Sunday, 30 December 2007
The writing was on the wall of the tunnel at the start of this game. The guard of honour on the pitch as the players emerged was one of our junior teams wearing the colours of our opposition - tangerine! As someone told me at the time, we could have been playing any other team in the league and there wouldn't have been a clash - but for this one day only it just had to be orange. Who was it that suggested the future's bright ...?
Anyway, everyone agrees this was our worst display in the Championship, ... ever. I've been saying that things can only get better for us, but the lads have defied me and decided to dig in for the long run. They're making me sweat it out until the end of the season I reckon.
It's got me thinking that it's good for every set of football fans to be placed in this position at some time during their lives - bottom of the table. It makes you realise that everyone's fallible. No-one has a divine right to be top of the league year after year. No-one has a right to win all their games. Except that there appears to be a number of club owners, and fans, who believe that's just the case. It's a view supported by the FA, UEFA, and FIFA in the way they manage and structure the game.
The old First Division used to be a great place for football until the Premier League happened. Now there appears to be a real issue about the quality of clubs that earn their place by playing the best football over a whole season in a lower league. Let's not forget that some Coca Cola League Two teams used to be in the top flight in the not so distant past - Bradford City and Notts County. But people also try to argue that Leeds and Nottingham Forest are 'really' Premiership quality clubs. Sorry - look at their results and league positions over the last few years. Then look at Colchester United. We ARE a Championship club. At least we are this season.
Next season we will be whatever we are at that time. Oh yes I desperately want us still to be in the Championship and that's what I'll be cheering for right up to the end of this season. But I'll also cheer a few other things as we stagger along the Championship tightrope, and I'm pleased to say that there are hundreds of other U's fans who are doing the same.
Witness the scene towards the end of the Blackpool game when the opposition make a substitution. They replace the scorer of their two goals and the home crowd gives him a round of applause. OK it was Scott Vernon and he used to be one of us, albeit for just 4 games at the end of our promotion season.
Witness the scene when we've finally been beaten and the players are leaving the pitch - most of the crowd has left early, but several hundred did stay behind and applaud both sets of players off the field. I'm proud to be a U's fan.
Were you watching, Jamie Cureton? No, of course not.
Thursday, 27 December 2007
It didn't feel like a big crowd today. Southampton did bring quite a few and they only had a couple of chants to entertain us with. They did try the old chestnut about us 'going down' but that's boring. We had high hopes since we beat them 2-0 here during our home run last season.
The lack of action at times today meant the whole stadium descended into silence a few times - it was quite eerie really, especially for a ground that has been hailed as one of the noisiest in the league. Quite ironically one of the biggest cheers from home fans happened when a Southampton player mis-hit the ball into the crowd. The biggest cheer from the away supporters was reserved fro the kids penalty competition at half time, which was almost better entertainment than the rest of the match.
Another 1-1 draw at home - the 4th time in two months. One point is better than none however, and it does give us some hope for the weekend coming up. It does also leave us 2 points adrift at the bottom of the table, when a win would have seen us climb two places.
Probably the most desperate thing about the whole match is the continued lack of confidence shown by our players. There are every few occasions when they try to string together more than 2 passes - and sometimes that's beyond them. I'm sure they would benefit from a course of hypnotherapy. Or should the fans be given this luxury? Maybe it happened last season.
Did we really finish in tenth place? Are we really playing in the Coca Cola Championship or is it an alternative reality drummed into our heads by some clever (or boring) chanting by opposition fans a couple of seasons ago? Maybe we'll wake up soon and find that this season has been the fantasy and we can get ourselves back on track for a grandstand finish and march proudly into Cuckoo Farm in 2008 as a Championship club.
I can wish can't I?
Sunday, 16 December 2007
Anyway a dull match that deserved to be a goal-less draw actually ended 1-1 and kept us both languishing down below. I'm pleased to say however that some players, most notably Kem Izzet seem to have taken heed of the comments in my last posting and there was a distinct sign of some extra effort.
Sadly the half-time entertainment continues to be a joke and the safety announcement is beginning to show signs of ageing with a lot of crackles preceding the main message. Perhaps it's time to record a clean version and play that instead. Perhaps it's also time to re-think the half-time entertainment big time. Please don't think we are entertained by people who can't kick a ball properly, or lift it over a wall of wooden players, or drop it into a shed with no roof. Sky TV viewers deserved more than this.
Actually they did get more - half time was extended by a further couple of minutes while the British Army (OK, a marching band) took their time leaving the pitch at the furthest point away from where they needed to be. No one was going to argue with them.
Sunday, 9 December 2007
But first we need to win a few games and get ourselves back up the table. Starting with Norwich next week. Well my contribution to this is to provide selected members of the squad with some early Christmas presents that should help to improve their game. Not that I can afford anything that any one of them can’t afford themselves, but I do think that I have identified a few coaching tips that need to be taken on board during every game.
My gift is an honest appraisal of what I, and others at Layer Road, have been shouting all season. Sad to say that one or two players only seem to hear the boos from certain sections of the ground, but perhaps they ought to put microphones in the crowd and listen to the (constructive) comments once in a while. Here is my advice, freely given, and gift wrapped in this blog.
The Whole Squad
For starters I’d give everyone a yo-yo. It may them help to realise that what goes down can come back up. It might take a bit of practice and it can’t be taken for granted but if you keep at it, then you’ll master the art and soon be able to try some fancy flicks and tricks. Ask Teddy, he’s been there.
