Sunday, 19 August 2007

Match 1 - Barnsley

This is it. The start of the last season at Layer Road, and even the stadium announcer describes our little jewel as something less than desirable. A quick look around the ground shows us that it could do with more than just a lick of paint – the rusted grandstand structure, the crumbling concrete, the cables threading through the roof spaces, the nets to stop birds settling, the wooden shed that provides the terraces for visiting fans and temporary seating for a handful of lucky visitors.

The atmosphere is quite different to last season. There are several empty seats, and it does feel like just another Saturday. Mind you the opposition is only Barnsley. The travelling support amounts to less than 200 and they are all leisurely spaced in one half of the Layer Road End. One or two do find the integral drum kit at one stage during the game – the corrugated iron which is the back of the stand.

The safety announcement before the game and at half time was delivered in the usual manner, but the crackly quality of broadcast means that the overall score given to this aspect of the match is just 7/10. Hopefully the technology will be better at Cuckoo Farm.

Some pre-match facts which might influence the result:

  • Barnsley lost 1-4 at home at Coventry last week
  • we held the Premiership pretenders Sheffield United to a 2-2 draw after twice being a goal down
  • Barnsley did beat us 1 – 2 here last season in our second home match
  • During the last week we lost away in the Carling Cup to Shrewsbury, and Barnsley won at home against Darlington (both League 2 teams)

Well, Barnsley played for the most part of the game like a table football team. Not much creativity or movement from them and we had to gift them their two goals. In the first half our goalie Dean Gerken decided to take up wrestling with a Barnsley forward, conceded a penalty and got sent off. That meant we had to substitute one of our outfield players for another keeper – Mark Cousins, making his first team debut. Mind you Kevin Lisbie did look like he was playing table football too. In the second half Johnnie Jackson decided he needed to "make myself appear bigger" while charging down a Barnsley shot on goal and managed to increase his size sufficiently to get an arm to block the shot. Penalty number two. In between these two goals we played Barnsley off the park and managed two goals of our own from Sheringham and Connolly. Sheringham’s class was evident throughout and the Barnsley captain felt this was too much to take. He decided to throw Teddy in the corner (well, he punched him in the back of the head) a few minutes after we had taken the lead and he got sent off, which evened up the numbers.

The half time entertainment was quite varied today:

  • substitutes from both teams practising
  • meet the sponsors
  • a junior penalty shoot-out which ended in a 4 – 4 draw between Colchester and Barnsley fans (but we did field one 4 year old and one 5 year old)
  • a new competition to chip a number of balls over a wooden representation of a 4—man wall at a free kick. The two competitors scored 3 each, for yet another draw. Not sure if this is better or worse than the shed from last season!

The home fans were not in such good voice as last season but they saved their best rants for the referee who didn’t really deserve the compliments. The groundsman however did deserve the accolade given today. The pitch looked superb, quite lush and just like an expensive carpet. I wonder if he’ll be able to recreate this at Cuckoo Farm?

So, at the end of the day, another 2 – 2 draw and we can proudly announce:

  • we are unbeaten in the league,
  • we have two more points than we did at this stage last season,
  • we achieved a better result at home to Barnsley than we did last season.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Season Preview

Planning consent has been given and the first sod has been dug. The new stadium is really going to happen. Cuckoo Farm will be the new Layer Road. I guess our opponents will be happier about this than we are. It’s been suggested that the ancient, cramped, decrepit and intimate nature of Layer Road has been our best asset for years. Just ask Leeds United (13 Feb 1971).

Mind you the celebration about the new location isn’t without controversy. It’s a community stadium, which means the U’s aren’t the only users. It’s sized for 10,000 – is that enough? Should the town’s MP, who is one of their greatest supporters, have been invited to the first dig? Is the planned highway access sufficient to accommodate the amount of traffic expected?

And on the field, is this going to be the season we should have had last year? You know, the one where little old Colchester United struggles to maintain a presence up here in the Championship with the ‘big boys’. Losing the first four games suggested we were playing along with that scenario, but there were those who realised that each of these games were lost by just one goal. Surely our luck had to change. And it did. Big time! At various stages we occupied a play-off place and finished a highly creditable 10th. Were we really dreaming of being in the play-offs, beating the other contenders and bringing Premiership football to Colchester?

Layer Road, that’s what this blog is all about. Our last season at home at Layer Road, Colchester, CO2 7JJ. This is what it’s like for one of the fans who will be enduring the last 23 x 90 minutes of league football (plus all those minutes of ‘time allowed’) at Layer Road. No more balls disappearing over the stands into neighbouring gardens. How on earth will the local infrastructure cope without us on match days?

I’ll post some photos and reflections of last season along the way and maybe mention some blasts from the past, when it suits me or the occasion. Remember this is really about the ground and not just the players. Layer Road has a personality, a presence, an ability to intimidate visiting teams and fans alike. It’s not particularly comfortable for the home fans either and I guess the media would like to benefit from some up to date facilities too.

I welcome comments and reflections from other home fans on their experiences in this last memorable season at Layer Road.