Wycombe and Colchester are on different modern trajectories but an FA Cup giant-killing when the roles were reversed stoked the flames.
Many thanks to Matt Hudson and Jeremy Aves for their help this week…
How far apart are these clubs?
This isn’t Wycombe’s first rodeo in this series of Odd Rivalries. We all know about the bitter hatred that exists between the Chairboys and Plymouth Argyle, but rather than heading to Devon for this feud, Wycombe are looking to Essex and Colchester United, exactly 100 miles east to be exact. A journey between the two clubs and back would take three and a half hours with no toilet breaks for those strong of bladder.
If you’re more of a walker and have over a day to spare, then 28 hours will see you make the journey from Adams Park to the JobServe Community Stadium largely via the B1004. Cycling back to your starting point would only take just shy of nine hours and leave you all extremely healthy while I sit here writing with a box of donuts.
In terms of their football, these sides are just a division apart, but the chasm is a little wider than initially thought. While Colchester sit among the doldrums of League Two looking over their collective shoulders at relegation to the National League, Wycombe are staring ahead at the League One play-off places as Gareth Ainsworth targets an immediate return to the Championship. These two clubs are headed in very different directions and only a brave individual would bet against them being three tiers apart this time next year.
How and when did the rivalry begin?
Contrary to modern day, this rivalry started some 35 years ago in the mid-1980s when Wycombe were very much the underdog, plying their trade in non-league against a Colchester side who were flying high at the top of the fourth tier, albeit on a poor run of form when the sides met in the FA Cup.
Looking to play the unlikely role of giant-killers suited Wycombe – some things never change – and despite struggling in 14th place in the fifth tier at the time of the match, a threefold crowd from their usual 1,000-strong support at the old Loakes Park helped see the Chairboys defeat their Football League opposition 2-0 and cause an upset which would stir the hatred between the two ever since.
What’s the most memorable moment from this rivalry?
Fast forward seven years and to the midst of a classic non-league rivalry which is still felt keenly today despite both sides having spent time in the EFL as high as the Championship. With Colchester dropping to the Conference since that 1985 FA Cup tie and Wycombe having grown into one of the better sides in the division, promotion tussles were to be expected.
The 1990/91 campaign saw Colchester looking for an instant return to the Football League but missing out on automatic promotion by just two points. Wycombe were one of the only sides in the division they failed to beat, ensuring the Us would have to spend a second successive season outside of the Football League, with the play-off system yet to come into effect at that level of the pyramid. It left Colchester chairman John Crisp to lament the “bloody disgrace” that was his fully professional side failing to get out of a “part-time league”.
Crisp would have been happier with Colchester’s efforts the following season, as they finally got the better of the Chairboys and won the ultimate prize: a place back in the Football League. But boy was it close. The Essex side did the double over the perennial thorn in their backsides but still had to rely on goal difference to seal their return to the fourth tier.
An incredible season-long tussle between the two sides saw both break the record points barrier for the division set ten years previously, yet Wycombe would have to persist with yet another season at that level while Colchester would go on to enjoy league football once more. Forget the Premier League, this was a title race for the ages with some of the biggest stakes in the entire sport. No wonder the hatred still exists.
Despite all he has achieved since and indeed with Wycombe, and all the famous managers he has faced and gotten the better of – Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho chief among them – it was perhaps Roy McDonough who got under Martin O’Neill’s skin more than anyone else. There is no way to replicate the tales better than the original transcription for McDonough’s own autobiography, so drink it in in all its shithousing glory:
Found it.. pic.twitter.com/BNee8YNCIG
— Jeremy Aves (@megabrow12) October 26, 2021
— Jeremy Aves (@megabrow12) October 26, 2021
Are they playing each other this season?
Not in the league they’re not. Despite the rivalry, the two clubs have only played each other on 28 occasions, starting with that FA Cup tie in 1985 and most recently in the 2017/18 League Two season. There is the opportunity that the sides could face each other in the FA Cup again with both playing teams in lower divisions. Colchester will be hoping to avoid another upset when they travel to minnows AFC Sudbury on Bonfire Night while the next day sees Wycombe take on Hartlepool United. Should the two meet in the second round proper, the TV stations could do worse than pick it as a live television fixture.
A fixture in the Papa John’s Trophy is out of the question, however, with Wycombe already unable to progress from their group after two games. I’m sure they’re gutted.
What’s the future for this rivalry?
Should the two ever get back to equal footing, then there is plenty of feeling between the fanbases to make something of this fixture once more. There have been games since those bigger moments which have shown the needle is still there and when this series was created, this fixture was cited by fans of both clubs as a must to be included.
Former Colchester United media manager Matt Hudson recalls a 2001 fixture between the sides on the final day of the season in which the sting was in full flow. Despite a heavy police presence – standard fayre given the tension between the two sets of supporters – Hudson remembers interviewing then Colchester manager Steve Whitton with the background noise being that of the away end gates being pulled off their Adams Park hinges by the rowdiest of the travelling Us contingent.
Much of this ill-feeling stemmed from a match a year earlier when a fight broke out between both sets of supporters after a dangerous tackle was made on a Wycombe player. It’s safe to say that any future fixtures would only be another bad tackle or heavy police presence away from igniting further chapters to this rather tasty rivalry.
It doesn’t even take long to be a name remembered in the annals of history for this fixture. Jermaine Brown played only nine minutes for Colchester United in a career spent otherwise entirely in non-league and the Arsenal academy, but what a nine minutes it was. In 2003, the LDV Vans Trophy Southern Section Quarter Final (LDVVTSSQL to its friends) saw the Us defeat Wycombe 3-2 in extra time, with Brown scoring the last-gasp winner during his only ever – and extremely brief – appearance for the club. His name is remembered fondly in the blue and white corner of Essex to this day.
Colchester won the ultimate war back in 1992, but Wycombe have the lead in the battles, with 11 wins to Colchester’s seven victories, They have drawn on 10 occasions.