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Letters from Wiltshire #45
at 17:24 21 Apr 2021

Tonight, Colchester United face Southend United in what may not necessarily be the most important game of our respective histories (though it’s certainly very close), but is almost certainly the most important Essex derby ever. However this season pans out, by the end of it there’ll either be only one team in Essex, or worst case scenario, none at all. If the U’s win, then Southend will be 9pts behind with just three games to go, and a minimum of a -12 goal difference to overturn if they want to overtake us. Certainly mathematically possible, but that would rely on a remarkable turnaround in their form, form that they’ve shown precious little sign of achieving so far this season. The stalking horse is Grimsby, with their game in hand, who have rather belatedly shown an improvement in form, so their match against automatic promotion chasing Morecambe tonight is equally important, particularly if we want to avoid the unthinkable, with both Essex clubs dropping out of the league.
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Letters from Wiltshire #45
at 16:33 20 Apr 2021

Tonight, Colchester United face Southend United in what may not necessarily be the most important game of our respective histories (though it’s certainly very close), but is almost certainly the most important Essex derby ever. However this season pans out, by the end of it there’ll either be only one team in Essex, or worst case scenario, none at all. If the U’s win, then Southend will be 9pts behind with just three games to go, and a minimum of a -12 goal difference to overturn if they want to overtake us. Certainly mathematically possible, but that would rely on a remarkable turnaround in their form, form that they’ve shown precious little sign of achieving so far this season. The stalking horse is Grimsby, with their game in hand, who have rather belatedly shown an improvement in form, so their match against automatic promotion chasing Morecambe tonight is equally important, particularly if we want to avoid the unthinkable, with both Essex clubs dropping out of the league.

Snouts in the trough – the European Super League



However, tonight I want Letters from Wiltshire #45 to focus on what is potentially a much bigger issue for the future of football than our Essex-centric parochial concerns – and that is of course the announcement at the weekend that a new European Super League is set to replace the existing Champions League competition. It is difficult to know where to start with this, there are so many issues associated with this announcement, so let us start with who is involved.

Who?
There are six Premier League sides involved: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. Across Europe, there are six more: Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain, and AC Milan, Juventus and Inter Milan in Italy. As yet, no clubs from France or Germany have shown any interest in joining, which will obviously leave out massive clubs such as PSG and Bayern Munich. The overall intention is for the ESL to comprise 20 clubs, the 12 already mentioned plus three more yet to be announced, and who would remain permanently as members going forward, and an additional variable five to qualify through some form of qualification process (invitation, domestic performance, a one-off event?).

Why?
Well, we know the real reason why, the clue is in the title of this blog, but what are the Dirty Dozen saying. Apparently, it is all about money, but specifically it is the financial impact of Covid-19 on their mega-club revenue streams, playing in front of empty stadiums, and with superstar player multi-million pound salary habits to feed. I don’t doubt, it’s a problem far more keenly felt throughout the remainder of the football pyramid, but we don’t have the financial safety net of billionaire owners to fall back on. As a sweetener to entice the founder members, investment bank JP Morgan has promised each a share of a £3bn grant.



Yep, you read that right – investment bank JP Morgan have confirmed they will finance the breakaway ESL, to the tune of £4.3bn in total. If that doesn’t have people concerned, also bear in mind that following their announcement, shares in JP Morgan leapt, as did shares in most of the clubs involved. The world of football may not like the proposal, but plenty out there clearly do recognise an opportunity to get rich when they see one. As I understand it, this isn’t a gift from JP Morgan, but funding secured against the anticipated TV broadcasting rights, presumably therefore a low-interest loan of sorts. As you would expect, JP Morgan have been predictably tight-lipped about the financial arrangements.

Laughingly, ESL founder member and Real Madrid president Florentino Perez would have us believe it was created “to save football”. That’s right, it’s not about the lucrative pay-outs to finance their debt, it is so they can save football for us all. Apparently, according to Perez, young people are “no longer interested in football”, citing the poor quality of matches as the reason. I would argue that even if it were true that younger people are turning away from football, it is less to do with quality and more to do with disillusionment about the bare-faced greed and obscene amount of money that is endemic throughout the higher echelons of the game.

When?
That is an interesting question, because in one sense the answer could be never. Some observers believe that this is really just another salvo from the major European clubs directed at Uefa, in an attempt to gain greater control (and financial return) from the existing Champions League competition – you know, blackmail. There is certainly no chance that both competitions could co-exist – both will rely on the same lucrative broadcasting rights from the same sources. However, if it goes ahead, most reckon that will be August 2022 onwards, though Perez has said the ESL want to start this August if possible.

How?
Details released so far show the structure will comprise two mini-leagues of ten clubs each. The ten in each group will play each other home and away in mid-week games, with the top three from each group automatically qualifying for the quarter-finals, whilst 4th and 5th placed teams would play-off for the remaining two qualification slots. From there, it would be a normal two-legged path to the final.

Ironically, this is actually a simpler format than that proposed by Uefa, who announced their plans to revamp the 2024 Champions League competition onwards yesterday – a day too late it would seem. Their proposal is complicated, with 36 clubs qualifying for an expanded 'first phase', where all clubs will play against ten (not all) opponents of varying strengths. This will result in a league table, with the top eight qualifying for the knockout phase and the next 16 going into a play-off for the remaining eight slots. The controversy is that four of the additional qualification slots in the opening group of 36 will be awarded to clubs with the highest Uefa co-efficient who did not qualify for the Champions League but did qualify for another European competition. This will lead to the very real possibility that a team could qualify for the Champions League despite finishing behind teams in their league who did not qualify.

So what’s the big deal?
Fair question, because it’s not like Uefa, or Fifa, or even our own Premier League aren’t a bunch of self-serving money-grabbers on their day. So their holier than thou attitude when it comes to defending their cash cow(s) from the ESL does come across as somewhat hypocritical.

But that’s not the thing, the really massive thing is the self-appointed exclusivity they bestow upon themselves – that the founding 12 (plus the unnamed three) will never again have to ‘qualify’ for the competition. That’s it, in for life, you’re part of our mega-club big boy gang, so welcome to the trough. They’ll throw another five a bone each year, have a chance to pat someone on the head and say how well they’ve done, maybe feel good about themselves in the process.



The idiocy and arrogance is just breath-taking, I’m almost speechless in awe. To keep things simple, this basically tears up the fundamental foundation of what football is, and destroys the health and vitality that an effective and functioning football pyramid brings to the sport. Football is a meritocracy – okay, a somewhat dysfunctional one at times, particularly when we consider the already disproportionate distribution of wealth. But still, nothing is technically preventing any team, whether through hard work, expertise, investment or just plain luck, from rising to the top of the pyramid, or particularly pertinent to tonight, to sink to the bottom (hell, it wasn’t that long ago Man City were with us in the third tier).

In terms of rising to the top of the pyramid, what has always been the pinnacle as far as the English leagues are concerned? That fabled expression (ironic in these post-Brexit days) “getting into Europe”. The ESL ostensibly closes that route off – it’s basically going to become a private members club, sharing the proceeds of participation amongst themselves, and apparently because they want to save football!

So who’s for it?
Errm, no one?



Okay, not technically no one. Obviously the 12 club chairmen are fervently for it. Finance backers JP Morgan are definitely for it, they’ll be earning more than enough interest from the financial support. I’d imagine worldwide there’ll be a huge appetite for the matches from audiences with absolutely no emotional investment in the future of domestic football in Europe, and I’m particularly thinking about the Asian market here. I suppose even some employees of the clubs involved are up for it, including players and management – but certainly not all, and with some already breaking ranks and speaking out against the proposal.

Who’s not for it?
Pretty much everyone else...



Honestly, browse online, the universal level of opposition to the proposal is stunning, and frankly reassuring too – that’s across not just the UK, or Europe, but the world. There are some cracking headlines out there too. Tuttosport in Italy probably summed it up best with theirs, which appropriately and simply translates as “Are you insane?”.

Uefa and Fifa in particular are being very bullish, declaring that players involved in the competition will be barred from all other domestic, European and world competitions. The legality of that position may well be challenged I’m sure, but I kind of hope they’re right.

Premier League Rule L9 appears to preclude the English clubs from participating in the ESL:
Except with the prior written approval of the board, during the season a club shall not enter or play its senior men’s first team in any competition other than:
L.9.1 - The UEFA Champions League
L.9.2 - The UEFA Europa League
L.9.3 - The FA Cup
L.9.4 - The FA Community Shield
L.9.5 - The Football League Cup or
L.9.6 - Competitions sanctioned by the County Association of which it is a member.


I presume that will mean expulsion from the Premier League for any of the six who don’t reconsider? Again, not going to lose any sleep over that.

