The 1991-92 season was quite rightly dubbed ‘The Great Escape’ as the football club struggled to deal with the mass exodus of management and playing staff from the highly successful previous years, which had seen the club rise to the dizzy heights of tenth in the Isthmian Premier Division.
Wholesale changes in playing and coaching staff was a feature of this season, when the club avoided relegation having lost all of their opening 14 games. It took until 26th October to even register the first points of the League campaign.
We eventually went onto finish 4 places above the relegation zone quite amazingly and much was due to the goals of that season’s top scorer Steve Restarick. His 11 goals in 17 appearances helped the Dragons accumulate sufficient points to comfortably avoid the drop. However, Colchester United were owed a huge debt of gratitude for this achievement.
London born Restarick had originally been on the books of both QPR and West Ham United before moving to Colchester early in his apprenticeship in 1988. The striker scored 17 goals in 15 games during his second year as an apprentice, including 4 in 1 game on his eighteenth birthday. Towards the end of his apprenticeship he made his one and only Football League appearance, coming on as a substitute during a defeat to Peterborough United in April 1990, as Colchester slid into non-league football.
Despite The U’s relegation to the Conference Restarick was offered a professional contract and loaned out to Bury Town. He featured in an experimental side in the Bob Lord Trophy against Fisher Athletic – scoring twice in a 3-2 victory. Later that season he joined Fisher on loan, scoring once in 11 games.
A youthful Restarick at Colchester United.
During Colchester’s Conference and FA Trophy double-winning season, he contributed goals in three different cup competitions, but found first team opportunities hard to come by, failing to register a single league goal in 8 appearances.
With Wivenhoe crying out for someone who could possibly score goals, new manager Steve Foley recruited Restarick on loan. His first short spell with us brought little personal success for him goal-wise and he returned to Layer Road, only to sign again for a second loan period under new boss Mick Loughton, in February 1992. Whereas he had struggled for form earlier in the season, Steve thankfully found the back of net on a regular basis. The Dragons had somehow clambered up to third from bottom of the league at this stage, albeit they were only 2 points better off than the basement side Harrow Borough.
His opening goals – three in fact – came in the 4-1 home victory over Basingstoke Town, when he ran the visitor’s defence ragged in helping himself to a hat-trick in front of a crowd of 283. Steve Howe scored the other goal in a fine win.
A week later and with high flying Bromley in opposition at Broad Lane he repeated the feat, with a second consecutive hat-trick in a 3-2 win. It was a highly dramatic game with 5 goals, 5 bookings, 2 sendings off ( both for Wivenhoe – Martin Grainger and Dave McCoy getting their marching orders) and 1 suspected broken leg as 9 man Wivenhoe took all 3 points, as the crowd of 309 was kept on its toes right up until the final whistle, with Restarick scoring the winning goal late in the second half.
The team’s form was improving rapidly and Wivenhoe started to make slow progress up the League, unthought-of given their horrendous start to the season.
Seventh placed Kingstonian were comfortably beaten 2-0 at home, with Steve and Sean Bailey getting the goals to defeat the ‘K’s’. A 2-1 win at Bishops Stortford followed, with 2 more goal for Restarick in what was a successful spell for both club and player. Now up to eleventh place in the table the threat of relegation had gone and Dagenham were crushed 4-0 at Broad Lane in April to move the Dragons up to an unbelievable ninth place. Restarick was amongst the goals again (2 more), along with Gary Harvey and Mitchell Springett, which were his last for the club. Further appearances did follow and he played his final (17th) game in the 3-0 defeat at Bognor Regis Town on the 18th April 1992, bringing the curtain down on his short stay at Wivenhoe, as a shoulder injury brought his season to a premature end. As leading scorer he certainly played an important role in ensuring the club survived for another season in the Premier Division of the Isthmian League.
Restarick returned to Colchester United, who promptly released him that summer and he signed for Chelmsford City, where he went on to make 149 appearances, scoring 59 goals – by far the most successful and prolific period in his career. This earned him a 5 figure fee move to Conference side Dover Athletic.
Player/coach at Maidstone United.
His stay in Kent only produced 4 goals in 26 Conference outings and he moved on to play for a number of non-league clubs in the South-East. Crawley Town, Dulwich Hamlet, Welling United, Gravesend & Northfleet, Dartford, Hastings Town, Folkestone Invicta all benefitted from his services. More recently he was made player-coach at Maidstone United and then turned out for Chatham Town before returning to Maidstone as coach in 2006.
Restarick went on to set up his own Soccer School in Maidstone and was for some time, up until last year, Head of Physical Education at Maidstone Grammar School.
I remember him during his spells at Wivenhoe as an opportunist goal-scorer, who did most of his damage inside the penalty box where he had a happy knack of being in the right place at the right time. He wasn’t a traditional big centre forward, playing more effectively alongside a target man and feeding off the chances created. A confident finisher in one-on-one situations, his ‘busy’ style in the penalty box meant that if the team created chances it would be odds-on that Restarick would be on the end of them.
He will obviously go down in the club’s history as the top goal-scorer for the 1991-92 season, which was a traumatic period for Wivenhoe Town FC both on and off the pitch. It was a pity that the club could not afford to have made his loan move permanent as his goal-scoring prowess would have been more than welcome in the years that were to follow.
With thanks to Richie G. for contributing this piece.