|Letters from Wiltshire #22|
Written by wessex_exile on Saturday, 12th Dec 2020 14:42
Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat…hence I’m a bit late today, following the inevitable Christmas tree hunt – the decorating will have to wait until later I reckon. In the news, despite my confident assurance several weeks ago that Trump appeared to be grudgingly starting to accept that he had lost the US presidency election, he’s since doubled-down on his baseless accusations of election fraud – without obviously providing a single shred of evidence to back it up (and how could he, there isn’t any). His latest apoplectic tirade, just today, follows the Supreme Court telling Texas just where they can stick their egregious lawsuit demanding that Biden’s victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia be thrown out in favour of Trump. From a global perspective, it is deeply troubling that no less than 126 republican congressional representatives signed an amicus brief supporting the challenge. Trump will leave the White House in January, but they will stay at the heart of the US government, and I don’t think that’s good news for democracy, nor even the rest of the world. Ho hum…
[b]Gloucester City v Salisbury City
Letters from Wiltshire #22 takes a relatively rare trip outside the world of Colchester United, but still retains a vaguely festive season edge to it, with a trip to Meadow Park Stadium (aka the City Stadium) at Gloucester for their 2nd January 2006 match against Salisbury City. This wasn’t actually my first trip to Meadow Park, that was way back in 2004, but it would turn out to be my last (more on that later).
I have mentioned previously my father-in-law Chris – a dyed-in-the-wool proper Mancunian Manchester United supporter, and a general lover of all things football. When I became part of the family back in 2000, he delighted in accompanying me to football matches whenever there was a chance, often to watch the U’s play. They lived near Tewkesbury, so our trips often took in visits to both Gloucester City and Cheltenham Town.
At the time, we were living in Salisbury, so with the fixture list coming out for 2005/06, Chris saw an opportunity to not only watch a match over the festive period that would have some sort of ‘connection’ between us, but also an opportunity to put a little back into the community. This was very much Chris’s style, a more generous person you could not hope to meet, so he decided his engineering company (Chris was a milling engineer) would sponsor the fixture.
I never knew the precise details of the sponsorship, what it cost, what the exact package entailed etc., but I know it did include about a dozen free tickets, use of the ‘Executive Suite’, as much hot and cold food as you could possibly eat before, during and after the match, as much alcohol as you could possibly drink (and what you didn’t drink you took home with you), entry into the Supporters Lounge before and after the match…oh…and a free programme 😊. We also got to vote for Man of the Match, but more on that later.
[b]Chris and his company secretary Sally pre-match[/b]
Chris’s company was a fairly big wheel in the world of milling engineers but was actually still quite a modest family-oriented operation in both size and philosophy. With me, Em and Alfie alongside him and his wife Pam, plus all of his workforce that wanted to come along, there was still a couple of tickets left, so he asked me if I knew anyone back in Salisbury that might like to join us. That was an easy one, my neighbour, colleague, close friend and lifelong Salisbury City supporter Phil Harding was delighted to join us, as was our mutual friend Pat, another neighbour to both of us.
Em, me and Alfie travelled over to stay with Pam and Chris on New Years Eve to spend some quality time relaxing, whilst they got the opportunity to thoroughly spoil rotten their grandson Alfie. The plan was to head home the following morning, so Chris arranged transport to get all of the group to and from the ground without anyone actually having to worry about driving (did I mention the vast quantity of alcohol available?). It was beautiful weather too, a typical January day – a bright low sun, not a cloud in the sky, chilly but not freezing, just perfect to go watch a football match.
Gloucester City didn’t let us down either, everything was not just exactly as promised, actually better than promised. The Executive Suite (the only Executive Suite) itself was just a room in the clubhouse, but it that happened to have patio doors at one end which opened out onto a small patio overlooking the pitch – albeit at ground level. I honestly can’t overemphasise enough quite how much food and booze they laid one – I don’t actually have a photo of it, but to one side of our room was a table literally groaning under stacks of pretty much every sort of alcohol you could wish for, there were even bottle of spirits, as well as the usual wines, beers, lagers, ciders, soft drink, mixers, the lot.
The teams lined up as follows:
Not too many names that I know particularly well, apart from Matt Tubbs of course. Tubbs had been at Salisbury City since 2003 and was making a bit of a name for himself in non-league circles as a diminutive but effective striker. He would go on to achieve a modest level of national fame scoring Salisbury City’s FA Cup 2nd Round equaliser against Nottingham Forest in front of the BBC cameras the following season, a performance that prompted Mark Lawrenson to comment “[i]this fella, on that evidence, can play at a higher level, which is the best compliment you can give him[/i]”. He would go on to play for Crawley and Bournemouth (with loans at Rotherham, back at Crawley and AFC Wimbledon), before signing for Portsmouth in 2015.
