Most weekends I tweet stats pertaining to the game Colchester RFC are playing next; numbers of wins and losses and other facts that might be interesting. This coming Saturday Colchester play away at Woodford RFC and it reminded me of a significant game between the two clubs back in 1997 that had an effect on Colchester’s fortunes for several seasons.
Some details are a bit hazy but it was a London 2 North league fixture, level 6 so the same level as this weekend’s game, and I think the match was played in late November or early December. In those days, the league was made up of 17 teams, each playing each other once, and both Colchester and Woodford were unbeaten with the same number of points, Woodford topping the table with a superior points difference. Only one team would be promoted and the play-off system was yet to be introduced.
Woodford were one of the big beasts of Essex rugby but Colchester was enjoying one of its most successful spells. They had won the Suffolk Cup for the first time in 1995 (back then the county cup competitions were a big thing) and won promotion to level 6 having been playing at level 7 since the leagues started in 1986. This was their third season in London 2 North and with an experienced squad they were strong contenders for promotion to London 1 (level 5).
I remember it was a bright day at Mill Road and Colchester started very well. They were leading something like 15-0 after 30 minutes with all the momentum, so the home supporters were looking forward to their team topping the table. Then a Woodford player got injured and it was serious. An ambulance had to be called and the game was help up for well over 20 minutes while he received treatment on the pitch and was taken to hospital. Other games were going on so the players just had to wait. I don’t know what happened during the delay, but when the game finally restarted, the fire that Colchester had shown from the kick off seemed to have gone out and Woodford, having had a respite from Colchester’s dominance, started to play with confidence. I can’t remember if Colchester scored any more points but they went on to lose that game, and several more, finishing mid-table by the end of the season.
Many of the players that had served the club so well had decided that it was time to retire and the following season Colchester were relegated. In fact, the sudden loss of so much experience was so severe that the club suffered three successive relegations, dropping four levels, ending up in Eastern Counties Two or level 10. The subsequent change of fortunes that got Colchester as high as level 5 is a subject for another article, but whenever Colchester play Woodford, I always think back to that game in 1997 as the one that started Colchester’s tumble down the leagues in the late 1990s.
This is my personal recollection of the game, but I would be happy for anyone else who was there in 1997 to correct me on some of the facts by leaving a comment below.
Photograph courtesy of Richard Parker