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Knees-up Mother Brown #18
Written by wessex_exile on Sunday, 28th Jan 2024 14:17

It’s the last Saturday of January, and thanks to a succession of games either not on a Saturday, postponed because of the weather, or me actually being there, this is only the second blog of the New Year. The upside of all that is that Danny and Nicky Cowley have had a full two weeks to continue to work on both the physical and mental agility/ resilience of the U’s squad. It will be interesting to see how they get on against a Morecambe side unbeaten in the league so far this year, their only defeat a 2-0 loss in the FA Cup against Championship side Swansea City. With a game in hand over most above them, and only six points below 7th place, the Shrimps will probably think they still have an outside chance of making the play-offs. I sincerely doubt it, but we’d willingly swap places if we had the chance.

[b]The world outside U’s World[/b]
Well, what can I say. In the second E Jean Carroll defamation case (albeit, this one was always referred to as E Jean Carroll #1), a jury of his peers has found Donald J Trump liable for again defaming the woman he raped, and has been handed down a whopping fine of $83.3m. This comprises $11m for a reputational repair program, $7.3m in other compensatory damages, and $65m as punitive damages (that’s the “shut the f’ck up” bit). Ms Carroll was suing for $10m. But let’s look at the bigger picture here – the frontrunner and almost certain Republican nominee for the presidential election in November, supported/ endorsed in lockstep by the vast majority of Republican representatives, is a convicted rapist.

Just let that sink in…

Equally disturbing on this side of the pond, the British Post Office Scandal continues to uncover more deeply concerning revelations. Back in 1995 social security minister Peter Lilley announced at the Conservative Party conference that a new computerised system would be installed, primarily to reduce benefit fraud by £150m per year. The PFI contract was awarded to ICL Pathway (a company owned by Fujitsu), and following multiple delays and soaring costs, the Post Office finally began rolling out the Horizon IT software system in 1999.

Some may be unaware, but subpostmasters who run branch post offices are self-employed and are contracted to the Post Office to fulfil that role. Within weeks of the roll-out, subpostmasters were reporting balancing errors in the software to the Horizon helpline. The Post Office, however, convinced their shiny new software system was perfect in every degree, thought differently, insisting that subpostmasters make up any shortfall themselves, and even charging some with fraud. Between 1999 and 2015 about 900 subpostmasters were charged, with 700 or so actually convicted.

This was despite [i]Computer Weekly[/i] breaking the news in May 2009 about problems with the Horizon software, and in September 2009 subpostmaster Alan Bates set up the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance (JFSA). With pressure mounting, in 2012 the Post Office reluctantly appointed a forensic accounting team from Second Sight to investigate the Horizon software. Second Sight issued an Interim Report in July 2013, a Part 1 Briefing Report in July 2014, a Part 2 Briefing Report in August 2014, and an updated Part 2 Briefing Report in April 2015.

All of these reports concluded that there were indeed faults in the Horizon system that could result in accounting discrepancies. The Post Office suppressed the reports, insisted there were no problems with the system, and continued their prosecutions. The latest revelation, which came out just last week, is that the Post Office secretly decided to sack Second Sight in April 2014 (several months before their first Briefing Report was finished) because of their findings, a decision codenamed “Project Sparrow”, and a decision that government ministers were allegedly briefed on.

In 2017 a group of 555 subpostmasters, led by Bates, brought a High Court group action against the Post Office. The trial took two years to complete, with the judge eventually ruling that the subpostmasters’ Post Office contracts were unfair and the Horizon software did contain bugs, errors and defects. Details of Project Sparrow were withheld from the claimants during the trial. The case was settled out of court for £58m, which after legal costs left the subpostmasters with on average about £20k each. The government later agreed to ‘top up’ these damages by an unspecified amount, and in February 2020 announced it would set up an (ongoing) independent inquiry.

Courts began to quash convictions from December 2020 onwards, but as of this month most of those wrongly convicted are still waiting to have their convictions overturned. The human cost is appalling – this tragic tale of incompetence and cover-up, rightly described by some as the biggest miscarriage of justice in UK history, has left at least four suicides, countless families torn apart and lives ruined, spiralling depression, self-harm, alcoholism and bankruptcies in it’s wake.

