Wednesday, 23 July 2008
It was a strange sight that met me at the ground. Heavy electric cables snaking across the ground, large strips of turf missing from the playing area, turnstiles ready for collection, very few signs left behind, and the Barside crush barriers had been removed. I had visions of the Col U faithful having been finally unleashed onto the playing surface and wandering around the ground looking for some away supporters to insult.
I chatted with a few people who were also there assisting with the last rites. One gentleman was lifting some turf to place on the grave of a friend (a Colchester United supporter). For me that was probably the most appropriate use of the hallowed playing surface. I'm not particularly religious but I do wonder if all those people whose ashes have been scattered here have been considered in the move. Will their spirits move with us to Cuckoo Farm?
After wandering aimlessly myself around parts of the pitch and the back alleys and then sitting in the stands for a few moments it was time to leave. I was sure I could hear the faint sound of music playing somewhere in the distance - 'Danny Boy' I think.
"Don't look back" someone once said - look forward, onward, Onward Christian Soldiers - sorry, I'm going down the religious path again. But then, football IS a religion. It stirs up emotions in much the same way. Most wars are fought over a religious issue or belief. I believe we can win the League this year. Bring on Southend, Leeds, Millwall, Gillingham, and all the rest. It's off to Cuckoo Farm for the next campaign. What time's the next bus?
This blog is being continued at the following web address: http://firstcuckoo.wordpress.com
Please do visit and post your comments along the way.
See you at Cuckoo Farm.
Sunday, 20 July 2008
There were some unusual purchases (in terms of prices paid). The goal posts and net at the Layer Road end (once the domain of the home fans, but not in recent history) fetched a measly £10, but the same equipment at the Clock end fell for £180.
How about a shed with no floor, half buried in weeds and hedges, and with a filing cabinet inside. A bargain at £10, yet only 10 yards away a catering hut complete with lock on the door (so we couldn't look inside) fell for £2. Surely the lock is worth that alone - unless they've lost the key.
Chatting with a few people we shared the concern that the two penalty spots were a bit worn and despite each one achieving the same amount of £8, what happens to the worn out circles? Will the new owners be tempted to re-seed them? Surely the most intriguing contrast of purchases was the timber catering shed fixed to Terrace 4 a snip at £2, yet the sign proclaiming this as 'Terrace 4' was keenly fought over and finally succumbed for £110.
I've mentioned the crown jewels and I know there's been some stuff about this in the media already. I happen to agree that a number of items shouldn't have been in the sale. One can only hope that they will find their way back to the home of CUFC through kind donations. I'm sure that will happen in the case of Lot 341 (framed and glazed picture of FA Cup 5th Round 1971 - Col U v Leeds). I know this because I heard both of the main bidders earlier in the day speak of their desire to purchase it and loan it back to the club. It's a shame they didn't speak to each other since they raised the final value from around £200 to £400 on their bids alone and the end result was always going to be the same.
I think there may be a surprise for one purchaser who got the staircase from the first floor level up to the commentary box for about a tenner. The catalogue shows this as INCLUDING the commentary box. Surprising omissions were Wickes' shed and wall (from the absurd half-time 'entertainments'). Please don't tell me we are in for repeat performances of these next season? There must be an alternative. Please! I'll buy them now just to stop them being used again. Please!
Anyway an eventful day which has now come and gone and there's just one more entry to make in this blog later in the week. Some season ticket holders have been offered their seats for free, so I have to make one more journey back to collect my dues. I've always felt that the stadium has had an enormous effect on visitors and that's been one of the major factors that has influenced performances here over the years. To own just a small part of the infrastructure that has brought Leeds United and Ipswich Town to their knees is priceless.
Saturday, 31 May 2008
I know I've been a bit keen on comments about basic coaching skills, but there's a chap in the Premiership who's getting paid more money than our whole squad, and he doesn't know how to take penalties. After the Beckham soft turf encounter a few years ago you'd expect any other England captain to be extra vigilant. Hey, it was raining and that made the grass wet. Now how on earth did he get to slip and fall on his a**e in front of all those people, live on TV across the globe, in allegedly the top match of the season (actually our home game against Ipswich takes that crown). Well we just have to accept that when it comes to the credit crunch even the most highly paid footballers suffer from nerves at a crucial moment. Just how much time and effort has been ploughed into coaching that man?
