D3D4 Colchester United Correspondent Piers Palmer recalls how he fell in love with all things Colchester…
When people ask me, ‘What football team do you support?’, and I reply with, ‘The greatest team that ever played on God’s green grass, Colchester United.’ They chuckle and say, ‘No, what proper team do you support?’ and I reply saying, ‘Colchester United’, they follow with, ‘No I mean, like, what Premier League team?’…and so it goes on.
Only fans of Leagues One and Two (and below) understand the frustration of that conversation and, how hard it is to convey the love for a team the majority of people you speak to know nothing about or, even, have never heard of.
Mind you, Essex is a bit of a football limbo. As it’s next door to London, most football fans in Essex look west for a team: West Ham, Tottenham and Arsenal are the usual kidnappers. In fact, I’ve even seen an advert for a shop in Chelmsford (county town of Essex) at the Boleyn Ground. That tells you something about where a lot of the West Ham fan base comes from. The other alternative is for Essex folk to look east for a team and to (God forbid) Ipswich or, even further afield, Norwich.
Luckily for me, my Dad is a true Essex man through and through. There was only one place he was going to take me to see my first ever football match. Home of the mighty U’s: Layer Road.
My first live football match was the last home game of Colchester United’s 2003-4 season against Rushden and Diamonds. We sat in the clock end: the family section. Every sound and sight was completely new to me. The chanting coming from every section of the ground, the announcer’s voice barely audible through the sound of the crowd, the scent of pies and Bovril alluringly floating up my nostrils and, the icing on the cake: Tom Hark by The Piranhas blaring out of the tannoy after they scored. Colchester ended the game 2-0 winners and I was hooked.
I often wonder if the next few years weren’t (arguably) the most successful in the history of the club, would I still bother going to see The U’s play week in, week out, for nearly 14 years? It’s hard to say. Nevertheless, like scoring a goal, I had perfect timing and luck for when I started supporting Colchester. As, between 2005 and 2007, the club saw promotion for the first time to The Championship, a nearly play off push to get into the Premier League and a top 10 finish above all of our East Anglian rivals. They truly were special years.
Unfortunately, as we all know in football, with ups there are always downs. In just four years supporting the club, I had to learn that very quickly. As, the season following Colchester’s best ever finish, they were relegated from The Championship. During the 2007-2008 season, all I knew to do was; to sing, shout and scream as loud as I could to will the team to win. Of course, it counted for nothing. Another harsh football lesson: it doesn’t matter how much you want your team to win, sometimes other teams are just better.
At the end of the 2007-2008 season, not only did The U’s say goodbye to The Championship, but another jab to the heart was saying goodbye to Layer Road. The club was moving to a bigger and better stadium (remember when I spoke about good timing?). The season before, Layer Road – the stadium with the lowest average attendance in the league (just over 5900) – was officially the loudest ground in The Championship.
As with every football club, the ground is the club. Everyone knows the club because of the stadium it plays in. When I first went to see The U’s, I didn’t just fall in love with the team, the goals, the camaraderie, the balti pies. I fell in love with Layer Road. I didn’t care that I always stood in a puddle (even if it hadn’t been raining), I didn’t care that I couldn’t see a third of the pitch because people’s heads were in the way and I didn’t care that I could smell the toilets from the stand. All I cared about was that I absolutely loved it.
Alas, as the old saying goes: you’ve got to role with the punches. The U’s moved to the Weston Homes Community Stadium and although some fans didn’t move with it, I did and I have enjoyed some fantastic moments at that stadium. With that said, here are some of my favourite moments supporting Colchester United.
Firstly, my first ever away game, during the 2004-2005 season, away to Peterborough. The U’s thrashed The Posh 3-0, however, one moment stood out for me in particular. It was the second half, and Colchester were awarded a penalty. The thing is, as is customary at away games, all of the fans were standing up and therefore, being only about ten, I was struggling to see with a load of grown men stood up in front of me. Well, a number of them noticed I couldn’t quite see the goal, so they shouted down at other fans in front of them, and created a ‘parting of the fans’ so I’d be able to see The U’s score. It was that kindness that made me love the club even more.
Secondly, during the 2005-2006 promotion campaign, Colchester enjoyed their best finish in the FA Cup, reaching the fifth round, and grabbing a tie away to Chelsea. It was the biggest stadium I’d ever been to. As well as that, I’d never seen so many Colchester fans before. 6000 crammed in one end of the ground. Chelsea finished up 3-1 winners but in the first half, The Almighty U’s went 1-0 up and stayed 1-0 up for an unforgettable 9 minutes. Prompting the publication of the book, ‘9 Minutes of Magic’ – seriously.
Other best moments include; Southend away during the 2006-2007 campaign. It was Dad’s birthday, Southend were relegation fodder, and there was nearly 2000 Colchester fans ready to enjoy a thrashing of their local rivals in the beautiful spring sunshine. The U’s won the game 3-0 thanks to a Jamie Cureton hat-trick: Happy Birthday Dad! Another fantastic moment was the infamous first game of the season 7-1 destruction of Norwich City at Carrow Road in 2009. I’d lost my voice by the 30th minute and Colchester went in at half time 5-0 up. Finally, my last unforgettable moment was the last game of the 2014-15 season. The odds were against Colchester staying up even if they beat their opponents: second place Preston who themselves were trying to solidify an automatic promotion place. Both teams had to win. Col U finished the match 1-0 winners and somehow avoided relegation from League One thanks to a George Moncur goal and, even better, I achieved a personal goal: a pitch invasion.
It’s the wonderful memories, the time spent with my Dad, the balti pies, the sore throats, the ups, the downs, the fact that no one – not even yourself – understands why it all matters so much. That’s what it means to become a fan of any team. But my team, is Colchester United.
My best Col U XI:
Dean Gerken (GK)
John White (RB) Wayne Brown (CB) Pat Baldwin (CB) Chris Barker (LB)
Karl Duguid (RW) Greg Halford (CM) Kevin Watson (CM) Johnnie Jackson (LW)
Chris Iwelumo (ST) Jamie Cureton (ST) Subs Sam Walker (GK) Matt Heath (CB) Liam Chilvers (DF) Neil Danns (M) Kem Izzet (CM) Mark Yeates (M) Freddie Sears (ST)
Words by Piers Palmer Twitter: @Piers_Palmer Email: firstname.lastname@example.org