Otherwise, all of the remaining 14 Premier League clubs, football fans throughout Europe – most notably supporter associations for the Dirty Dozen, our Football Supporters Association, the EFL, Boris Johnson, Eric Cantona, sounds like Klopp and Guardiola at the very least are having their own doubts, even Amazon say they haven’t been consulted and are against the proposal (wtf?).

This is an utterly dreadful proposal, which definitively, finally and unequivocally demonstrates the obscene greed of the clubs involved, that they care not a jot about “saving football”, and care only about how much of the pie they can carve out and keep for themselves.

However, this might be where I’m slightly out of step with others. Whilst I’m extremely concerned about the financial impact on clubs if their share of broadcasting money is diverted into the coffers of the ESL…if it removes their cancerous influence from our game, leaving them to go and rattle around in their private members club for the rest of time, I honestly won’t be bothered.

Up the U’s
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Letters from Wiltshire #44
at 15:56 18 Apr 2021

So here we are, as the nation mourns the passing of His Royal Highness, Duke of Edinburgh, the U’s face the first of two season-defining moments, with our late kick-off match at home to Walsall. Before then, no doubt many will have been focused on events elsewhere, not least the early kick-offs for Grimsby (at home to promotion-chasing Bolton Wanderers), and particularly Essex rivals Southend United, who faced a tricky visit to Exeter City – still very much in the hunt for at least a play-off spot. As I finalise this blog, I know that Grimsby have beaten Bolton 2-1, and Southend earned a credible 0-0 draw in the West Country. More to the point, the U’s will know this too. Whilst I can’t help but feel that will ought to be to our advantage, it surely must also put additional pressure on a squad whose confidence is paper-thin. We must hope that Hayden Mullins, assisted by Paul Tisdale, get their heads right, and send the lads out this evening fired up with self-belief.
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Letters from Wiltshire #44
at 15:16 17 Apr 2021

So here we are, as the nation mourns the passing of His Royal Highness, Duke of Edinburgh, the U’s face the first of two season-defining moments, with our late kick-off match at home to Walsall. Before then, no doubt many will have been focused on events elsewhere, not least the early kick-offs for Grimsby (at home to promotion-chasing Bolton Wanderers), and particularly Essex rivals Southend United, who faced a tricky visit to Exeter City – still very much in the hunt for at least a play-off spot. As I finalise this blog, I know that Grimsby have beaten Bolton 2-1, and Southend earned a credible 0-0 draw in the West Country. More to the point, the U’s will know this too. Whilst I can’t help but feel that will ought to be to our advantage, it surely must also put additional pressure on a squad whose confidence is paper-thin. We must hope that Hayden Mullins, assisted by Paul Tisdale, get their heads right, and send the lads out this evening fired up with self-belief.

Colchester United v Bristol City
Saturday 23rd September 2000
Nationwide Football Division 2 (Tier 3)
Attendance 7,411




Letters from Wiltshire #44, and the random match selector has gone right back to the early part of the 2000/01 season, and a visit to one of my frequent haunts over the years, Bristol City at Ashton Gate. Whilst probably not quite as significant an event in our history as the next few days might turn out to be, it was still a seminal moment for the U’s – as we began adjusting to a world without the mercurial talent of Lomana Tresor LuaLua in our line-up. Although the actual £2.25m purchase by Newcastle’s Bobby Robson was only officially concluded in the middle of the previous week, it was a widely anticipated move which had kept LuaLua off the team sheet for the best part of two weeks.



It had been an up and down start to the season for the U’s under Steve Whitton – good wins against Swansea and Bournemouth, a bunch of drawn games, and defeats at home to Rotherham and away at Wigan, which left the U’s mid-table going into this game. Bristol City, on the other hand, were experiencing a surprisingly poor start to the campaign, and were sat in the relegation zone at the time (albeit they had games in hand). Travelling over on the train with kids Lauren and Sam, I was therefore reasonably hopeful we could get something from the match – not something we generally have much success at visiting Ashton Gate.

On the day
The U’s lined up as follows:
1….Simon Brown
2….Joe Dunne
19..Alan White (Joe Keith 67’)
18..Aaron Skelton
6….Simon Clark
20..Micky Stockwell
8….David Gregory (Chris Keeble 52’)
11..Jason Dozzell
4….Gavin Johnson
10..Steve McGavin (KK Opara 85’)
17..Tony Lock

Bristol City at the time were managed by Danny Wilson, and on paper had a very strong squad – far better than their relegation zone place would have suggested. From my time in Bradford, I was well aware of the talent of Brian ‘Tinman’ Tinnion, Keven Amankwaah was well-known in lower league circles, as of course was striker Tony Thorpe. Though not on the team sheet for this match, the Robins did also have Kayode Odejayi in their squad.

On a beautiful September afternoon, as me and the kids took our places up the back of the cavernous Covered End amongst probably about 200 of the faithful, we didn’t have long to wait to see how the U’s would respond to the sale of LuaLua – about 80 seconds to be precise. Pressure from the U’s straight from kick-off forced a corner, Micky Stockwell took it short, crossed the return beautifully into the danger zone, and there was Tony Lock to head past the helpless Steve Phillips. What a dream start, greeted by ferocious celebrations in the away end, and surely a portent of more goals to come?

Well, Danny Wilson and Bristol City clearly didn’t read that particular script, and instead dusted themselves down after that early set-back, and really started to turn the screw. Mind you, we did well to weather the storm for the most part – even if it was pretty much one-way traffic, we were keeping them at bay, and although it would be a long afternoon, possibly signs we might just get away with a smash and grab 3 points.



That is, however, until an Aaron Skelton howler.

Synonymous with wayward shooting, Aaron was actually a fairly decent defensive midfielder on his day, only this day wasn’t one of them. Dithering on the ball outside his own penalty area and choosing not to just boot it out of harm’s reach, his pocket was picked by Tony Thorpe, who cutting into the penalty area scored with a well-placed shot past an advancing Simon Brown. So that was that, now, we had a long way to go to even keep hold of a point. Bristol City’s tails were up, and for the remainder of the first half laid siege to Simon Brown’s goal. However, to their credit, the U’s ten-man defence for the most part held out. When we were breached by Scott Murray beating the offside trap, his free header not only cleared Simon Brown, but the crossbar (just) as well. Tony Thorpe should have grabbed a second with a diving header in injury time, but was well wide when he should have done better.

Still, we’d made it through to half time without conceding again, and whilst we’d showed very little attacking intent, there was hope amongst the faithful that we could at the very least hold on to the point in the second half.

It was very much as you were into the second half, with the added frustration that whenever we did seem to at least have a chance to ease the pressure and take the ball up the other end of the pitch, either luck, or just plain poor control, seemed to let us down. However, in the meantime Simon Brown was having probably one of the best 45 minutes of his career between the sticks. Time and time again, when it looked certain Bristol City would score, there was Brown pulling off stunning saves, denying Tony Thorpe in particular two cast-iron certain goals.

For a bit of light relief, as Alan White was stretchered off with a nasty looking leg injury, one of the stretcher bearers managed to get his feet in a pickle, tipping poor Alan out on to the side of the pitch – much to the amusement of pretty much everyone in the crowd – even us lot. Fortunately, apart from some dented dignity, no harm was done. On the pitch, Simon Brown continued to work miracles, somehow keeping out a point-blank header from City substitute and namesake Marvin Brown and defying the laws of gravity to dive backwards and claw a certain Thorpe goal out of the air.



With a game management substitution late in the game, swapping KK Opara for Steve McGavin, Steve Whitton’s U’s held on, to somehow mastermind a point from a game we really didn’t deserve – or at least very few but Simon Brown deserved. Bizarrely, and we would have been riding out of town in Steve Cotterill sombreros if so, we nearly nicked all three points at the death, with a screamer from Tony Lock in injury time that was just inches wide.

Bristol City 1 (Tony Thorpe 20’) Colchester United 1 (Tony Lock 2’)

Never one to miss the opportunity for a bit of sour grapery, after the match Danny Wilson commented “We were caught cold by a goal in the early moments of the match and when you give a team something to hang on to like that, I'm sure Colchester got what they came for”. To be fair, he wasn’t actually wrong in this case, and he did also graciously concede “…credit to Colchester and their keeper Simon Brown, he had a stormer. He kept his side in the hunt with two or three fantastic saves in a game we dominated throughout”.

This, for me, is one of those moments following the U’s that the after-match experience is probably just as memorable as the game itself. We headed back to Bristol Temple Meads, and with connections as they were, had the best part of an hour to wait for the next train back to Salisbury. Obviously, the station bar beckoned, so with beer, soft drinks and crisps we settled down for the wait. Ten minutes later, in walked a ‘handy’ bunch of (ahem) more elderly chaps, no colours, not too old, but of that age (if you know what I mean) that you try and avoid them on an away-day. Spidey-senses told me immediately these were not regular train travelling punters, but I figured with two young’uns in tow, I wasn’t going to necessarily be on their radar…but I was wearing a U’s shirt, which they clearly spotted straight away, and made a beeline straight for me.

