First and foremost, let me take the opportunity to wish all the U’sual ‘boarders and occasional visitors, lurkers and alike a very Merry Christmas, and hope you all have a healthy, wealthy and happy New Year! Unseasonably, for the time of year, the random match selector for the first game of the 2019/20 festive period has chosen a match from the balmy end of the football calendar, when shirt-sleeves and shades are very much the order of the day.
Brentford v Colchester United Saturday 6th May 2000 Nationwide League Division 2 (Tier 3) Attendance 5,297
Match #32 of the series, and we return to Griffin Park for the very last match of the 1999/2000 season. I say return, but in truth apart from a few cup matches, our previous visit to Griffin Park in the league had been twenty years earlier – coincidentally on Boxing Day 1980 (we won 2-1). As a result, I’m pretty certain this was my first ever visit to Griffin Park, a ground I was quickly going to conclude was as close to the perfect matchday experience that one could have.
The U’s lined up: 1….Simon Brown 24..Ross Yorke-Johnson 3….Joe Keith 6….Joe Dunne 8….David Gregory (Gavin Johnson 74’) 11..Jason Dozzell 30..Steve McGavin 18..Chris Keeble 23..Aaron Skelton (Barry Ferguson 46’) 19..Tony Lock (Kelechi ‘KK’ Opara 64’) 15..Lomana Tresor Lua Lua
And so we came to the end of Steve Whitton’s first full season in charge of the U’s, well more or less, taking over when Wadsworth left at the end of August ’99 for a new role closer to his native Pontefract…at Crystal Palace! It had been a difficult start for Whitton, not helped by having the playing squad (and team spirit) decimated by Wadsworth as pretty much his last action before leaving, and populated instead by a clutch of highly paid players primarily through the agency of Barry Silkman, and who’s motivation appeared focused more on their bank balance than the concerns of Colchester United. Whitton quickly reinstated ostracised players like Tony Lock and Richard Wilkins, and re-signed Joe Dunne and Steve McGavin, but by mid-September we were in the relegation zone, and were to stay there until early December.
However, with Steve McGavin finally finding his scoring boots, and emerging star Lua Lua also banging them in for fun, the U’s gradually began to pull away from the relegation zone towards mid-table mediocrity. A particularly good run through from December to the end of February even gave some faint hopes of perhaps sneaking the play-offs, but realistically survival was the name of the game for me this season. We effectively confirmed our survival easing past Cambridge United 3-1 at Layer Rd earlier in April, and by the final game at Brentford we were already safe – as were Brentford, both of us on 51 points and ten points clear of the relegation zone.
For Brentford that day, apart from the prolific goal-scorer Lloyd Owusu, there was really only one name worth talking about – Jimmy Glass in goal. Glass, as I’m sure you will all recall, was the goal-scoring hero at Carlisle at the end of the previous season. Needing a home victory against Plymouth Argyle to avoid relegation out of the football league and drawing 1-1 with just ten seconds of extra-time remaining, Glass came up for a corner. BBC Radio Cumbria commentator Derek Lacey picks up what happened next most eloquently:
“So ... deep, deep, deep, I make it sixty seconds. Jimmy Glass knocks it long. It comes now to Bagshaw. Bagshaw back to Anthony. Up to Stevens ... and the ball goes out now for a corner to Carlisle United – will they have time to take it? Referee looks at his watch ... and here comes Jimmy Glass! Carlisle United goalkeeper Jimmy Glass is coming up for the kick – everyone is going up ... there isn't one player in the Carlisle half! Well, well ... and the corner kick comes in ... and ... the goalkeeper's punch ... oh ... Jimmy Glass! Jimmy Glass! Jimmy Glass, the goalkeeper, has scored a goal for Carlisle United! There's a pitch invasion! There is a pitch invasion! The referee has been swamped – they're bouncing on the crossbar!”
