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Matches of Yesteryear - Cardiff v U's 11/4/98
Written by wessex_exile on Sunday, 21st Jun 2020 13:51

Here we are then, after a reasonably solid but distinctly dull semi-final first leg lit up by a moment of sheer brilliance by Bramall, just one match away from a socially distanced Wembley play-off final. We may have a slight advantage, but there is of course still much to do, and I can’t imagine for a moment that Exeter will be that shot-shy again at t’other St James’ Park. It’s all about the result though, performance is irrelevant, so I’ll take an even duller 0-0 every day of the week and twice on Sundays. I hope you’re all keeping safe and well, and for those of you blessed with progeny – Happy Father’s Day!

[b]Cardiff v Colchester United

Saturday 11th April 1998

Nationwide League Division 3 (Tier 4)

Attendance 2,809[/b]

Match #58 of the Matches of Yesteryear series, and appropriately the random match selector has chosen one of our later matches in the 1997/98 season, the last time we gained promotion out of this league (via the play-offs – just saying like). We are at proper old skool Ninian Park for a mid-April match against Cardiff City. Back then, Ninian Park was a crumbling behemoth of a ground, desperately in need of a major uplift, and with the Bluebirds struggling that season, looking even poorer with less than 3,000 turning up for the match. If memory serves, at least 250 of those travelled over from Essex, but I don’t think we were on the Grange End terrace – pretty sure we were in the Bob Bank stand, for what I guess must have been the last season before they switched away supporters to the Grange End?

Steve Wignall was managing the U’s at the time, and a run of four undefeated matches stretching back to mid-March had propelled us into the play-off zone. Only just though, we were 6th, with Peterborough in 8th just one point behind us, so we needed a good result to keep the momentum going. Cardiff on the other hand were having a poor season, albeit 6th from bottom and on 49 points would normally be a reason to expect that safety was virtually guaranteed. However, this was no normal season in the 4th tier, with hopelessly inept Doncaster Rovers so far adrift at the bottom on 19 points that Cardiff had been mathematically safe for several months already (Cardiff had smashed them 7-1 at Ninian Park less than a month earlier). It was a foregone conclusion at the other end too, with Notts County already champions of the league, and had been since March.

Cardiff City has always been a relatively easy ground to get to, but one I’ve always approached with considerable caution. My battered much-travelled [i]Football Fans Guide[/i] sensibly advised “[i]…it’s an extremely good idea not to wear colours outside the ground, or to have any showing in cars. This applies to all games, not just high profile or local derby matches[/i]”. The in-laws were visiting for the weekend, so the Father-in-Law and I were afforded an afternoon pass so that they could do some Mum and Daughter stuff, which worked for us.

We took the train over to Cardiff in plenty of time, and walking from the station popped in to The Cornwall on the way for a couple of pints. The Cornwall is, or certainly was, one of the few reasonably friendly pubs that away fans could use anywhere near the ground – it was almost as if the decent Cardiff City supporters in there felt the need to over-compensate for the generally poor reputation of Cardiff City fans in general. Whatever the psychology, they were all very pleasant, and I wasn’t the only U’s fan in there that day either (my Father-in-Law was an avid follower of football, but without any particular allegiance – perhaps mainly Kettering if he had to choose). Suitably refreshed, we headed to the ground.

The U’s line-up that afternoon was exactly as listed on the back of the programme, which is somewhat of a rarity based on my experiences writing these blogs:

1….Carl Emberson

2….Joe Dunne

3….Simon Betts

4….Aaron Skelton

5….David Greene

6….Guy Branston (Paul Abrahams 24’)

7….Richard Wilkins

8….Paul Buckle

9….Mark Sale (Nel Gregory 73’)

10..Tony Lock (Karl Duguid 89’)

11..David Gregory

There aren’t too many names in the Bluebirds line-up that register with me – I’d heard of midfield duo Tony Carss and Jason Fowler, but not in the context of being household names who’d go on to do great things in football. Probably the biggest name in their squad that day, with the benefit of hindsight, was a youthful Robert Earnshaw on the bench. Earnshaw had joined the youth set-up the year before and had made his league debut for the Bluebirds just two weeks earlier, coming on as a substitute in a 0-0 draw with Brighton and Hove Albion (the programme cover photo is from that match).

So, given I can’t remember with any certainty which stand we were in, it won’t come as too much of a surprise that my memories of the match itself are also pretty hazy. The U’s were certainly playing with confidence, and causing problems for Cardiff City, but suffered a set-back with Branston going off injured after 24 minutes. Cardiff City had two bookings that day, but I’m not sure if either were associated with this? Incidentally, for anyone who oft associates Cardiff City with a ‘robust’ style of play, we had four bookings that afternoon of our own, so certainly no choirboys ourselves.

Paul Abrahams replaced the injured Branston, which turned out to be a fortuitously inspired move, as he blasted the U’s into a 1-0 lead just after half-time. If anything, this spurred Cardiff City on, and for the next ten minutes or so kept us penned in our own half, defending resolutely. The siege was broken in emphatic style, with David Gregory breaking free on the hour mark to put the U’s into what we hoped would be an unassailable 2-0 lead.

This prompted a flurry of substitutions on both sides, with first off Robert Earnshaw coming on for Carss. It was clear the lad had bags of pace and talent, and when Chris Roberts came on a few minutes later, we were again under considerable pressure. In response, Wiggy swapped Sale for Neil Gregory, with Gregory playing deeper in more of a midfield role, and then for a bit of game-management to run the clock down, brought on Doogie for Tony Lock in the last minute of normal time. It worked too, and for all Cardiff’s later pressure, the U’s held on reasonably comfortably to win 2-0 and keep our promotion challenge on track.

[b]Cardiff City 0 Colchester United 2 (Paul Abrahams 48’; David Gregory 60’)[/b]

I had taken the advice of the [i]Football Fans Guide[/i] sort of to heart – albeit I had a shirt on, but had also made sure I had the sort of coat that could be zipped up to keep all colours hidden for the walk back to the station. We were amongst a larger group of U’s fans, but also interspersed with a fair few Cardiff City supporters. One of our number hadn’t bothered to cover his shirt and ended up on the wrong end of some Welsh verbals, but that was all, and the walk back to the station and journey home was otherwise uneventful.

Zambian born Earnshaw would go on to become a cult hero not just for Cardiff City (he played for them between 1998 and 2013 in two separate spells), but for the entirety of Wales – making 59 appearances for the national side. His background is quite remarkable, particularly his mother Rita, who was not only a professional footballer in Zambia, but later went on to be a professional boxer! If that wasn’t enough, his English-born father David was manager of a gold mine. Rita moved the family to Bedwas near Caerphilly in 1990 (to be near her sister) after David contracted and died from typhoid fever, and Robert grew-up on the streets as mates with near neighbour David Pipe.

And finally, I mentioned for Match #57 how I was looking forward to seeing my place amongst John McGreal’s Cardboard Army last Thursday. Well I wasn’t quick enough to spot myself during the broadcast itself, but thanks to a photo on one of the Col U Facebook pages, I have now. 10 points for anyone else who can 😊

Up the U’s

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