Although my initial risk assessment was spot on in terms of their ‘handiness’, it actually turned out all they wanted to do was talk about football. Not just the match, and they agreed we really had gotten away with an ill-deserved point, but more about LuaLua. Yep, LuaLua, who was no longer at Col U, but apparently made a huge impression on them in the few games between the two he participated in. They absolutely loved him, most of Bristol City did apparently, and according to them, Bristol City immediately offered £1m for LuaLua after that previous season’s match at Ashton Gate. I had no reason to disagree with them, but they did agree that holding out for £2.25m was probably the better decision.

Kerching!
Anyway, after a really enjoyable time together chatting, including the Brizzle sorts standing a round (plus ice-creams for the kids), they said their goodbyes and headed off for their train. We had five more minutes before our own train arrived, and on the way out, my more than persuasive daughter bullied me into putting £1 into the fruit machine so that she could (unofficially) push the buttons.



And then we started to win…

More than just win, as the £1 investment developed, our winnings went from getting £1 back, to winning £2, to £5, to £10…to the point that with our train pulling into the station, it was time to cash in, take the £10 and run for the train. The maximum win was £15, and literally seconds before I was ready to press the button, another Bristolian came up to point out that all the lights on the machine were red – I didn’t know what this meant, but he explained it meant a guaranteed £15 jackpot was coming.

We had to believe him, so stuck with it, and won the £15 jackpot…which then repeated…three more times! By the time the fruit machine had stopped pumping out £60 in £1 coins, our train was on the platform waiting to depart. I had just enough time to reward the chap with £10 of the coins before we literally had to jump on the train as it was about to leave, weighed down by a fistful of coins.

If you’re wondering, both kids demanded and received their share of the winnings…

Up the U’s
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U'sual Champions League 2021 - Semi-finals
at 22:48 14 Apr 2021

So this weeks' second leg fixtures have finished:
Chelsea 0 FC Porto 1 - Chelsea progress, despite losing at home to FC Porto tonight
Paris Saint Germain 0 Bayern Munich 1 - Likewise PSG through, on the away goals rule
Borussia Dortmund 1 Man City 2 - Man City ease into the semi-finals 4-2 on aggregate
Liverpool 0 Real Madrid 0 - Real Madrid shut out Liverpool for the 4th semi-final place

Group 1



It really couldn't have been much closer, but with Man City's result spot-on, and the Bayern Munich victory as an outcome, concordman storms to the top of the group on six points. The race for second place couldn't have been closer, with the rest of us all finishing on four points. However, it's the wooden spoon for wessex_exile (☹), with Sector4 and ghughes11 going into a tie-break for second place, both with a first leg spot-on each (Man City's home win and Chelsea's away win respectively).

Group 2



This one was a bit more clear cut, with U'sual Champions League giant mfb_cufc storming to the top of the table on seven points, getting the Man City result spot-on, backed up by Bayern Munich's away win outcome. Daniel holds on to second place, getting Man City's away win as an outcome. Commiserations to both unitedwhites and durham_exile who both drew blanks in the second legs.

Tie-break
The tie-break question for Sector4 and ghughes11 is how many goals will be scored in League 2 on Saturday. As a reminder, because of rescheduling to avoid clashing with Prince Philip's funeral, there are now only 11 games on Saturday (Crawley Town v Cheltenham Town will be played on Friday night, and thus won't count). You can post your predictions here, or PM me, either is fine, but please remember that these must be received before the earlier 1230 kick-offs. You can't have the same prediction as your opponent, and in this instance if you are equal closest to the correct total, first to post will win.

Once the tie-break is resolved, I will draw the semi-final opponents from a hat and post prediction requirements.

Congratulations to those already through, and commiserations to those who leave the competition now.
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Kick-offs next Saturday
at 09:34 11 Apr 2021

In case you haven’t heard, most sporting events across the UK next Saturday, including EFL fixtures, are to be rescheduled to avoid clashing with Prince Philip’s funeral, which starts at 3pm. You’d think it would be easier to reschedule one funeral than everything else to fit around it?

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/56705816
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Letters from Wiltshire #43
at 14:46 10 Apr 2021

Well, that has been a lively week for Colchester United in the press, and not least for Robbie Cowling, with not one, or two, but kind of three club announcements in rapid succession to try and put the record straight. First, we had Tribunalgate, which certainly looked very poor according to the initial press reports, but which on closer inspection when some of the ‘fact gaps’ were filled in wasn’t anywhere near the story that some would have us believe. Then of course we had the ‘leak’ that the U’s were about to go into administration, despite all the reassurances we’d been given in previous statements from Robbie. Not so said Robbie again, and particularly angry at what he believed to be the source of the story. Hence statement #3, repeating his assurances, but this time after passing through the lawyer filter to remove his thoughts on the source. To paraphrase Robbie’s conclusion to that statement, let’s hope we can all have a day off from this sort of media shenanigans and enjoy our game at Oldham tonight!
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Letters from Wiltshire #43
at 14:43 9 Apr 2021

Well, that has been a lively week for Colchester United in the press, and not least for Robbie Cowling, with not one, or two, but kind of three club announcements in rapid succession to try and put the record straight. First, we had Tribunalgate, which certainly looked very poor according to the initial press reports, but which on closer inspection when some of the ‘fact gaps’ were filled in wasn’t anywhere near the story that some would have us believe. Then of course we had the ‘leak’ that the U’s were about to go into administration, despite all the reassurances we’d been given in previous statements from Robbie. Not so said Robbie again, and particularly angry at what he believed to be the source of the story. Hence statement #3, repeating his assurances, but this time after passing through the lawyer filter to remove his thoughts on the source. To paraphrase Robbie’s conclusion to that statement, let’s hope we can all have a day off from this sort of media shenanigans and enjoy our game at Oldham tonight!

Salisbury City v Hull City
Saturday 14th November 1998
FA Cup (First Round)
Attendance 2,570




Letters from Wiltshire #43, and the random match selector has chosen one of the few non-U’s matches in my memorabilia collection, and the visit of Hull City to my then home-town of Salisbury, back in the First Round of the FA Cup in November 1998. This was a rare feat for the Whites, and as a result was quite a big thing in the town – particularly in an area more traditionally associated with rugby.



No doubt many of you will have read that perma-tan Phil Brown has taken over from Mark Molesley as manager of our beleaguered South Essex rivals Southend United. This will be his second spell at Roots Hall, his first stint starting well with three Wembley appearances and eventually promotion to League 1 via the play-offs, but ending with the ignominy of being placed on ‘gardening leave’ (why not just sacked?). It is therefore intriguing that the random match selector has chosen a match involving Hull City – the club where he forged his managerial reputation, eventually taking them to the dizzy heights of the Premier League.

To manage Southend United once, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to do it twice looks like carelessness…

Never mind managing Southend United twice, it’s worth reflecting that the Colchester United Phil Brown connection is significantly more entwined than that. When Brown arrived at Hull City, it was of course as assistant to newly appointed Phil Parkinson, after Parky walked out on the U’s following our own promotion to the Championship. Needless to say, despite their bluff and bluster, Peter Heard rinsed Hull City for a tidy sum in compensation on the steps of the High Court. Brown stepped up to be joint caretaker manager alongside Colin Murphy when Parky was sacked less than four months into his new job, the final straw being their 5-1 demolition at Layer Rd.



Salisbury in one paragraph
The original Salisbury grew up within and around the ramparts of Old Sarum, an Iron Age hill fort which probably saw a bit of Roman on Briton action for a while also. The hill fort was refortified in the Saxon period, eventually forming part of Alfred’s Burghal Hidage defences, a network of fortifications designed to give the Vikings a right kicking. Always a poor location for a settlement, New Sarum (modern-day Salisbury) was established in the valley below by Bishop Roger in 1220, after the army refused him entry to the fort after curfew, and he had to spend the night sleeping in the ditch. Old Sarum survived as one of the original Rotten Boroughs, continuing to elect a member of parliament until 1832, despite there only being three houses and seven electors at the time. In 1221 work started on the cathedral, the main body of which took 38 years to construct – that’s actually quite quick for cathedrals. Apparently, the foundations were formed on just 18 inches of f'aggots on a gravel bed – society was considerably less tolerant in those days. Since then, there’s been riots, bloody assizes, rebellions, plagues, all the usual stuff you expect in medieval and post-medieval Britain. I arrived on the day of the 1990 World Cup final – oh, and Russian nerve agent assassins were out and about quite recently.

