Sunday, 30 December 2007

Match 13 - Blackpool

... and so we descend the steps into the depths of despair and darkness. The light at the end of the tunnel appears to be indicating something along the lines of 'League One - Here We Come'.

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

Match 12 - Southampton

It's Boxing Day and another Christmas is upon us. We've needed something to take our minds off the drop to bottom place in the table after last week's defeat at QPR (now the richest club in the country with £100 billion of Formula 1 motor racing money backing them). It's lifted their game and their league position above us and out of the bottom three as well. Perhaps Christmas will see a change in our fortunes too. In one respect it has, our highest home attendance of the season so far with over 6100. That's not far off capacity and I saw three pairs of empty seats directly in front of me as well. But that also meant the cold wind could hit me directly.

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

Match 11 - Norwich City

A bottom of the table clash against Norwich, and the return of the Curo. Jamie Cureton can hardly have expected this when he moved to Norwich at the end of last season to seek more fortune. In the corresponding fixture last season we beat the Canaries 3-0 with goals from three players who jumped ship at the end of the season, including Cureton. Forgive me for referring to him by his surname. I might have been more welcoming if it wasn't for his abysmal behaviour when he taunted the home fans throughout the game by 'proudly' showing the home fans his yellow shirt. The banter between the ex-player and some home fans was nearly one of the highlights of the match. I didn't detect a whole lot of exchanges between opposing fans today either. Much like last season the atmosphere between the fans and the players alike was generally too friendly. The game didn't have the bite that we have come to expect from a local derby. Perhaps it's because we share a common bond - a dislike of the team that resides in between us on the map, the Tractor Boys.

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

Early Christmas Presents

Am I the only one in an upbeat mood today. We’ve just been beaten 4-1 away at Cardiff and we have dropped into the bottom three for the first time this season. If I worked in the media I’d probably be scouring the tables for the last time we were in the bottom three – which happens to be near the start of last season when we had an abysmal run of four losses (and we still weren’t ever in bottom place!). So the point is that we can pull ourselves out of this – the other teams will have bad runs of form and we will have our golden patch. At the moment it seems that it’s just me and George Williams who are thinking positively about things. We want Cuckoo Farm to be a Coca Cola Championship ground, a stadium of might, a statement of where Colchester belong in the football world.

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?

Karl Duguid
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).

George Elokobi
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.

Johnnie Jackson
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.

Kem Izzet
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.

Kevin Watson
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.

Mark Yeates
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.

George Williams
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.

Happy Xmas.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Match 10 - Watford

Evening games. The atmosphere is so much more intense under floodlights. It's said that sound carries further and colours are more vivid at night too. In the case of Layer Road on a match night I can add that both of these also apply to smells. I'm not sure if being in a stand above the toilets and one of the catering outlets has anything to do with it, but the heady aroma of these things was ever present during the match against table-toppers Watford.

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!