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Letters from Wiltshire #34
at 18:44 23 Feb 2021

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…

York City v Colchester United
Tuesday 27th November 2001
FA Cup (1st Round replay)
Attendance 2,888




Letters from Wiltshire #34 goes right back to 2001, and our first round replay against York City in the FA Cup. My apologies in advance, with this evening’s 7pm kick-off approaching fast, and such a crucial game for the U’s as well, this blog is going to be perhaps shorter than usual.

In the context of where we are, and the potential fate that befalls us if we don’t start pulling some results together, having the random match selector choose York City as the opponent is a sobering reminder. In the 4th Division at the time of this replay, York City did of course slip out of the Football League in 2004. It took until 2012 for them to finally get back into the Football League, only to be relegated again four years later, and a year after that relegated to National League North for the first time in their history (though they did win the FA Trophy in the process).

How come?
How come I was there, not how come York City are now in Tier 6. Well, first and foremost, I was there because the U’s failed to beat the Minstermen in the original FA Cup 1st Round match at Layer Road ten days earlier, drawing 0-0 in front of 3,350. We were a league above York at the time, so although we’ve experienced far worse in our time (let’s not forget the 1st round 5-1 exit at Yeovil the previous season for instance), another cup upset in the replay was therefore on the cards.

The other reason I was there was work-related – we’d been working on a major road scheme in the Midlands at the time, so when the need for a post-fieldwork on-site progress meeting was called for, it was an easy matter to look in my diary and casually suggest Tuesday 27th fitted well. From there, it was an even easier detour on a post-meeting cold and occasionally wet November evening to watch and see if the U’s could get through to the 2nd Round (for a home tie against Reading, riding high in our league).

I drove over after work, and parked up on one of the local neighbourhood streets around Bootham Crescent, where York City still plied their trade. No doubt as a result of financial difficulties, York City had ceased owning the ground a couple of years earlier, when it was transferred to holding company Bootham Crescent Holdings. It was announced at the time the ground would close and York move to a new stadium in June 2002, but at the time of my visit, there was still no sign of this fabled new ground. This was my first (and last) visit to Bootham Crescent; it was a nice little ground, even if (as usual) us away fans were housed on the shallow open terrace – much like tonight’s opponents Exeter’s old St James Park away terrace before they swapped it for the bouncy-bouncy stand.

Where we were
The U’s were doing okay in the league, had spent the first couple of months in the promotion and play-off places, and although we’d slipped a bit, were still healthily placed for a renewed promotion challenge. Just a week earlier I’d been one of the 53 to witness a valiant point rescued at Ninian Park, following an 87th minute equaliser from Joey Dunne (which would turn out to be his last goal for the club). York were having a harder season in the basement, only six points and five places off the bottom and the trapdoor that awaited.

Steve Whitton’s U’s lined up as follows:

29..Andy Woodman
3….Joe Keith (Dean Morgan 45’)
4….Gavin Johnson
5….Ross Johnson
12..Scott Fitzgerald
20..Micky Stockwell (Lloyd Opara 96’)
17..Bobby Bowry
15..Thomas Pinault
7….Karl Duguid
22..Kevin Rapley (Alan White 72’)
9….Scott McGleish

Steve Whitton was in charge at Layer Road, and had been since the departure of Mick Wadsworth two years earlier. York were managed at the time by Terry Dolan, who I knew very well from his time managing Bradford City whilst I lived in West Yorkshire during the 80s. None of the York City players ring any particular bells with me – Alan Fettis in goal is a name I think I ought to know, and maybe Lee Nogan and Michael Porctor up front? If I had more time I’d do a bit more research – maybe another day?

The match
There was a small but reasonably vociferous gang of U’s fans on the open terrace that night, probably no more than maybe 100-150 at the most, but considerably more than had been at Ninaian Park a week earlier. We were rewarded with a fairly strong line-up as well – for the most part full strength, just with the one significant change of Andy Woodman in goal in place of regular Simon Brown – though to be fair, Woodman was also ‘keeper for the original fixture at Layer Road.

The U’s started brightly, and it only seemed like a matter of time that we’d take the lead, so imagine our surprise when Chris Brass did exactly that for York City in just the 8th minute. It was against the run of play, but following a needless foul by Bowry on the edge of the box, York City played head tennis in our box from the free-kick, with Brass heading home powerfully his chance.

From there through to half-time, and playing towards the far end in the first half, it was difficult to see quite how close we were getting, but most of the action was definitely in and around the York City box for the first half, but with nothing to show for it at half-time. The York Press described it as ‘laying siege’ and so it was – an endless succession of corners, blocked efforts, sublime stops from Fettis, York City throwing everything on the line and holding out.

Into the second half, and more, so much more of the same. Virtual one-way traffic from the U’s, bearing down on the goal right in front of us, with us merry band of frozen supporters just roaring and roaring them on. Dean Morgan, coming on for Joe Keith at half-time, somehow managed to get his feet in a twist when it looked easier to score a virtual open goal – Fettis superbly palmed out a Micky Stockwell thunderous volley, with Brass sliding in to deny McGleish a certain equaliser from the rebound.

Finally, eventually, and with less than ten minutes to go, we got the equaliser we richly deserved. Alan White swung in an inch-perfect free-kick, and up rose spring-heeled McGleish to head in the equaliser in front of a demented away terrace. Everyone then checking watches now – did we have enough time for a second, York City supporters wondering if there was enough time (and momentum) to regain the lead, and probably everyone wondering on a very cold evening if there was going to be extra-time and penalties (brrrr).

To their credit, under the cosh for most of the game, it was York City who responded to the challenge first, and within three minutes they had unbelievably restored their lead. Proctor hammered an effort narrowly wide as a taster, before Cooper passed wide to Darren Edmondson, who just set off on a bee-line straight to Andy Woodman, with defenders closing to intercept, Edmondson unselfishly squared right into the path of Graham Potter, who made no mistake from there. Talk about having the guts ripped out of you, but even then the U’s didn’t give up, and back they came, this time without a doubt against a ten-man York City defence.

With seconds of normal time to go, a frantic goalmouth scramble say the ball rebound out to Kark Duguid, who calmly slammed home the equaliser, before virtually joining us on the away terrace in celebration. And still we weren’t done – in the 6th minute of extra-time, a crisp shot from Morgan was parried by Fettis, and there was Opara (who’d only be on a second or two) to slot home the rebound. It was one of those awful moments when some of the supporters simply couldn’t stop celebrating long enough to notice the linesman’s offside flag.

And that was that, no further goals in extra-time, and so to penalties…

The penalties were taken at the far end in front of the home support, and it was a long time ago, so please don’t ask me to remember the sequence of them. In short, we came to the last kick of the match, and it was Karl Duguid against Alan Fettis, with Doogie needing to score to keep us in the tie. It was a good spot-kick from my vantage point, to the ‘keeper’s side, low and hard, but Fettis chose the right direction, dived well, and pulled off an exceptional save to knock the U’s out of the cup.

York City 2 (Chris Brass 8’; Graham Porter 84’) Colchester United 2 (Scott McGleish 81’; Karl Duguid 90’)
3-2 on penalties aet


I will finish as I witnessed the match finishing – as everyone around the ground was ecstatically celebrating, supporters on the pitch, players hugging each other, with a dignity that did him so much credit, Karl Duguid calmly walked up to Alan Fettis and shook him warmly by the hand, in celebration of a job very well done on the night.

Though I haven’t got a copy these days, I remember an excellent report written in one of the broadsheets the following morning – I think it was the Telegraph, which gave a very balanced account of the match, and including focusing on Doogie’s dignity and professionalism in defeat. We might have gone out of the FA Cup, but it made me proud to read the report.

York would go on to defeat Reading in the 2nd round, and indeed Grimsby Town (after another replay) in the 3rd round, and would eventual fall against Fulham in the 4th round, but I have no doubt the cup revenue helped them enormously.

Up the U’s
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Letters from Wiltshire #33
at 13:09 21 Feb 2021

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.
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Letters from Wiltshire #33
at 13:09 20 Feb 2021

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.

Colchester United v Torquay
Saturday 23rd March 1996
Endsleigh League Division 3 (Tier 4)
Attendance 2,888




The random match selector for Letters from Wiltshire #33 goes right back to March 1996, and a home game against Torquay United. Very much like the U’s, Torquay’s football history is predominantly about bouncing back and forth between the third and fourth tier. Unlike the U’s, they’ve never been higher than that, but like the U’s have spent time in the National League – in fact they’re there right now. However, given they are riding high at the top, and look on track to be promoted back into the football league, I’m sure many of us would look on at their current success with a degree of envy.



Lest we get too dewy-eyed about our own Conference campaigns, winning and scoring for fun, brushing opponents aside on the pitch whilst taking over stadiums off the pitch, I really wouldn’t want to find ourselves back in non-league these days. One look at the National League table today shows a division chock full of professional former league sides; Torquay, Notts County, Stockport, Hartlepool, Wrexham, Yeovil, Chesterfield, Barnet and others – to slip back into that particular pond would take a herculean effort to get out again.