The Big Day
So as I said, the magic of the cup and all that meant there was considerable interest from the local population for this one. Generally one of the better-supported non-league sides at their level (at the time Salisbury were a reasonably well-established Southern League Premier Division side), they had moved from Victoria Park in the city (literally a park pitch) up to the purpose-built Raymond McEnhill Stadium (known locally as just the Ray Mac) a year earlier. With significantly increased capacity as a result, this allowed a record 2,570 to attend the game, including a few coach-loads from Hull and myself and my daughter Lauren for her first football match ever.

On the day
The teams lined up as follows:



Mr Brown had yet to arrive at Hull City, who at the time were managed by Warren Joyce as caretaker manager. He was caretaker manager because Mark ‘Attila’ Hateley had been sacked as manager during the preceding week, after an exceptionally poor start to their 1998/99 Third Division campaign had seen 12 defeats in 18 attempts which left the Tigers well and truly adrift at the bottom of the table. Amongst their line-up that afternoon was Gregor Rioch, son of Bruce, and an accomplished lower-league defender on his day. Salisbury, on the other hand, were having a reasonable season in the 6th tier of the Football League, definitely holding their own as a solid mid-table outfit.



Although the official capacity for the Ray Mac is currently 3,740, a sizeable proportion of that is just grass bank down one side of the ground and a chunk of the south end behind the goal. The terrace forming the remainder of the south end was occupied by the Hull supporters, which left most of the remainder crammed in on the main covered terraces at the north end and down the west side of the ground. It was, therefore, surprisingly cramped, so finding a vantage spot that Lauren could see the game from proved tricky, and we ended up down at the front near the north-east corner flag.

Salisbury City were at the Tigers from the outset, and clearly were in no way over-awed by their league opponents. Aidy Randall in particular was having a whale of a time in the midfield, chasing down everything, and really giving the Hull midfield and defence a torrid time. It was also clear to see why Hull were struggling at the wrong end of the league, and there was clearly expectation in the crowd that an upset could be on the cards. However, as we know only too well, if you don’t take your chances, then the chances are you’ll eventually be punished.

The game reached half-time goalless, and so despite the crowd, it was time to treat Lauren to her first taste of football concourse food – I think it was a hotdog, bottle of water and bag of crisps, and she was loving it all – particularly chuckling at the (ahem) docker’s banter from the terrace around her. I seemed to be spending quite a bit of time reminding her not to repeat anything she heard when she got home!

Into the second half, and I suppose it’s fair to say that the fitness levels of the professional side were starting to show through. The Whites were still having a decent go, but now starting to find themselves under sustained pressure at times too. Eventually, and I’d still say against the run of play on balance, Hull City took the lead with an effort from Gregor Rioch. As gutting as it was, the heads of the Salisbury City side didn’t drop, and for the next 10-15 minutes again they had Hull City on the back-foot. This included a cast-iron certain penalty, which referee Rob Styles inexplicably waved away.

About halfway through the second half came what remains one of my comedy gold moments watching football. A couple of Hull City chavs with a flag, clearly believing they were so much harder than a bunch of non-league yokels, decided to try and ‘take’ the home terrace behind the goal. Now, they kind of hadn’t figured that yokels spend most of their day performing hard manual labour out in all weathers, are generally tough as old boots, and have hands the size of shovels – they soon realised they’d made a terrible mistake. They were eventually dragged out (aka rescued) by the police, battered, bruised and minus a Hull City flag, with bellowing laughter from the agricultural sorts ringing in their well and truly boxed ears.

Anyway, back to the match, and having been denied a certain penalty for Salisbury City, inevitably Hull City then doubled their lead with just over 10 minutes to go. This one really did knock the stuffing out of the Whites, many of whom were already running on empty, and some game management substitutions from Warren Joyce saw Hull City over the line and into the Second Round of the FA Cup.

Salisbury City 0 Hull City 2 (Gregor Rioch 55’; Brian McGinty 79’)

Despite their dreadful league form, Hull City got through the Second Round too, winning 2-1 away at Luton Town. Their reward was a trip to Aston Villa in the Third Round, and though they lost 3-0, they would have done very well out of their share of gate receipts for an attendance of nearly 40,000.

This cup run also seemed to be the catalyst for a remarkable turnaround in their league form, winning ten and drawing eight of their 22 matches in the second half of the season, comfortably avoiding relegation out of the league – that honour befell Scarborough. Hull City supporters to this day still refer to that season as The Great Escape.

Incidentally, whilst me and Lauren were showing support for my adopted home-town in the FA Cup, the U’s were up at Bedlington Terriers – I reckon I had the better day of it…

Up the U’s
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U'sual Champions League 2021 - Quarter-finals
at 21:56 3 Apr 2021

Firstly, apologies for not posting sooner, and thanks to mfb_cufc for the timely reminder.

Round-up of the rules
With the competition returning to the pre-pandemic two-legged structure, we too will revert to the traditional rules for this round of eight straightforward predictions. As always, you can only exact match one prediction with each of your group opponents, and the score that counts at the end of each second leg will be after normal time - extra-time and/or penalties will not count.

If group members can't be separated on most spot-ons and a tie-break is needed, it will be to predict the total number of goals scored in League 2 on Saturday 17th April. You can post your tie-break prediction at any time before the first kick-off of that day (they are all currently scheduled for 3pm kick-offs, but be aware that might change), and obviously you can't predict the same as group opponents you're in a tie-break with.

Qualifiers
These are the qualifying group members, with scores from the Round of 16 included for information.




Fixtures
As always, predictions must be posted before kick-off, and the matches to predict are:
06/04/2021 - Man City v Borussia Dortmund
06/04/2021 - Real Madrid v Liverpool
07/04/2021 - Bayern Munich v Paris Saint Germain
07/04/2021 - FC Porto v Chelsea
13/04/2021 - Chelsea v FC Porto
13/04/2021 - Paris Saint Germain v Bayern Munich
14/04/2021 - Borussia Dortmund v Man City
14/04/2021 - Liverpool v Real Madrid


Good luck everyone!
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Letters from Wiltshire #42
at 12:51 3 Apr 2021

Well, these sure are strange times at Colchester United, particularly for a club (nor a Chairman) not usually associated with the ‘managerial revolving door’ approach. With results not matching expectations or even minimum requirements, and a brief spell after being appointed Interim Head Coach, Wayne Brown has been released to return to the Jammers, for whenever their pandemic-interrupted football restarts. In comes not one, or two, but three new ‘appointments’. Hayden Mullins steps up as Head Coach to the end of the season, Joe Dunne apparently comes back to the U’s in a sort of unofficial coaching/ team-spirit sort of role, and exceptionally experienced lower-league former Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale arrives to provide Hayden with advice and support – crikey!
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Letters from Wiltshire #42
at 12:50 2 Apr 2021

Well, these sure are strange times at Colchester United, particularly for a club (nor a Chairman) not usually associated with the ‘managerial revolving door’ approach. With results not matching expectations or even minimum requirements, and a brief spell after being appointed Interim Head Coach, Wayne Brown has been released to return to the Jammers, for whenever their pandemic-interrupted football restarts. In comes not one, or two, but three new ‘appointments’. Hayden Mullins steps up as Head Coach to the end of the season, Joe Dunne apparently comes back to the U’s in a sort of unofficial coaching/ team-spirit sort of role, and exceptionally experienced lower-league former Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale arrives to provide Hayden with advice and support – crikey!

The New Men

With time short ahead of the daunting 1pm kick-off at in-form team Bolton Wanderers, Letters from Wiltshire #42 will have to be a short ‘special’, providing short biopics of all of the new men at the helm. They’ll have to be on the money today if we’re going to get anything from today’s visit to the University of Bolton Stadium – the Trotters sit just outside the automatic promotion places on goal difference, and on current form are surely a hot tip for automatic promotion, possibly even the title.



The U’s, on the other hand, are the out-of-form side in the division, and what looked like a reasonably comfortable points gap a few games ago, has been whittled away to just four points, maybe five if you count our better goal difference (better in a slightly less negative sort of way that is). The late great Bill Shankly once said “form is temporary, class is permanent”, and whilst I’d never have the temerity to compare the U’s today to Shankly’s Liverpool, the point is that form, whether good, bad or indifferent, always comes to an end eventually – so why not today (for both sides)?

Hayden Mullins



First off, in welcoming Hayden to the U’s hot seat, I think I’m right in saying that he is our first black manager. Not a big thing at all, and no reason why it should be, but given the dominance of white middle-aged men managing the remainder of the 92, having Hayden at the helm is a very welcome change in my opinion. A very accomplished defensive midfielder in his day, Hayden started his professional career at Crystal Palace back in the 90s, signing a pro contract in 1998.

