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Matches of Yesteryear - U's v Wivenhoe 23/2/91
Written by wessex_exile on Monday, 27th Jan 2020 18:46

And so the unbeaten run goes on. Ahead of yet another vital match against a promotion contender on Tuesday night, we pay our first visit to a yet to be featured competition, going back nearly thirty years in the process. Last time in the Matches of Yesteryear series we explored our furthest distance for a ‘local derby’ match at Wycombe, this time we reflect on what must surely have been the shortest distance ever between the U’s and opponents for a competitive match?

We also go all the way back to #2 in my football memorabilia collection. By no means anywhere near the start of my journey following the U’s, that was 20 years earlier, but any programmes, ticket stubs etc. I may have had from those early days have sadly long since disappeared in house moves, clear outs etc.

Colchester United v Wivenhoe Town

Saturday 23rd February 1991

FA Trophy (3rd Round)

Attendance 4,923

Match #40 of the Matches of Yesteryear series, and the random match selector choses our first 1990/91 Conference season, and indeed our first experience of competing in the non-league FA Trophy. This particular match is our 3rd round encounter with near-neighbours Wivenhoe Town; by road it was a distance of less than five miles between Broad Land and Layer Rd. This was to be our first, and currently only competitive match against Wivenhoe Town, though I’m sure we have met on a fair few occasions for pre-season friendlies, not least that very season, back on 31st July 1990 (though I wasn’t there and don’t know the score).

Wivenhoe will always hold a special place in my heart, and for so many reasons. Living on Greenstead, I spent my formative years as a teenager with my mates hanging out in Wivenhoe, alternating between the bars and concerts at Essex University, the excellent pubs of Wivenhoe (whether tucked away on a Friday night in the Black Buoy, playing darts at the Station, or a lazy Sunday afternoon on the quay at the Rose & Crown), or trying to make sense of a crazy world in smoke-filled bedrooms down in the village, listening to music and sharing large ones. I lived at the Cross for nearly a year, two of my sisters lived at various locations about the town for many years, and all my closest friends (some no longer with us) lived there. There was no way I wasn’t going to be at Layer Rd to see the FA Trophy game between the two places that meant so much to me.

As a competition, the FA Trophy was created in 1969, designed to fill the gap between the League Cup and the FA Amateur Cup – many non-league sides paid some of their players even then, and were therefore ineligible for either of those competitions. Although the qualification criteria have changed a bit over the years, generally (and currently) it has been open to the first four tiers of non-league football (these days the National League, Southern League, Isthmian League and Northern Premier League). So, following our regrettable relegation into the Conference in 1990 here we were in the FA Trophy.

In the 1st round we had eased past Windsor and Eton, winning 1-0 away in front of just 727 on a cold January night. The 2nd round was slightly improved, beating Runcorn 2-0 at Layer Rd in front of 2,348. Now, there must have been a reason, which I assume was weather-related, but that season we didn’t play a league match in the Conference between 26th January and 2nd March. As a result, this game against Wivenhoe was our very next match after beating Runcorn in the 2nd round three weeks earlier. If anyone can remember anything more about this period, the weather, or anything else to do with that gap in our schedule, I’d be grateful for more information.

The U’s lined up:

1….Scott Barrett

2….Tony English

3….Ian Atkins

4….Eamonn Collins

5….Scott Daniels

6….Neale Marmon

7….Warren Donald

8….Gary Bennett (Martin Grainger)

9….Roy McDonough

10..Mario Walsh (Laurie Ryan)

11..Nicky Smith

Not surprisingly, given their proximity, looking through Wivenhoe Town past players over the years is like a Colchester United Who’s Who. Names like Paul Abrahams, Tommy English, John Cheesewright, Adrian Coote, Richard McKinney, David Rainford, Mick Packer, Robbie Reinelt and Jack Wignall all stand out. Their starting line-up for this match included former U’s Lee Hunter, Steve Wright, Phil Coleman and Steve Leslie (yes, THAT Steve Leslie). Good heavens, they were even managed on this day by none other than U’s legend Micky Cook! As a club, The Dragons had clear ambitions, and after promotion to the (then) Vauxhall Premier League at the end of the previous season, were in 6th place in their attempt to join us in the Conference.