The way we were
Going into this particular fixture on March 23rd 1996, the U’s under manager Steve Wignall in his first full season in charge, were going well. We were 8th in the league, comfortably in touch with the play-off spots, even and an outside chance of nicking the 3rd place automatic promotion slot (the top two, Gillingham and Preston, were 10+ points ahead and more than likely already out of reach). Torquay, on the other hand, were having a shocker – 15pts adrift at the foot of the table, and doomed to certain relegation into non-league football, for the first time in their history.

Only they weren’t…

Despite their hopeless situation, they had a very tangible lifeline. In the conference, Stevenage were going great guns at the top, and looked certain to win the title. But not promotion. Their Broadhall Way ground had already been deemed unfit for league football by the FA back in October 1995, so all Torquay had to hope for was that Stevenage didn’t falter, and the Gull’s survival was assured.

Torquay actually hadn’t started the season too badly, but whether or not the Broadhall Way decision had an effect on their performance, they started tanking at the very end of September. By the time we met them at the back end of March, they’d won just three league matches in six months. Possibly more closely associated with their terminal dip in form was the transfer of Paul Buckle to neighbours Exeter City in October. Despite leaving just two months into the season, with four goals before departure, Buckle would still finish as Torquay’s leading goal scorer in 1995/96. Buckle would join the U’s in November 1996, and spend a very successful next three years at Layer Road.



The ground regulations were very clear, by the end of December Stevenage had to have a minimum capacity of 6,000, at least 1,000 of which must be seated. They didn’t, and needless to say Stevenage chairman and the ever-colourful Victor Green was furious:

It’s completely unfair. We have still not had a satisfactory reason from the Football League for the deadline being December 31st, when we can give a concrete guarantee that our ground will be ready by the start of next season”.

Maybe they just didn’t like you Vic…and can you wonder why? Green was found guilty by the Football Association of telling Torquay they had to cough up a £30k bung, or he’d sell Stevenage’s leading goal-scorer and thus jeopardise their chances of winning the league. If that happened, and nearest challenger Woking had won the league, their ground did pass muster and Torquay would have been relegated. Green was fined £25k by the FA, though it was suspended for two years, should he breach the rules again – I’m not sure if he did eventually have to pay or not.

Is that a fact?
Interesting match stat from our New Years Day game at Plainmoor earlier in the year – I wasn’t there, so am relying on the dubious power of the internet to share real facts – apparently Mark Kinsella opened the scoring after 15 seconds, and Simon Betts scored our third to win 3-2 with 15 seconds to go!

Back to it
So there we have it, the U’s hunting promotion, the Gulls reliant on another team to keep winning, surely all set up for a comfortable victory at Layer Road? We drove over for the weekend, stopping at my Mum’s to catch up with family, and as usual me and my brother-in-law took in the match on the Saturday afternoon, after a couple of beers in the Drury naturally.

There were a couple of changes in Wignall’s line-up compared to the back of the programme, Adam Locke (Locke Locke) was favoured over Tony Dennis and Super Scotty McGleish started ahead of a youthful Karl Duguid – Doogie in his debut season at Layer Road, and this match just two days after his 18th birthday. Not sure if he was nursing a monster hangover, but Doogie was on the bench, alongside Steve Whitton and Tony Dennis.

1….Andy Petterson
2….Chris Fry
3….Simon Betts
4….Tony McCarthy
5….Gus Caesar
6….Peter Cawley
7….Mark Kinsella
8….Adam Locke
9….Scott McGleish
10..Tony Adcock (Steve Whitton)
11..Paul Gibbs (Karl Duguid)

Although not really significant news at the time, only demanding a footnote on page 6 of the programme, the following short piece is particularly relevant in the context of where we are today:



Torquay were managed at the time by Eddie May, who had taken over in November from caretaker Mick Buxton, after the previous manager Don O’Riordan had been dismissed as they slipped towards oblivion. May had enjoyed a decent playing career, including several seasons at Roots Hall, and a pretty good management CV as well, including as Assistant at both Leicester and Charlton, and in charge at both Newport and Cardiff (twice). U’s connection Paul Buckle had already gone to Exeter, but that did still leave Scott Stamps in their line-up that afternoon. Stamps would go on to play just under two seasons for the U’s from 1997 to 1999, of course including our play-off final against Torquay, with our own Paul Gibbs trading places and appearing for the Gulls.



They also had Rodney Jack in their line-up. Not necessarily a household name outside lower league football, Jack would go on to be quite a tidy goal-scorer at not only Torquay, but Crewe and Rushden & Diamonds as well. He also made nearly fifty appearances for his national side, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, averaging an impressive goal every two games in the process. In the matches I’ve seen him play over the years, Jack had always impressed me as a tricky dangerous player, definitely one to be watched carefully.

The match
Apart from knowing why I was there, who with, and that we were on the Barside, there’s not too much I remember about the actual game itself – other than despite being in a strong challenging position for promotion, it was a surprisingly poor crowd that afternoon, less than 3,000. Mind you, that wasn’t actually unusual that season, with most home games struggling to get over the 3k mark – the notable exception being our Boxing Day match against Leyton Orient, when nearly 5,000 squeezed into Layer Road. Typical U’s, bumper festive crowd, and we ground out a drab 0-0 draw.

Looking at the match stats, it was clearly as comfortable a game as I was expecting. ‘Twiggy’ Fry put the U’s ahead in just the 6th minute, and although this didn’t bode well for beleaguered Torquay, they managed to keep it at just 1-0 right the way through to half-time. Clearly the Gulls struggled to get into matches, because just two minutes into the second half, Scott McGleish made it 2-0, and almost certainly game over as far as Torquay was concerned.

Now it was just a question of not whether we could score any more, but also how many. I can’t remember the reason, certainly there were no red card incidents, but our third duly arrived in the 74th minute with Simon Betts converting from the penalty spot at the Layer Road end. That seemed to be that, and the U’s appeared happy to settle for an easy 3-0 victory. However, finding a spirit they could really have done with more of, Torquay rallied, and in the 86th minute substitute Ellis Laight grabbed a late consolation for the Gulls. Still a comfortable victory for the U’s though, as we moved inexorably closer to the play-offs.

Colchester United 3 (Chris Fry 6’; Scott McGleish 47’; Simon Betts 74’p) Torquay United 1 (Ellis Laight 86’)

Thanks to Paul Gibbs’ fortuitous cross-cum-shot in our final match against Doncaster Rovers, already featured in LfW#23, we did squeeze into the final play-off slot at the end of the season. There we faced Plymouth Argyle in a somewhat bad-tempered and hostile two-legged semi-final. One day the Home Park leg may well feature in these blogs, but I’ll say no more about it now.

Torquay did of course finish rock bottom of the league, without winning another match for the remainder of the season. Remarkably, picking up a few draws, they actually managed to close the gap on 2nd from bottom Scarborough to just 11 points, but a -54 goal difference has got to be some sort of record?

Conversely, Stevenage romped home at the top of the Conference, 8 points clear and with a +57 goal difference…and stayed exactly where they were. Torquay were saved, and after a season of rebuilding in 1996/97, would meet the U’s in the play-off final in May 1998. They were of course unsuccessful, and eventual lost their fight to stay in the Football League in 2007.

Up the U’s
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Letters from Wiltshire #32
at 17:46 15 Feb 2021

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 the greatest cup giant-killing ever!
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Letters from Wiltshire #32
at 14:51 14 Feb 2021

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 the greatest cup giant-killing ever!

Colchester United v Derby County
Saturday 29th January 1977
FA Cup (4th Round)
Attendance 14,030




To mark the golden anniversary of that famous victory over Leeds United, Letters from Wiltshire #32 is another ‘special’, as we go back to my first serious encounter with our oft-proud (and occasional calamitous) FA Cup pedigree. Hopefully this’ll please Durham, as we go back to January 29th 1977, just six years after that Leeds victory, and our fourth round match against Derby County. Although this one wouldn’t normally be in contention for consideration, as it’s not in my memorabilia collection (the programme photo above was from an Ebay listing), in the context of the anniversary it seemed fitting to be chosen as a special.

A brief encounter
Although perhaps not quite at the level of Leeds United, we shouldn’t overlook quite the force that Derby County were in English football in the 1970s. Like us, they are a member of the select group of Watney Cup winners, winning the first competition 4-1 against Manchester United in 1970 (the other winners are Bristol Rovers in 1972, and Stoke City in 1973). Under Brian Clough and Peter Taylor the Rams had won the league in 1971/72, and they also reached the semi-final of the European Cup under Clough in 1972/73, going out in controversial circumstances to Juventus.

Such was the popularity of Derby County back then, that even I as a teenager flirted with the notion that Derby were my ‘second’ team (I was easily bought, my first flirtation being Arsenal and the Charlie George final). I even found myself with four other mates up the back of the Portman Road North Stand, quietly supporting Derby County as they thrashed Ipswich 6-2 at the tail end of the previous season. That was the last Rams appearance for legend Franny Lee, so I was both delighted and proud to have witnessed his last two goals for Derby County.



Dave Mackay, signed as a player by Clough, repeated their league title success when he managed them to the title in 1974/75. This took them back into Europe in the UEFA Cup, beating Servette and then Atlético Madrid (on penalties) before going out in the third round against Velež. Mackay took Derby County back into Europe for the 1975/76 European Cup, and although they didn’t get past the second round, that competition probably gave the Rams their greatest night in European football, defeating the mighty Real Madrid 4-1 at the Baseball Ground (including a hat-trick by that man Charlie George). Real Madrid turned it around in the second leg, winning 5-1 at the Bernabéu, in front of an estimated 120,000, the largest attendance to watch a Derby County game.

