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The day that the ‘ghost’ of Wickham scored at Underhill – Carl Marston’s Travels with Town

PUBLISHED: 18:15 03 April 2020 | UPDATED: 18:15 03 April 2020

Connor Wickham fires home in style during Ipswich Town under-18s' FA Youth Cup win over Arsenal Under-18s, at Underhill in January, 2010. Picture: PAGEPIX

Connor Wickham fires home in style during Ipswich Town under-18s' FA Youth Cup win over Arsenal Under-18s, at Underhill in January, 2010. Picture: PAGEPIX

WARREN PAGE 07976 935738

Football writer Carl Marston has visited 122 Football League grounds, many of them reporting on Ipswich Town. Here he recalls a visit to Barnet’s former home at Underhill

Connor Wickham celebrates his goal during Ipswich Town Under-18s' 2-0 win over hosts Arsenal Under-18s, in an FA Youth Cup tie played at Barnet's Underhill. Picture: PAGEPIXConnor Wickham celebrates his goal during Ipswich Town Under-18s' 2-0 win over hosts Arsenal Under-18s, in an FA Youth Cup tie played at Barnet's Underhill. Picture: PAGEPIX

Ipswich Town have never played a competitive match at Barnet, whether it be at their infamous old home at Underhill, or their current abode at The Hive.

And yet I did visit Underhill, home for the Bees from 1907 through to 2013, as an Ipswich Town reporter only a decade ago.

How come, I here you ask?

Well, it was a very strange evening, in all sorts of ways, most of it centred around a rising Town star by the name of Connor Wickham.

Barnet's former Underhill ground, their home from 1907 to 2013, with a groundsman walking across a soggy pitch. Picture: PAGEPIXBarnet's former Underhill ground, their home from 1907 to 2013, with a groundsman walking across a soggy pitch. Picture: PAGEPIX

It was a tale of would he play, or wouldn’t he play? Even that ended up being full of intrigue, the stuff of a Miss Marple tale or a Hercule Poirot plot.

The match in question didn’t actually feature Barnet, the Hertfordshire-based club who were at the time (in 2009-10) plying their trade in League Two – they have bounced back and forth, between the top tier of non-league and the bottom tier of the Football League, for the last 30 years or so.

Instead, I was at Underhill, in the press box surrounded by flaking amber (really bright orange) and black paint, to report on an FA Youth Cup fourth round tie between Arsenal Under-18s, the hosts, and Town Under-18s.

It ended up being a fine night for Town – Arsenal were the FA Youth Cup holders, but they were no match for their vibrant visitors, who eased to a 2-0 win.

Ronan Murray opens the scoring during a 2-0 win for Ipswich Town Under-18s over Arsenal Under-18s at Underhill in January, 2010. Picture: PAGEPIXRonan Murray opens the scoring during a 2-0 win for Ipswich Town Under-18s over Arsenal Under-18s at Underhill in January, 2010. Picture: PAGEPIX

And the Town goalscorers that night were Ronan Murray and .......... Connor Wickham.

I paused, before mentioning Wickham, because the much-talked-about 16-year-old was not even supposed to be playing! At least not according to the teamsheets circulating Underhill.

There were several scouts from Premier League clubs in the stadium that night, all waiting to cast their eye over a talented striker who was already causing a stir in the professional game.

Wickham had made his first-team debut at the end of the previous season, on April 11, 2009, at the age of 16 years and 11 days, as a substitute during the 3-1 home defeat to Doncaster Rovers. In the process, he became Ipswich’s youngest-ever player, beating the previous record by 46 days, which had been held by Jason Dozzell.

Ipswich Town boss Roy Keane watches from the mainstand at Barnet's Underhill in 2010, during an FA Youth Cup tie against Arsenal. Picture: PAGEPIXIpswich Town boss Roy Keane watches from the mainstand at Barnet's Underhill in 2010, during an FA Youth Cup tie against Arsenal. Picture: PAGEPIX

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Before that youth team match at Barnet, Wickham had already scored his first-ever senior goals, netting twice in a 3-3 draw against Shrewsbury in a League Cup tie (August, 20009). Later that season, he was to score four goals in the Championship.

But back at Underhill, a little display of gamesmanship was on show – according to the team-sheet, Wickham was not starting, and he was not even on the bench.

Perhaps those top-flight scouts had endured a wasted journey into the wilds of Hertfordshire?

Yet when Town, alongside the young Gunners, walked onto the pitch before kick-off, a big lad who drew a striking resemblance to Wickham was in the long line of blue-shirted teenagers.

I raised my eyebrows, and grabbed for my pen to change the team-sheet, while my colleague Warren Page quickly went into action, taking pictures of the ghost that was Connor Wickham.

After the match, Town Academy boss Sammy Morgan admitted to me that a “little gamesmanship” had taken place, in leaving Wickham’s name out of his original squad that morning.

He gave two reasons: Wickham was carrying an injury, while he also didn’t want to give away his team to the intrigued Gunners.

Town certainly did not break any rules in keeping Wickham’s name out of the original squad.

The original team-sheets that were handed out to the press, and all supporters at the turnstiles, had Caolan Lavery playing No. 9 for Town, not Wickham, although it later transpired that the all-important official team-sheet handed to referee Mr Knowles did have Wickham at No. 9.

Naturally, Wickham was to play a key role in the 2-0 win, slamming home the second on 12 minutes, just 60 seconds after fellow striker Murray had broken the deadlock.

As an aside, the mere fact that the match took place at Underhill, rather than the Emirates, also had a bearing on the team-sheet saga.

Arsenal’s request for Town’s team earlier in the day may have contributed to the fact that the team-sheets were probably printed at the Emirates, and then had to be transported to Barnet.

Manager Morgan duly gave the Londoners his 16-man squad, with Wickham as a glaring omission, hence all the inaccurate team-sheets circulating in Underhill.

The plot thickened when, after Wickham had scored, the Tannoy announcer awarded the goal to Lavery. This merely added to the Wickham – ‘was he, or was he not playing?’ – conspiracy theories.

A script worthy of an Agatha Christie novel, indeed.


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