Dean Gerken - The Gardener
Please don’t spend so much time digging up the pitch for goal kicks. Please don’t spend so much time holding onto the ball when you get it in your hands. I can tell you like having the spotlight on you but we would appreciate it much more if you released the ball earlier. I reckon you collect the ball about thirty times during a game at an average of 10 seconds each time. That’s 5 minutes of the match that the ball is stationary in your possession and that’s more than your fair share. How many times do you actually release the ball into the possession of one of your own team, instead of a big kick that we all hope reaches one of them?
At the last enquiry it appears you are still not a member of Equity (actors’ union) so please give up that part of your game. OK it sometimes gets a player sent off, and occasionally wins a free-kick. But how many goals have we scored from those set pieces? Not enough. It’s an embarrassment really and we all know when you are acting up so it would be better to channel your natural footballing talent and energy into doing something more productive, like forging runs down the wing (since there’s usually no-one else down there).
Good guy, bad guy? Which one are you? Do you want to play for Colchester, or not? You have good games and bad games and we can’t work you out. You’ve got a lot of strength but it doesn’t always transfer into skill that works for the team. OK you got a goal recently, but we really need a solid and reliable defence. It means you need to be there and be aware of where your team mates are. That means looking for them and not expecting them to cover for you.
You need the Layer Road equivalent of Harry Potter’s Marauders Map. A magic map that shows where everyone is, and where the ball is. I concede that you run around the pitch the whole game and you are probably the most exhausted player at the end of the game. But what have you actually done? I rarely see you involved in a lot of action and I wonder where you’ve been. Get stuck in for more of the game and you might just find you enjoy it more.
Now you get stuck in more than most, but you are picking up bad habits from other players, particularly from Doogie and the forwards. You will never be like them, you are not tall enough for starters – sorry to be so blunt. Try to develop your own game and have the confidence to push the opposition backwards. Make them afraid of you.
If you don’t want to hear the boos then get some ear plugs. I guess you are afraid of picking up more injuries. It’s clear to everyone that you don’t like to tackle or to head the ball. Pretending to go for the ball and then backing off does nothing to the opposition. They know that’s what you do and they just go in fearless, in the knowledge that they will win the ball and that you will back away.
It may come as a surprise to you to lean that there are other players on the field in your own team. They would love it if you passed the ball to them. The goals you score from set pieces are great – it’s just that we think you are selfish. In a recent game I counted ten times from the start of the game that you got the ball and didn’t pass to one of your own team. It may look good if you beat one or two players, but then you’ve got to do something sensible, like pass it to a colleague, not try for a third and then lose it. It doesn’t wash when you whack the ball across into space and shrug your shoulders as if to blame everyone else. The fans are no longer amused. Become a team player.
Kevin Lisbie and Clive Platt
Work it out guys! Who does what? Neither of you seem to have any kind of ball control. You get tons of chances but the ball never seems to stick to you. It’s happened far too often to put it down as ‘unlucky’. Work at it. Practice trapping, controlling and running with the ball. Basic stuff really. Glancing the ball off into space doesn’t set anyone up. Think about how many times either of you actually pass the ball to another player on your team in a dangerous situation. Watch some videos of Teddy – better still, talk to him.
Keep at it Boss. You are an inspiration to the team and the fans. It was always going to be a difficult season after what you achieved last year, especially with the amount of players that jumped ship. I just hope our current players can learn from their mistakes and see that playing the ball to each other as much as possible will eventually win through. Team work is what it takes, and the fans like to think they are part of that team too.
The truth hurts, and it pains me to have said all this. But, no pain no gain.
Now for Norwich. Canaries? Pretty colours, but best kept locked up in cages.
Wednesday, 5 December 2007
One of the most eagerly awaited matches this. Watford were on a downward roll after we shocked them 2-2 at their place less than a month ago. Three consecutive defeats have followed that and we were fresh from an away victory at Sheffield Wednesday last Saturday. Sadly that was enough to relegate Teddy Sheringham to the bench until late in the game - we can't expect too much from the old boy can we?
We've had a thing about beating high flyers in recent times. Last season for instance we got the better of Derby in a 7 goal thriller, kept the ball rolling in early November by beating Cardiff (then top of the table) during 'Our Home Run', held Birmingham to an exciting 1-1 draw here and put an end to Sunderland's unbeaten run when they had just about clinched the Championship. Notice that three of those teams are now in the Premiership. That's right, we don't respect table position so tonight's game was there for the taking and inside half an hour we were two up.
Then a familiar thing happened. A crack, as big as the one in the Tate Modern, appeared in our defence and it stayed there for the rest of the game. Two goals for the Hornets just before half time and they came out buzzing in the second half. A third just after the hour and we were playing catch up for the rest of the game.
The half-time entertainment was a stream of people who just wanted to stand in front of the crowd. Not sure what was supposed to happen but we did applaud the efforts of the fundraisers from St Helena Hospice, and one or two others, but the announcements went on a bit too long at times and we just lost the will to clap. Especially after our hopes of a draw in the crossbar competition were resting on a young lady who was allowed to place the ball 10 feet closer than everyone else. Yes, she blasted the ball 10 feet over the bar!
We struggled to get back into the game and it was a disappointing end to what promised much more for us. It was our own fault - we didn't compete enough or play as a team at key moments. The game wasn't helped by the interference of a certain Mr Kettle, the match referee. He played his own game. He took his time over his own decisions yet penalised time-wasting, over-ruled his assistants, booked 7 players, and in the words of Mr Williams in his post-match interview the referee was 'a good advertisement for himself tonight'. Interestingly Mr Kettle and his assitsants were dressed in Watford's home colours! I did say something stinks tonight!