By the way, if you think, like me, Neil Mustoe sounds familiar – he should do. Originally signed by Manchester United, and then Wigan Athletic, he played for many seasons with Cambridge United before rejoining Gloucester City for a second spell in 2004. At the time, Salisbury City were flying high at the top of the league, aiming for promotion to the Conference South. Gloucester City were just about holding their own in lower mid-table, but really needed a few more points to be confident they wouldn’t get drawn into a relegation fight.
There’s not a great deal I remember too closely about the game itself. To say the pitch was cutting up a bit was an understatement – much of it was already a ploughed field, but the level of football was reasonably okay. There was decent crowd of over 550 in to watch the match, easily their best attendance of the season, and that included two coachloads (plus Phil and Pat) who had made the trip from Wiltshire. It would turn out to be the Tiger’s record home gate that season, better even than the visit of near neighbours Bath City later the same month.
During the first half I was particularly impressed with Mustoe. He was getting on a bit then (for a footballer) at 30+, but his professional league experience really did show, which made up a bit for his slight lack of pace. Salisbury City took the lead – I can’t remember for certain who scored it – I know it wasn’t Tubbs, and I think this photo was leading up to the goal, so I’m going to guess it was Paul Sales. That seems to be despite the Gloucester City defender trying to remove his shirt at the time 😊.
I do know it was Wilkinson that equalised for Gloucester City, and whilst I didn’t photo the shot itself, I did manage to capture the ball nestling in the back of the net and the Tigers supporters celebrating behind the goal. Incidentally, not sure if it was a rule back then or not, but Gloucester City had absolutely no problem with us taking our drinks out on the patio to watch the match – an opportunity Phil was glad to avail himself of.
For the second half, we decided to go on a bit of a wander, and went over to the covered terrace behind the goal, where most of the Gloucester City supporters had congregated (like Layer Road, swapping ends was not a problem at Meadow Park). Inevitably, the only goal of the second half was thus scored at the opposite end, to give Salisbury City a deserved victory – albeit Gloucester City had by no means disgraced themselves. I’m pretty sure it was Tubbs, but I was a long way off at the time.
[b]Gloucester City 1 (Dave Wilkinson) Salisbury City 2 (Paul Sales?; Matt Tubbs?)[/b]
Having Phil Harding at the game turned out to be a bit of a PR coup for Gloucester City, and the local press and TV had a field day interviewing him, taking photos and capturing film, and I hope Gloucester City themselves got some benefit out of it. Post-match we were ‘invited’ to submit our nominations for Man of the Match (I chose Mustoe), following which the Head Coach came in to chat about our selections and basically tell us “thanks very much, but we’re going to give it to this lad instead”. To be honest, none of us had any problem with that at all 😊.
After that, we retired to the club lounge, along with about a hundred other supporters and club officials. The squad also joined us after a short while as well, and amusingly their post-match reward was first dibs on all the cooked and unsold burgers, sausages, chips, pasties etc. from the match – so much for food science!
All in all, it was an absolutely fantastic day, and one I will cherish for the rest of my life. Chris sadly passed about three months later from cancer – we knew he was ill, just hadn’t realised quite how much so. Phil had already vowed to return the compliment at Salisbury, as the two sides were destined to play the return fixture on the last day of the season. In honour of Chris, he went ahead with this, ordered one of the Executive boxes at the Ray McEnhill Stadium, and provided an equally magnificent slap-up for us all – virtually everyone in our box at Gloucester City came along in memory of Chris, including his widow Pam, for what was a very moving day.
Salisbury won the home match 3-0 to clinch promotion to the Conference South, and gladly Gloucester City also easily avoided relegation in the process.
…and my last visit to Meadow Park – yep, not just because of Chris’s sad and untimely passing, but because less than a year later it was 8’ under water following the Severn floods, and Gloucester City wouldn’t return to the New Meadow Park (same location, new stadium) until this very year.
Up the U’s
Please report offensive, libellous or inappropriate posts by using the links provided.
You need to login in order to post your comments
Blogs by wessex_exile
Blogs 31 bloggers
Letters from Wiltshire #35 by wessex_exile
As many were predicting, time finally ran out for Steve Ball mid-week, after the U’s lost 2-1 at home to Exeter City. Although a considerable improvement in score-line compared to the 6-1 thrashing they handed out at St James Park earlier in the season, apart from the first 10-15 minutes and very brief glimpses throughout the remainder of the game, it was a poor performance, leaving Robbie Cowling with no choice. After a brief interlude, Robbie named Wayne Brown as our new Interim Head Coach (that’s caretaker as far as I’m concerned), and after an even briefer interlude, Robbie and Wayne in a joint statement put to rest any lingering concerns about Wayne’s attitude to race. If Wayne can show the same sort of leadership on the training ground and in the dressing room as he used to show for the U’s on the pitch, I am certain he’s going to do very well in the job.
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.