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FGR -Sat .
at 19:41 24 Feb 2021

Now 3-0 up!
FGR -Sat .
at 12:54 24 Feb 2021

Incidentally - best socks in the world are made of bamboo - trust me, try them and you'll never go back...
Wayne Brown it is
at 12:53 24 Feb 2021

LOL - think you're doing well providing the conspiracy theorists with fuel actually

Wayne Brown doesn't come as a surprise as caretaker (sorry, Interim First Team Coach), which I guess also gives him first bite at establishing the role as his own if he wants it. I'm afraid there still is the question of his well-publicised racist comments whilst at Leicester City to resolve. In this day and age, and against a back-drop of the EFL's "Not today nor any day" initiative, I really do believe there needs to be some sort of statement from Wayne, or on his behalf, confirming that those opinions were the product of an intemperant youth, and not something he subscribes to now. I'm not expecting to see one, however, so I guess I'll have to cope with an assumption that Robbie has had this conversation with Wayne behind close doors, but it does leave a sense of unease.
Ball gone
at 09:15 24 Feb 2021

The ‘obsession’ with the academy is part of Robbie’s ambition to make Colchester United as self-sufficient as possible, so that when the time comes and he does move on, we’re not left up the creek praying for someone to come along prepared to pump literally millions of their own money into the club - for remarkably little gratitude it would seem. The playing style has tried to be a passing game, how football should be played for the most part, but it needs the right manager/ tactics to make it work (and a decent pitch). Ironically, on the number of back room staff, Tony Ashby was let go last month and some read it as a conspiracy.
Ball gone
at 09:04 24 Feb 2021

I actually think a lot of the players who’ve been brought in, certainly since Tony Humes has been Director of Football, have been pretty good quality to be honest. I don’t see that as the problem, just what’s been done with them when they’re here. I know there are some who want to blame Humes for everything, but let’s keep a sense of perspective.
Grecians in for hair raising experience at the JSCS
at 07:59 24 Feb 2021

I would assume Mullins will have to step up as caretaker for now, given we’ve a game on Saturday. Unless Robbie has already been having conversations elsewhere, it will surely take a week or two if it’s to be an external appointment.
Letters from Wiltshire #34
at 07:46 24 Feb 2021

Ah yes, forgot about the loos
U'sual Champions League 2021 - Round of 16
at 23:39 23 Feb 2021

Btw, in other news, Chelsea won 1-0 at Atletico Madrid, and Bayern Munich emphatically 4-1 at Lazio.

Far too much else going on for an update tonight, that'll follow tomorrow, but just a nudge to sevebalo, who's yet to post Week 2 fixtures.
Grecians in for hair raising experience at the JSCS
at 22:36 23 Feb 2021

Link here, Ball has gone.


Edit: and whilst it was probably inevitable, let's all please remember that Steve Ball has been, on and off, associated with the U's since 1989. He was clearly out of his depth as manager, but let's not trash his commitment to Colchester United over five decades.

Best wishes Steve, I hope your next football adventure goes better for you!
[Post edited 23 Feb 22:41]
Local striker missed
at 21:00 23 Feb 2021

Nom nom nom - these words of mine are delicious
Grecians in for hair raising experience at the JSCS
at 20:59 23 Feb 2021

Started brighter, fizzled out very quickly, back to aimless chips forward to no one, Exeter always first to the 50:50. Chilvers and Oteh combining showed what we can do, but even then it was momentary and fleeting.

Oh dear...
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
U'sual Champions League 2021 - Round of 16
at 11:47 23 Feb 2021

All good TheFatGooner, ghughes11 and Daniel - just sevebalo to go now before tonights matches.
Local striker missed
at 22:32 22 Feb 2021

Not sure if a 27 year old non-league journeyman striker signed on a short-term deal just as back-up to cover injuries honestly counts as one we let slip away? Not when we had to let Norris go to ease the wage burden. More than happy to eat my words if the lad comes good, but I suspect on their budget, that’s about all Burton could afford, given they’ll be back here next season.
The Chairman's latest missive
at 18:16 22 Feb 2021

He's certainly right about some of the earlier positive results, where we could all see we were winning games but not necessarily deserving to do so. Although not quite the dreaded 'vote of confidence', this to me reads as a shot across the bows of the players and management team as much as anything else? There's a tough bunch of games ahead, but I don't think Robbie's too far away from a decision if we don't get anything from them.
11th time lucky for super U's at the People's Pension Stadium
at 12:15 21 Feb 2021

I still don't honestly believe we're in serious danger of relegation - still ten points clear despite an utterly dreadful run of form. Mind you, I'm not liking the look of the next few fixtures, but surely we have to get out of this rut at some point? However, Robbie is a businessman first and foremost, so I'd be amazed if he wasn't already starting to consider alternatives to Ball.
11th time lucky for super U's at the People's Pension Stadium
at 17:00 20 Feb 2021

Unlucky defeat, but not a good performance at all - very poor!
11th time lucky for super U's at the People's Pension Stadium
at 14:53 20 Feb 2021

I'm liking that Nouble is out on the left. Not sure about Oteh up front, but I'd say it's more of a natural position for him than Jevani?
Happy League 2020/21 Week 24 (of 34) - Deadline Saturday 20th February 12.30
at 13:16 20 Feb 2021

Bugger - missed the two early starts!

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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