Although they didn’t hold on to their league title in 75/76, they certainly went close, finishing fourth behind champions Liverpool, QPR and Manchester United. This qualified them for the 1976/77 UEFA Cup again, and pulled off the result of the first round demolishing League of Ireland runners-up Finn Harps 12-0 at the Baseball Ground (and 16-1 on aggregate – well done Finn Harps for getting one!). Their UEFA Cup journey was however short lived, defeated 5-2 over two legs by AEK Athens in the second round.

All caught up
Our journey to the fourth round had been reasonably uneventful, drawing 1-1 at the Abbey before easing past Cambridge United 2-0 in the replay. I went to both those, but I’m not sure I was at the second round 3-2 home victory over Brentford. The third round draw had been unkind, pitching us against non-league Kettering Town, but we eased through 3-2 in a close-fought and somewhat tempestuous match (on and off the pitch). The fourth round draw finally came good for the U’s, a home game against recent league champions Derby County, provided of course they could get through their replay against Blackpool.



They did, winning 3-2 on a damp Wednesday evening in January, and on a typically dreadful Baseball Ground pitch. I remember watching avidly the Match of the Day highlights, waiting to see who our opponents would be. I also remember vividly after the highlights the presenter (I think it was Motty?) remarking along the lines of “…so Derby progress through to the fourth round, and a trip to Layer Road to face Colchester United. Not a journey they’ll be relishing given it was only a few years ago they did this…” – then followed by a clip of Ray Crawford’s second goal against Leeds – I felt sooo proud!!


© My Layer Road – Matt Hudson and Jim French

Under (I believe) much-underrated Bobby Roberts as manager, the U’s line-up that afternoon was probably as close to my all-time dream team for the U’s. Without any disrespect intended for subsequent U’s players, present squad included, what wouldn’t I give to see this team run out again for the U’s. Apart from perhaps Bobby Svarc, poached by Jim Smith 18 months years earlier, and maybe with Mick Packer starting, this was about as good as it got for me.

1….Mike Walker
2….Micky Cook
3….Johnny Williams
4….Steve Leslie
5….Lindsay Smith
6….Steve Dowman
7….Colin Garwood
8….Bobby Gough
9….John Froggatt
10..Ray Bunkell
11..Paul Dyer (Mick Packer 55’)

Like Leeds United before them, Derby were clearly going to take the competition seriously, and played basically a full-strength side. Charlie George was absent, and I can only assume he must have been injured,as he’d played (and scored) in the Blackpool replay, but that still left players like Roy McFarland, Colin Todd, Archie Gemmill, Leighton James and of course swashbuckling Derek Hales. Hales was well-known in football circles, and a goal-scorer to be feared. During his time at Charlton Athletic between 1973 and 1976, he made 129 appearances and scored an incredible 72 goals. This included 28 league goals the previous season, making him their still all-time record goal-scorer, before then moving to Derby County for the start of this season.

Mind you, seems he was a miserable bugger too, as this matchday programme Q&A interview with him from 1979 really does demonstrate 😊.



The big day
I wish there was more I could remember about the actual game, so I hope others reading this have memories to share. I’m not sure if getting tickets was a problem or not, but I went to this game on my own. I say on my own, but on my own with 14,029 other people obviously. I had to check to be certain, but our home crowd attendance hasn’t been bettered since, nor will it until Robbie fills in the corners of the Jobserve…and maybe puts another tier on top to boot.

Despite the crowd jammed into Layer Road, traditions still had to be followed, so I found myself jammed in near the front of the Clock End for the first half, just to the right of the goal as you look out onto the pitch. That was quite close to the main throng of Derby County supporters, who had brought about 1,000 supporters I reckon. There was no segregation, but also no immediate signs of any problem, but more of that later.

What I do remember from the game, for most of the match, was that this was a very tight close battle, and at times you would struggle to tell who was First and who was Fourth Division. Derby clearly had some very good players at their disposal, and were a constant threat throughout most of the game. That’s not to say we didn’t have our chances, and I remember from my angled vantage point watching as a drilled effort (from I think Bobby Gough) scudded agonisingly just past the post of beaten ‘keeper Colin Boulton.

That was, as I recall, our first serious effort on goal, and would rue that miss shortly after. From my distant vantage point at the Clock End it was difficult to see the detail clearly, just a bit of ping-pong football going on, Hales muscling his way through, and the net rippling as he drove home in the 23rd minute. I wouldn’t say quite against the run of play, Derby had been the stronger side, but it didn’t bode well if we let our heads drop. The cohort of Derby supporters off to my right were in full voice, which brings me to another memory.

Where I grew up (on Greenstead) there was a particular family who had a very well-deserved reputation, and who the rest of the residents gave a very wide berth too if at all possible. One of the brothers was an occasional visitor to Layer Rd, so whilst it shouldn’t have been a surprise, I was actually quite surprised to realise he had suddenly appeared right next to me in the crowd. Fortunately, his attention was clearly on the Derby supporters off to our right, and before too long disappeared into the crowd in that general direction. A few minutes later, all hell broke loose amongst the Derby supporters, with fists flailing in all directions, and after a moment or two later out was hauled my fellow resident by the police, together with a couple of Derby supporters under the care and attention of the St John’s Ambulance. It’s not big, and it’s not clever, but I did chuckle that day.

Halftime arrived, time for me and a large part of the Open End to make the customary change to the Layer Road end. It was a hell of a squeeze, but I managed to get about a third of the way in from the corner flag, no more than two of three from the front – it turned out to be an excellent viewpoint. On the subject of crowd trouble, I did bump into a slightly lary Derby supporter walking the opposite way down the back of the main stand, who decided to try and snatch the scarf around my wrist from me. He hadn’t reckoned on it being part of a 6’ monster knitted by my Nan, which went up my sleeve and tied around my neck as well. Although his attempt was therefore doomed to failure, I did take a slight throttling as a result.

Into the second half, and despite only holding on to a very slender 1-0 lead, Derby chose to sit deeper and deeper, inviting more and more pressure from the U’s. With 15 minutes to go, they had reverted from ‘sitting back’ to not only parking the bus, but engaging in the most outrageous time-wasting I’ve ever witnessed, short corners, challenging every referee decision, anything they could do to hold on, wind down the clock and get the hell out of the Layer Road cauldron. A particular favourite was booting the ball out of the ground at every opportunity. I lost count of how many times, but I seriously suspect we must have been getting close to running out of footballs.


© My Layer Road – Matt Hudson and Jim French

As infuriating as it was, it was working, and we just couldn’t seem to fashion that killer chance against a First Division defence who had decided to park the bus. That was, until the 7th minute of injury-time – extra-time explicitly added because of Derby’s time-wasting according to referee Ron Crabb after the game. Bunkell launched a speculative long ball into the Derby box, which was unceremoniously booted clear – which I thought was going to herald the final whistle. Packer picked up the rebound in midfield, and via Bunkell it went out to the right wing. Gough (I think) hosted it one more time into the box, Froggatt rose highest to hed it down, and there right in front of me was Colin Garwood to drill into the far corner to send Layer Road absolutely mental!

Colchester United 1 (Colin Garwood 90+7’) Derby County 1 (Derek Hales 25’)

The scenes in that moment were incredible, and something I will always remember. Players hugged each other, a fans spilled on to the pitch, police were on trying to restore law and order, and throughout Layer Road just roared and roared. I recall the clipboard of one of the St John’s staff on pitch-side being frisbeed into the air in celebration. The newspaper articles following the match reported that the roar was heard on the High Street.

The replay was nothing more than we deserved, but being only 14 at the time, sadly not a game I could travel to the following Wednesday evening. However, the BBC still hadn’t given up on an upset, so were there instead. It was almost like a carbon-copy of the previous match – Derby snatching a 1-0 lead (this time Leighton James just before half-time), and then grimly holding on with more disgraceful time-wasting tactics – only this time we couldn’t fashion an equaliser despite going very close. I recall Motty (I think it was him) commentating that as the First Division side, Derby should be ashamed to have to resort to such blatant time-wasting…but they did nevertheless, and the U’s FA cup run for 1976/77 was over.

We had, however, maintained our prod tradition at the time of never being defeated at home by a top-flight side, and there had been plenty, including Leeds United, who had tried. It would take a full-strength Manchester United to eventually take that record.

There is a YouTube Colin Garwood tribute video, which Graeson has also linked in his ColuData website. It’s not a particularly good video, but it does show both goals from the Derby game (from the start, through to 1m15s).