In 2003, after making more than 250 appearances for Palace, much of that alongside former U’s man and all-round cheeky chappy Clinton Morrison, he was signed by West Ham United for a reported fee of £600k. He enjoyed similar success at West Ham, and in his second season at the Hammers helped them to promotion to the Premier League via the play-offs in 2005 (and in the process, adding another £200k add-on to his signing fee – doubt West Ham were complaining though).

After more than 200 appearances in all competitions for West Ham, Hayden was signed by Portsmouth in the January 2009 transfer window, initially on a three and a half year contract. Although relegated at the end of that season, Hayden stayed at Pompey, and the following season was voted their Player of the Season. In 2012 he again enjoyed promotion into the Premier League, this time whilst on loan at Reading, and in the following summer was signed by Birmingham City.

Approaching the end of his playing career, Hayden still had a couple of seasons at Birmingham, which included a loan spell at Notts County in the second half of the 2013/14 season. Although Notts County were fighting for their lives at the wrong end of the league that season, Hayden was recalled back to Birmingham on the eve of their last match, to cover for injured Tom Thorpe. In the final game of the season for Birmingham, away at today’s opponents Bolton Wanderers, he had a telling contribution too, making a crucial goal-line clearance to keep Birmingham in the game, and allow Paul Caddis’ stoppage-time equaliser for the Blues to preserve their Championship status on goal difference. Notts County survived too, just, and Hayden returned to them for one final season in 2014/15, before hanging up his boots for good.

After that, Hayden returned to Reading, this time in a coaching role looking after their players out on loan. A year later, he was appointed as assistant to U-21 coach Harry Kewell at Watford. He stayed at Watford for the remainder of his coaching career, progressing to manager for the U-23 team, and including a couple of spells as the caretaker manager of the first team, once in 2019 whilst Nigel Pearson’s appointment was sorted out, and again following Pearson’s sacking a year later. As we all know, Hayden Mullins joined the U’s as assistant to Steve Ball in September last year.

Paul Tisdale



Firstly, can I just point out that the coincidence that LfW41 featured our 2010 Good Friday trip to Exeter City to take on Paul Tisdale’s Grecians is not lost on me – it’s almost spooky. Nor indeed that in the blog, I commented “…at the time, Exeter City were managed by Paul Tisdale, ironically one of the names being mentioned quite a bit as potentially our new manager before Wayne Brown was appointed. Of course, if Wayne doesn’t get us out of the doggy-doo, Tisdale’s name may be mentioned quite a bit more as well…”. If Mullins, Tisdale and Dunne do get us out of this predicament, please send your cheques c/o “Wessex_Exile”.

Like Luke Gambin, currently on loan at Newport County, Paul was born in Malta – I’m not sure whether that makes him Maltese or not, nor does it matter, but there you have it. He had a reasonable playing career as a midfielder, certainly nothing compared to Hayden Mullins, but over a career starting in 1991 he made appearances for Southampton, Northampton, Huddersfield, Bristol City, Exeter and Yeovil. There was also a year abroad, playing for both Finnish side FinnPa and Panionios in Greece.

Injury forced him (more or less) out of the game in 2000, when he took up coaching as the manager of Team Bath. His time at Bath including entering the University of Bath side into the FA Cup, becoming the first university-based side to do so since Gonville and Caius back in 1881. They had to start right at the very first preliminary round, but made it all the way through the qualifiers for the 1st round proper, where they finally lost to Mansfield Town. Despite this setback, during his time at Bath, he led the side to four promotions up through the non-league pyramid.

His success at Bath didn’t go unnoticed, and he returned to Exeter City in 2006, the Grecians at the time in the Conference. In his first season he guided Exeter City to the Conference play-offs, losing on that occasion to Morecambe. He went one better the following season, beating Cambridge United in the play-off final to return to the Football League. The following 2008/09 season he took the Grecians to promotion again, finishing in second place, to become the first Exeter City manager to win back-to-back promotions. Life in League 1 was a bit of a struggle to start, but finishing in 8th place in 2010/11 Tisdale equalled the club’s highest ever league finish. In the final match of that season, and with Tisdale still a registered player, he came on as an injury-time substitute in their 2-1 victory away at Wolves.

They couldn’t maintain that form though, and the following season were relegated back into the basement, where they’ve been ever since. Always considered one of the stronger League 2 sides, they consistently finished top half of the table for the next four years, with back-to-back play-off final appearances in 2016/17 and 2017/18. They unfortunately lost both, to Blackpool and Coventry City respectively. At the end of 2017/18, after failing to agree a new contract with Exeter City, Paul Tisdale left the club – at the time he was the longest-serving football manager in the top four divisions.

Success returned swiftly to Tisdale, taking over at recently relegated MK Dons and guiding them to automatic promotion back to League 1 in his first season in charge. The following season was tougher, and his contract was mutual terminated in November 2019. He tried his hand at Bristol Rovers too, but that didn’t really work out either. Nevertheless, he is considered one of the more able and consistent lower-league managers in recent years, and his experience will hopefully be invaluable to Hayden Mullins and the U’s for the remainder of this season.

Joe Dunne



Mr Colchester United really doesn’t need any introduction to us. In brief, he signed for the U’s as a defender back in March 1996. Dubliner Joe was signed from Gillingham, where he’d already achieved cult status over the previous four or five seasons, making well over 100 appearances for the Gills. He would go on to feature prominently in Steve Wignall’s late 90s side, including two Wembley appearances, the second gaining play-off promotion to League 1 at the expense of Torquay United. He was also one of those that were disgracefully and unceremoniously let go by Mick Wadsworth when he arrived in 1999. The U’s faithful were appalled, and showed their contempt for that decision by voting Joe Player of the Season for 1998/99 in an Evening Gazette poll.

Joe eventually signed for Dover Athletic, nearly three months after being released, where he took up the captain’s armband with great distinction for the Kent side. He was, of course, top of Steve Whitton’s list when Wadsworth eventually left, and was immediately recalled into Whitton’s first team for the very next match, beating Luton Town 3-0 at Layer Road just before Christmas 1999. Joe would go on to make 188 appearances in all competitions for the U’s, scoring seven goals in the process. I was privileged to be there for his very last goal, as part of the 53 brave souls at Ninian Park that cold November evening, when he all but clambered over the sticky ‘anti-climb’ painted railings to celebrate with us!

Joe stayed at the club following retirement, as youth team coach under other U’s legend Micky Cook, replacing Micky as senior youth team coach in 2003. The following season, he took his young U’s all the way to the FA Youth Cup quarter-finals, before bowing out at Layer Road against local rivals Ipswich Town, but in front of a record 2,900 crowd for a youth game. Over the following years, Joe remained an integral part of the coaching set-up at Colchester United, and on several occasions stood in as Assistant Manager whilst we looked to fill a vacant manager post.

With the arrival of John Ward as manager in 2010, Joe finally cemented the assistant role as his own, and following the departure of Ward two years later, was appointed with immediate effect to the manager’s position. It wasn’t all plain sailing, and after a poor winless run at the start of 2012/13, Joe offered his resignation to Robbie Cowling. Robbie was having none of it, and Joe stayed to eventually guide the U’s to safety (just) with an emphatic 2-0 victory at Carlisle United – still one of my best awayday experiences following the U’s.

Performances improved into 2013/14, during which Joe received his second Manager of the Month nomination in January, but after a winless start to 2014/15 Joe decided he could do no more for the U’s, and this time Robbie had to accept his resignation – bring to an end 18 years associated with Colchester United Football Club. Joe went on to have spells as both assistant manager and manager at Cambridge United, Bristol Rovers and Mansfield Town, before taking over as assistant to Alex Revell at Stevenage in December last year. Unfortunately, less than a week into his role, Joe had to leave for personal reasons, related to an illness in his family that required his undivided focus.

I called Joe Dunne Mr Colchester United, and if he can bring that passion I saw on the Ninian Park railings to bear on this squad, make them realise how important it is to where the U’s Eagle, then I’m sure that alongside Hayden Mullins and Paul Tisdale, then our future must look rosier than it does now.

Good luck chaps!