Sunday, 25 November 2007
When was the last time they all stood on a terrace for over two hours in the middle of winter with nothing to show but Frozen Assets at the end of a match. I know I'm one of the softies who has a regular seat at Layer Road, but that's on account of my Flippin' Arthritis and I like to think I've done my time at the real end of the game. When have they ever sat at a match where they cared about watching some Ferocious Action and prayed for help, and I mean put their hands together and asked Him to grant their wishes. Except of course it probably did happen last week when they realised that there'd be Falling Advertising revenues from sponsors who were banking on a profitable Euro 2008 campaign.
Sad to say but this sense of grief returned early in the game against Palace, just six minutes into the First 'Arf' and we were one down. Worse was to come a minute later when Baldwin Flapped his Arms and Ifill Fell About as though he'd been shot. But somehow from that point it became a match worth saving. The boys slowly clawed their way back into contention. It wasn't pretty, but we don't ask for that. We just ask that they try, and try they did. By half time things were looking positive and you could tell we were on the up because our Favourite Announcement told us that Ipswich had lost earlier.
The half time entertainment had a mis-match in 'Over-The-Wall'. One very young contender was barely taller than the ball, but he surprised everyone by winning the contest and may even be in contention for the Wickes DIY Vouchers at the end of the season. The Palace supporters were delighted and cheered him back to his place on the terraces to the tune of 'Sign him up, sign up, sign him up'. Let's hope he's a Free Agent?
In the second period it looked like we wanted to salvage something and a superb piece of Footie Action resulted in the equaliser. At this point Palace were expected to Fall Apart and gift us the game. But no, they hadn't read the same script and Neil Warnock's men decided that a draw wasn't enough for them and they upped their pace and took the lead once again.
Despite the reappearance of our Fallen Angel, Teddy Sheringham MBE (Mischievous Bl**dy Elbow) and some Frantic Activity in the remotest areas of the field the result was to be the same as the corresponding fixture last season.
I have to say that the lads battled marvellously throughout the last eighty three minutes, but in the Final Analysis, we lost 1-2, and we scored no points, and it Felt Awful trudging down Layer Road with nothing to show for our efforts.
I blame the F.A.
Sunday, 11 November 2007
These observations stem from a number of years of experience of playing football at various levels from playground and street soccer, school teams, youth leagues, Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning local leagues, a bit of experience at Intermediate level, and work based teams, to six-a-side, coaching youth teams, refereeing at Junior and Intermediate levels, and most importantly studying thousands of matches on TV from the comfort of my armchair. I have even experienced the joy of this technique while listening to the radio. So you can see I have an impressive pedigree which, for the record, includes watching the 1966 World Cup Final on TV, and 'I Was There' when we beat Leeds in 1971.
So please believe me when I say 'it works'. It works because it's so simple. In fact everyone who watches football knows it works. They know it's really the only way to win matches. I have a sneaking suspicion that professional players know it works, but I guess it's the embarrassment of doing it in front of thousands of fans at Layer Road in that intimate atmosphere of drama, dreams and desire that makes grown men crumble.
What I'm talking about is - passing the ball to a team-mate....
Seriously folks, no-one is going to laugh if you get it wrong or it doesn't work every time. We just want to see you trying it out regularly. Practice makes perfect so they say. Doing it on the training ground doesn't count. There aren't any opposing teams there. You know each other so you get fooled into thinking it's too obvious, too easy, too straightforward (hey, there's another coaching technique!).
What we see all too often is the almighty 'hoof' up the field to the other team's defence. We've been blessed with giant centre forwards in recent years and what we see is them rising above the rest, getting their delicate hairdos to the ball, the deftest of flicks, and ... what? The ball disappears into no man's land or to an opposing player. Why not head it deliberately to one of your team mates? Why not bring the ball under control (we are talking professional footballers here, aren't we?) and look for a team mate to pass it to. Don't put the ball into space and shrug your shoulders cos' no-one can read your mind. Don't put a long ball over everyone's heads and then look amazed at how small the pitch is. Look for the blue and white striped shirt if you can't recognise your mates' faces. Away matches are trickier of course, but let's start with the easy option and try to win some home games.
Just imagine stringing several passes together between players of the same team. You know what happens when you get beyond 5 passes. The fans lose count and start to treat it like a bullfight spectacle - cheering every pass as the bull (I mean the opposition) goes mad trying to get a sniff of the damn ball. Tease the other team for a few minutes, make them forget what it's like to touch that magnetic rolling rock that sticks to our feet, show it to them at just beyond their reach, then snatch it away at the last moment and pass the cape to a team mate. They won't like it, they can't cope with it and they have to resort to a rash tackle in that area of the pitch that has become known as Yeates' Alley. And we know what we expect to happen then. Different ball game!
So come on lads, start performing like 'Yeates and his Mates', the 'Teddy Boys', the 'KKK' (that's Karl to Kevin [W] to Kevin [L]), or dare I say it ..... Colchester United.
So what happens then? As I'm writing this the lads have just been to church (Vicarage Road) and have been absolved for all their previous sins and have come away with a cracking result. Sadly just the one point, but against the table toppers Watford and we did scare the pants off them for a while with a 2-1 lead and Deano saving a penalty. Great stuff.
We now start the next game with a clean sheet so come on lads, try out this passing stuff in front of the home fans. Amaze us with your team spirit. Pass the ball to your team mates. The rest will happen naturally. You know it makes sense.
Wednesday, 7 November 2007
There isn't much to say about the actual football in this match - there wasn't much at all. Stringing passes together was beyond the reach of most players. Yeates (note - not 'Yeatesy') was playing is own game as usual and shrugging his shoulders every time a bad shot at goal didn't connect with anyone. He was lucky the goalkeeper parried his only shot on target into the path of Lisbie for our only reward of the game. We had a back-pedalling defence, a midfield that didn't want to challenge for the ball and forwards who couldn't make the ball stick to them. It was really hopeless tonight.