Up the U’s
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U'sual Champions League 2021 - Round of 16
at 20:05 10 Feb 2021

So here we are, in the week approaching the start of the next 'snouts in the trough' Champion's League. The 12 qualifiers (qualification ranking in brackets), including holder thrillseeker, have been passed through the random group selector meat grinder, and have emerged as follows:

Group A
thrillseeker (1)
unitedwhites (6)
wessex_exile (11)

Group B
sevebalo (4)
mfb_cufc (5)
Sector4 (10)

Group C
ghughes11 (3)
burnsieespana (9)
Daniel (12)

Group D
concordman (2)
durham_exile (7)
TheFatGooner (8)

Fixtures
The fixtures to predict are as follows:
16/02/2021: Barcelona v Paris Saint Germain
16/02/2021: RB Leipzig v Liverpool
17/02/2021: FC Porto v Juventus
17/02/2021: Sevilla v Borussia Dortmund
23/02/2021: Atlético Madrid v Chelsea
23/02/2021: Lazio v Bayern Munich
24/02/2021: Atalanta v Real Madrid
24/02/2021: Borussia Mönchengladbach v Manchester City
09/03/2021: Borussia Dortmund v Sevilla
09/03/2021: Juventus v FC Porto
10/03/2021: Liverpool v RB Leipzig
10/03/2021: Paris Saint Germain v Barcelona
16/03/2021: Manchester City v Borussia Mönchengladbach
16/03/2021: Real Madrid v Atalanta
17/03/2021: Chelsea v Atlético Madrid
17/03/2021: Bayern Munich v Lazio

Rules
Basic stuff
As always, there will be no first-to-post tie-break deciders, only most spot-ons. However, remember you are only allowed one exact match prediction with each one of your group members for this entire round (1st and 2nd legs together), so first to post may be a factor in this regard.

If I spot too many exact matches I will do my best to give advance warning, but please don't rely on me to do this - you must watch this one yourselves too.

3pts for a spot-on result, 1pt for the correct outcome (home win, draw or away win). All predictions are the result at the end of normal time, extra-time and/or penalties will not count.

Round of 16
Top two from each Group will go through. If a tie-break is needed in any Group, and given the usual attendance prediction is likely to be futile, the tie-break prediction will be the total number of goals scored in League 2 on March 20th (the Saturday after the final Champion's League matches).

Only those involved in the tie-break will need to make a prediction, so this can be done any time before the first League 2 match kicks off on the Saturday (Stevenage v Carlisle is currently scheduled to be a 1pm kick-off). The closest to the right amount will win the tie-break in their Group, so obviously you can't predict the same amount as another Group member. First to post will count here if necessary.

Quarter-finals
The Group qualifiers will then form two mini-leagues of 4, and play off against each other predicting all of the Quarter-final matches. Mini-leagues will be comprised as follows: Winner A, Runner-Up B, Winner C, Runner-up D and Runner-up A, Winner B, Runner-up C, Winner D.

Semi-finals
The top two from each mini-league will then be drawn from a hat to play off in head-to-head matches, all predicting the semi-final matches.

Final
The finalists will play-off predicting the Champions League Final, this will include predicting different aspects of the game, not just the score - and will be submitted as concealed bids (via PM to me). Should I be fortunate enough to still be involved in the competition at the semi-final or final stages, a neutral third party will be found to do the draws and/or receive the finalist's predictions.

…and finally
It remains to be seen if FIFA will keep the two-legged approach for the post Round of 16 phase, depending I guess on how Europe is faring in the pandemic. Like last season I may have to tweak the rules for these rounds to provide more scoring opportunities, and indeed any further tie-break questions after the Round of 16 - I'll keep you posted on those.


Good luck everyone!
[Post edited 10 Feb 21:47]
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Saturday 13th February
at 08:31 10 Feb 2021

Obviously a significant date for any U’s fan. For those who might be interested, the club have produced a commemorative programme for Saturday’s game against Mansfield.

https://www.cu-fc.com/news/2021/february/mansfield-programme/
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Tranmere (h) 16/2/21
at 22:59 9 Feb 2021

This rearranged game has been postponed again - Tranmere are playing at Oxford Utd in an EFL Trophy semi-final, which apparently is also being televised. No chance we’d pull rank there.
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Letters from Wiltshire #31
at 18:29 6 Feb 2021

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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Letters from Wiltshire #31
at 18:30 2 Feb 2021

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.

Sheffield United v Colchester United
Saturday 17th August 2013
Sky Bet League One (Tier 3)
Attendance 17,167




The past two blogs have covered an undeserved defeat, and a richly deserved victory (both against Plymouth Argyle), so it seems fitting that Letters from Wiltshire #31 features a draw to maintain the balance. This blog goes back to the early days of season 2013/14, and a relatively rare visit to Bramall Lane to play Sheffield United. As portents of things to come, neither LfW#29 nor LfW#30 made any difference to the subsequent abject defeats for the U’s, nor indeed the quality of the performances, so let’s see if this one does. I rather fancy if there is to be a change of form tonight that it’ll have more to do one, some or all of our new signings (if match fit) – so let’s see if any start, or are at least on the bench.

As for back in 2013, the universe harmonised to provide that most auspicious of celestial alignments for me, a free weekend, one of the first matches of the season, and virtually on my birthday – all of which resulted in kids being despatched to others and me on the train bright and early for the trip to Sheffield. It’s an easy trip too – living in Warminster at the time it was one short hop to Bristol Temple Meads and then direct to Sheffield, and likewise on the way back – all of which allowed me to relax with some good music and a beer or two for the journey. Even better though, for reasons I was unclear on (think it might have been some sort of family day), Sheffield United decided to reduce adult ticket prices for this match to £10.

Apart from one season in the Championship, the league paths of Colchester United and Sheffield United didn’t cross between 1982 and 2011, and since 2016 haven’t crossed since. So my memories of visits to Bramall Lane are pretty thin on the ground, but I think that apart from our noble 1-0 defeat in the FA Cup back in 2004, this was only my second visit to Bramall Lane. I would go on to make it three visits in 2015 for the infamous ‘three penalties’ victory, but don’t have a programme for that game.



Back in 2004 I’d met up with other U’s fans in the Howard pub, right outside the train station, and although I had one in there again in 2013, there wasn’t much going on, so I headed over to the Rutland Arms nearer the ground. This was much more like it, with a decent crowd of U’s supporters crammed into the small pub, as usual making themselves heard on occasions. There were a fair few Blades in there too, who I guess were grinning and bearing the hicks for the sticks up for their ‘cup final’ against the mighty Sheffield United. Anyway, after a very pleasant few pints catching up with mates, drinking and singing, we headed over to the ground.

The U’s had made a decent start to the season, with victories away at Gillingham and at home to Port Vale, and as a result there was a decent turnout from the faithful (maybe 250-300?), which definitely included Durham and Gerry (I met them) and I think at least Noah and Daniel as well. Not just a decent turnout either, in good voice to cheer the UI’s on against a team rather unimaginatively tipped to be amongst the promotion contenders. Not quite the massed ranks that were there for the FA Cup game, but a good crowd nonetheless.

The U’s were still managed by Joe Dunne at the time, in his first full season in charge after taking over from John Ward. Over the summer, Joe signed a whole host of new talent, including permanent contracts for Craig Eastmond and Sancez Watt from Arsenal, James Bransgrove (Brentford) and Conor Hubble (QPR), as well as loans for Daniel Pappoe and Sam Walker from Chelsea. Out went, amongst others, John-Joe O’Toole, Matt Heath and John White, to be followed not too long after this match by Kemi Izzet.

The U’s lined up that afternoon:

44..Sam Walker
20..Brian Wilson (captain)
4….Magnus Okuonghae
18..Tom Eastman
3….Ryan Dickson
2….David Wright
6….Craig Eastmond
21..Gavin Massey
11..Freddie Sears (Andy Bond 66’)
7….Sanchez Watt (Drey Wright 61’)
17..Jabo Ibehre (Clinton Morrison 80’)

Over their history, Sheffield United have played at all levels within the professional leagues, and many of the faithful will remember meeting them back in the 1981/82 season down in the old Division 4. Indeed, when they encountered each other back in 1979, Sheffield Wednesday v Sheffield United at Hillsborough set the still unbroken Division 3 attendance record of 49,309 spectators. Leading up to this match, following relegation from the Championship at the end of the 2010/11 season, they had failed two years running to get out via the play-offs, and were determined to get it right this time. New manager David Weir had a strong squad to work with, which of course included current Manchester United and England superstar Harry Maguire.



However, superstars or not, the U’s were far from in awe of their big name opponents, and went toe to toe with the Blades right from kick-off. Admittedly most of the early pressure was coming from Sheffield United, with Tony McMahon curling one effort narrowly wide, and Sean McGinty shooting straight at Sam Walker when it looked easier to score, but otherwise we were more or less keeping Sheffield United at bay, whilst always carrying the threat of a breakaway, particularly with the pace of such like Sanchez-Watt, Sears and Eastmond on the pitch.



Eastmond particularly was having a great game in midfield, showing some great touches and vision to pick out killer passes in an instant, alongside David Wright starting to control the middle third. Dickson was having a cracker too, causing no end of torment down the left wing. In the 25th minute Sheffield United were awarded a corner, which broke kindly for the U’s, and on the break Sanchez-Watt received the ball and bore down towards the Blades penalty area. Timing it to perfection, at the last second he slipped the ball across to the onrushing Sears, who drilled his low shot past the dive of ‘keeper George Long and into the back of the net – and then the away end erupted!