Talking of Chelsea, we do have to feel sorry for that bunch of swingers. Runners-up in the Carling Cup, Runners-up in the Premiership, Runners-up in Europe. That's an unsuccessful season apparently. Reminds me of a struggling Yorkshire club called Leeds United in 1970. They were runners-up in the top flight, runners-up in the FA Cup and bombed out in the semi-finals in Europe. Look what happened to them. We live in hope for our current 'big four'.
Back to the 'point' of this little end of season rambling. I got to thinking if there was a point when we could actually say we were never going to play at Layer Road ever again. A point of no return perhaps. You might say it has already passed. The evidence is quite compelling. The new stadium is underway and nearing completion and the club has told everyone they are moving in the summer. Isn't this just like any other house move? What if Southend came in at the last minute and made a better offer? Could they play there?
OK, so the floodlights have been re-erected at the new site - perhaps that just means we wouldn't be able to play evening matches at Layer Road. The goalposts have been taken down - that happens at the end of every season. Layer Road has been put up 'For Sale' - just testing the market chaps. Lots of people do that to see what they are worth.
The evidence to the contrary? Well the offices and shop are still in Layer Road. There's no grass on the new pitch yet and only a handful of seats. Maybe they are ony installing the seats as the season ticket applications come in. Let's face it - it's still a building site. and the road signs are still in place around Layer Road together with their match-day parking restrictions.
So what is going to be the defining moment, the point at which we can consign 'Layer Road' itself to the club's Hall of Fame, when we can really start to re-plan our travel arrangements for match days. I'm not sure either, but I'll tell you here when I think it's happened.
Saturday, 10 May 2008
Sunday, 4 May 2008
It was fashionable at one time to re-build a club by 'going into administration' and we've seen a strengthening of the FA's position on this in the last couple of years. Ten to fifteen points deducted for dodgy dealings behind the scenes. Now there's a possibility. The difficulty with all this is that we are so far behind on points going into the last match that only something extraordinary like this can save us. Assuming we could salvage a final 3 points from this final game at Scunthorpe then we need to rely on the good old FA to dish out some 15 point penalties for various offences committed by any club within striking distance. Why fifteen? Well if it's good enough for Leeds then it's good enough for the rest. The FA have set the bar at that level.
So, with a potential 40 points and a crap goal difference in the bag we needed to set our sights on those within 14 points of that at the start of the day. That means Blackpool, Coventry, Sheffield Wednesday, Leicester and Southampton. Scunthorpe are in the same boat but floating with a little more out of the water. We can't overhaul them in any fair consideration of the situation and it means that they will also benefit from anything we achieve.
Now there are some easy pickings here. Leicester went into administration a few years ago. Why should that go unpunished? Dock them 15 points just for the hell of it I say. Southampton's boardroom has been under fire all season and no-one knows who really owns them or wants to own them. So in one sense they are like headless chickens. Let's put them out of their misery and deduct fifteen there as well.
Coventry have been blighted with financial scandal all season so it doesn't seem unreasonable to relieve them of the burden of fifteen points as well. I can't find any readily available dirt on the other two, but that must be good enough for now, three clubs with financial problems. That could put us clear.
OK so it's down to the football stuff now, and in a fun-filled programme this week the U's have done their worst to make my calculations meaningless. Grabbing a 3-3 draw from the jaws of a 3-1 lead means we only have 38 points to end the season. Results elsewhere show that Southampton saw my plan coming and they wormed their way to safety with a 3-2 win over Sheffield United. Coventry are laughing after surrendering 4-1 to Charlton and even with an extra 15 points we can't quite touch them. Leicester are our favourites and they maintained a clean sheet at Stoke to give the Potters promotion and secure their own relegation anyway. They are going down and could do the decent thing and surrender themselves to the bottom spot with a deduction of points.
So that's it then? Not quite. Let's look at who's coming up from League One. Swansea as champions - and it's just been announced that they have taken a £650,000 loss in achieving promotion this season. Now that's dodgy dealing in my book. Deduct 15 points. That puts them back into the play-off places and gives automatic promotion to Doncaster. It makes a mess of the play-off matches so it may be best to just deny one promotion place and let the play-offs proceed as planned.