The half-time entertainment was dire with no-one hitting the bar in the head to head between supporters and 'Over the Wall' was so slowly played that the safety announcement was quickly interrupted by the return of the bit part players.
And what on earth what Kevin Watson on about in his post-match interview when he criticised 10 or 15 fans for their adverse reaction to the poor performance? Actually he was well wide of the target - it was 200-300 disgruntled fans who appeared to reflect the abysmal performance of the team on the pitch. Watson should concentrate on what WE are paying him for. He's supposed to make an effort, not chicken out of every tackle, or straighten his shirt sleeves before every half-hearted attempt at not heading the ball. He might think he looks good at distributing the ball sideways from time to time, but that's not enough.
Get stuck in! Show us some passion and we will also show some passion. The fans behaviour reflects what's happening on the pitch. After losing two games and scraping two home draws there's a reason for the fans being unhappy. You have made us appreciate the good life and we want to see something better. The players still get paid (far more than most of their supporters) even when they play like this. Watson should listen to the post-match interview of his manager and try to learn how to behave.
(And this is the edited version of my post-match interview with my son.)
Sunday, 4 November 2007
The defeat at Ipswich has been followed up with another away defeat, this time at Coventry where a couple of deflections summed up our day - the first being deflected shot that became the only goal of the game and the second being Sheringham's elbow that he couldn't control as it deflected off an opponent. It's funny how we start to refer to players just by their last name when we are upset with their performance. In previous posts here it's been Teddy this, Teddy that. Not now. A moment's madness and he's another one consigned to the rogue's gallery for a while.
So the Leicester game wasn't going to be much of an affair. In the end the result was a close repeat of last season's encounter with yet another score draw. The only differences compared to last year were that we equalised just before half-time (instead just after last year) and Doogie didn't get sent off (see what I mean - I'm using a friendly name at the moment).
The highlight of the game though was the interplay between the two sets of supporters. I have to say that the opposition got the better of us today. This time it was a Fat 'Les' Leicester bloke with a big drum who led his brave army into vocal battle against our 'Tambourine Man'. I normally enjoy our drum beat charges, but today we were really left wanting more. I wont bang on about it any more.
We aren't doing ourselves any favours at the moment and we are now starting to occupy a regular spot in the bottom half of the Championship table. We aren't used to this and it's going to take some serious effort ont he part of the players to reverse the trend. I'm finding it difficult to list some positives here. Never mind, there's always Tuesday evening.
Wednesday, 24 October 2007
The first was watching some bits of the Southampton v Cardiff match on TV on Sunday as part of my warm up for the big match - Hamilton v Alonso v Raikkonen. I wasn't really watching the game, I was listening to the noise coming from the TV. The echo of the crowd in the St Mary's Stadium suggested that only a few hundred had bothered to turn up. A check in the press the next day suggested there were nearly 21000. I guess most were sleeping, but it did mean that we could have fit our capacity into the space that remained and still had room for 3000 more. The rattling of voices off the walls showed that a ground being only 63% full hasn't got any atmosphere. The learning outcome here for me is that maybe 10,000 is adequate for Cuckoo Farm, for the time being anyway. Let's not lose the terrific and glorious 'Real Football Roar' that erupts from everywhere except Terraces 1 and 2. Six and a half thousand muted voices in a larger stadium and we might as well be talking to ourselves. We need to live up to the title we won last season.
The second life changing event happened at Portman Road on Tuesday night for our first local derby of the season. It was a last minute decision and I managed to get a couple of tickets on the morning of the game, but my son and I had to sit in the Cobbold Stand shoulder to shoulder, back to knees (knees in my back, my knees in someone else's back), with a few thousand tractor drivers from another world. We had agreed that we were not going to say or do anything that might get us 'outed' as travelling criminals in that part of the world where we hoped to steal three points points from under their noses. The plan started well and we took the lead in the most eerie fashion I have ever experienced. A great build up and stunning shot after half an hour. We had the lead and the roar was choking inside us. It happened without any noise - it was like watching the TV with the sound off. Had we really scored? Were we really one-nil up? Did we really have those three points in our grasp? Well the way the match went for the next 40 minutes either side of the break suggested we had already banked the three points.
Then an extraordinary set of events - a penalty where the ref didn't send off the offending keeper, who then has the cheek to save the spot kick, and town of Ipswich wakes up. They spot that we are making off with the booty and I'm sure they don't know how they did it but they managed to wrestle one point back from us and put one of the others spinning through the air for a few minutes. Then they snatched the whole damn lot and ran off to the bank themselves. Two different types of 'stunned' in the course of one match. I know which one I preferred.
In fact 'stunned' was the byword for the post-match interviews on the radio. Even Neil Kelly, our radio presenter, was stunned as he asked questions of Platt and Davison: "How did it ... ? What was ... ? Why ...?" was exactly what he said - he couldn't get any more words out himself. The replies were equally short: "I, just, dunno." "I ..." "Dunno"!
OK, so back to the life changing events - the cramped seats in the Cobbled Together Stand made me realise that Layer Road isn't as bad as I once thought. I've always considered my own seat to be economically constructed but Portman Road takes the biscuit. I'll be happy with my current space being replicated at Cuckoo Farm, although I'd really like a bit more width and leg room please - but I promise won't moan about the piece of heaven I possess until then. (Click heels together three times, and repeat after me "There's no place like Home", "There's no place like Home", ... "There's no place like Layer Road")
Sunday, 21 October 2007
I mentioned last week that Bela Balogh hadn't yet made a full appearance for us. That was put right and he played a competent and relatively solid part in this victory. He's got potential. Another lad who's got potential is our Teddy. Sidelined for about a month with an old age injury it was good to see him play again at last. It did highlight another interesting fact - that when you sign a player who has established himself elsewhere you also inherit the chants that go with him. In our case - Ohhhhhh Teddy Teddy, Teddy Teddy Teddy Teddy Sher-ing-ham (and repeat).
