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When Saturday Comes #22
Written by wessex_exile on Sunday, 16th Jan 2022 14:32

It’s the 15th of January, and still the U’s are attempting to play their first home match of 2022. Weather looks good (check), players have returned from injury (check), no on-day Covid testing to get in the way (check), so barring fire famine or flood, I reckon we must have at least a 50:50 chance of a game at the JobServe this afternoon. Whether it’ll be three much-needed points or not, and if you’ll pardon the pun, I at least did see green shoots at the New Lawn on Tuesday. We still lost, and the table doesn’t lie, but definitely signs to encourage me that whilst it’s not going to be a comfortable journey, we’ll be alright by May.

Today we take on Barrow, and a chance for a rare double if we pull it off. A bit more of the camaraderie and togetherness shown on that cold night back in September would certainly help.

Crikey though, if Boris’s parties are so good he can’t actually remember being there, those are the parties I want invitations to. But seriously, I’ve mentioned this subject before, but the trial by tabloid has now been picked up by the broadsheets, with multiple rule-breaking events allegedly taking place at no. 10 – well, some alleged, but Boris has already admitted to quite a few – not least on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral, for which Downing Street has apologised to the Queen.

The matter will be investigated by top civil servant Sue Gray, a normally private individual, but well-known by those that walk the corridors of power for her professionalism and influence. Indeed, in a conversation with then Liberal Democrat minister David Laws, Oliver Letwin advised him “[i]It took me precisely two years before I realised who it is that runs Britain. Our great United Kingdom is actually entirely run by a lady called Sue Gray, the head of ethics or something in the Cabinet Office - unless she agrees, things just don't happen[/i]”. We wait to see what her investigation unearths.

Covid infections in the UK have fallen for the ninth day running and have finally again dropped below 100,000 new cases a day, prompting rumours that Boris may scrap his Plan B restrictions. It’s still far too many infections, but like the U’s, perhaps we are starting to see the green shoots of the world coming out of this accursed pandemic? Not helped of course by cases such as tennis star Djokovic’s ‘will he, won’t he’ attempt to participate in the Australian Open despite publicly stating he’s not vaccinated. His visa has been revoked, reinstated and revoked again, and his hearing appealing the decision is set for 10.30pm tonight (UK time).

[b]U’s World[/b]
I didn’t listen to Robbie’s BBC Essex Q&A phone-in, a move that might be considered both brave and foolhardy in equal measure, but plenty that did have posted the highlights on various social media platforms.

In summary:
- We return to blue and white stripes next season, welcome news to most U’s fans. Personally, whilst I’m definitely looking forward to that, I’ve not been too fussed about the all-blue kit whilst it’s been used, in fact I’d go so far as to say with the white socks it actually looks quite good.

- Reference to a broad 433 ‘philosophy’ as far as playing style at all levels of the club, but categorical denial he has any involvement in the day-to-day team and tactics selection, in fact actively avoids having conversations with Hayden to avoid any even unintentional influence.
- Playing budget (after various wildly inaccurate figures have been floating around) was £1.6m this season, slightly above the originally proposed salary cap of £1.5m which was rejected by League 2 EFL chairmen. As his other businesses start to recover from the financial impact of the pandemic, he expects that budget to increase next season.
- He’s already discussed the ticketing arrangements he put in place at the start of the season, that they can’t be ‘turned off’ mid-season, and the good intentions behind the ticketing system, but in the phone-in he admitted he simply hadn’t expected the levels of outrage that it prompted amongst the fanbase. Really Robbie, being a U’s fan and outrage go hand in hand – it’s not like you’ve been living in a cage for the last 16 years 😊.

[b]Stat attack[/b]
I figured that not playing at home in January until the 15th ought to be close to some sort of record, but not so it turns out. In fact, throughout our history we had to wait much later than that for our first home fixture. For instance, in only our second season as a football club, it took until 21st January to play Newport Reserves at home (obviously in a season that would be curtailed shortly after).

In 1948 Cheltenham arrived in town on the 22nd, and two years later Aldershot had to wait until the 27th. In 1955 Shrewsbury Town went one better, playing at Layer Road on the 28th of January, and in 1958 Doncaster Rovers achieved the ultimate record, as our first new year opponents at home on 31st of January.

[b]Match of the Day
[i]Chesterfield v Colchester United
1st October 2011
Npower Football League One (Tier 3)
Attendance 6,295[/i][/b]

[b]© ColUData[/b]

[i]Match of the Day[/i] for WSC22 is chosen by the random match selector, and a trip to watch the U’s at Chesterfield. It’s one of those I don’t have a programme for, just a scribbled note on my calendar (including an outrageous use of exclamation marks – think I might have been quite excited about this one), plus of course my memories of what turned out to be quite a weekend with my friend Craig, his brother and a bunch of other Spireites. Hence the programme cover is courtesy of Graeson’s ColUData website.

In context, me and Em first met Craig and his wife Jo at antenatal classes back in early 2004 and have remained close friends ever since. It didn’t take long to discover that we shared a passion for lower league football, and over the years have been to many matches together, mostly involving our two teams, but not always. In fact I’m off with him, his brothers, one or two cousins and no doubt hundreds of other Spireites for their trip to Eastleigh at the end of the month.

