Our home game with Vauxhall Motors (Luton) in November 1985 seemed like an ordinary league clash. Well, why wouldn’t it? But it was a fixture that didn’t make it past the half-time interval as tragedy struck in a way that you’d never expect to see at a football game. For the Boro’ fans who were there, we can only imagine that it’s a moment that never leaves you. And, yet, we bet there are plenty of other fans – particularly of a later vintage – who don’t know anything about it at all.
The death of Vauxhall Motors (Luton) striker Colin Mathurin on the Broadhall Way turf at the age of just 21 was both unexpected and heartbreaking in equal measure. It’s not something that you think could happen to a physically fit player. Then again, we know differently from the stories of Christian Eriksen, Marc Vivien-Foe, or Fabrice Muamba that it can. For our fans too, the untimely passing of Mitchell Cole brings that grief and sadness closer to home. But what about Colin?
Here’s what we know about that fateful day in late 1985 when tragedy came to Broadhall Way.
Stevenage Borough 2-0 Vauxhall Motors (Luton)*
Broadhall Way, Stevenage — 16 November 1985 — Vauxhall Opel League Division Two North
Coming into the game, the expectations were high. Writing afterwards, The Comet reported how “Vauxhall Motors’ first visit to Stevenage was to decide which of the regions two top teams would emerge as the stronger promotion candidates”. At the time, the sides were sitting second and fourth. Mind you, Boro’s form had dipped. A 2-0 home win over Saffron Walden Town on the previous Monday evening had ended a run of five league games without victory.
And it was the hosts who took the initiative; Boro’ putting themselves two goals to the good. The first came courtesy of a Des Gallagher penalty. Noel Blackwell handled Martin Gittings‘ shot, and Dessie came up from his goal to put us ahead. Gitts himself added the second after 24 minutes.
An unforeseen tragedy
The first steps to this awful tragedy came in the build up to our first goal. Colin and young Boro’ centre-half Dave Watkins went up for a header and bashed heads. According to The Comet, this “seemed the most innocuous of head clashes”. It put the two players out of action for a couple of minutes as both received treatment. Yet, this seemed to do the trick; “both recovered after a couple of minutes’ treatment, and were back into the fray”.
Sadly, it appears that Colin suffered a more serious, unseen injury that couldn’t be treated. And it proved fatal. Six minutes later, the striker “collapsed with no other player around him”. There was no shortage of first-aiders dashing to his rescue while an ambulance arrived; all desperately doing what they could to revive him. The young player, however, never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead on arrival at the town’s Lister Hospital.
The immediate shock
As news filtered through to Broadhall Way of Colin’s passing, the referee abandoned the match at half time. Football is little more than a sideshow in the grand scheme of things. So, it’s appropriate at the very least that players from both sides could return home and take stock of what happened. The same, it should be said, goes for the fans, officials, and everyone else at the ground that day.
In official circles, it was time to find out what had caused Colin’s untimely passing. But this was not immediately clear. Indeed, The Comet said in its 20 November issue that “a top Home Office pathologist has been called in to probe the mystery death”. An initial post mortem failed to find out what happened to Colin and, as The Gazette reported, “an inquest due to open in Hitchin… following the post mortem had to be postponed” to allow for further medical examinations.
For Boro’, meanwhile, a Herts Charity Cup clash with Boreham Wood went ahead as scheduled just two days later. Understandably, a disjointed performance saw us record a 2-0 home defeat.
After the tragedy…
The investigation into what caused such an untimely and unexpected passing would, it seems, go on into 1986. That’s based on official records. And our research didn’t take us that far at the time of writing. We aren’t going to speculate either.
For Colin’s club, the impact was felt long throughout the season. As The Comet suggested, they had been down as promotion candidates in November. But, come the end of the 1985-6 season, Vauxhall Motors (Luton) were 16th. The rearranged fixture took place in April 1986, finishing in a 3-0 win for us. And, even now, the memories of that day in November 1985 still linger. In a 2009 programme, Dave Watkins referred to it as “the worst moment in my career by a long way”.
It’s certainly something that no-one ever wants to witness at a match – player, fan, or otherwise.