Up the U’s
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Letters from Wiltshire #41
at 19:11 30 Mar 2021

This afternoon the U’s take on Bradford City in a bid to gather sufficient points to stay clear of the bottom two. It’ll be a tough gig though, even if (as I suspect) Bradford City have left it a bit too late to challenge the play-off spots. They were on a decent run of form, that is until defeats at Newport, Carlisle, Scunthorpe and a goalless draw at home to Oldham put paid to any lingering promotion hopes. For us, it’s simple, to stay out of the bottom two, for all intents and purposes we only need to gain half (or more) of the points that Grimsby or Southend do. Sounds easy, just wish I felt more confident we will…
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Letters from Wiltshire #41
at 14:12 27 Mar 2021

This afternoon the U’s take on Bradford City in a bid to gather sufficient points to stay clear of the bottom two. It’ll be a tough gig though, even if (as I suspect) Bradford City have left it a bit too late to challenge the play-off spots. They were on a decent run of form, that is until defeats at Newport, Carlisle, Scunthorpe and a goalless draw at home to Oldham put paid to any lingering promotion hopes. For us, it’s simple, to stay out of the bottom two, for all intents and purposes we only need to gain half (or more) of the points that Grimsby or Southend do. Sounds easy, just wish I felt more confident we will…

Exeter City v Colchester United
Friday 2nd April 2010
Coca Cola League 1 (Tier 3)
Attendance 6,297




Durham’s not going to be happy, but the random match selector for Letters from Wiltshire #41 has gone back almost exactly 11 years, and the tail-end of the 2009/2010 season with a visit to Exeter City. Ironically, it was this season but in reverse – back then the U’s were aiming to cement a place in the Coca Cola League 1 play-offs, and Exeter were down the bottom fretting about relegation. They were 8pts clear, and probably weren’t far from being safe, but still needed points to be absolutely certain.

Ooh Betty!!!



Remarkably, this is the only game in my memorabilia collection that dates to the Boothroyd era. I know sometimes the (ahem) direct playing style took some getting used to under Aidy, but did I actually stop buying programmes as a form of protest? Obviously not, but it could be argued that I made up for it purchasing my copy of The Grecian on the day, weighing in at a whopping 96 pages, and easily the most substantial in my collection (excluding the Wembley ones naturally).

Normally, this would be a good thing as something to read on the train journey home, but this was to be a busy weekend, so me and Alfie drove down for this match. Em was on an early shift in the morning, and we had to get back in time (and in good order) to collect my other two kids in readiness for us all to go to a friends’ wedding on Saturday. Alfie was quite young at the time, so for the first time ever, I decided to go in the visitors seating for this match, which back then was the last block of the now demolished Grandstand, next to the away terrace.

Aidy Boothroyd had arrived in September, after the debacle of Paul Lambert’s U’s smashing Norwich 7-1 on the opening day of the season, and then walking out to become their manager straight after. Joe Dunne was caretaker for a few matches before Aidy Boothroyd was appointed. Aidy had some pedigree too, touted as one of the young up and coming innovative English managers, he’d had a reasonably successful spell at Watford for three years – but after leaving ‘by mutual consent’, had been out of work for roughly a year before joining the U’s.

He started well at the U’s too, with only four defeats in a run from early September through late February to keep us firmly in the play-off positions, albeit one of those defeats was the ignominious 5-0 reversal at home to Lambert’s Norwich City (still, 7-6 on aggregate, how’d you like them apples Delia?). However, late February was when the wheels started to come off and going into this game at Exeter we’d lost three and drawn three, and desperately needed points to keep our play-off hopes alive.

On the day
Aidy Boothroyd’s team lined up:

1….Ben Williams
4….Magnus Okuonghae (captain)
24..Franck Queudrue
25..John White
31..Phil Ifil (Ashley Vincent 80’)
8….John-Joe O'Toole
10..Kem Izzet
26..David Prutton
9….Clive Platt (Steven Gillespie 74’)
16..Ian Henderson (Anthony Wordsworth 57’)
20..Kevin Lisbie

At the time, Exeter City were managed by Paul Tisdale, ironically one of the names being mentioned quite a bit as potentially our new manager before Wayne Brown was appointed. Of course, if Wayne doesn’t get us out of the doggy-doo, Tisdale’s name may be mentioned quite a bit more as well. Not too many familiar faces in the Exeter line-up, probably with the exception of Marcus Stewart, who back in the day had been a formidable striker for the likes of Bristol Rovers, Huddersfield, Ipswich and Sunderland. But that had been a while earlier, and at 37 he was clearly at the tail-end of his career – still dangerous though.

Despite their lowly position, Exeter City – roared on by a bumper Easter weekend crowd, including a couple of hundred from Essex – started the brightest. With the U’s struggling to get a grip on the game, Barry Corr, latching on to an inch-perfect pass from warhorse Marcus Stewart flashed a cross-shot right across the face of Ben Williams’ goal which just needed a touch from anyone (on either side) to be a guaranteed 1-0 lead for the Grecians.



There wasn’t though, and after that lucky escape, slowly the U’s started to assert themselves more on the game. We should have taken the lead in truth, about 20 minutes in. A David Prutton header looked certain to score, but ‘keeper Paul Jones pulled off a stunning one-hand block, only for the ball to rebound to Ian Henderson in the box. Henderson let fly, but defender Richard Duffy threw himself in the way to save a certain goal. Prutton went even closer shortly after, blasting a free-kick against the crossbar, and I was beginning to wonder if it was going to be another one of those days.

Mind you, Exeter were giving as good as they were getting, and it took a brilliant piece of last-ditch defending from Okuonghae to hook the ball off the line from underneath his own crossbar to prevent Steve Tully from opening the scoring. The pivotal moment, of sorts, was an injury to Exeter defender Rob Edwards just before the half hour mark. Bringing on Stuart Fleetwood, Tisdale was either forced to, or chose to make a formation change too – and one that the U’s weren’t prepared for, nor adapted to particularly well.

Five minutes later, Exeter City were in front. Good work from Marcus Stewart saw Fleetwood wriggle free of the attentions of Okuonghae, latch on to the pass and prod low past a helpless Ben Williams. Not content with one, and with the U’s still trying to adapt their game plan, it was Exeter’s turn to hit the woodwork just before half-time, with Ryan Harley’s free-kick clipping the top of the bar, though it looked like Ben had it covered.

We looked better balanced into the second half, and spent most of it looking for an equaliser, without creating too many clear-cut chances, whilst Exeter looked happier to soak up most of the pressure and try and catch us on the break. Just before the hour mark Boothroyd subbed Henderson for Anthony Wordsworth, a change that improved matters. Almost immediately, Wordsworth announced his arrival with a drilled 30-yard free-kick, which again smashed against the crossbar. Two more changes by Aidy as the half wore on, bringing on Gillespie and Vincent for Platt and Ifil, tried to unlock the Exeter defence.

Bovvered?



Again, Woody went close with a goal-bound header with less than ten minutes to go, but again Jones was up to the task with a fine diving save to keep it out. Eventually, inevitably, with the U’s pressing hard for an equaliser and committing more and more men forward, the sucker-punch came along. In injury-time Exeter broke forward and seizing their chance Richard Logan forced a fine save from Ben Williams. Fleetwood picked up the loose ball at the edge of the box and fired in a second shot which seemed to strike Gillespie’s arm, and despite protestations, referee Phil Gibbs had no hesitation pointing to the spot.

As Ryan Harley gleefully buried the opportunity past Ben Williams to make it 2-0, many U’s fans were already streaming out of the ground – they’d seen enough, and the winless run continued.

Exeter City 2 (Stuart Fleetwood 33’; Ryan Harley 90’p) Colchester United 0

In his post-match interview Boothroyd commented “I am disappointed with that. We've done really well. We have done enough to create chances, we have had more closes [sic] and shots than we have had for a long time. It was an outstanding save by their keeper Paul Jones to keep out David Prutton. Goals change games”.

The result left the U’s hanging on to the last play-off spot by the skin of our teeth. The very next game, a home defeat against promotion contenders Millwall, would see us finally leave the play-off zone, where we’d been constantly since 12th September. We’d never get back either, as the poor end of season run continued, leaving the U’s just two places but a significant 8pts short of the play-offs.

An 8th place finish should normally have been something to celebrate, but slipping out of contention in that final run of games when we’d done all the hard work up to that point left a bitter taste in the mouth. Aidy Boothroyd was courted by Coventry City for their vacant manager’s position, and Robbie seemed happy to agree to it – perhaps wary he couldn’t bankroll too many more seasons under Boothroyd without some return?



I certainly wasn’t complaining too much – undeniably there had been success, but the tactics had been a bit too one-dimensional and direct for my liking. I won’t deny it was effective, and Boothroyd’s win stats put him right at the top of the manager list alongside Parky and Lambert in our recent (i.e. last 25 years) past, it just wasn’t the prettiest to watch.

Mind you, what wouldn’t I give for a few of them between now and the end of the season…

Up the U’s
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Letters from Wiltshire #40
at 15:57 21 Mar 2021

Today we learned the sad news that Peter Lorimer has passed away, aged 74, after a long-term illness. Love or loathe Revie’s Leeds, no one can deny that “Hotshot Lorimer” was a truly magnificent footballer, and his passing is a sad day for the global football family.
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Letters from Wiltshire #40
at 13:32 20 Mar 2021

Today we learned the sad news that Peter Lorimer has passed away, aged 74, after a long-term illness. Love or loathe Revie’s Leeds, no one can deny that “Hotshot Lorimer” was a truly magnificent footballer, and his passing is a sad day for the global football family.


