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Knees-up Mother Brown #23
Written by wessex_exile on Sunday, 17th Mar 2024 14:35

Following a disappointing result at Holker Street, exacerbated by yet more poor refereeing to deny us a clear penalty in the first half and award a non-existent free-kick to give the Bluebirds a first half lead (albeit the free-kick was an absolute blinder), and the inevitable postponement of the Donny game on Tuesday, the U’s now find themselves in the relegation zone. It is what it is, and with seven of our remaining 11 games at home, our destiny is still very much in our own hands – but everyone has to do their job, both on and off the (repurposed) pitch.
[b]UP THE U’S!!![/b]

[b]The world outside U’s World[/b]
As an homage to the news that we’ve temporarily solved the problem of our atrocious pitch by moving it away from the East stand bog, whilst reducing its size to 102m by 64m, I’ve decided today’s blog would be an opportunity to reflect on a loosely related experience from the real world – a kind of “[i]The world outside U’s World meets U’s World[/i]” I suppose. Incidentally, whilst finding a handy League 2 pitch size comparison table on t’interweb has proved elusive, from what I can see, the Bescot (for example) measures 100m by 66m, so slightly wider and slightly shorter.

My story begins early in my career as a field archaeologist for the company I still work for, as an aspiring Project Supervisor running a trial trench evaluation of the proposed route of a new wastewater sewer pipe installation in and around Deal in East Kent. This was back in the early 90s, somewhere around 1991 or 1992 I think, and the new sewer pipe (a massive 1.5-2m diameter construction) was in part designed to alleviate perennial flooding in Deal (which ironically, they still suffer from).

For the most part our work, on behalf of the water company delivering the scheme but coordinated by the council, focused on agricultural land on the outskirts of Deal. However, as we approached the end of the trial trench evaluation, we were required to investigate some green spaces within the town itself, these including the home of Deal Wanderers Rugby Football Club. So early one Thursday morning I set up the theodolite and set out the three trenches we were required to machine excavate.

I then double- and even triple-checked my measurements – this couldn’t be right, the line of the trenches was cutting right across one corner of their pitch, with noticeboards outside the ground advertising their next home game was on Saturday! I did as I should and phoned my manager. She double-checked her plans, that was where they should be she confirmed, so she went away to make further enquiries, whilst I rang our coordinator at the council. He was adamant, the trenches were in the right place, on the proposed alignment, and anyway, the council had written to Deal Wanderers RFC well in advance to notify them of the works – so we were ordered to proceed.

As you’d expect from a top quality sports pitch, the turf lifted beautiful in clean slabs when faced with a 360-degree tracked excavator, and in no time at all we had virtually finished the machine excavation of all three – when the approach of a blazered individual was brought to my attention. This it turned out was the club secretary and by the look of him (5’6” in his socks, neck wider than his head and barrel-chested), former tighthead prop.

I have never seen anyone more incandescent with rage before or since, nor do I wish to. He was literally purple, and struggling to find the words, any words, to demand what the bloody hell did we think we were doing. Self-preservation mode kicked in, as I, as patiently and politely as possible, tried to explain we’d checked the setting-out information several times, that these were we where we were told to put them, and that I’d even checked with the council…

That was a magic word – at the word “council” he went deathly calm, swivelled on his heels to march back to the clubhouse, whilst telling us in no uncertain terms to get our trenches “effing” backfilled immediately. In no time at all the site was besieged by officials from the water company, club and council whilst we, as diligently and carefully as we could set to backfilling and reinstating. It turned out that whilst the council [b][u]should[/u][/b] have written to Deal Wanderers, someone somewhere in County Hall forgot to do so, and they had a game in less than 48 hours.

However, all was not lost, one of the trenches was fortunately not actually on the pitch, one was only just, and we’d already done an excellent job through lots of shovel work in getting that one backfilled, so much so that the club secretary was happy the surface was good enough for the match to go ahead. That just left the final trench, and we were three-quarters through backfilling that one by the end of the day. Despite the monumental f’ck-up, everyone left that evening reasonably confident we could finish the top quality reinstatement work we’d been doing, and the match could go ahead.

