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Letters from Wiltshire #19
Written by wessex_exile on Tuesday, 1st Dec 2020 11:19

Within the football world, we’re all painfully aware that football clubs are at considerable risk because of the financial pressure resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. Worryingly, outside the football bubble, it is clear that retailers too are now feeling the pinch, with Debenhams looking likely to close with the lose of 12,000 jobs, and Arcadia (owner of Topshop, Burton and Dorothy Perkins) going into administration with debts of apparently £30m, putting another 13,000 jobs at risk. Needless to say, the world of social media has stepped in, reminding those that care that Sir Philip Green, owner of Arcadia, was seen earlier this week relaxing on his £100m superyacht – make of that what you will.

[b]Colchester United v Southampton
Saturday 6th December 2003
Championship (Tier 2)
Attendance 5,893[/b]

I’m not certain, but I think this might be one of the first of my blogs to actually feature a home match from our Championship days, as Letters from Wiltshire #19 goes back to October 2006, and a home game against Southampton. As I write this blog, I’ve just finished another marathon day at work, and I’m afraid as with most mid-week games over the coming months (particularly given the 7pm kick-offs), this will have to be a somewhat abridged account. Many of you will know I’m an archaeologist by trade, but to put stuff into context, my company has been awarded the A303 Stonehenge Tunnel contract, which as you can imagine is keeping me rather busy at the moment.

[b]”[i]Oh when the Saints…[/i]”[/b]
Spending a large part of my career working for a south-west based company, but with a UK-wide reach in terms of market, I’ve found myself working with supporters of a wide range of UK and overseas football supporters. I can mentally navigate my way around both former and current colleagues by their allegiances, and have lost track of the number of times I’ve been on football trips with many of them, more often than not to go watch the U’s against their team, or any team just because the match was in the vicinity and it seemed like a good idea.

This was one such occasion, as myself and a Saints-supporting colleague (technically, kind of my indirect boss at the time) decided we’d head over to see the U’s take on Southampton at Layer Rd. This wasn’t the U’s first league match against the Saints, you have to go all the way back to the Division 3 South days in 1953 for that, but it was certainly the most recent in a very long time – 46 years to be precise (not including various League Cup matches over the years, including our 1-0 victory at the Dell to set up the Quarter-final against Villa).

As archaeologists, we’re not averse to a pint or two, so decided to let the train take the strain and enjoy a few relaxing beers on the journey. We even had time to grab a pint at Hamilton Hall on the way through, which not surprisingly was well-populated by Saints supporters making the same journey. We were of course both in colours, which might have looked odd to onlookers, but it was all rather good-natured in the pub and on the train to be honest, no problems at all.

I can’t be absolutely certain, but I’m pretty sure we didn’t bother with the Drury for this match, given we probably would have had to split between the two bars, but I do know we had to separate for the actual match. Tickets for both home and away were selling fast, and as neither of us wanted to be constrained if ‘celebrations’ were needed, my mate managed to get his ticket through Southampton FC in the away end, with myself on the barside. We were both fine with this, and it’s something I’ve had to do often in the past. It’s something of a shame that the culture of football doesn’t allow more open mixing of opposing supporters, but then again the ‘tribal’ aspect of football is equally compelling to many who attend, and part and parcel of the positive experience they gain from attending. I think I’m more in the latter group if I’m honest, as was my mate, so we shook hands and entered Layer Rd (him for the first time ever) through different turnstiles.

[b]It’s parky out…[/b]
In the context of where we wer at the time, as we all know Phil Parkinson had performed miracles on a she-string budget, and steered the U’s to promotion in May with a tense nervy 0-0 draw at Yeovil....and then promptly jumped ship in the close season for the lure of big bucks (and a big transfer budget no doubt) at ever charmless Hull City. The reins at Layer Road had been taken up by Parky’s assistant Geraint “George” Williams. Against all expectations, we weren’t doing too badly either – mid-table going into this match, only 2pts behind the Saints, and reasonably comfortably clear of a relegation zone containing Southend United, Leeds United, and – you guessed it – Parky’s Hull City. Much of our success came from dear old cramped Layer Rd, which the big-time charlies really didn’t seem to like playing out, and in our previous four matches we’d despatched Derby County, QPR, Ipswich Town and Sheffield Wednesday.