It was nothing more than we deserved, and working tirelessly for the remainder of the first half, managed to negate anything that Sheffield United could throw at us. Indeed, the library that Bramall Lane became after Freddie’s goal began to turn positively hostile from the home crowd at times. However, that was until the stroke of half-time, when none other than Harry Maguire tried a speculatively long punt at goal, more in hope than expectation. The ball zipped off the surface, which was a bit greasy, and although Walker seemed to have it covered, it somehow squirmed through his grasp to nestle agonisingly just inside the post...and thus our turn to endure the taunts and catcalls of the home support.

Although there was nothing actually wrong with the half-time pint and pasty, quite nice if I’m honest, it tasted like ashes, I can tell you…

Still, as the second half kicked off, two things were imperative – carry on doing what we were doing so well in the first half, and don’t let their goal give them any momentum. I suppose, on reflection, it’s probably better to concede straight before half-time than straight after, the latter undoing your half-time team talk in an instant, and I’ve always assumed as an ex-U’s player through and through Joe Dunne knew how to talk to the dressing room. It certainly proved to be the case this afternoon, with the U’s very much picking up where we’d left off in the first half, denying Sheffield United at every opportunity.

Obviously Sheffield did come back out with a spring in their step, and we had to defend well for a while, with Walker pulling off excellent saves from Lyle Taylor and Conor Coady efforts, and rushing out to smother the ball at the toes of Taylor from a Fabien Brandy through ball. But we had our moments too, including the referee ruling out Jabo Ibehre converting a Dickson free-kick for offside (harshly I thought, but then again I would, wouldn’t I).



With less than half an hour to go, Joe Dunne brought on Drey Wright and then Andy Bond to tighten up the midfield. With just ten minutes to go, the pantomime boos that greeted the arrival of former-Owl Clinton Morrison were amusing – he enjoyed them, that’s for sure, and the U’s comfortably saw out the remainder of the match, always in control and thoroughly deserving the draw.

Sheffield United 1 (Harry Maguire 45’) Colchester United 1 (Freddie Sears 25’)

The post-match stats show Sheffield enjoying the majority of possession with 54%, and dominating attempts on goal (12, with five on target), compared to the U’s managing just three attempts on goal, with only one on target. It just goes to show that sometimes these stats are meaningless...

On my walk back to the train station, a gnarly (but certainly not distinguished) man of Yorkshire decided to try and fill my face with a vitriolic profanity-laden rant about how undeserved our point was, much to the embarrassment of what I assume must have been his grandson in tow. I was having none of it, and whilst not an overtly aggressive person, decided to stop and laugh full in his face, and ask whether he’d actually been at the match, because he clearly hadn’t been watching the same one that I had – and then just stood there face to face waiting for his next move. His next move was to shuffle away muttering, leaving me to recommence my journey home.

For a season that started so positively for the U’s, it gradually petered out to be a lower mid-table finish with first round exits in all cup competitions. I don’t think it would have been significantly improved, but we weren’t helped by a fixture pile-up after a string of postponements in January and February, either due to cup clashes for others, or waterlogged pitches.

Despite their promotion billing, although Sheffield United finished considerably better than we did, they too missed out on even the play-offs, admittedly by only one place, but with a whopping 7pt gap behind Peterborough United in the last play-off slot. Harry Maguire would leave for £2.5m (to Hull) in the summer, and it would turn out to be another four years before they eventually escaped League 1 back into the Championship.

As I can’t find any highlights for this game, here’s that 80s match from back in Division 4 for you to enjoy. Incidentally, Sheffield United had to use our reserve kit, because their shirts included sponsor’s logos, at the time not permitted on the BBC.



Up the U’s
[Post edited 2 Feb 18:46]
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Letters from Wiltshire #30
at 18:37 30 Jan 2021

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…
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Letters from Wiltshire #30
at 18:36 29 Jan 2021

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…

Colchester United v Plymouth Argyle
Saturday 8th February 2020
Sky Bet League Two (Tier 4)
Attendance 4,768




In our current climate (no doubt both on and off the pitch), and in response to LfW#29 reporting on an undeserved defeat at Plymouth Argyle back in 2016, Durham bemoaned a blog on another defeat. Madame La Chance is indeed a capricious mistress, and by complete coincidence has not only rewarded Durham with a victory for Letters from Wiltshire #30, but against the very same Plymouth Argyle, this time in our most recent match against them.

He who would Valiant be...
However, before we get into that, and because I’ve never really explored this empirically, I thought I’d look into my ‘bang for buck’ return on following the U’s. I’ve mentioned on more than a few occasions that as an exile, I am much more likely to follow the U’s at away matches. Within the limitations of my memorabilia collection (by no means anywhere near all matches I’ve attended, just the ones for which I have some sort of physical evidence), this is born out, on a ratio of 2:1 away to home. To be honest, I’m surprised it’s not higher, but I suspect there is a bias involved, in that I’m probably more likely to buy a programme for a home match (and of course they’ve been free for a while now as well).

Since 1990 I have 114 away matches in my collection, of which just 25 are victories, 53 are defeats and 36 draws. To be honest, that’s kind of not bad I reckon, with just over half of my awaydays seeing me head home with at least a point. For the 57 home matches (Layer Rd and Cuckoo Farm), 29 are victories, 12 defeats and 16 draws, which is even better – nearly three-quarters of my long journey’s across to Essex see me heading home with at least a point, and just over half with a victory.

In terms of calendar years (not seasons), not surprisingly the glory years of the Conference feature prominently as good times to follow the U’s, with an average of 2.5pts and 2.2pts per match for me during those two years. 1993, 2005, 2009 and 2017 weren’t too shabby either, all with an average return of 2pts per match in my collection. 2010 was the pits, not a single point witnessed all year, and 1997 (0.3pts per match) wasn’t much better, but for whatever reason these were both years with very few matches evidenced in my collection.

Shifting focus to those years where I’ve got a more complete record of my usual 1+ matches per month (generally 9-12 matches per season), 1998 through to the end of 2002 were exceptionally hard years, with an average of less than a point per match across 50 matches – there ought to be some sort of medal for that. Conversely, 2004-06 was sublime – 21 matches and an average of over 1.75pts per match.

I’m not sure what all this is telling me, other than when it comes matches being selected by random from my memorabilia collection, I guess you have to get used to defeats, because there’s quite a few of them.

Happy Dayz!



…and so to one of those rare thumping victories. For this match, I’d made plans to meet up with my mate Jon, who needed some beer and football therapy – a common state of affairs it has to be said. As is often the case, we were to meet up at Hamilton Hall beforehand, which turned out to also be an opportunity to chat with some of the Pilgrims who’d had the same idea, before heading out to Colchester. Knowing a good deal when I saw one, I’d bought our tickets ahead of the match, and of course chose the print at home option.



Now, the plan had been to print these at work on the Friday, and it was only on the drive home that evening that I remembered I’d forgotten to do so. This required an emergency detour via Chippenham, where I just managed to get through the doors of PC World before they closed, to grab the cheapest printer off the shelf that they had. This kind of blew my financial acumen out of the water, but I still have the printer, it’s still working, and with the benefit of hindsight, with lockdown and home-working just around the corner, it actually turned out to be quite a sensible investment.

The U’s remarkably familiar line-up that day was:

1….Dean Gerken
2….Ryan Jackson
3….Cohen Bramall
18..Tom Eastman
5….Luke Prosser (captain)
8….Harry Pell (Luke Gambin 79’)
14..Brandon Comley
24..Ben Stevenson
15..Callum Harriott (Courtney Senior 82’)
45..Frank Nouble
13..Theo Robinson (Luke Norris 85’)

Well, I say familiar, but it’s of note to reflect on how many sort of big names for the U’s have moved on less than a year later – Jacko, Pross, Luke’s G and N, Theo and of course big Frank (plus unused sub Ethan Ross on the bench). On the day, Plymouth boss Ryan Lowe had former U’s player Joe Edwards on the bench, but I think not surprisingly that was the limit of any tangible connections between the two squads from opposite sides of the country that day. We had taken Tafari Moore on loan from the Pilgrims in January, making his debut on the day he joined in our home win against Macclesfield. He was subbed on 64 minutes, made one more appearance as an unused substitute at Exeter the following week, and that was the end of his Colchester United career (and, it would turn out, his Plymouth career too).

Context
Going into this match, Plymouth were sitting in 3rd place, with games in hand over pretty much everyone else in promotion contention (thanks to a couple of postponements in November and December). They were on a pretty impressive run of form too, having only lost two and drawn one of their last 13 league matches, which had propelled them from 10th into the automatic promotion slots. Although less impressive in terms of games won, the U’s weren’t doing badly either, with only one defeat since mid-October, albeit that had been the previous game away at Cambridge. But 9 of those 17 matches had been drawn, which was enough to keep us in the play-off slots, but not good enough to force us into the top three. All in all, a tough game against very good opposition was expected.

Me and Jon had gone for Row T seats right at the back of South Stand 2, so imagine my delight to discover we were right next to none other than Noah and friends. Wasting no time getting the introductions out of the way (though I’m pretty sure Jon and Noah had met on previous occasions), we settled back to enjoy the match. We didn’t have to wait long either, the U’s were at Plymouth right from the start, who frankly had nothing in their locker to deal with it. Maybe they were just used to teams playing a cautious cagey approach, inviting the Pilgrims to play a possession-based high press, but the U’s were having none of it.