I drove over for this match, which was also a chance to go see my Mum and family, as well as catch up with those mates down in Wivenhoe on Saturday night. In the afternoon, me and my brother-in-law started off with a few beers in the Drury, then took up our spot on the Barside in a packed out Layer Rd. Nearly 5,000 were squeezed in, helped in no small part by the many hundreds of Dragons who’d faced the arduous trek on the Eastern National 74 and 74a bus services.

The U’s, managed at the time by player/manager Ian Atkins, weren’t doing too badly in their attempts to gain promotion straight back into the football league, and were third behind Kettering and Barnet, and with games in hand. Chairman Jonathan Crisp had decided to keep Colchester United a professional full-time outfit after relegation to the Conference, and with few (any?) others on a similar footing back then, most were expecting us to return at the first attempt. Bernard Webber’s editorial in the programme, under the banner headline Hooray! Ian is staying, focused heavily on the close-call that we had apparently been through, with Atkins in the running for a post at Birmingham City. The Birmingham City manager’s job went to Lou Macari, choosing Chic Bates from Swindon as his assistant, and Atkins was thus to remain at Colchester United for the foreseeable.

I wish there was more that I can remember about this game, it was such an important moment for me, but it was also such a long time ago. I’m sure I remember it was played out in a very good-natured manner, the support for both sides excellent, and that in truth it was a comfortable walk in the park for the U’s for the most part. Without any disrespect to Wivenhoe Town, a neutral observer would never have guessed there was barely a league between the two clubs at the time.

The match facts are simple – in the 25th minute the U’s took the lead through Roy McDonough, and Gary Bennett added a brace in the second half (57th and 68th minute) to round off a comfortable victory. I do clearly remember later in the game, with Wivenhoe playing towards their own supporters in the Layer Rd end, and already 3-0 down, that they went close with a rasping shot that wasn’t wide by much. I don’t remember who took the shot, but I do remember being vaguely disappointed that it hadn’t gone in – they deserved something from the game.

Graeson’s excellent Coludata website has a pair of photographs from this game, and I’ve taken the liberty of adding both below for your enjoyment.

Hirsutely-challenged Neale Marmon in action against Wivenhoe

In truth, although there was never any question of divided loyalties – once U’s, always U’s – with Colchester United 3-0 ahead and comfortably in control, no one would have cheered louder if Wivenhoe had grabbed that late consolation goal, and I’m sure I wouldn’t have been the only one either – hell, it was a game where I’m pretty certain virtually every one of the U’s faithful that afternoon personally knew someone in the away end.

If anyone else has any memories of this game, I’d be delighted to hear them. In the meantime, the U’s finished comfortable winners of this most local of local derbies and eased into the FA Trophy quarter-finals.

Colchester United 3 (Roy McDonough 25’, Gary Bennett 57’, 68’) Wivenhoe Town 0

By this stage of the competition I had grown complacent, beginning to think this FA Trophy lark was a bit of a breeze, and already considering travel plans for our trip to Wembley in the final. The quarter-final saw us drawn at home again, to Witton Albion. With no other easy means at the time of finding out the result, nor any particular concerns, I wasn’t surprised when I learned via the Grauniad on Monday morning that we’d won 2-0. I was most definitely surprised (though I shouldn’t have been) when I discovered later that day that the Grauniad had lived up to its reputation and should have reported that lost 2-0!

After crashing out of the FA Trophy, and my Wembley dreams shattered, the U’s spent the remainder of the season chasing and failing to catch Barnet. Barnet were promoted champions, with us one place and two points behind them, condemning the U’s to a second season in the Conference. Chairman Jonathan Crisp fumed “to come second with a fully professional squad in a part-time league is a bloody disgrace and left (considerably poorer) shortly after.

Now, there are many who have multiple reasons for being severely critical of Crisp’s tenure as chairman of Colchester United, and I’m one of them – but – in this regard I do say fair play to him for at least trying to bankroll our attempt to get straight back out of the Conference. Okay, so he was also responsible for us being there in the first place, and a whole host of other nonsense in the process too, but I’m sure you get my drift.

Atkins left also, finally getting the job he wanted in the first place as Assistant Coach at Birmingham City, after Lou Macari won the Associate Members Cup for the Blues and then walked out immediately for Stoke City. It was left to Roy McDonough to step up as player-manager at Colchester United the following season – though knowing Big Roy, rather than just stepping up it was probably more likely a hefty sliding challenge with studs showing…

Big Roy heads towards goal against Wivenhoe – not sure if this is when he scored or not?

Up the U’s

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