does it in training’ Morgan does make me chuckle.
There’s a summary of line-ups and scores for our pre-season friendlies (including the ‘never played’ 1-1 draw with West Ham – goal scored by Dean Morgan 😊), useful directions to upcoming awaydays, and a comparison of ticket prices in our league that season. Prompted by ticket prices rising, and the club maintaining we were still “[i]…amongst the cheapest in Division 2…[/i]”, the summary list showed that at £289 our most expensive season ticket did look fairly cheap compared to others (Oldham were one of the lowest at £270), but our cheapest at £211 considerably more expensive than many – the reader was invited to draw their own conclusions.
There were contributions from names who will be familiar to many of us on here, including [b]Old Phart’s[/b] Best XI, a round up of the U’s Ladies (back when we had a U’s Ladies team) by [b]Sparky[/b], and Episode 1 of The Misadventures of [b]Betty Swollox[/b]. However, the main article was an excellent Q&A interview with club legend Micky Cook. There are six pages of it, and at times it’s quite in-depth (top work Daniel!), so I can’t summarise it all here, but I will pick up on a couple of interesting replies.
On most appearances, when asked if he thought anyone would break his record of 700 appearances in all competitions for the U’s, he thought even back then that Doogie might have a chance of doing so. Although Doogie fell short with a paltry 471 appearances, that wasn’t a bad shout to be honest. When asked about when he thought the U’s were at their peak during his time at Layer Rd, Micky went back to my pre-exile late 70s and early 80s heroes, specifically name-checking Trevor Lee in the process.
Apart from his longevity at the club, Micky cited his role in supporting and coaching Lua Lua as one of his biggest achievements whilst at the club – and for £2.25m who wouldn’t! He did go on to mention in passing “[i]Lomana is still to prove in the Premiership that he has that consistency factor, but certainly he can do stuff that nobody else can, that’s for sure[/i]”. Sums up Lua Lua’s carrer pretty succinctly to be honest.
All in all, a cracking read, and more importantly Daniel would go on to produce The U’sual fanzine for more than three years, a prodigious effort give it was pretty much a solo effort for most of it – well done [b]Daniel[/b]!
To finish, how about remembering our most recent match against Oldham, and a trip to Boundary Park in August last year – the return fixture lost out to lockdown.
I’ll take one of these again quite happily…
Up the U’s
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Letters from Wiltshire #34 by wessex_exile
I won’t dwell on Robbie’s latest message to the supporters – we’ve all read it, and we’ve all probably drawn our own conclusions about what it doesn’t say as much as what it does. To me, bottom line, I suspect the clock is now ticking for Steve Ball (at least), turn around this terrible form pretty damn quick, or start clearing out your locker. Regardless of personal opinions on any of the individuals concerned, I would like to think none of us actually wants to see people made redundant in the current climate. But, these are difficult times that require tough decisions. If Steve Ball is up to the job and can turn this around, I’ll be more than happy to support him. If he’s not, he has to go before irreparable harm is done…and we all know what that will look like, we’ve been there before…
Letters from Wiltshire #33 by wessex_exile
Today we face a trip to Crawley, not usually a venue that bears fruit for the U’s it has to be said. In nine visits we’ve only won once in the league, and once in the League Cup. Of course, we’ll all remember that League Cup victory, indeed many of us were probably there to see us progress through to 5th round and the dream fixture against Manchester United at Old Trafford. All of our goal-scorers that night, Luke’s Norris and Gambin, and Cohen Bramall (okay, technically an O.G.), are no longer with us, so let’s hope at the very least that recent departee and subsequent returnee Frank Nouble can bag another like his late equaliser against Mansfield. Steve Ball commented during the week about how tight the league is at the moment, and he’s right that a couple of back to back victories would see us move significantly up the table away from danger – but we’ve got to win them first Steve – something we’ve failed to do since our 1-0 victory at Scunthorpe on December 8th.
Letters from Wiltshire #32 by wessex_exile
Fifty years ago yesterday, Colchester United of the 4th Division pulled off the greatest cup giant-killing ever, beating 1st Division Leeds United 3-2 at Layer Road. Watched by 16,000, and the Match of the Day cameras, Dick Graham’s U’s, a rag-tag band of mostly aging journeymen, defied the odds to defeat arguably the greatest club side in Europe at the time. “The greatest cup giant-killing ever” is a bold claim, and over the years various football magazines and websites have run their own polls of which was the greatest. Whilst that day at Layer Rd always features, as the years have gone by other feats fresher in the memory have been put forward as a candidate – we probably all remember Ronnie Radford’s screamer against Newcastle, Sutton’s exploits, or even Bradford City quite recently at Stamford Bridge – but these pale into insignificance when you pause to reflect on the Don Revie side that we beat that day. Sprake, Cooper, Charlton, Hunter, Lorimer, Giles etc – all full internationals, all household names – the only one missing was Billy Bremner, and that was because he was injured. By comparison, all we had to offer was Ray Crawford – at his peak arguably on a par with some in the Leeds side, but that peak had been ten years earlier playing for Ipswich and England. Eleven heroes didn’t just try and hold out against Leeds United, they took the game to their illustrious opponents with such tenacity, grit and no small amount of flair, and before we knew it, the U’s were 3-0 in the lead. As legs tired, Leeds got back into the game with goals from Hunter and Giles, but we held firm – typified at the death by Graham Smith pulling off an impossible save to ensure the U’s achieved [b][u]the greatest cup giant-killing ever![/b][/u]
Letters from Wiltshire #31 by wessex_exile
And so the dust settles on another transfer window closing, and despite (my) expectations that the possibility of incoming business was going to be remote, we have instead seen a veritable flurry of activity, with no less than three coming in. Big Frank Nouble, making a very welcome return on loan from Plymouth Argyle, of course needs no introduction. Neither really does feisty Brendan Sarpong-Wiredu, here on loan last season, and this time signed full-time from Charlton Athletic for an undisclosed fee. Actually paying hard cash for someone did come as a surprise, presumably offset by the sale of Cohen Bramall to Lincoln for a similarly undisclosed fee. However, the fact that the Addicks have insisted on not only a sell-on clause, but a rarely used buy-back clause too, suggests (a) Wiredu’s signing fee probably wasn’t too high, and (b) Charlton are protecting those finances with these clauses. The last one, which would have been a complete surprise for me were it not for a contact leaking me the news earlier yesterday, is left-back Josh Doherty on loan from Crawley. Josh was only announced once outgoing left-back Bramall was confirmed, and presumably his loan is directly related to part-time fashion model, TV and radio celeb and former left-back Mark Wright signing for Crawley on a non-contract game-by-game basis in December. We have also released seven from the academy, Ollie Kensdale, Miquel Scarlett, Sammie McLeod, Michael Fernandes, Ollie Sims, Danny Collinge and Matt Weaire, and I’m sure we all wish them the best for the future.
Letters from Wiltshire #30 by wessex_exile
Friday night football – can’t beat it. Gives you that feelgood factor all weekend, sitting back to enjoy a stress-free Saturday afternoon watching others fail in your wake. Of course, you have to win first, which we’ve been struggling to do for a while now, so be prepared for the possibility of a miserable weekend just in case. We share this evening with Reading v AFC Bournemouth, albeit they kick-off an hour later than we do. In the real world, leaders of the UK’s five largest business groups have written to Boris demanding action on the substantial difficulties they are facing over Brexit bureaucracy, whilst French border authorities are reporting that two-thirds of lorries arriving from the UK are empty (i.e. no exports leaving the UK). Still, at least the NHS can enjoy their extra £350m per week…