Decent chances had already gone begging when Callum Harriot, who was playing a blinder, latched on to an inch-perfect punt into the right channel, sold his marker the dummy and rolled the ball into the path of Stevenson to side-foot passed the outstretched dive of ‘keeper Wootton. Less than 15 minutes on the clock, and things were looking good already.

Did we stop there, did we heck as like!
On the half hour big Frank weaved his way into the box from the left, bewitching and bamboozling his defender to the point that he virtually left him on his @rse, before chipping delightfully up to Theo Robinson, who buried his header into the top corner passed the (next) despairing dive from Wootton. 2-0 up, and the South Stand was in bedlam, falling over each other in celebration. It wasn’t just the goals, despite Plymouth Argyle looking a decent outfit, they simply could not cope with the U’s.

Pinch me someone…
Six minutes later and we were in dreamland. As if they’d kinda forgotten they were under the cosh, and in danger of being completely overrun, the Argyle defence contrived to dither and dally on the ball deep in their own half, rather than anyone deciding to put their foot through it. Harry Pell was having none of it, and as combative as ever, closed them right down, and was rewarded by a part-poach part-ricochet, which fell perfectly into the path of Robinson on the edge of the box. Holding off the attentions of two defenders, Robinson slotted in under the body of the onrushing Wootton to make it 3-0!!!



Half-time arrived, and amid the celebrations, the big questions were (a) how many more might we score if we kept this up, and (b) how many might Argyle score if we don’t?

We needn’t have worried, as the second half showed the U’s were equally fantastic in defence and game management as they were in attack during the first half. That’s not to say we were under the cosh, as we never really were, just comfortably keeping Plymouth at arm’s reach for most of it, whilst still carrying a significant threat up front when the opportunity presented itself. Robinson, who was on fire, could have grabbed his hat-trick, running on to a long clearance from defence, but with a virtual one on one with Wootton chose to go early and try and chip, which was caught comfortably. He went even closer shortly after, with a definite one on one, with his curling shot evading Wootton and sadly (just) the outside of the post.

Even as the second half wore on and Argyle posed more of a threat, as the U’s sat back more on, clearly happy with a job well done, still the defence was resolute. Even when they looked to breach that defence, there was Gerken keeping out whatever they threw at him. After a flurry of game-management substitutions from McGreal, full-time duly arrived with the U’s not just victorious, but so on top it was almost embarrassing.

Colchester United 3 (Ben Stevenson 14’; Theo Robinson 30’, 36’) Plymouth Argyle 0

It’s difficult to find the right superlatives to do this match justice – but it was without doubt the most consummate, finest performance from a U’s team I’d seen for many years. It wasn’t as if Plymouth Argyle were necessarily poor, they hadn’t been, but they’d been just blown away by our game.

Jon and I yomped back to North Station in time for the fast train back up to London, finding ourselves sharing our carriage with a bunch of Argyle supporters. They were magnanimous in defeat, happy to confirm that was the best team they’d played all season, and certainly no complaints about the result. To their credit, they weren’t taking the long train journey west licking their wounds, they were staying up in London for the weekend, determined to at the very least go out and drown their sorrows that night – and I’m sure they did.

Just over a month later the season was curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic, and after a protracted wait to see if it would ever resume, Plymouth eventually gained automatic promotion on the average points per game measure, and as we know the U’s sneaked the play-offs using the same criteria. Many will point to our final victory at Carlisle as the game that allowed that to happen, but I would argue this match was another significant contributing factor – the least said about the play-offs the better however.



Up the U’s
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Letters from Wiltshire #29
at 18:50 27 Jan 2021

Looks like some around the world have started 2021 a bit cross. Never mind the attempted insurrection at the Capitol earlier this month, those normally laid-back Dutch have now been rioting for three nights running about the imposition of a night-time curfew to try and curb the spread of coronavirus. Farmers in Delhi have stormed through police lines and breached the Red Fort in protest against market reforms, and tragic Somalia has just passed the 30th anniversary of their ongoing civil war. In brighter news, President Biden has immediately begun dismantling and/or reversing some of Trump’s more contentious decisions, including rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, renewed funding for the World Health Organisation, revoking the ‘Muslim travel ban’, defunding the border wall, rescinding Trump’s report calling for a ‘more patriotic’ syllabus in schools, and overturning the ban on transgender people serving in the military.
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Letters from Wiltshire #29
at 18:39 26 Jan 2021

Looks like some around the world have started 2021 a bit cross. Never mind the attempted insurrection at the Capitol earlier this month, those normally laid-back Dutch have now been rioting for three nights running about the imposition of a night-time curfew to try and curb the spread of coronavirus. Farmers in Delhi have stormed through police lines and breached the Red Fort in protest against market reforms, and tragic Somalia has just passed the 30th anniversary of their ongoing civil war. In brighter news, President Biden has immediately begun dismantling and/or reversing some of Trump’s more contentious decisions, including rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, renewed funding for the World Health Organisation, revoking the ‘Muslim travel ban’, defunding the border wall, rescinding Trump’s report calling for a ‘more patriotic’ syllabus in schools, and overturning the ban on transgender people serving in the military.

Plymouth Argyle v Colchester United
Saturday 29th October 2016
Sky Bet League Two (Tier 4)
Attendance 8,650




With tonight’s game at Stevenage a 7pm kick-off, this blog may be a bit shorter than usual if I’m going to post ahead of kick-off. Letters from Wiltshire #29 returns for another West Country visit, the eleventh so far (including last season’s Matches of Yesteryear series), but the first to come from Home Park. Not my first visit to Home Park by a long stretch, I think that event was way back in May 1996 for our infamous first leg Play-Off semi-final. Given the 1995/96 season was the first time our paths crossed since I’d moved down from West Yorkshire, I’m fairly certain there wasn’t a previous visit to Home Park. I don’t have a programme for this match, but have managed to hold on to the tickets.

Context please
Anyway, back to the 2016 match. After a slightly ropey start to the campaign (losing their first matches home to Luton and away on the long trek to Carlisle), Plymouth had embarked on a terrific run of form, and going into this match were not only undefeated in 12 matches, but had won all but two draws in the process. Needless to say, they were top of the league and had been since the first half of September.

The U’s had faired less favourably, and although we’d had an okay start to the season (winning five and drawing one of our first eight matches), a subsequent slump had seen us slip down into lower mid-table ahead of the match. This was John McGreal’s first full season as manager – technically he was appointed ahead of the last game of the previous season, but as he didn’t take up the post until the close season, the current manager Steve Ball stood in as a caretaker.

It’s all about golf balls, spare change and pasties…
For anyone who visited Home Park back in the day, they will remember Home Park as a crumbling behemoth that had clearly seen better times, and in urgent need of a facelift. Crumbling open terraces, antiquated facilities, much of it rebuilt post-war (after heavy damage during air raids), but not really improved at all beyond that point. The local populace were similarly rather living in the past as well, and with a well-deserved reputation for not really moving on from the tribal football violence of the 70s and 80s – as anyone who was at that ’96 play-off match can testify.



However, the new millennium saw improvements, with the complete replacement of the Devonport End, Lyndhurst Stand, and Barn Park End as one continuous build, as a horseshoe arrangement facing the antiquated Mayflower Grandstand. There were plans to redevelop this into a new 3-tiered grandstand, but these plans had to be shelved as Argyle subsequently flirted with bankruptcy, including going into administration in 2011. As with what happened at Layer Road, Plymouth City Council agreed to buy the freehold for Home Park (for a reported £1.6m) and then lease the ground back to the club. Their fanbase also seemed to relax into the 21st century a tad as well, with Home Park no longer the fearsome venue of old for travelling supporters.

On the road
Me and Alfie drove down for this match, on what was actually a lovely day given we were at the wrong end of October. Normally, I street-park in the residential area on the opposite side of the A386. However, as places were becoming increasingly harder to find in previous visits, mainly because of a more and more stringent resident parking scheme, this time I availed myself of the luxury of the Home Park stadium car park (normally a park & ride, but utilised for football parking on matchdays). To emphasise the weather, the groundsmen were liberally watering the pitch right up until kick-off, and at half-time too.



Despite the distance from Essex, there was quite a reasonable turnout from the U’s faithful, including the drum to add some oomph to proceedings, the crowd (I think) including both Noah and Durham in amongst what must have been 2-300.



John McGreal’s side lined up that day:

1….Sam Walker
2….Richard Brindley
14..Alex Wynter
30..Lloyd Doyley
5….Luke Prosser (captain)
24..Craig Slater (Sammy Szmodics 91’)
28..Kurtis Guthrie
12..Kane Vincent-Young (Tariqe Fosu-Henry 91’)
7….Drey Wright
9….Chris Porter
17..Denny Johnstone (Macauley Bonne 92’)

The match
When all’s said and done, considering the relative positions of the two sides, this was a very good performance from the U’s, and for most of the game we were more than a match for our high-flying opponents. Drey Wright signalled our intent early on, drilling an angled shot wide of the post, and he was going to indirectly play an unwitting role in what might be construed as Argyle’s controversial opener.

Wright had come off worse in a tackle with midfielder Graham Carey, and was left in a crumpled heap writhing in agony. However, following the mantra ‘play to the whistle’, Carey continued to advance, and whilst some of the U’s gestured wildly for the ball to be put out, slotted it through beautifully for Craig Tanner to drill home the opening goal. This was galling to say the least, but if I’m honest I would have expected the U’s to do exactly the same, so couldn’t really complain. Still though we continued to press Plymouth all across the park, with Denny Johnstone shanking a volley that would have been a certain goal if he’d caught it right shortly after.

