Over our history this club has had it’s links with the University Of Essex beginning back in the late Sixties and early Seventies when, due to it’s close proximity, we used to play “home” games on the pitches there. Over the years it has at times been something of a mystery to the fans as to why our club has not really tried to bring more of the footballing talent from the University to Broad Lane more often than it has. Okay, so we can understand that availability around the holiday periods and exam time maybe an issue in some cases but, in all honesty, we can remember several regular players who would fail to show at certain times of the season as well !. This set us thinking as to those Essex Uni students who have donned the Dragons shirt over the years that we can recall although, of course, there have been a few more in the past.
Since I have watched the Dragons George Taylor was the first Essex University student to turn out for the club during the early part of the 1986/87 campaign. George was a tidy midfielder who was brought into the First Team by Manager Mick Loughton following a goal and an impressive display in the Reserves. I recall the coach dropping him off at the Valley Road bus stop when returning from away trips as Boundary Road was open to through traffic in those days. In total he made 10 appearances during our debut season in the Isthmian League Division Two (North) and scored one goal.
Looking back to the summer of 1997 and the arrival of defender David Pratt who found himself thrown into an inexperienced “scratch” team by manager Steve Dowman on the opening day of the season at home to Wealdstone. In front of a crowd of 404 he gave an impressive performance at left back as the Dragons pulled off a surprise 2-1 victory which cemented his place in the Wivenhoe defence from that point onwards. The fact that Colin Hill arrived at the club in late November with his “instant team” and David retained his place showed what a talented player he was as he made 50 appearances and scored two goals. His ability, coupled with his positive attitude and commitment, saw him win the Supporters Player Of The Year trophy before he left Broad Lane at the end of October 1998 following a further seven appearances.
(David Pratt slides in to tackle an Ely City opponent)
Aleides Fernandes Mendes De Andrade was someone whose name was certainly longer than his Dragons career !. Known as Nuno he also appeared during the early stages of the 1997/98 campaign. This 24 year old forward had played for Jett Sports back home in Angola and his debut was delayed due to having to await International clearance. Unfortunately he made just four appearances before drifting out of contention and scoring a couple of goals during infrequent games for our Reserves in the Border League 3rd Division. A third University student was to appear towards the end of the same season as Hill brought in young striker James Slack who had started the campaign with Bedford Town, playing up front on occasions with Dragons legend Julian Hazel. Slack scored one goal in 8 appearances and returned briefly towards the end of the following season as “Jules” persuaded him to turn out twice before he suffered an injury at Edgware Town on 27/4/99. A fully fit Slack was unstoppable during the 1999/2000 season as he netted 60 plus goals to help the University First Team win the Colchester & East Essex League Championship.
Our next player to be picked up from the Uni was Ryan Wall. A former Bolton Wanderers Youth teamer, he made his Dragons debut in a 2-1 midweek victory at Hungerford Town on 9/3/99. With the Management describing him as having “one of the sweetest left foots” they had seen, Ryan was an ever present in the midfield for the remainder of the campaign. Operating at left back during the early stages of 1999/2000, he eventually moved away from the Colchester area having impressed everyone in his 25 First Team appearances.
The summer of 2000 saw Wivenhoe forge closer links with the University as their successful Colchester & East Essex side (unfortunately minus the departed James Slack) became our Reserve team. Despite a two Division jump the students won the Essex & Suffolk Border League 2nd Division Title. The First Team benefited from the talents of outstanding midfielder Lewis Baillie who, having scored 17 goals in 18 Reserve appearances, played 27 Ryman games during which time he netted five times as the Dragons went close to Promotion. Tolo Taylor played in an Essex Senior Cup tie while it could be argued that the likes of forward Phil Otum and midfielder Joe Fitzgerald should have been registered to cope with the First Team’s outrageously punishing run-in schedule.
(Lewis Baillie sets another Wivenhoe attack up with Alan Day (left) in support)
With a mass player exodus in the summer of 2001 (Baillie being snapped up by Ryman Premier Division Heybridge Swifts) thus the next batch of students found themselves thrust into what was (apart from Alan Day) an inexperienced line up predominantly made up of Border League players…..and the odd SUPPORTER !!. Phil Otum, who had netted 20 goals in 18 Reserve appearances the previous season, played 20 games and scored three goals, midfielder Paul Hayman scored once in his 17 First Team appearances while defenders Pat Sisupalan and Ki Odetayo played only once as did goalkeeper Simon Parsons, while Reserve Team Captain Tolo Taylor made his second (and last) Senior appearance. The “find” for this season was German Defender Heiko Hesse who was a regular after making his debut in a 3-2 victory over Banstead Athletic on 29/9/01 and retained his place in the side the following year before eventually departing in the summer of 2003 with 67 appearances to his credit and 3 goals (older “SOBS” will remember the coach picking him up at the Tescos roundabout with his shopping on away trips while his bike was a familiar site outside the clubhouse at home games). Joining Heiko in the First Team for 2002/03 was midfielder Erald Kuniqi while the Reserves in the ESBL First Division had been re named “Wivenhoe & University Town” (Yes, the writing was already on the wall).
Kuniqi departed in early September 2003 having appeared in 19 games, however, the next player with University connections to pull on a Dragons shirt that season was a certain Tabani Mabvura who made everyone at the club stand up and take notice (to his credit Assistant Manager Nicky Haydon championed Tabani’s cause when it seemed he would be overlooked) with an outstanding man of the match display in a narrow 1-2 Essex Senior Cup Quarter Final defeat to Southend United at Roots Hall on 3/2/04. Tabani was a class performer and remained with the Dragons for just over four seasons. His studies and unfortunate record with injury (mainly due to being targeted by the opposition) limited him to 107 First Team appearances (scoring four goals) and he was voted Supporters Player Of The Year in 2004/05. The summer of 2004 also saw the club part company with the University as the type of player that was now being signed by the Dragons (David Gregory, Adrian Coote etc) was never going to allow the young students a look in.
As some could have predicted the club crashed again and Senior players of any experience could not be found as the Dragons endured a massive struggle fielding youngsters for the traumatic 2009/10 campaign. Then on 24th February 2010 the Odedoyin twins, Wale and Tola, arrived via the University Reserve Team bringing with them pace, power and a touch of violence (much to the entertainment of the “SOBS” !). When not suspended striker Wale could terrorise defenders and he netted 14 goals in his 40 appearances for Wivenhoe before departing. Left back Tola remained at Broad Lane longer than his brother playing his final game in a 4-1 home victory over Ely City on 21/4/12. One of my favourite memories of his 69 appearances (during which time he scored 2 goals) was when he spanked the ball into the face of the Dereham Town Assistant Manager as he attempted to make a less than accurate pass up the touch line !!. Former Under-18’s centre half Tom Cutts was one player who went in the opposite direction to study at the University while Bulgarian defender Marian Stoykov played mainly in our Reserves, although he did play nine First Team matches in 2011/12.
That brings us to the 2014/15 campaign and Charlie Goodlake who actually ended up joining us from Stanway Rovers. His attacking skill made him a fan’s favourite as he scored seven goals in 20 appearances. Like several of those previously mentioned in this article Charlie, a former Port Vale Youth Teamer, demonstrates just what footballing talent and ability can be found amongst the Essex University students and is a resource that this club should try and continue to tap into.
Below are further details of the successful 2000/01 campaign enjoyed by the students following Wivenhoe Town’s initial link up with the University Of Essex. The title was secured in the very last match of the season with the Reserves winning 8-1 away to Little Oakley Reserves while Hadleigh United Reserves failed to win their final game.