For the previous five years or so we’d been operating in different leagues, so this was one of our first opportunities to plan an awayday to see our two teams play each other. It was also the U’s first visit to their new stadium, at the time unimaginatively named the B2net Stadium, and a very similar development to the JobServe – only in the centre of town rather than at a frozen outpost. With his brother Adam still living in Chesterfield, we drove up bright and early on the Saturday morning, parked up at Adam’s to drop the bags off, and then taxied into town to meet others and begin the pre-match libations.

We started off in the Donkey Derby, normally a home fans only establishment, but they didn’t appear to be too fazed by my presence in the company of a bunch of Spireites. After one or three in there, we headed over to the Derby Tup, another popular pre-match watering hole, and where if memory serves, we had the pleasure of bumping into [b]Noah[/b] and many more U’s fans. A few more in the Derby Tup, and we were all ready for an afternoon of football.

As we often do when at matches against each other, to allow all parties to enjoy the game free from inhibitions, I took my place amongst the surprisingly large crowd of nearly 300 that had travelled up from Essex, whilst Craig and the rest headed for the opposite end of the stadium. Also amongst the faithful was [b]Durham[/b] somewhere, and I think I recall [b]Gerry[/b] might have been amongst the Spireites with his daughter. Well, I say surprisingly large visiting support, but it didn’t take my Spireite mates long to spot where I was amongst them and start peppering me with light-hearted abusive text banter.

The U’s at the time were managed by John Ward, in his second season as manager, and having achieved a credible 10th place finish the previous season, we were hopeful of better this time around. Chesterfield had been promoted champions from League Two the previous season, and what with the new ground and all, were riding a wave of unbridled optimism at the time. Optimism not completely matched by performances on the pitch, and whilst the U’s were bumbling along mid-table, the Spireites were already slipping into a relegation dog-fight.

John Ward’s U’s lined up as follows:

1….Ben Williams
4….Magnus Okuonghae
5….Pat Baldwin
20..Brian Wilson
24..Ben Coker
10..Kemi Izzet (captain)
14..Andy Bond
22..Anthony Wordsworth
11..Michail Antonio (27.Karl Duguid 80’)
15..Kayode Odejayi
16..Ian Henderson

Given the pre-match refreshments, I could be forgiven for having only hazy memories of the game itself, but it actually is one I remember quite well. Making a welcome return following nearly a season out with a viral infection, Ben Williams was chosen ahead of Mark Cousins, who had recently picked up a shoulder injury. Livewire Michail Antonio, on loan from Reading, had also been impressing the faithful, and it was reported at the time that John Ward was hoping to extend his loan for a third and final month.

For all the hope and expectation, it was lowly Chesterfield who started strongest in the match, playing a neat compact passing game that we were struggling to get to grips with. In fact, on 14 minutes we almost had a most calamitous of starts, when Ben Williams allowed Pat Baldwin’s back pass to roll under his foot. Fortunately, it rolled inches wide for a corner, but it was definitely an early wake-up call.

Following that, the U’s rallied, and for the next quarter of an hour it was a much more even contest, until on the half hour mark Michail Antonio collected a blocked shot from Ian Henderson and drill a low-shot through a congested penalty area to give the U’s the lead. Needless to say, the flow of text-based abusive banter was reversed for some time after that. The U’s didn’t sit back either, and Wordsworth went close on a couple of occasions between then and half-time. However, it was Chesterfield who went closest to scoring, with Craig Westcarr’s ferocious shot excellently parried away by Ben Williams – more than making up for his potential howler earlier.

Into the second half, and Chesterfield very much picked up where they left off, but again Ben Williams pulled off a blinding save to prevent Alex Mundy from equalising. Approaching the hour mark, danger man Leon Clarke rattled the base of the post with Williams beaten, but as the second half wore on, that was very pretty much the last real threat from a flagging Chesterfield.

The U’s were starting to control midfield, and whilst we weren’t creating many chances of note ourselves, Chesterfield were effectively neutralised. One comedy moment was Antonio going down apparently injured out on the wing and ending up prostrate off the pitch – but not so badly injured that he couldn’t crawl back onto the pitch for ‘treatment’. I think he might have been booked for that 😊.

With ten minutes to go, Ward decided to sacrifice the flair and pace of Antonio for the shithousery of Duguid, and that was the match comfortably won – our first visit to post-Saltergate Chesterfield, and another welcome 3 points. It wasn’t quite win ugly, but it had been a ruthlessly efficient performance.

[b]Chesterfield 0 Colchester United 1 (Michail Antonio 30’)[/b]

Not to let a simple game of football get in the way, we all met up post-match outside the ground and headed off for a debauched evening touring the ale houses of Chesterfield, and I think there might have been a curry at the end too? There was no differences of opinion, or indeed hard feelings, overall the U’s had been the better team on the day, and it was a fair result.

Chesterfield couldn’t escape the relegation back to League Two that haunted them, along with dear friends Wycombe Wanderers, Exeter City and Rochdale. They did, however, reach the EFL Trophy final, for which we had one big massive boozy reunion as they faced much-fancied Swindon Town. Technically lower league opposition at the time, Swindon were still strong favourites to lift the trophy, so we were all delighted when Chesterfield won 2-0.

John Ward went on to repeat a tenth place finish in his second season in charge, but the gloss of that achievement very much dulled by a dreadful run from mid-February through to the end of the season with just three victories. But for that we could have and should have been competing for at least the play-offs. After a terrible start to the 2012/13, Robbie had seen enough, and let John Ward go.

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