|Letters from Wiltshire #26|
Written by wessex_exile on Tuesday, 29th Dec 2020 18:18
Well, after a piss-poor Xmas period so far for the U’s, culminating in the Roots Hall horror show on Boxing Day, let’s hope the U’s have burned off those festive calories and are raring to go. They’ll certainly have to be at their best against a Cheltenham side aiming to force their way into the automatic promotion places. In other news, we now finally have confirmation that there will be a trade deal in place with the EU once Brexit arrives in 2021. It remains to be seen whether it’s a good deal or not, and more to the point, who for, but at least it’s not the economic uncertainty of no-deal.
[b]Colchester United v Huddersfield Town
And so, for our last match of 2020, the random match selector for Letters from Wiltshire #26 has chosen the very first League Cup match in my memorabilia collection. Certainly not my first League Cup match by any measure, that goes right back to at least the 4th Round home game against Southampton in the 1974/75 League Cup, but this is the furthest back that I still have a matchday programme for. As with pretty much all League Cup matches, for all time, this was a midweek fixture, at home to Huddersfield Town in the 2nd leg of the 2nd Round.
[b]The archaeology bit[/b]
This was a large quarry, and the IMC96 site eventually ran for five consecutive seasons before being exhausted, finishing in 2000. By this time we had uncovered an incredible complex of archaeological remains including Neolithic and Early Bronze Age enclosures, barrows and other monuments (red), a Later Bronze Age field system and water holes (mustard yellow), Late Iron Age (dark blue) and Romano-British (lilac) settlement focused on a hitherto unknown Roman Road heading north west from [i]Londinium[/i], and both Saxon (cyan) and medieval (lime green) settlement and field systems.
On a lighter note, Marcus Brigstocke also decided to film one of his [i]We Are History[/i] episodes at the site in 1998, whilst we were excavating the three Early Bronze Age barrows more or less central within the site. If you haven’t seen these, they could best be described as an affectionate parody/ homage of Time Team, but you can of course decide for yourself, as the IMC96 episode (including your truly) is still available on YouTube.
[b]The journey to here[/b]
[b][i]Figuratively[/b][/i] – as a Third Division side at the time, our 1st Round two-legged draw was a tricky one against First Division West Bromwich Albion. It looked even trickier when they beat us 3-2 in the 1st leg at Layer Road (I wasn’t there), and no one really gave us much hope of turning things around at the Hawthorns. However, in a blistering 2nd leg display that I’m really sorry I missed, we were 3-0 in the lead less than ten minutes into the second half, and although WBA did get one back with seven minutes to go, we held on for an unlikely 5-4 aggregate victory. The real story of the night, however, was our then ‘keeper Canadian Garrett Caldwell had to go off injured at half-time (tore his thigh muscle taking a goal kick), and without another goalkeeper on the bench, Steve Whitton volunteered to go in goal for the second half.
The 2nd Round draw wasn’t much kinder, again against First Division opposition, this time against our shirt donors Huddersfield Town. Drawn away for the 1st leg, a goal a-piece either side of half-time gave the U’s a very respectable 1-1 draw at the new McAlpine Stadium, to set things up nicely for this 2nd leg match. As Chris Hazlehurst (CUSA) commented in the programme “[i]…as far as the match at Huddersfield was concerned it proved to be another splendid team effort and most travelling fans found difficulty naming a man of the match[/i]”.
Huddersfield were managed at the time by Brian Horton, who had joined the Terriers a year earlier after two seasons managing Manchester City. Their line-up that evening was pretty much a first XI, and included their record £1.2m signing Marcus Stewart (from Bristol Rovers), recently signed Andy Payton (from Burnley, for a not inconsiderable £325k), and experienced midfielder Paul Reid. Breaking news for the U’s was the eventual and inevitable sale of Mark Kinsella to Charlton Athletic at the end of the previous week. At the time the fee was undisclosed, but it was eventually announced (leaked?) to be £150k. Obviously at the time a sizeable fee for a club of our size, but with the benefit of hindsight it does seem such a paltry amount.
There’s not a great deal I can remember about the match itself I’m afraid, other than a lasting impression that is was a pretty even game. Given Huddersfield were two divisions above the U’s, and we were struggling in the Third Division (at the time just eight points from the first eight matches), this was a very creditable performance. The U’s held their own, and on occasions even pressed Huddersfield, and at the end of both half-time and normal time the match was still 0-0.
I can’t remember what the rules on away goals were for the League Cup back then, but clearly they didn’t count double, or we would have been through to the 3rd Round at that point. I’m not certain if away goals might have counted after extra-time, but it proved to be a moot point. In the 8th minute of extra-time, that man Marcus Stewart finally broke the deadlock for the Terriers. Five minutes into the second period of extra-time, with the U’s pressing for an equaliser, Huddersfield finally sealed the match, with substitute Simon Collins making it 2-0 – and no way back for the U’s.
[b]Colchester United 0 Huddersfield Town 2 (Marcus Stewart 98’; Simon Collins 110’)[/b]
As heart-breaking as it was to go out of the League Cup in extra-time like that, considerable comfort could be taken from four very spirited performances against First Division opposition. Huddersfield crashed out of the competition the following round, losing 5-1 at eventual finalists Middlesbrough (Middlesbrough lost the replayed final 1-0 after extra time to Leicester City).
Although not immediate, the spirit shown by the U’s eventually started to turn our season around, and following a run of 18 matches unbeaten between October and mid-February, we ended up narrowly missing out on the play-offs by one place and one point (sounds familiar ☹).
Garrett Caldwell did eventually recover from his thigh muscle tear, and played once more for the U’s the following season (a 2-0 home league victory over Torquay United), before returning to Canada to play for Toronto Supra.