Now Yeatesy is our top scorer and he chipped in with two more today, a classic free kick and penalty which he won in classic/dubious fashion. However, I do sometimes wonder if he practices with the team in training or locks himself in the gym on his own and bounces off walls while appealing for a free kick or throw-in. I don't suppose the lino on our side of the pitch is his best mate anyway. Speaking of which I suspect it was a put-up job when mid-way through the second half the announcer asked for the loser of a pair of spectacles to contact a steward. Half the crowd immediately named the unhappy loser - 'Lino !'.
Anyway it was good to get back into my cramped seated position for the first time in ages. At one stage I accidentally whacked the guy in front of me while applauding, and I trod on several toes while working my way to my seat. No danger of 'Mind the Gap' messages here at Layer Road (except in our defence which left a huge gap for Kevin Phillips to open the scoring). 'The Gap' has been there all season with an average of almost two goals leaking through in every game. Mind you we've got a slightly better average at exactly two goals per game. So it doesn't really surprise anyone that our most frequent scoreline this season has been a 2-2 draw.
The half-time entertainment was up to normal standards with a draw in in the junior penalty competition, and a close run thing in 'Over the Wall' (in which I still don't understand the points system). Then the safety announcement came over loud and clear and for once it seemed that everyone was listening - I'll give them 9 out of 10 this week.
And finally, having dispatched the opposition 3-2 and having applauded the lads for the effort which saw us climb five places in the table to 12th, it was time for a decision. Having a seat in the middle of a row means we have a choice of exits. Left or right. To the right they were spending longer than usual congratulating the team on a fine performance so we chose left, and emerged onto Layer Road alongside the people who were sitting on our right and who exited that side. Oh well, another draw.
Friday, 19 October 2007
It should be a time when we all join hands with other clubs' supporters and hail the efforts of our own national team (although Arsenal and Chelsea fans might have some difficulty in identifying who their national team is). And this is what we've been doing these past two weeks. What an exciting time it's been. Gritty and gripping wins over Australia and France to bring us another World Cup Final appearance. Forwards falling over each other to get to the ball. Backs standing firm in the face of continual onslaughts. The midfield mastery of that wizard Wilkinson. Oh yes, I forgot to mention, it's Rugby Union that has taken the headlines this last two weeks.
And what of our national soccer team. On the face of it a fifth consecutive 3-0 win in the tournament and a loss abroad on a wet synthetic surface. Except that the 3-0 win came courtesy of a nutmeg on an unsighted keeper, a deflection, and an own goal - hardly stuff to get too excited about. And all the defeat has done has been to send the media into apoplexy in predicting the next England manager.
But that's all behind us now and it's time for the real thing again. Saturday afternoons, 3 o'clock kick-off, rusty corrugated iron stands, wooden stairs, pigeons nesting in the eaves, and the weather's turning colder. Yes, Layer Road beckons once more.
Come on the U's.
Sunday, 7 October 2007
The author of the book describes in some detail the efforts he makes to follow his beloved team to all points north, south, east and west, despite becoming a resident of Norwich and being unable to bring himself to follow his adopted home town. His rationale being that any team in yellow shirts can’t play football. Let’s think about that – Norwich? Depends on your point of view in East Anglia (and they are certainly better than the Tractor Boys). Watford? Yes, OK I’d go along with that. Australia? Well, I can’t argue with that either. So where does that leave Brazil then?
While discussing the content of this book with a friend, a Norwich supporter, who just happens to live in Colchester and is secretly proud of our achievements, I said that I wished I had kept a diary of our first championship season (maybe someone else did and I have yet to discover it). So he suggested I do one of this season – the last at Layer Road, and take the opportunity to slag off Stoke City at the same time –just to even the score.
Well, I’d rather the lads did that on the pitch, but it seems that the QPR thrashing has taken most of it out of us and we went down 1-2 today to the Staffs Terriers. I’m not going to dwell on things too much except to say that I heard on the grapevine that the Colchester fans did more to fill the Britannia Stadium (with cheering, singing, chanting, and other vocalising) than the home fans on this occasion were able to muster. Let’s hear it for the Col U faithful …
Another parallel with the book is that my journey over the last two years at Layer Road has also seen the accompaniment of my son, who harbours some feelings for a little premiership outfit in Manchester. He’s a typical Manchester United fan – he doesn’t live in Manchester and still hasn’t seen them at home. In fact it’s worse than that – every time he’s seen them play live they have lost. Now that is true love.
But what is it that makes a football fan? Is it blind faith in your team’s abilities against all reasonable judgement - do Mansfield supporters still sing that old favourite: “….. they’re by far the greatest team, the world have ever seen”? Is it the desire to heap severe criticism on a bunch of inadequate individuals without giving the match officials any chance of arguing back at you? Or is it that we actually relish the opportunity to brag about buying designer clothes (replica shirts, etc.) so we can argue that we employ fashion designers to create our extensive wardrobe – and let’s face it the cost is a significant part of this.
I have to say I do find it galling that after spending a hard earned fortune on season tickets, replica shirt, scarf, matchday programmes, food and drink at the ground, and the occasional flutter on the 50/50 or club lottery, one of the club’s directors can resort to begging for more money from fans before the final home game last season. What is the average wage of the five thousand or so regulars compared to the average wage of the players? What is the average worth of the club directors? And they want more money from us? Are we supposed to be ever so grateful for what we receive each week when we venture out to matches? Do we have to make savings in our budgets during the week so that we can send another few bob home to the club?