Sadly, our plant operator, showing the sort of initiative you really don’t want to see, decided to rock up early the following morning with a JCB to finish off the reinstatement, rather than use the tracked excavator. When we arrived at 8am the site looked like Passchendaele. From almost non-existent marks left by the excavator tracks, the wheels of the JCB had left deep ruts everywhere, the back feet of the JCB had sunk deep holes into the turf all over the place, and without us and our trusty shovels in support, he’d managed to repeatedly rip large sections of turf off.

The site was an utter disaster when the great and the good arrived for a 9am inspection. Now wholly over a barrel because of their incompetence, the council had to go into overdrive in finding a creative solution, and thankfully one of their surveyors did. Noticing that there was considerable excess green space on the opposite side of the pitch, he worked out that if the pitch was both moved and rotated a bit, it could still fit within the grounds, just – and thus Operation Game On was borne, and by the end of Friday the entire pitch had been re-laid, posts and all, and the game went ahead the following afternoon.

We never worked with that plant firm again.

[b]U’s World[/b]
So, new pitch, ‘nuff said.

Sanity has also prevailed and, given the intense use the JobServe pitch will have to sustain between now and the end of the season, the Essex Senior Cup final between the U’s and Redbridge FC next Tuesday has now been moved to Dagenham and Redbridge’s Chigwell Construction Stadium. Tickets can be purchased from the Daggers ticketing webpage, link below:

[b]Match of the Day
[i]Carlisle United v Colchester United
20th April 1997
Auto Windscreens Shield (Final)
Attendance 45,077[/i][/b]

[i]Match of the Day[/i] for KMB23, and finally the random memorabilia match selector has picked our third appearance at Wembley, for the Auto Windscreens Shield final against Carlisle United. Although drawn as the ‘home’ side, Carlisle elected to play in their away shirt sponsored by Eddie Stobart, a decision no doubt influenced by the sponsor. Their kit was a fetching (Ed. retching, surely?) array of Stobart green, gold, red and white stripes, their supporters known as the deckchair army as a result. This allowed the U’s to play in traditional blue and white stripes for the match, which kicked off at 1.30pm on the Sunday afternoon and was also broadcast on Sky TV.

Carlisle, under the chairmanship of Michael “Keepy-Uppy” Knighton and new manager Mervyn Day, had been having a storming season at the top of the league, almost constantly in the top three, and looked destined to possibly achieve a league and cup double. Knighton being Knighton, it was revealed post-match that he’d threatened to pull Carlisle out of the final because he wanted a better share of the TV money. Calling his bluff, the Football League said if he did that, they’d kick Carlisle out of the league, and having put up, Knighton then demurely shut up.

It’s probably no coincidence that Carlisle’s up-turn in form under Day also coincided with former manager Mick “Bigger B’stard than Mick Wadsworth” Wadsworth moving to Norwich City – sorry Canaries. Mind you, under Steve Wignall, we weren’t doing too bad either, and despite a poor run of form late February to early April (losing seven of nine), we were hanging on to the play-offs by our fingernails.

And that really was the prize we wanted – as much as trips to Wembley are fantastic for supporters and club alike, we really needed the promotion out of the basement that Wignall’s U’s were promising. Arguably, our dip in form leading up to this game was in part caused by this cup run. But let’s not sound ungracious, getting to Wembley is always a fantastic occasion, and one that on this day just under 20,000 U’s fans came along to enjoy.

Steve Wignall’s U’s lined up that afternoon as follows:

1….Carl Emberson
2….Joe Dunne
3….Paul Gibbs (12. Chris Fry 105’)
4….David Gregory (13. Adam Locke 85’)
5….David Greene
6….Peter Cawley
7….Richard Wilkins
8….Mark Sale
9….Steve Whitton
10..Tony Adcock
11..Paul Abrahams (14. Karl Duguid 91’)

For such a big occasion for both sets of supporters, it wasn’t really that good a game, certainly not to begin with. I used to have a video of the match (my brother-in-law had Sky, so taped it for me as a memento), and in a cautious first half both sides largely sparred with each other, without really landing any blows of note. Incidentally, not anticipating the possibility of extra time and penalties, he set the video to shut off at the end of the original scheduled broadcast, so my video missed the final moments of extra time and the penalty shootout (fortunately I suppose?).