His goal has received numerous accolades, including 72nd greatest sporting moment ever by Channel 4, 7th in The Times list of the 50 most important goals in football, 15th in the ITV 20 Goals That Shook the World, and the Puma boots that he scored the goal with were donated to the National Football Museum in 2014. Whilst a remarkable moment in the history of football, do spare a thought for the supporters of Scarborough, already on the pitch celebrating after believing their 1-1 draw with Peterborough had been enough to avoid relegation. Despite saving Carlisle from relegation, Glass couldn’t secure a contract for 1999/2000 (he was on loan from Swindon at the time), and after a spell at Cambridge United (without playing any matches), he ended up at Brentford, this game only his second for the Bees.
I travelled up from Salisbury on the train, with the intention of meeting my brother-in-law and nephew at what was then the Royal Oak (now The Brook) for a few pre-match beers. Well, that was the intention, and certainly what I achieved, but they’d had no end of travel nightmares getting over from Newbury Park on the tube, and arrived eventually with barely enough time for a swift one before kick-off. At the time, away supporters were housed in the odd two-tier Brook Rd stand, the lower tier terracing and upper tier seating.
As for the match, well first of all it was hot – man was it hot, even for late spring. Football is very much a cold weather sport, doesn’t feel right played in sunshine and hot weather, and with neither team having anything to play for, this somewhat had the feel of a pre-season friendly. Fortunately, we were comfortably in the shade in the lower tier. I think there were supporters in the seating above, certainly sounded like it, and there must have been at least 5-600 on the terrace, and all in very good voice too. It was a chance to celebrate survival, and we were clearly keen to do so.
What was more surprising was that whilst I can’t remember too much detail from the game, what I do recall was that it was a game played at a pretty decent tempo, with plenty of attacking intent from two teams who were very well matched on the day. Lua Lua in particular was everywhere, causing no end of problems for the Brentford defence. Halfway through the first half, cutting in from the left, he clipped the ball over the advancing goalkeeper for what we were already celebrating was going to be the opening goal. Agonisingly, it came back off the inside of the post, and managed to avoid the onrushing U’s players who were looking to capitalise on the rebound. Tony Folan, who came on for the Bees in the second half, tried almost a carbon-copy of Lua Lua’s effort, but Simon Brown was equal to it and saved comfortably.
Other than that, it was a hot day out in West London, watching a decent game of football, secure in the knowledge that we were safe for another season, and actually beginning to show some promise as a developing side – and we didn’t lose!
Brentford 0 Colchester United 0
Preston North End, Burnley and Gillingham via the play-offs were promoted at the end of the season, with Cardiff City, Blackpool, Scunthorpe United and Chesterfield relegated. Despite not having Jimmy Glass to bail them out this time around, Carlisle again narrowly avoided relegation out of the football league, finishing joint bottom with Chester City on 39 points, but with a marginally better goal difference (-33 to Chester’s -35).
Though we weren’t to know it, the U’s at Brentford was Jimmy Glass’s penultimate league appearance of his career. In 2000/01 he transferred to Oxford United, played once for them, and then drifted into non-league football before eventually retiring from professional football at the relatively young age of 27.
Whilst Jimmy Glass’s career was heading south, Lua Lua’s was on the brink of entering the stratosphere. Having already rejected a derisory bid of £300k from then Newcastle manager Ruud Gullit, when Bobby Robson upped that to £2.25m early in 2000/01, the club had no option but to accept.
Let’s finish by remembering our very own goal-scoring goalkeeper hero, and arguably the goal which won us the Conference title, whilst enjoying some wonderful sour-grapery from Whinger O’Neill…
My only recollection of that match/day, was me and my mates (year 11 at the time), making up a random chant for Kelechi ‘KK’ Chris Santos Opara. Apparently he was trying to "court" a young lady in our class ha ha. It was very simple "KK for Anna" repeat infinitely times throughout the game.
Your write up reminds me of the Blackpool away game the season before. Last game of the season. Again nothing to play for (I don't think) and a chance to abuse Wadsworth for releasing Joe Dunne all game!
Didn't take long for Whitton to bring him back from Dover