Anyway – I recommend the book and you can find it on Amazon : She Stood There Laughing by Stephen Foster. I’d be happy to hear any other suggestions of books or blogs written by footie fans about their time in the Football League. Please don’t recommend premiership stuff – I can’t afford the time to read those, and I don’t speak any other languages.
Thursday, 4 October 2007
This season it’s happened earlier. Our first home evening kick-off and we have yet to achieve a home win. We are playing QPR, who are firmly rooted at the bottom of the division. They have a caretaker manager in Mick Harford who was our assistant to George Williams last season and the loan arranger has exceeded himself tonight. Two players who were with us on loan last season – Chris Barker and Hogan Ephraim – are playing for QPR (Ephraim on loan) and a former U’s player (on loan of course) - Rowan Vine – is now playing for QPR (on loan of course). In fact Vine visited us twice last season with different clubs – Luton & Birmingham – so it’s just like he’s still playing here! And of course there’s something about a floodlit match that creates an electric atmosphere. The clash of events for me is my Dad this time. He had to go into hospital today to have his pacemaker replaced and I went to pick him up from Barts Hospital in London just after 7 pm. (All went well by the way – Dad’s OK.)
All is not lost as my son was at the ground, and able to text updates to me. Even better was the live commentary on BBC Essex which we managed to decipher despite the poor reception so far out of our area – it improved as we got nearer home and out of the city centre. There were a couple of dips in the landscape and these seemed to coincide with key moments in the game when our favourite commentator, honorary ‘Essex Man’ Neil Kelly, got a bit excited and gave us a clue that something wicked / interesting / vital / live-saving / crucial / exceptional / or downright amazing had happened.
It’s true we were in need of a lift after recent results, but we didn’t really expect the QPR defence to gift it in quite the way they did to open the scoring FOR US. 1-0 to Colchester. Just coming out of a cutting on the A13 and it’s apparent that QPR have equalised, 1-1 and it’s ‘our Hogan’ who did the damage. The QPR fans loved it I’m told – they’d just discovered they could taunt the home fans with a couple of repetitions of ‘You’re not singing any more’ when … they weren’t singing any more themselves. Izzet does it for us and it’s 2-1. And it’s all matter-of-fact in the commentary box when Yeates scores with a trademark free-kick a few minutes before half-time and it’s 3-1 at the break. No ‘over the wall’ in the interval this week – Yeates has done his version of that already! The half-time entertainment is boosted with the arrival of the match programmes in which the ink was still a tiny bit damp.
Then it gets a bit frantic for me. I’ve arrived at home, my radio battery is failing and the reception here is poor, so it’s the cable TV access to BBC Essex – but they are transmitting the wrong frequency on the cable network and it’s music!!! How about the Internet? My desktop computer crashed on Saturday and I’m trying to cope with a spare laptop and I haven’t got Real Player software installed and the BBC web site insists on having it. So I try to download it and get blocked because I haven’t logged onto my own computer as an administrator. (QPR pull one back – that man Vine). I log out and back in again as administrator and manage to download the software. (Platt scores for us and we increase our lead back to two goals at 4-2). Back to the web site and click on ‘Listen’ and discover that for various reasons they aren’t broadcasting the match tonight. Oh well, the last few minutes of a crackly reception – a bit like the half time safety announcement apparently – and the U’s are safely home with our first home win of the season. I was there in spirit.
By the way, did anyone else spot the moment when the linesman managed to keep the ball in play and the ball-boy then picked it up and tossed it to a player for a throw-in? What’s the ruling on that then? Discuss!
Sunday, 30 September 2007
My first encounter was in the ticket office. A guy came in with his young son and asked if there were any tickets available for today's game. After being told that there were only standing tickets in the terraces they had a short discussion and decided to wait for another match - they really wanted to sit down. Now what sort of example is that? Why spoil kids at such a tender age? Most of us had to learn to become football supporters by standing on wooden terraces, often exposed to the elements and equal amounts of cigarette smoke and beer fumes. I know things have moved on in this day and age, but you have to earn your seat at a football match. You won't appreciate it until you've done your time on the terraces.
Amongst the first arrivals are the caterers and the food for various functions throughout the day - most importantly the birthday lunch for one lucky fan being held later in the Players' Lounge. And don't forget all the refreshment outlets around the ground. The provisions don't just magically appear out of thin air as they are needed. The early part of the day sees trolleys and trucks transporting tins and tuck to all corners of the ground.
Now here's a question: What washes whiter? You're probably going to say something like Ariel, Bold or Persil. Well, actually it's Brian and Ian. And what a job they have on their hands, and not just on match days. They have the pleasure of managing the kit for all the clubs teams throughout the week. Believe me, it is a full time job. There's a whole bank of automatic washing machines running through their match programmes just so that the players can have two sets of immaculately laundered kit hanging up to greet them in the changing room on match day. Watch out for the big yellow bins being carted around the ground. That's the dirty linen. So what's the most difficult part of this job I asked. Getting the socks whiter than white I'm told. Check them out after Christmas and we might see a few grey threads. I have to say that this is the first time I've ever seen Persil on tap!
Time to see the kit hanging up in the changing rooms. Everything is done by numbers here. Strictly numerical order. Except for the keepers, who have to sit together. By my reckoning if Sheringham had been playing today, then Teddy wouldn't have been in the corner. Maybe they move around to music as a pre-match warm-up and rearrange themselves into alphabetical order? I spotted a large selection of jaffa cakes, jelly sweets and glucose drinks for that important calorific infusion at key moments in the game, like half-time and full-time.
