I joined Wivenhoe Town as a 17 year old just after I left school in 1993. At the time I didn’t realise the major changes that had taken place at the club which had major financial difficulties and lost all of the senior players. Thiswas the beginning of the rapid decline of the club’s position in the non-league pyramid and had a massive effect on everyone connected to it.
At the time I wasn’t too concerned about this and was just happy to be playing regularly in the youth team under the guidance of newly appointed Eric Johnston. We had a fairly strong team and competed in the Eastern Junior Alliance, pitting our skills against other senior club’s youth teams. Over the duration of the season we were somewhat inconsistent in our performances and didn’t finish as high in the league as we should but I put that down to a number of factors. Many players were drafted in to play in the struggling first team and reserves and our attitude towards training and games wasn’t always as positive as it should have been. We were very young and, in hindsight, I know we could have been a lot stronger and more successful but unfortunately the support wasn’t always there for the first team manager and the coaching staff as they were extremely busy trying to field a team each week on limited funds. This, ultimately, had a knock on effect right through the club.
Towards the end of the 93/94 season we found ourselves in the semi final of the Ingilby Paints Cup and won the semi final at home after extra time. I had one of my poorer games and was substituted towards the end of the match and remember feeling disappointed that I hadn’t played as well as I knew I could. From here it was on to the final where we were up against Great Wakering Rovers in front of a larger than normal crowd for a game at Long Melford!
An hour and half prior to kick off I was told by the manager that I had been dropped from the starting eleven as he felt that I had not performed as well as I could in the semi final. I was gutted but, looking back, I know this was the correct decision. As the teams kicked off I sat on the bench feeling annoyed that I had not been selected but was hoping we would get the win the team deserved.
It wasn’t long until we were 2-0 down and struggling to get a foot in the game. Passes were going astray, crosses weren’t beating the first man and we looked like we were really finding it hard to do the basics, even though we knew we could play good football and cause our opponents problems. With players like Danny Smith, Barry Wreford, Dave Bastion, Scott Juniper and Richard Sheffle, to name a few, in our team, it was surprising to see us playing so badly. The centre forward for Great Wakering was causing our centre halves so many problems, pulling them all over the park, and he stood out as a really good player. I had played against him before when he was at Maldon Town and remember he was quick, had two good feet, was very agile, good in the air and seemed much better than any of us.
Just before half time there was a nasty clash of heads involving James Todd and at half time he had to be substituted as he was suffering with mild concussion. I got the nod from the manager and couldn’t wait to get on the pitch and put in a performance. The manager told us to forget about the scoreline, concentrate on our jobs and just do the things we knew we could do and the rest would take care of itself.
I was put straight into the central midfield role and, as the half kicked off, found the pace of the game a bit quicker than it appeared from the sidelines. However, the boys managed to start passing the ball about more constructively and we looked like we were getting back into the game. I remember knocking the ball out to Barry Wreford who had made a great run down the right before crossing it into the box where Danny Smith rose beautifully and headed home. From there on in, the rest is history.
After the game we were so happy that we had managed to pull off a great result after being 2-0 down at half time and we thought we had won the FA cup final with our boyish celebrations, especially by filling the trophy up with cheap lager.
We had high hopes for the following season but, bizarrely,Eric Johnston was relieved of his services and Martin Toole was brought in. Martin brought his own players into the club and only allowed opportunities in the team for a few of us. Unfortunately I wasn’t one of them and I spent the rest of my time at Wivenhoe playing for Steve Pitt in the reserves before venturing onto pastures new. It would seem that Martin was adamant that he did not want to inherit somebody else’s team and ruthlessly wielded the axe. Most of the lads went on to play local senior football in some capacity but it was a shame the team was broken up under Martin as we really could have gone on to play some part in the future of Wivenhoe Town FC.
As for that Great Wakering striker, what happened to him I hear you ask? I never did play against him again but that’s because he was busy playing in FA cup finals against Manchester United and becoming Milwall’s all time top goal scorer. I wonder if Neil Harris remembers losing to the mighty Wivenhoe Town FC all those years ago? No, probably not! Up the Dragons.