Peter Patrick Lorimer
14 December 1946 – 20 March 2021
Rest in Peace


For years I thought I supported Stenhousemuirnil…

There’s been much discussion on various boards, social media etc. about when will we score another goal away from home, particularly on the back of Tuesday night’s gutsy and spirited 0-0 at promotion hopefuls and rich men’s plaything Salford City. Particularly, when were the U’s plagued by a similar goal drought? So, I’ve decided for Letters from Wiltshire #40 to run another special and have a bit of a stat attack nerd look into that dreaded moment when James Alexander Gordon’s pitch would drop, and you knew without looking the next word would be “Nil”.



First off, without anyone realising it, we reached a significant milestone on Tuesday night. As far as I can tell from my records, Tuesday night was our 1,000th match in all competitions without scoring. For those who care, that’s out of 4,003 attempts since 28th August 1937, so an average of almost exactly 1 in 4 matches. Probably not really a particularly alarming stat I suppose – even though I’ve never really thought about it much, I guess that would seem about right? I guess we have to remember that failing to score doesn’t necessarily mean ignominy – take for instance our two 0-0s against Palace and Spurs last season, or any number of spirited backs-to-the-wall ground out 0-0 draws away from home, or even those pyrrhic moments when we’re beaten on goals, but not on skill, or pluck, or just plain belligerent in-your-face-ism.



Seasons in the sun?
Of course, some seasons are better (or worse) than others. Leaving aside the curtailed 1939/40 season, when we only completed four matches (still maintained the average though, didn’t score in a 0-0 against Ipswich Reserves), 1947/48 is top of the list, firing blanks only four times in 50 matches. Of course, back then football teams scored for fun and defence was entirely optional, so it’s worth noting that joint second in that list was our Conference 1991/92 promotion season with only five games without scoring (out of 56 matches!).

As far as seasons to forget are concerned, if we think this one is bad, spare a thought for long-suffering U’s supporters who sat grimly through the 1987/88 season, when we failed to find the net a whopping 23 times! Of course, we’re currently on 15 games without scoring, so there’s still time to overtake that total I suppose. Remarkably, we actually finished 9th in Division 4 in that season – don’t ask me how! In fact, for the joint second seasons 1953/54, 1972/73 and 1977/78, when we missed the net 20 times each, we weren’t relegated on any of those occasions either. Seems the correlation between failing to score and relegation isn’t as clear-cut as I’d probably assume?

So what about sequences?
In all competitions, home or away, our longest barren spell is actually just five matches, an unenviable feat we’ve achieved four times in our history, and three of those were in the 80s. At the tail-end of the 1980/81 season under Bobby Roberts, after a 1-1 draw at home against Sheffield United, we failed to score away at Barnsley, Swindon Town and Gillingham (drew that one), at home to Brentford and away at Newport County. Yes, we were relegated that season, even after finally breaking our duck to beat Carlisle 1-0 on the final day of the season.

It was worse in 1985/86, with a three-week barren spell in late October and early November seeing the U’s lose five games in a row without scoring, against Northampton Town (h), Hereford (a), Chester City (a), Rochdale (h) and Wycombe Wanderers (a). Mind you, we clearly recovered, and went on to finish that season in 6th place. We did it again the following season, failing to score in the last three matches of the season, against Halifax (a), Aldershot (h) and Preston North End (a). Despite that, we made the play-offs for the first time in our history but couldn’t score in either of the legs against Wolves – thus five on the trot.

Most recently, in 1994/95 we had a dreadful start to the season, and after a 1-3 defeat at home to Torquay at the beginning of August, we had non-scoring defeats against Mansfield (a), Doncaster (h) and Exeter (a), interspersed by a brace of 2-0 reverses against Brentford in the 2-legged League Cup 1st round. Again though, we weren’t relegated, and ended up in 10th place.

Those who have never suffered the iniquities of exile cannot possibly understand the significance, the gravitas, of a mattress” – Ariel Dorfman



So what about on the road? It goes without saying that our current run of nine consecutive matches on the road without a goal is out there in front, but actually not by the significant margin you might imagine. In fact, we’ve done similar with eight fruitless journeys in a row starting mid-March in the 1987/88 season in a 0-0 bore-draw at Leyton Orient, and finished early September of the 1988/89 in a League Cup 5-0 drubbing at Northampton Town.

We’ve done a seven as well, and this time wholly within one season. Back in 1977/78, a heyday in my time following the U’s, we started an unwelcome run losing 4-0 at Deepdale. Subsequent trips to Hereford, Oxford, Peterborough, Lincoln, Swindon and Exeter were all goalless, before finally halting the slide emphatically with a 3-0 victory away at today’s opponents Port Vale. Although that slump probably cost us a half chance to challenge for promotion, we still finished 8th, with Bobby Gough top-scorer with 17 goals. Life seemed simpler to me then, the U’s won their home games and lost their away games – that’s how it worked.

At home, as you would expect, our record goalless streaks are largely unremarkable. Twice we’ve gone four games at home without scoring; the last two matches of 1986/87 (Aldershot and then Wolves in our play-off first leg) and first two matches of 1987/88 (Torquay and then Fulham in the League Cup); and the last four home games of the 2008/09 season, losing to Crewe, Leeds, Brighton and Peterborough on the bounce.

Not a good way to finish our first season back in League 1, but we bounced back reasonably well at the start of 2009/10 with a trip to Carrow Road…



…and finally



So, I made the observation after Tuesday night that I’d gladly take 0-0s from now to the end of the season, as it would almost certainly guarantee we’d avoid relegation. But how much could we take, or more to the point (no pun intended), what have we had to endure in the past? Overall, the U’s have drawn 0-0 269 times in all competitions. In 2007/08 we managed the entire season without a single 0-0 result, the first and only time we’ve done so. We’ve had ten seasons were there was just a single double-blank, the last one back in 1984/85. Notably, the three seasons from 1946 to 1949 and again from 1960 to 1963 were both consecutive seasons where our copybook was blotted by solitary goalless draws.

I’ve already mentioned that feast or famine season of 1977/78, and that holds the record with ten matches in all competitions drawn 0-0 (nine in the league). I guess that goes to show, even when we weren’t scoring back then, we were still hellish hard to beat. 1987/88 comes close, with nine matches (eight in the league) finishing 0-0, but this season (currently on six no-score draws) still has the potential to challenge that top spot.

Incidentally, before we get too downcast, it’s worth remembering that our most likely opponent over the years for a 0-0 result (ten occurrences) was Bury – kind of puts our current woes into some sort of perspective I suppose?

Up the U’s
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Ainsley's on the plane
at 10:26 18 Mar 2021

Called up to play for Guyana apparently, matches 25th and 30th March, and word on the OMB is he's already departed (recently released Scarlett too). Naturally I'm pleased for them both, but that leaves a hole in the squad ahead of yet more crucial games.
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Letters from Wiltshire #10 - the missing edition
at 13:23 14 Mar 2021

As I rather expected, work has been somewhat manic in recent days, so I'm not going to have time for a blog ahead of the match tonight, so soz about that.
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Letters from Wiltshire #39
at 13:21 14 Mar 2021

Editorials are tricky these days without being too downcast, but let’s be honest, there’s not much good news around the club and fanbase at the moment. On a personal positive note, I have my first vaccine jab booked for next weekend, which is a blessed relief. Seemingly being one of the young’uns on the U’sual, I hope many of you have already trod that path, and those yet to won’t be too far behind. It’s a cliché of course, but there really are more important things than football at present. Stay safe and get vaccinated folks, let’s make sure we all get through this together and come out the other side, wherever the U’s will be at that point…
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Letters from Wiltshire #38
at 13:21 14 Mar 2021

So the green shoots of recovery we saw emerging last Tuesday night were firmly trampled on Saturday afternoon, as Crawley shone an uncomfortable spotlight on our deficiencies. If we must take some solace from this, Wayne Brown must surely be getting a clearer idea, match by match, of what’s needed for survival. And let’s be honest, as unpalatable as that must be for us, survival is 100% the only concern right now – anything after that is a bonus. So we go again tonight, only this time it’s a very tricky long trip to new arrivals Harrogate, probably the surprise package in the league in my opinion. It’s all about taking chances – Harrogate have lost more games than the U’s, but they’ve won significantly more too, which is why they’re challenging for the play-offs, and we’re…not ☹.
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Letters from Wiltshire #39
at 13:18 13 Mar 2021

Editorials are tricky these days without being too downcast, but let’s be honest, there’s not much good news around the club and fanbase at the moment. On a personal positive note, I have my first vaccine jab booked for next weekend, which is a blessed relief. Seemingly being one of the young’uns on the U’sual, I hope many of you have already trod that path, and those yet to won’t be too far behind. It’s a cliché of course, but there really are more important things than football at present. Stay safe and get vaccinated folks, let’s make sure we all get through this together and come out the other side, wherever the U’s will be at that point…

Colchester United v Brentford
Saturday 24th August 2002
Nationwide Football Division 2 (Tier 3)
Attendance 3,135




First off, nothing epitomises the ‘relegation six-pointer’ moniker more than our trip to Grimsby today. As mentioned on the board, win and we open up a 14-point gap over the Mariners, lose and it’s just an 8-point gap – at this stage that’s a massive swing. I guess, as much as I hope for the win, a draw would have to be considered adequate, just to stay 11 points clear of the bottom? I’m a great believer that goal difference is always good indicator of how things will pan out, so whilst our -14 GD is alarming, it’s nowhere near as alarming as the -28 for both Grimsby and Southend.