[b]U’s World[/b]
Given it’s been two weeks now, there’s been quite a bit of activity going on down at the JobServe, much of which has been mentioned in [b]Durham’s[/b] excellent matchday preview. First in the door is talented centre half Riley Harbottle, signed on loan to the end of the season from SPL side Hibs. This follows a hugely successful loan speal at Mansfield last season, making 32 appearances and scoring six goals (one against the U’s) as the Stags narrowly missed out on promotion. Riley probably could have had his pick of loan options in League 2 and possibly even League 1, so I have no doubt the Cowley factor was a big influence on his decision.

Riley’s arrival was followed by midfielder Alastair Smith, another loan to the end of the season, this time from League 1 Lincoln City (as has been suggested, maybe by way of an apology for their part in ‘poaching’ Joe Taylor?). In what is becoming a well-established pattern, Ally is another player that the Cowley’s have seen a lot of, during their time at Lincoln when Ally was playing for Mansfield, and Danny spoke very positively about his arrival in a mid-week interview.

It was sad, but not a surprise, to see Nico Lawrence’s loan cut short and return to Southampton. Clearly a very talented centre half, who undoubtedly has a bright future ahead of him, but an injury-wracked first half of the season saw only five appearances from Nico before his ankle injury in the 3-0 win at Gillingham.

On the positive side, just yesterday we signed highly-rated winger Harry Anderson on loan from League 1 Stevenage – another player the Cowley’s know well, having managed him at both Braintree and Lincoln City. Harry has seen promotions with both Lincoln City (twice) and Bristol Rovers during his football career, and has a tendency to weigh in with a fair few goals each season as well, so let’s hope for more of the same at Col U.

Good luck Riley, Ally and Harry, and best wishes Nico!

[b]Match of the Day
[i]Brentford v Colchester United
29th September 2001
Nationwide Football League Second Division (Tier 3)
Attendance 5,179[/i][/b]

[b]The rain-sodden state of the programme tells you all you need to know…[/b]

[i]Match of the Day[/i] for KMB18 returns to the memorabilia random match generator, which has gone back to late September 2001 under Steve Whitton, and a trip to one of my favourite awaydays, Griffin Park. We’d had a pretty good start to the season under Steve Whitton, only dropping out of the play-offs the Tuesday night before this game, losing 3-0 at Stoke City. Brentford weren’t doing too badly either, level on points with the U’s and two places higher on goal difference, so I expected a decent even match.

How wrong was I…

I was living in Salisbury at the time, so it was an easy trip up to Waterloo on the train for this one, to meet up with my mate Jon at The Brook for our customary lap of the ground. It was a cold damp day, but whilst we slowly worked our way around the New Inn, Princess Royal and Griffin the rain was more or less holding off. Fingers were well and truly crossed it would remain that way too, given we were then on the customary away open terrace at the Ealing Road end of the ground.

Steve Whitton was into his third season as manager of the U’s and was establishing the team as a free-flowing passing side, easy on the eye going forward, but with an alarming tendency on occasions to ship goals at the back. Conceding 15 goals in the previous six matches in all competitions tells its own story. Steve Whitton’s U’s lined up that afternoon as follows:

29..Andy Woodman
4….Gavin Johnson
6….Simon Clark
19..Alan White
8….David Gregory
20..Micky Stockwell
10..Kem Izzet
15..Thomas Pinault
7….Karl Duguid
9….Scott McGleish
21..Kevin Rapley (16. Dean Morgan 79’)

Unfortunately, the rain that had been threatening did finally arrive not long before we took our place amongst another 6-700 U’s supporters on the Ealing Road terrace. My memory tells me the rain didn’t then let up all match – I’m sure it must have done once or twice, but if so I don’t remember it. But, once you go past a certain point, you really can’t get any wetter, so there we stood for the entire game, drenched literally to the skin.

It might have been easier if we’d had anything to cheer about but going 1-0 down after less than five minutes is not a good way to start. Under pressure in defence, Alan White brought down Republic of Ireland U21 player Ben Burgess and referee Bill Jordan had no hesitation awarding an easy but soft penalty to the Bees…and Paul Evans had no hesitation converting the chance. It should have be 2-0 shortly after that too, but we dodged a bullet when Lloyd Owusu shot straight at Andy Woodman when put clean through from a Thomas Pinault mistake on the halfway line.