Albeit from a slightly negative viewpoint, perhaps the brightest news for the U’s was the early injury substitution of goal scorer Allan Smart for the Cumbrians. Carlisle were definitely the more dominant side in the first half, with Stephane Pounewatchy and Warren Aspinall in particular causing problems, in a side which also includes quality players like Tony Caig in goal, Rory Delap in defence and Lee Peacock up front.

Slowly though, into the second half, the U’s got more and more into the game, although still without either side really carving out any really clear-cut chances. The second half started brightly for both sets of supporters, after Rory Delap attempted to fire over a cross, and managing to destroy the corner flag in the process. Of course, the Wembley staff had a spare readily available – oh no, hang on, they didn’t – and it took a full five minutes before an official emerged sprinting from the tunnel with a new flag held aloft a la Braveheart, to easily the biggest cheer of the match so far.

That moment lifted both spirits and the game, and the second half was a much-improved spectacle. Master of shithousery Warren Aspinall and Steve Whitton went close at opposite ends, but it was Joe Dunne who should have won it. With just 15 seconds on the clock, and the U’s really ratcheting up the pressure, Mark Sale swung in a deep cross that managed to reach Joe. With a bit of composure it was a certain goal, but Joe leant back and managed to blaze the best chance of the afternoon over the bar.

And so to extra time, and with Adam Locke already on for a tiring David Gregory, our own master of shithousery Karl Duguid replaced Paul Abrahams – whose golden goal in the second leg semi against Posh had taken us to the final. Five minutes into extra time Carlisle had their own clear cut chance to win it, with Rod Thomas and Warren Aspinall combining well to put through captain Steve Hayward, but he slipped at the crucial moment and the chance went begging.

That was Thomas’s last contribution to the game, and after coming on as a substitute for the injures Allan Smart, he was then substituted by Matt Jansen. The second half of extra time saw the introduction of Chris Fry for Paul Gibbs, but still produced few clear cut chances, although Mark Sale went close with a header in the dying seconds.

Penalties it was then – usually a barren source of amusement for long-suffering U’s fans. However, even with the kicks being taken at the Carlisle end of the pitch, we had some hope. Wilkins scored first for the U’s, with Conway replying followed by Adcock with the second for the U’s to give us a 2-1 lead. Up stepped Archdeacon, but his soft effort to Emberson’s right was easily stopped, and with the U’s supporters still celebrating like crazy, Greene calmly gave the U’s a 3-1 lead.

Walling pulled one back to make it 3-2 to the U’s after three each, and then the contest pivoted, largely at the hands of one man, Carlisle keeper Tony Caig. Guessing correctly, he kept out the penalties from young Karl Duguid and towering Peter Cawley, and with Aspinall already levelling the scores, it was down to Steven Hayward to narrowly squeeze the last one past the dive of Emberson and win the trophy for the Cumbrians.

[b]Carlisle 0 Colchester United 0 (aet, penalties 4-3)[/b]

As heart-breaking as it was, you had to be proud of the U’s in the face of adversity. Karl Duguid was in floods of tears on the pitch and had to be consoled just to get him up the steps to receive his runners-up medal. In an interview reflecting on his career and the game, Tony Caig said “[i]I've come across Karl a few times over the years, played against him and actually coached with him as well. He was on Colchester's coaching staff a few years ago and after the game we were having a chat about it. He said it took him a good while to get over it. He was 18 when he took that penalty. He'd just turned pro. That's a big ask for a young lad, isn't it? But he must have put his hand up, and fair play to him[/i]”.

In a case of after the Lord Mayor’s show, Carlisle lost 2-0 at Cardiff the following weekend, the result costing them the title, albeit they were still promoted in third place. The U’s drew at home 0-0 to Northampton the following Saturday, which similarly cost us our play-off spot, missing out by one point to the aforementioned Cardiff City.

However, 12 months later Steve Wignall’s U’s would return to Wembley in the Play-Off final, making no mistake this time – ironically thanks to a David Gregory penalty.

[b]Up the U’s![/b]

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