George’s U’s lined up that day:

1….Aidan Davison
2….Greg Halford
12..Pat Baldwin
5….Wayne Brown
18..Chris Barker
20..Kevin McLeod (Ritchie Jones 84’)
10..Kem Izzet
4….Johnnie Jackson
7….Karl Duguid
11..Chris Iwelumo
8….Jamie Cureton

Where do you start with the Saints line-up, managed that day by none other than our dear-departed George Burley – “[i]we know a song about him don’t we kids, shall we sing it?[/i]”. How about left-back Gareth Bale for starters, at his first club since turning professional, or Jermaine Wright, or Claus Lundekvam, or Kenwyne Jones, Grzegorz Rasiak or even Bradley Wright-Phillips on the bench. The Saints were in the hunt for the play-offs, and even with home advantage this was clearly going to be a very tough contest.

[b]Who are ya’[/b]
Or so we thought – turned out to be another regulation humbling of Premier League wannabees that we came to expect during that magnificent season. In virtually no time at all, Sammy McLeod ghosted in through a static defence to nod in Jamie Cureton’s pinpoint cross, and after just three minutes the U’s were 1-0 up. It didn’t stop there either, and throughout the first half Saints really struggled to come to terms with their surroundings, and the volume and intensity of the near 6k crowd jammed into Layer Road (at the previous match against Derby, we’d been ‘officially’ recorded as the loudest fans in the football league as the teams ran out, though I’ve heard since this might have been helped slightly by where the decibel meter was positioned 😊).

Half-time, and with the U’s still in control, time to share a few texts back and forth with my mate, though given we actually weren’t that far apart, and could clearly see each other, we could have done it with semaphore flags easy enough (if either of us actually knew semaphore that is).

If Burley had failed to prepare his team for what to expect before kick-off, he certainly put that right for the second half, and the game took on a completely different complexion. Saints, finally seemingly managing to shake off the concerns about their surroundings, actually starting to play like the team they clearly were at the time. The U’s were pegged back for much of the game, and to me it seemed only a matter of time that our defence would be breached…and I was kind of already mentally preparing myself for an ‘honours-even’ journey back to the south-west with my mate. I actually though that moment had arrived when a clumsy challenge by Halford on Kenwyne Jones looked a certain penalty. Certain to most apart from referee Dean Whitestone, much to the infuriation of Burley on the bench (chortle).

And so we approached the final few seconds, desperately clinging on to our slender lead, defending like Trojans, with both sets of supporters roaring from the terraces. And then it happened, springing from defence in injury-time, the U’s raced up the pitch catching Saints napping and finishing a beautiful sweeping move, little Jamie Cureton slotted home to give us an unassailable 2-0 lead. The ground erupted, the barside going mental, tumbling all over each other in celebration.

And that’s how it finished.

[b]Colchester United 2 (Kevin McLeod 3’; Jamie Cureton 90’) Southampton 0[/b]

[b]Gently does it[/b]
In these situations, one has to be tactful, so meeting up with my mate back outside on Layer Road, I did my best to keep my outrageous happiness in check – but we’re all use to these things, and the shoe’s been on the other foot more than enough times, so there were no sour grapes from my mate. We did agree that on balance, possibly, that should have been a draw, but he couldn’t question the spirit of the U’s. We rode our luck at times, played to our strengths, defended resolutely, and took the chances that came our way, so on balance he didn’t begrudge us the victory. He was also mightily impressed with Layer Road, which in his own words reminded him very much of the Dell when it was jumping, which having been there just once, I took as a massive compliment.

Oh yeah, and thanks to Matt Hudson, guess who made Page 41 of the programme 😊

Up the U’s

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Letters from Wiltshire #35 by wessex_exile
Letters from Wiltshire #34 by wessex_exile
Letters from Wiltshire #33 by wessex_exile
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.
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