Wikipedia graph © EclecticArkie

The random match selector has chosen the early stages of the 2002/03 season, with the U’s in the hallowed ground of the third tier of the Football League for the fifth season running. The U’s had been on a generally upward trajectory since we’d returned to Division 2, in fact we’d been on that upwardly mobile path pretty much constantly since our Conference low point more than 10 years earlier. Under Steve Whitton, it’s also fair to say that improvement in Division 2 had been fairly gradual, and by very modest increments. However, hopes were high that this season we’d finally make a decent challenge for promotion.

Bzzzzz….
The Bees, on the other hand, were a well-established solid Division 2 side, and had been so pretty much since the late 70s, even spending a couple of seasons in the (then) First Division (post formation of the Premier League) ten years earlier. There’d been one blip as well, slipping into the basement for one season in 1998, but they’d bounced back immediately, and at the end of the previous season had made the play-offs. As older supporters might recall, Brentford FC and play-offs were not and continue to not be happy bedfellows, and they had developed a reputation for stumbling at this most important of hurdles. My copy of Football Fans Guide relates the story of their 1996/97 play-off final, when supporters commissioned barges to sail down the Grand Union Canal, rather than face the public transport chaos of a trip to Wembley – “…livening up a sleepy west London Sunday morning with fog horns and booming renditions of ‘We’re the famous Brentford FC and we’re going to Wembley’. The return trip was a little quieter: they lost”.



Thus it was at the end of 2001/02, again losing in the final, this time to Stoke City. Since the introduction of the play-offs, this was their fourth failed attempt out of four. All told, I believe their record stands at nine play-off campaigns at various levels, with a zero-success rate – including four as losing finalists. That defeat against Stoke, and an off-field financial crisis brought about by the collapse of ITV Digital, had sparked a break-up of the team, with high-earners such as Ingimarsson, Lloyd Owusu and club captain Paul Evans released. Their only hope of survival was selling the lease for Griffin Park to developers Wimpey, but the deal faltered, and they only avoided going into administration – just – by the late sale of defender Darren Powell for £400k on the eve of the season. This still left Brentford £4m in debt though.

With his team torn apart beneath him, manager Steve Coppell didn’t fancy the challenge ahead and resigned during the summer, to be replaced by his assistant and Crazy Gang founder Wally Downes. The clear-out was replaced by as many free agents as they could lay their hands on, including naughty boy Rowan Vines on loan from parent club Pompey, as well as the opportunity for virtually unknown Barbadian Mark McCammon to step up as first-choice striker. The remainder were mostly drawn from loans and their youth set-up – sounds familiar? Despite all of this, the Bees under Wally Downes had made an excellent start to the season with two victories and a draw and were top of the table.



…and the U’s?
Our start had been more mixed, an opening day victory against Stockport, a decent draw at Tranmere, and then a disappointing defeat at Crewe, leaving us in lower mid-table. I found myself that weekend a free agent – Em was away at Cladh Hallan, Outer Hebrides on a university excavation, the kids were with their mum, so what better opportunity for a trip over to see family and friends in Essex. I’d been on school holiday annual leave the week before (coinciding with my birthday), so travelled over on the Friday afternoon to have a longer weekend back home with mum, and as usual went to the match with my brother-in-law Steve and his son.

Steve Whitton’s starting XI lined up:

31..Richard McKinney
3….Joe Keith
4….Gavin Johnson
6….Thomas Pinault
8….Mark Warren (Danny Steele 41’)
10..Kem Izzet
11..Dean Morgan
15..Adrian Coote (Lloyd Opara 77’)
17..Bobby Bowry
19..Alan White
20..Micky Stockwell (Kevin Rapley 64’)

Like Brentford, the U’s hadn’t exactly had a quiet pre-season, bringing in a raft of players, including Danny Steele from Millwall, Mark Warren from Notts County, Richard McKinney from Swindon and Pat Baldwin from Chelsea – needless to say, all free transfers – and Leke Odunsi on loan also from Millwall. This season also saw youngsters Dean Gerken and Greg Halford graduate from the youth set-up. Making room for this influx were departees Con Blatsis to Turkish side Kocaelispor, Anthony Allman to Woking, legend David Gregory to Canvey Island and Ross Johnson to Daggers. No, there weren’t any fees involved. Reminiscent of Mike Masters, we’d also learned in the week leading up to this match that talented Trinidad and Tobago international Avery John, who had impressed greatly during pre-season, had been denied a work permit and unfortunately wouldn’t be joining us.



Shiny’s on show
As for the match, it was a lovely bright summers day, but with the youngster in tow although we still managed a couple of pints in the Drury beer garden, our seats for the match were in the Clock End. However, this wasn’t before a visit to the club shop to purchase myself a ‘Tiptree shiny’ U’s shirt birthday pressie, and still my favourite U’s shirt from the last 20+ years. No doubt a combination of our somewhat indifferent start to the season, the annual clash with the Chelmsford V-Festival, and the usual truancy during school summer holidays, the crowd was only just over 3,000, and that despite a sizeable following making the relatively short trip from west London (not by boat this time).

Whitton started with two of his three new signings, with McKinney in goal and Mark Warren in the heart of defence (and cover-boy for the matchday programme), and Danny Steele on the bench. We started brightly, pressing Brentford throughout most of the first half, and it was clear that despite the relative difference in our league placings, we were more than a match for the patched-up Bees. We really should have been in front by half-time, but inevitably it was in fact quite the opposite.

Mark Warren had unfortunately been injured late in the first half, bringing on fellow newbie Danny Steele for his debut. Whether inexperience or just bad luck, with the game in injury-time at the end of the first half, Steele clumsily bundled into Mark McCammon in the box, and referee Paul Taylor had no hesitation pointing to the spot. Gutting as it was, as it wasn’t a clear-cut decision, it was certainly one of those incidents where you’ll see them given. Irishman Stephen Hunt wasn’t complaining, and calmy slotted past Richard McKinney to give Brentford an ill-deserved lead.

The second half was all about the U’s spirit, fight and determination to get back into the game, and they certainly gave it a decent go. With no breakthrough approaching the halfway point of the second half, Whitton sacrificed Mick Stockwell in midfield, bringing on striker Kevin ‘Krapley’ Rapley, and 15 minutes later Lloyd Opara for Adrian Coote in a straight swap. All to no avail though, and although both Dean Morgan and Lloyd Opara brought off excellent saves from ‘keeper Paul Smith, we just couldn’t find the breakthrough we deserved in a dominant second half display. Credit also must go to Bees, despite their early season form, and their relatively young age as a squad, they were savvy enough to know they were under the cosh and needed to shut up shop effectively if they wanted to head home with 3pts – which they did.

Colchester United 0 Brentford 1 (Stephen Hunt 45+2’p)

Not the result I was hoping for on what was basically my birthday weekend, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom. It had been a spirited performance, with the U’s clearly the better side, we just couldn’t break through a determined Brentford rearguard after they’d nicked a lead with a somewhat contentious penalty decision. However, didn’t stop me heading down to the Greyhound to spend the evening with mates I hadn’t seen for a while.

Winning the last two matches in August, the U’s seemed to be heading in the right direction, before a disastrous run from September to the end of January, winning just three more matches and leaving us deep in the relegation zone, saw Steve Whitton hand in his resignation. The Parky effect when Phil Parkinson took over was almost instantaneous, and by the end of the season we reached 12th place, our highest league placing for 23 years.

Brentford’s early form continued through August, earning Downes the Manager of the Month award, but it was clearly papering over the cracks of a young inexperienced squad hastily bolted together. They struggled for the remainder of the season, and with more players released in March, including McCammon, and an injury list as long as your arm, they eventually finished well behind the U’s in 16th place.

Up the U’s
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