Just after the half-hour mark we got the deserved equaliser. Sam Walker saw an opportunity and launched the ball from his area into the path of Wright breaking into the Argyle half. Beating his man, Drey crossed into the path of Porter, who couldn’t get his feet sorted out in time and make decent contact. His fluffed effort was half-cleared back to him on the edge of the box, where he was brought down for a free-kick. Stepping up, Craig Slater curled an absolute peach both sort of over and around the wall and into the bottom corner, giving ‘keeper Gary Miller no chance, and the U’s a well-deserved equaliser before half-time.

The second half continued very much as the first had finished, with the U’s still showing attacking intent. Johnstone and Porter combined virtually from kick-off to fashion a chance for Wright, but he didn’t really trouble Miller. However, Plymouth still carried a significant threat, and reminded us of that shortly after, with that man Jerome Slew keeping Walker on his toes after a smart shot on the turn. As the half wore on, although both sides still carried a threat, and demonstrated attacking intent, they were rather cancelling each other out in a war of attrition midfield battle.

Ouch!



With fifteen minutes to go, we come to the really contentious, might I even say controversial and even calamitous, moment of the game. Well within the Plymouth Argyle half, referee Kevin Johnson and Argyle player Jimmy Spencer accidentally collided. Johnson went down, clearly in a lot of discomfort, and the ball out of play of an Argyle player (can’t remember who). Some reports say the referee was unconscious, but there did seem to be some ‘writhing’ going on too, but that could well have been spasms. All in all, he looked in a very bad way, and after 12+ minutes of extended treatment on the pitch, they bought a spine board on to remove the unfortunate Mr Johnson, to be replaced by 4th official Simon Knapp.

This is where things really went wrong. Knapp incorrectly awarded Plymouth Argyle the throw-in, who despite howls and protestations both on and off the pitch launched it forward with attacking intent. However, despite the injustice, everything seemed in control, with Prosser clearing up to tap back to big Sam for a clearance…only he slightly under-hit it, not massively so, but enough to give onrushing Ryan Donaldson an invitation to bear down on Walker. Big Sam swung a leg at the ball, which cannoned straight off Donaldson, ballooned over Walker’s shoulder, and bounce into the empty net.

Technically, with 12 minutes delay for the referee injury, the time was registered as the 87th minute, but in reality there was still at least 15 minutes left to play. We were gutted, and McGreal more or less immediately made a triple substitution, bringing Bonne, Szmodics and Fosu on to try and rescue at least the point we richly deserved. But, despite a number of efforts between then and full-time, we couldn’t fashion another goal. Anyone watching final score, and knowing the relative positions and form of the two teams, would probably reflect on what seemed to be another anticipated regulation home victory for the team top of the table. You would have to have been there to know the truth…

Plymouth Argyle 2 (Craig Tanner 61’; Ryan Donaldson 87’) Colchester United 1 (Craig Slater 31’)

First and foremost, I should finish by confirming that although Johnson was kept in hospital overnight, he was discharged the following day, with a combination of ligament damage and a little bit of blurred vision.

Curiously, the result was more or less the end of Plymouth Argyle’s run of form, and a mini-slump saw them sacrifice top place at the turn of the year, albeit they never slipped below second, and finished as runners-up with automatic promotion.

Conversely, after a couple more wobbles, and possibly buoyed by that Home Park performance, the U’s went on an undefeated run through November, December and January to propel us right back into the promotion frame. John McGreal was named Manager of the Month for December, the first time a U’s manager had received the award since Paul Lambert back in 2009.

Despite finishing the season strongly, the U’s missed out on the play-offs by one point and one place, and whilst it’s easy to point to any result throughout a season and say ‘that was the moment’, a credible candidate for that moment would be the fallout from the injury to referee Kevin Johnson



Up the U’s
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Letters from Wiltshire #28
at 18:18 24 Jan 2021

It’s difficult to think about quite how to write this editorial, without appearing mawkish. On Sunday 17th February 671 people succumbed to coronavirus, with the 7-day average creeping just above 1,000 deaths. On that day, one of those was someone very dear to me, who died in Watford General Hospital of Covid-19 pneumonia. Idiots and conspiracy-theorists will tell you there’s no plague, or that masks infringe their civil liberties, or some other form of spurious non-science bullsh*t, so do me a favour – if they say this to you, please punch them on the f’cking nose for me, and say that’s from Wessex – thank you.
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Letters from Wiltshire #28
at 14:54 23 Jan 2021

It’s difficult to think about quite how to write this editorial, without appearing mawkish. On Sunday 17th February 671 people succumbed to coronavirus, with the 7-day average creeping just above 1,000 deaths. On that day, one of those was someone very dear to me, who died in Watford General Hospital of Covid-19 pneumonia. Idiots and conspiracy-theorists will tell you there’s no plague, or that masks infringe their civil liberties, or some other form of spurious non-science bullsh*t, so do me a favour – if they say this to you, please punch them on the f’cking nose for me, and say that’s from Wessex – thank you.

Top 5 away-day football grounds

For those that don’t know, Watford General Hospital is on Vicarage Road, virtually right next door to Watford Football Club. I’ve been to Vicarage Road twice, once for our rearranged 1977 FA 1st round 2nd replay against AFC Bournemouth (we won 4-1 with goals from Steve Dowman and a Colin Garwood hat-trick, in front of just 2,230), and the following 2nd Round match actually against Watford (which we lost 0-2 in front of a slightly more respectable 11,907). Thinking about this connection, Letters from Wiltshire #28 will be my top 5 away-day football grounds.

This isn’t just going to be about the big fancy stadiums of our Championship years, and not necessarily those rare one-off cup clashes against top-flight opposition, but as much about the event itself, and the away-day experience overall. As I often say, context is everything – so let’s dive in, and as always, in reverse order.

#5: Stamford Bridge


Haha – so having opened with “…and not necessarily those rare one-off cup clashes against top-flight opposition…”, let’s start off with exactly that. Stamford Bridge was built in 1877, and began life as a vast more or less open bowl athletics track. Chelsea Football Club moved in on the day they were formed in 1905, and have stayed there ever since. Three times in the 20s it hosted the FA Cup final, and in 1935 saw an official record attendance of 82,905 watch a game against London rivals Arsenal (the match was drawn 1-1). Unofficially, it is estimated over 100,000 crammed in to watch a friendly against FC Dynamo Moscow, who were invited to tour the UK at the end of the Second World War.

Our trip to Stamford Bridge, for our first and currently only competitive match against Chelsea, was on 19th February 2006, in the 5th Round of the FA Cup. To accommodate the TV cameras, this match was switched to the Sunday, not that that discouraged the travelling U’s faithful, who snapped up the 6,000 tickets available in no time at all (and more than a few in with Chelsea too).

From a location perspective, it couldn’t have been easier to get to for me. We’d just moved to Warminster, having finally outgrown our Salisbury home following the arrival of Alfie 18 months earlier, but still a simple train journey up to Waterloo and short tube journey from there. Virtually a whole bunch of family before the match, we opted for pints at a pub in Parson’s Green before the match. I can picture it in my mind, but can’t for the life of me remember its name.



The ground itself was quite something – from the outside vast towering stands that dwarfed residential properties that surround it on three sides. The stewards were reasonably courteous, albeit somewhat overzealous in their confiscation of items that could be construed as ‘weapons’ (like small plastic ‘vuvuzela’ horns – although personally, confiscating those hideous things was fine with me).

Inside the ground was something to behold as well, not just the 2- or 3-tier stands on all sides, fully enclosed and giving a real bear-pit of an atmosphere, but the massed ranks of U’s fans already gathered and in full voice, and it was still half an hour before kick-off! Despite the throng, we did manage to get some fairly standard concourse food and drink before kick-off. We didn’t even bother trying at half-time, it was mobbed. The noise when Parky and the team ran out though was just deafening.



The abiding memory though, and one I know we’ll all share, is 6,000 U’s fans in full voice drowning out anything that Chelsea supporters did for the entire match – “Who needs Mourinho, we’ve got Phil Parkinson” booming out time and time again, and the goal celebrations when we took the lead, quite magical. That and balloons of course. Okay, we eventually lost 3-1 when Mourinho was forced to bring on Lampard, Cole and Crespo in the second half, but what a day, what a stadium and what a brave performance from the U’s.



#4: Ashton Gate


Another bear-pit of a stadium, and this one much more old skool than the revamped all-seater Stamford Bridge. First off, there is a bias here I suppose – my Auntie Di was a Bristolian (lived in Shirehampton until she passed), I’ve always loved the city, still do, and for the last 30+ years I’ve lived in relatively easy reach of Bristol. We even opened a regional office there six years ago, which I visit regularly, and my eldest also lives there. Proximity has meant therefore many trips to Ashton Gate (and the Memorial Stadium) over the years.

Just to clarify here, I am talking about Ashton Gate before relatively recent redevelopment, when away fans were housed in the South Stand, which used to be known then simply as the Covered End. Away fans were given about one third of this stand, with some of the more lairy home support behind a fence in the remaining two thirds (reminiscent of the old Ninian Park for anyone who’s made that trip in the past).