It was one-way traffic, and like the rain, it was straight into our faces, so imagine our surprise (and celebrations) when out of nowhere Super Scott McGleish drew the U’s level. A superb defence-splitting pass from the previous villain Pinault put McGleish through, and his low angled drive across the goal beat the advancing Olafur Gottskalksson and nestled in the far corner of the goal. Memory serves there was even a rendition of “Singing in the Rain” from the terrace after that, but it was shortlived.

Just after the half hour mark, Burgess bagged one of his own to restore the Brentford lead, latching onto an Owusu header to drill past a helpless Woodman. Is nothing more than Brentford deserved either. A minute later, former U’s player Paul Gibbs smashed an effort against the base of the post with Woodman beaten, and Woody himself picked up an injury shortly after diving at the feet of Owusu to prevent a third.

The U’s were playing neat passing football, in fact Brentford seemed to content to let us play neat passing football, because we weren’t doing anything with it. All they had to do was wait for the eventual misplaced pass, then pounce. It was literally taking candy from a baby, and Steve Coppell’s Bees clearly had no qualms about it either. Somehow, we made it to half-time without conceding another, to enjoy some brief shelter from the deluge and a warming cup of Bovril, then back to it.

Bruised and battered, Andy Woodman continued in the second half as our last (and probably most effective) line of defence, being offered little cover by our weak defensive line. Twice more that man Owusu threatened to extend the Bees lead, but again was thwarted by Woodman. However, for all his heroics that afternoon, Woodman had to hold his hand up for the third. A regulation 35-yard free kick should have been simple for Woody, but with the dreadful conditions he somehow managed to let it squirm under his body and into the net.

It was harsh, but it had been coming, and now, at 3-1 down with less than 30 minutes to go I wondered if it would be damage limitation and park the bus time for the U’s, but not so. In fact, from our viewpoint it looked like Micky Stockwell had pulled another back for the U’s, but the linesman’s flag ruled it out for offside. Normal service was resumed shortly after, with Evans hitting the post again at the other end, before Owusu finally got the goal his performance deserved, glancing a header in from a Michael Dobson cross to give Brentford an unassailable 4-1 lead.

Not that there wasn’t some last minute controversy though. In a rare U’s attack with less than five minutes to go, the linesman flagged Izzet offside just as he was being brought down in the box by Ijah Anderson. Jordan over-ruled his linesman and awarded the penalty, whilst sending off Anderson for his second yellow card offence. It was the perfect embodiment of the day, as we stood there soaked and shivering, that McGleish blazed the penalty wide – ho hum.

[b]Brentford 4 (Evans 5’p, 62’; Burgess 34’; Owusu 83’) Colchester United 1 (McGleish 17’)[/b]

This was the start of our slide down the table towards mid-table mediocrity, though we were never really in any serious danger of relegation. Brentford on the other hand pushed on from this and would finish top of the play-off places, and just one point away from overtaking Reading for automatic promotion. As most know, Brentford and play-offs are not happy bedfellows, and they lost the final 2-0 against Stoke City.

Three of the four pubs at Griffin Park are just about still going. The Brook was closed for a while, but was renovated by new owners in 2019, and has tried to reinvent itself as a facility for local families in the community. The new owner estimated that losing the football crowd, particularly away fans coming by train, cost the pub about £100k a year in takings, and these days they don’t even bother opening on Saturday afternoons.

The New Inn is fairing slightly better, and given it is the closest of the four to the new ground about ten minutes’ walk away, does still get some home supporters coming in out of loyalty, but precious few away fans these days. The Princess Royal closed completely, and at one point looked in danger of demolition, but was renovated by new owners and has now been converted into a centre for the Armenian Church Trust.

The Griffin is probably the only post-move success story of the four, with the pub managing to survive both the closure of Griffin Park and Covid lockdown to emerge still as a popular pre-match watering hole for supporters. The owners have the added bonus of the rugby crowd as well for every alternate weekend, with Brentford ground-sharing with London Irish.

[b]Up the U’s![/b]

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