Incidentally, in other news, at the end of the 1996/97 football season, tonight’s opponents Cheltenham Town (under the ever-charming Steve Cotterill as manager) finally gained promotion to the Conference. They finished a distant second to champions Gresley Rovers, but capitalised on Gresley’s ground not meeting the required standard to pinch the promotion place.
Up the U’s
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Letters from Wiltshire #35 by wessex_exile
As many were predicting, time finally ran out for Steve Ball mid-week, after the U’s lost 2-1 at home to Exeter City. Although a considerable improvement in score-line compared to the 6-1 thrashing they handed out at St James Park earlier in the season, apart from the first 10-15 minutes and very brief glimpses throughout the remainder of the game, it was a poor performance, leaving Robbie Cowling with no choice. After a brief interlude, Robbie named Wayne Brown as our new Interim Head Coach (that’s caretaker as far as I’m concerned), and after an even briefer interlude, Robbie and Wayne in a joint statement put to rest any lingering concerns about Wayne’s attitude to race. If Wayne can show the same sort of leadership on the training ground and in the dressing room as he used to show for the U’s on the pitch, I am certain he’s going to do very well in the job.
Letters from Wiltshire #34 by wessex_exile
I won’t dwell on Robbie’s latest message to the supporters – we’ve all read it, and we’ve all probably drawn our own conclusions about what it doesn’t say as much as what it does. To me, bottom line, I suspect the clock is now ticking for Steve Ball (at least), turn around this terrible form pretty damn quick, or start clearing out your locker. Regardless of personal opinions on any of the individuals concerned, I would like to think none of us actually wants to see people made redundant in the current climate. But, these are difficult times that require tough decisions. If Steve Ball is up to the job and can turn this around, I’ll be more than happy to support him. If he’s not, he has to go before irreparable harm is done…and we all know what that will look like, we’ve been there before…
Letters from Wiltshire #33 by wessex_exile
Today we face a trip to Crawley, not usually a venue that bears fruit for the U’s it has to be said. In nine visits we’ve only won once in the league, and once in the League Cup. Of course, we’ll all remember that League Cup victory, indeed many of us were probably there to see us progress through to 5th round and the dream fixture against Manchester United at Old Trafford. All of our goal-scorers that night, Luke’s Norris and Gambin, and Cohen Bramall (okay, technically an O.G.), are no longer with us, so let’s hope at the very least that recent departee and subsequent returnee Frank Nouble can bag another like his late equaliser against Mansfield. Steve Ball commented during the week about how tight the league is at the moment, and he’s right that a couple of back to back victories would see us move significantly up the table away from danger – but we’ve got to win them first Steve – something we’ve failed to do since our 1-0 victory at Scunthorpe on December 8th.
Letters from Wiltshire #32 by wessex_exile
Fifty years ago yesterday, Colchester United of the 4th Division pulled off the greatest cup giant-killing ever, beating 1st Division Leeds United 3-2 at Layer Road. Watched by 16,000, and the Match of the Day cameras, Dick Graham’s U’s, a rag-tag band of mostly aging journeymen, defied the odds to defeat arguably the greatest club side in Europe at the time. “The greatest cup giant-killing ever” is a bold claim, and over the years various football magazines and websites have run their own polls of which was the greatest. Whilst that day at Layer Rd always features, as the years have gone by other feats fresher in the memory have been put forward as a candidate – we probably all remember Ronnie Radford’s screamer against Newcastle, Sutton’s exploits, or even Bradford City quite recently at Stamford Bridge – but these pale into insignificance when you pause to reflect on the Don Revie side that we beat that day. Sprake, Cooper, Charlton, Hunter, Lorimer, Giles etc – all full internationals, all household names – the only one missing was Billy Bremner, and that was because he was injured. By comparison, all we had to offer was Ray Crawford – at his peak arguably on a par with some in the Leeds side, but that peak had been ten years earlier playing for Ipswich and England. Eleven heroes didn’t just try and hold out against Leeds United, they took the game to their illustrious opponents with such tenacity, grit and no small amount of flair, and before we knew it, the U’s were 3-0 in the lead. As legs tired, Leeds got back into the game with goals from Hunter and Giles, but we held firm – typified at the death by Graham Smith pulling off an impossible save to ensure the U’s achieved [b][u]the greatest cup giant-killing ever![/b][/u]
Letters from Wiltshire #31 by wessex_exile
And so the dust settles on another transfer window closing, and despite (my) expectations that the possibility of incoming business was going to be remote, we have instead seen a veritable flurry of activity, with no less than three coming in. Big Frank Nouble, making a very welcome return on loan from Plymouth Argyle, of course needs no introduction. Neither really does feisty Brendan Sarpong-Wiredu, here on loan last season, and this time signed full-time from Charlton Athletic for an undisclosed fee. Actually paying hard cash for someone did come as a surprise, presumably offset by the sale of Cohen Bramall to Lincoln for a similarly undisclosed fee. However, the fact that the Addicks have insisted on not only a sell-on clause, but a rarely used buy-back clause too, suggests (a) Wiredu’s signing fee probably wasn’t too high, and (b) Charlton are protecting those finances with these clauses. The last one, which would have been a complete surprise for me were it not for a contact leaking me the news earlier yesterday, is left-back Josh Doherty on loan from Crawley. Josh was only announced once outgoing left-back Bramall was confirmed, and presumably his loan is directly related to part-time fashion model, TV and radio celeb and former left-back Mark Wright signing for Crawley on a non-contract game-by-game basis in December. We have also released seven from the academy, Ollie Kensdale, Miquel Scarlett, Sammie McLeod, Michael Fernandes, Ollie Sims, Danny Collinge and Matt Weaire, and I’m sure we all wish them the best for the future.