Whoever you support, no one could deny that Bristol City supporters, a bit like (for instance) Leeds and Portsmouth fans, do make a heck of a lot of noise most matches. What I always loved about Ashton Gate was that the acoustics were excellent, which allowed even a paltry few hundred U’s fans to make quite a bit of a racket on their own. My son Sam (who has never seen the U’s lose on any of our football trips together) used to have to cover his ears when we all got going, it was that loud. There were pillars, which could obscure surprisingly large slices of the pitch at times, but that was kind of part of the experience to be honest.

I think also I have to give a big shout out to City (and Rovers) fans too – in all my visits to Bristol to watch the U’s, always in colours, I have never once had any grief from anyone. In fact, quite the opposite, more often than not I’ll find myself drawn into conversation, usually about football, sat around a pub table with 5-10 City fans, everyone buying rounds and just having a good time – and that includes in the infamous Wedlock Pub too – now sadly demolished and redeveloped for flats.

Curiously, given how much I enjoy trips Ashton Gate, we rarely win, but my special memory has to be way back on 8th February 2003, in front of 11,107 (including what must have been 3-400 U’s fans). The U’s took an early lead through Scott McGleish, City equalised just after half-time, and then in front of the travelling supporters, up popped Thomas Pinault to make it 2-1 with about 20 minutes to go – what scenes of celebration there were. Oh, and City’s equaliser was scored by Craig Fagan…



My last visit to Ashton Gate was in 2014, and with the old South Stand then demolished, work had started on replacing it. As a result, we were housed at one end of the Atyeo Stand at the other end, and whilst I still enjoyed my football away day to Ashton Gate, the atmosphere just wasn’t the same.

#3: St Mary’s
Of the ‘new era’ all-seater stadia I’ve been to, I have to say that St Mary’s is probably one of the best designed. Graceful curves, fully enclosed, one continuous roof span, no pillars or supports getting in the way, for a relatively modest 30k+ capacity, it really is the dog’s danglies. Okay, so it’s set in a bit of an industrial wasteland for now, but what I also like about it is the heritage aspect – going back to the parish from which Southampton get their nickname The Saints.



That heritage aspect is also particularly important for me, as we provided the archaeological work to clear the site ahead of the development, which included a fair few dead Saxons, former residents of Saxon Hamwic. In recognition of our support, once the stadium was built, the team were invited to a celebration meal at the stadium, which naturally included a free bar and tour of the stadium – what a pleasant evening that was.

Needless to say, the U’s haven’t played at St Mary’s too often, five times to be precise, but I have managed to be at every one of them, plus a more recent trip to watch the England U21s play a friendly against Norway. Given the gulf in class between Southampton and the U’s, our record at St Mary’s is surprisingly good, having won once, drawn three times and only lost once (and even that was a spirited narrow 3-2 defeat in the League Cup). Of course, St Mary’s was one of those grounds that some believed was cursed, when Saints went on a prolonged run without a victory after moving in (something we know only too well), so maybe we were benefiting from an aftertaste of that curse?

As far as abiding memories go, it can only be that victory at St Mary’s on 16th March 2007, our first and most glorious season in the Championship. The match was played on a Friday night, so me and a friend from work travelled down for the game after work. I can’t remember why it was played on a Friday, but it clearly had an impact on the travelling support, which I reckon was only around the 200 mark (it would have been at least double for a Saturday afternoon).



Not that we let that get in the way of our support, and the small band of U’s supporters just didn’t stop singing all match. Every time the home support found their voice to try and drown us out, back we came with an almost never-ending chant of “Georgie Williams’ Blue and White Army” – just relentless. It was certainly helped by the U’s on the pitch, who were magnificent in both attack and resolute defence. A neat bit of interplay between Izzet and Iwelumo allowed Cureton to blast us into an early lead, Saganowski finally equalised mid-way through the first half, only for Cureton to brilliantly restore the lead a minute later with a stunning volley from a Richard Garcia cross…and the fans sung on!

#2: Brisbane Road


This one is all about the beer, and I’m not afraid to admit. Although not exclusively, this trip is usually one for leaving the kids at home, so the lads can get a bit lairy. As with any football ground in London or the Home Counties, it’s a straightforward train journey and tube/ overground there and back, always a bonus if beer is involved. The other bonus is it usually allows a stop at one of my favourite football trip pubs, Hamilton Hall at Liverpool Street Station – such as back in 2011 with my mate Jon and Alfie ahead of a forgettable performance on the pitch.



It would appear I’m not the only one that likes a trip to Brisbane Road either, and it is usually one of our better turnouts for away games each season – admittedly it does often bring out some of our gnarlier barsiders from back in the day too, certainly not something for the faint-hearted. The pre-match atmosphere in the nearby Coach and Horses, the usual watering hole for the U’s faithful is always excellent, with song after song raising the rafters at times.

There are some negatives about a trip to Brisbane Road, not least that there’s no alcohol on sale in the ground, albeit most have usually had enough by then anyway, and the queues for antiquated toilet facilities can be daunting (particularly if you’re trying to hold in a whole bunch of pre-match pints). PC Plod and the stewards are generally okay – providing you’re there to have a few beers and a good time that is, less so if you’re getting a bit antsy in your pantsy. I’ve never had any trouble from locals in all my trips, probably because I’ve never gone looking for any, just to meet up with mates and have a good time.

The stadium is compact, tidy, well-laid out, has generally excellent views on all sides, a good playing surface usually, and of course for the massed ranks, excellent acoustics. They don’t, as a rule, have much of a singing culture, so often it’s really only the U’s making all the noise – maybe that’s something to do with their support having a significant proportion who really follow one of the larger London clubs?

I’ve already featured my one trip to Brisbane Road that’s actually in my memorabilia collection (LfW#16) – the ill-fated match that would see Leyton Orient relegated to the Conference, finished in secret behind closed doors following a pitch invasion, and me and Alfie forced to get an Uber all the way back to Wiltshire after the match. For all the great visits I’ve had to Brisbane Road, this one has to stand out as the most notable for so many reasons – plus of course we won! (though we didn’t officially know that until we got home). I’ve already posted this YouTube link in the previous Brisbane Road blog, but I love watching it, so make no apology about doing so again.



…and finally…

#1: Griffin Park


For any that know me, this probably won’t come as much of a surprise. A bit like Brisbane Road, this is all about meeting mates, drinking beer and having a good day out – only this time with perhaps slightly less propensity for the old skool Barside to show up as well. Perhaps the long tube and overground across London is a bit too much of a ball-ache for those travelling from Essex, but for someone living in the West Country it make a London awayday even easier.

Brentford has always held a kind of fascination to me anyway, from long before I ever visited following the U’s. It was always that ground you could see from the M4 Chiswick Flyover and think “what ground’s that then?”. At university I was introduced to the Brentford Trilogy novels by Robert Rankin, and his two central characters (drunken layabouts) Jim Pooley and John Omally, which I loved from the moment I picked them up. In more recent years, it was fascinating to actual identify some of the ‘fictional’ locations in his books, not least the former Bricklayers pub, The Flying Swan and semi-permanent home to Poole and Omally in the books.



Sadly, this is one on my list that no longer exists (if you don’t count the demolition and rebuild of the Ashton Gate South Stand), but that’s progress I guess. What I will say is that the new ground looks first class, right in the heart of the community, and I sincerely look forward to my first opportunity to visit it following the U’s.

Back to Griffin Park, it’s another traditional smaller football stadium, bags of character and charm, perhaps more suited to hosting 3rd/4th tier football in look and feel, but which has undergone several redevelopments over the years. Many will remember we were originally housed in the two tier Brook Road stand, before the home supporters got roof envy and we were switched to the freezing open Ealing Road terrace. Then Brentford did some fund-raising to put a roof on it, and suddenly the home supporters wanted it back, so back we went to the Brook Road stand.

Traditionally, matches at Griffin Park are always preceded by a lap of the ground, with one (or more) starting in the Royal Oak, then clockwise to the New Inn, the Princess Royal and then finally the Griffin, which is where the U’s faithful usually congregate pre-match. Again, from a personal perspective, never a hint of trouble in all my many visits. The Brook Road stand has good acoustics, and I’ve been in amongst some noisy support at time. I’ve never been in the top tier seating, and of course I never will now.

The open Ealing Road terrace was considerably less welcoming, and on occasions I’ve been frozen solid and literally drenched to my skin watching the U’s (to add insult to injury, the latter whilst enduring a 4-1 drubbing), but it’s never really got in the way of enjoying my opportunities to visit Griffin Park.

Indeed, my favourite memory is indeed from standing on that open terrace with my mate Jon, watching Brentford play ping-pong on our goal line, before Iwelumo set Yeates free to run and run, bearing down on goal to drill the U’s into an unassailable 2-0 lead back in 2005/06 Championship promotion season. I’ve already featured this game (MoY#21), but the grainy video is worth seeing again.



For Jacki

Up the U’s
[Post edited 23 Jan 18:17]
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Latest statement from Robbie...
at 07:40 23 Jan 2021

...with special mention for Daniel, Katie and Harrison

https://www.cu-fc.com/news/2021/january/club-statement/
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