A real trooper is the batman to the executive seating area, Jim Partner (and yes, he IS related ...). At various times he was to be found sweeping the steps, carrying a stack of programmes, arranging blankets, clearing up the mess left behind, and having a cuppa, although I'm sure he deserved something a lot stronger. He's been a part of this set up for a lot longer than his charges and he's seen most of the professional games here at Layer Road - including the biggest ever crowd of 19,000+ in 1948. I did ask a few people if they had any rituals for match days. One of the 'meet and greet' team here told me that last season she wore the same lucky underwear for every match - and yes, they were clean every time.
This isn't true of one hardy supporter I bumped into at the supporters club shop. Fortunately it's just his replica shirt that gets worn at every match - but not washed again until the end of the season. Maybe we can arrange for Brian and Ian to ..... ..... no, perhaps not.
Next up it's the security briefing, and I'm not allowed to go into details here but I can reveal that the police turned up late for this. Yellow card only this time. They have been warned. Actually, we may regard them all as security staff, but in reality we ought to acknowledge them as safety officers. They are here for our safety and well-being and when the chips are down (or the drinks run out) it's their job to direct us away from harm and into the path of buses and cars in Layer Road. Sometimes they'll go and get our balls back. There are some well seasoned professionals amongst them, including a supervisor who plays away at Portman Road apparently and has done time at Wembley too - so we are in good hands.
At the security briefing the stewards are warned to watch out for this blogger wandering around the ground picking up snippets and snaps for today’s entry. I find out from one of them why the right wing area in front of the main stand needs extra care and attention. It’s where they scatter ashes. The drainage down this side doesn’t work as well as the rest of the ground either. I wonder what’s going to happen to this area when the ground gets developed?
The media moguls have been setting themselves up in the background almost unnoticed. We've got Anglia TV in the highest vantage point on top of the main grandstand, while BBC Essex and Hospital Radio hover just below them, but still with an excellent view of the surrounding area. No sign of BBC Radio Humberside, but word reaches us that they have been here before and they have decided to hang around with the hacks on the press bench in Block A, rather than risk the rusty rise up to the roof. One of the radio guys has an unhealthy interest in turnstiles and believes there's one hidden somewhere in the depths of the ground. Any suggestions?
Players are starting to arrive at the ground in their suits ready for their first test of the day – smiling nicely and signing autographs. It looks like most of them carry little handbags with them too. And the next question just has to be – what on earth do they carry around with them in their handbags?
The referee and his assistants have arrived earlier and just in case they need any help the ref has brought his Mum and Dad with him today (so that’s one well seasoned chant gone out of the window already).
The action is now starting. By that I mean the hardened fans are already queuing up outside and the gates are about to open. The early risers will take up their places in their favourite spots, seats in the stands, or steps on the terraces. I notice there’s a few people who make straight for the bookie sheds to wager their last few coppers on the outcome of some of the insignificant premiership matches taking place elsewhere. I’m sure I saw that you could get odds of 7-4 on Portsmouth beating Reading later today (or was I dreaming? – check out the results). I found out that the number of staff working here on a match day increases to around 120, while only about a quarter of that are full time staff the rest of the week. And before you ask, that doesn’t include the players. I don’t count footballers as staff. How I would have loved to have had the chance to play regular footie and get paid for it. For a while the staff outnumber the fans and it’s the arrival of the away support in their three coaches that tips the balance.
Colour plays an important part in the proceedings. Apart from the teams being able to tell each other apart large proportions of each set of supporters have to dress in their respective home or away shirts. Maybe this gives the impression of there being more players. Then we have the stewards and safety officers with their own colour scheme. The red high-visibility jackets apparently for supervisors and yellow for the rest, plus the police of course, although I did ‘detect’ a few in dark clothing today. And talking of dark clothing there’s always the ‘men in black’ who run (ruin) the show when it gets under way. The ambulance crews that arrive later are dressed in green outfits, probably so that we don’t notice them carrying players off the pitch – it’s important after all that we notice the injured player in all his agony. A quick scan of the ground later on reveals an interesting point that shouldn’t be lost on the club – there are more replica shirts in the terraces than in the seats. And there are more replica shirts worn in the paid seating than in the executive box. One further point worthy of mention is our local MP – a lifelong supporter of the club and a resident of the Barside – turns up as always resplendent in a waistcoat in the club colours. More from him later.
As for official stuff there’s a prominent sign located in various locations about the place which describes the 23 Ground Regulations. One of them (number 12) has been highlighted with a marker pen – the one about not smoking in stadia. How many of these regulations can the average fan recite? Perhaps this could be a specialist subject on Mastermind.
The special constable who has been pounding this beat for over 20 years tells me today that his father has a share certificate dating back to the 1940’s indicating a part-ownership of the ground. That means he should be able to get inside for games instead of standing outside in Layer Road pushing people onto pavements.
Players and officials wander out onto the pitch to start soaking up the atmosphere – or is it really because the changing rooms are so cramped they have to take it in turns to get kitted up? They gather in small clumps on different parts of the pitch. It’s a bit like cricket in some respects when allegedly knowledgeable individuals inspect the wicket before a match and attempt to predict the number of runs and outcome. Is football the same? I can just imagine the comments: “looks like a big score today then, probably 4 or 5 goals on this pitch” , “should be OK for some action over by the Barside but a bit sluggish by the dugouts”, “how well do you think the 4th official will show up against the player’s tunnel?”, “I reckon a handful of yellows and maybe a red in these conditions”. More likely are comments like: “where’s your Mum sitting?”, “three lots of hair gel in this breeze”, or “where are the tv cameras?”
The media teams are now getting their test transmissions under way – checking their Internet links so they can report immediately to their editors. Programme sellers set out their stalls and get ready to rake in the extra three quid from the fans. I believe we have an award winning programme at Colchester and quite right too given the quality of the product and the content. I wonder how many get printed and how many of them still exist a few weeks or months later? Where do old match day programmes go to die? Apart from collectors are there really thousands of programmes of every match from last season for instance still gracing our shelves, bookcases, magazine racks and safety deposit boxes? The souvenir insert at the Leeds game last season was an inspired move. To include a copy of ‘the Leeds game’ from 1971 will ensure that more of these get saved for even longer and will probably lead to a few domestic disputes as it nearly gets chucked out a few times with the weekly papers. I still have my original from 1971 plus some newspaper clippings from the weeks around that magical historical event.
As if it’s not exciting enough already just being inside the ground there soon begins the pre-match entertainment and we are treated to formation-training with a musical accompaniment. Actually there’s three different performances happening at the same time, and sadly there’s no co-ordination between the three teams, the choice of music and the routines being performed. The ref and his two assistants seem to be the most ‘together’ bunch on the pitch at this stage – but will it last?
It’s a special day today – yes that’s right, our mascot Eddie the Eagle is back. He’s been on holiday and missed the last match. I’m sorry to break this news to some of you, but the truth is that there’s a bloke inside that costume – honestly! And sometimes he just needs a break from it all – now that doesn’t really surprise me.
But seriously the really special thing about today is the centenary of the first match at Layer Road on 28th September 1907. To celebrate the club have arranged a guard of honour by soldiers from the local garrison, since it was an army team that played in the first game. A great photo opportunity too, and I manage to get quite close to the action at this stage. It’s all followed by the usual announcements about the team line ups and the varying levels of cheering for different players. I wonder if any players have this bit built into their contracts, a bonus based on how loud we cheer when their name is called out.
So, for the best part of the next two hours it’s all down to that bunch out on the pitch. It’s why we are here really and we expect every one of the U’s team to perform to his very best ability for two periods of 45 minutes each. We expect them to give 110% as always. We expect a shed load of goals (in our favour) from the forwards, and some heroics from the defence in keeping a clean sheet. The midfield generals will control things like they always do. Because, after all, Colchester United are “by far the greatest team, the world has ever seen” and we remind them of this from time to time.
Except for today.
Despite the pre-match hype about the centenary, or the similarities between Scunthorpe this year and ourselves last year. Despite the glowing accolade from the opposition manager who wants “to do a Colchester” because we “set the standard” for clubs getting promoted into the Championship. And despite the fact that we are desperate for our first home win this season it just ain’t gonna happen today. Even if today’s match had lasted for twenty two hours we still wouldn’t have scored a goal, we still wouldn’t have got a decision from the ref, and we still wouldn’t have prevented Scunthorpe from scoring the one damaging goal just before half time.
It seemed that the half time penalty shoot out by the kids was cancelled out of sympathy in case we enjoyed it more than the match. ‘Over the Wall’ taunted us still further as we watched the ball hit the back of the net more times than we could even dream of. We heard, understood and even remembered the safety announcement, because it was more exciting than anything we’d seen in the previous 45 minutes. But the next 45 weren’t any better, and the least said about the match the better.
Of all the things I heard shouted at the ref the only one I feel I can put into print here came from a specific direction in the Barside throng, and sounded more like an observation at Prime Minister’s Question Time: “You’re having an awful game ref!”. Well that told him. It was delivered with superb timing, when the ref was within spitting distance, with clear and concise diction and when the rest of the crowd seemed to hush waiting for these words of wisdom. Yes, I know it wasn’t obscene or insulting, and it wasn’t even funny, but it was spot-on the mark. What else would you expect from your elected representative?
The post-match analysis was always going to be a turgid affair. I remember having a short conversation with the radio interviewer when he asked if anyone could remember what happened during the game that was worth asking one of the players? Er, well, there was, maybe, perhaps, didn’t, well, er , “No”. But he managed to pull something together and JJ sparked into life and gave a ten minute answer to a simple question. A pity things couldn’t have been strung together like that a bit earlier and then maybe the crowd would still be here chanting the names of their heroes.
The longest TV interview was given by the winning manager, and when George Williams emerged he was set upon by the complete media scrum who shoved all manner of recording devices into his face. It was difficult to see who was actually interviewing him, but the long yellow wire from draped from the radio commentary box 50 feet above gave it away – BBC Essex are the prime contender for this piece of the action.
Instead there were dumbfounded fans staring in disbelief at an empty field for a good half hour after the game had finished. At the Barside the waistcoat was the last to leave – it had to make a speech to the Supporters Club in connection with the centenary. In the Layer Road end the stewards returned their yellow coats and their ties (probably in case they tried to hang themselves later). In the grandstand were two young fans who were absolutely distraught at what they’d just witnessed, and the odd-job man was doing what I saw him doing at the start of the day – sweeping the rubbish from the executive box. There was a lot of sweeping going on around the ground – much more than during the game. There were several hundred drinks bottles and food wrappers littering terraces and stands all round.
In the aftermath I managed a chat with BBC Humber commentator George Kerr, ex player (Barnsley, Bury, Oxford, Scunthorpe) and manager (Lincoln, Grimsby, Rotherham, Boston). He gave his opinion of the state of Layer Road. ‘It’s got character’ he told me. ‘It’s not safe. It’s about time you had a new ground. Don’t build the new one too small.’ So what’s new?
Well, today has given me a great insight into a day in the life of Layer Road, and I hope you have enjoyed reading it. It’s reinforced my view that it’s the fans that make a club. Players can come and go – and some of the greats played less than 50 games for us – but the fans stay for life and support the club through the good and not do good times. They buy their replica shirts for every occasion and every season, and they are proud of their club and what it has achieved over the years. Perhaps we need a few of these stalwarts represented in the club’s Hall of Fame?