That means we have Leicester relegated below us and Swansea denied promotion. That means I need another place to ensure safety in the Championship. Well, my hopes are now on Carlisle winning the play-off place and then having promotion denied on account of their entering adminstration a few years ago. It's a slim chance I know, but we have to cling to these faint hopes.
Now, does anyone know a good lawyer, or the phone number of the High Court?
Saturday, 26 April 2008
The final 3 minutes were a bit different, with attack upon attack by the U's, but it didn't change the result. Stoke won 1-0. Their fans thought they'd clinched autmatic promotion but about the same time as Colchester woke up, so did Hull and they have a chance of spoiling it. Stoke went top of the division. Colchester are now firmly rooted to the bottom, and next week's 'cup final' against Scunthorpe is now meaningless - we will still be bottom, no matter what happens.
[picture: The band are in the tunnel ... ... ...]
Today was a media circus day. 6,300 of us were invited to watch the media parading themselves in front of us, while we watched (sitting and standing patiently) from the stands and terraces.
[picture: Formation Fireworks with the Match Officials]
BBC Essex had a great idea. They broadcast their sports prpgramme live from Layer Road. So what? How did that help their listeners? There were dozens of photographers on hand to record the occasion. For who? Several TV and video cameras dotted around the place to capture the story - for various TV programmes they want you watch or videos they want you to buy.
[picture: Are we playing Smoke City today?]
Loads of former players were introduced to us. I think we know who they are. It's a shame they don't all come back for every game. They got to speak to the other media people but not to us. It was all a bit like a postcard from someone who's on holiday - "I'm here. You're not. It's great. I'm having a wonderful time. You ought to be here - watching me having a great time."
[picture: A crowd invasion before the game - stewards in Roman uniforms advance to eject them]
We were reminded about 20 times throughout the afternoon not to enter onto the pitch after the game. "It's an arrestable offence" it says on the postcard. (The standard of football was criminal - who was going to arrest them?) The usual stuff from the half-time roving microphone - I think it's time he was retired. He's not funny. He's not entertaining.
[picture: Doogie tells the team a joke. It looks like one of the players has burst with laughter - remnants of shirt on pitch]
[picture: It's Saturday - it's 3 o'clock - it must be ... ... ... time for a nap]
[If you missed the kick-off, here's what it looked like]
[picture: Dark forces at work. Just behind the Barside stand, a stream of balloons lodged in a nearby tree and formed themselves into the shape of a 'U'.]
[picture: Half-time entertainment. Stoke City fans kept on singing all through the break - I can't actually tell you what the band played.]
[picture: .. ding, dong
This is public announcement. In the event of an emergency please remain calm, and await further instructions. Thank you.
... ding, dong]
[picture: I think we may be down to our last few balls. They needed an armed guard at half-time]
[picture: I think you know who they are all are, but for a bonus point name all the photographers and the media scrum.]
[picture: Then they went and spoiled it all by playing something stupid like ... ... a game of football]
[picture: Four minutes - you cannot be serious !!!]
[picture: At last - the deed is done. We can all go home. Last one to arrive at Cuckoo Farm is ... ... probably the MP for Colchester!]
I hope you've enjoyed the season and these ramblings of the final season at Layer Road. There will be a couple more postings before I hang up my blogs for the summer, but I will return in the new season in the guise of 'The First Cuckoo', and will share my experiences of 'Being a League One Fan in a Brand New Stadium'.
Saturday 26th April 2008 really was a media celebration day. The real celebrations have taken place over the years and you can't take that away from anyone. If you feel like you should have been there, well, at least I'm sharing my thoughts and my photos here.
Saturday, 19 April 2008
I'd like to say that there was something to report from the half time entertainment but the final of 'Over the Wall' fizzled out into a one-horse race when the first competitor (from Hospital Radio) missed with all five attempts. In the junior penalty competition we lost 4-5 to the travelling fans and it must have been really disappointing for one our boys who was built up as having come all the way from Canada for today's game. His shot was saved by Eddie the Eagle who isn't known for his prowess between the posts.
I do have to say that even though we were well and truly done for in the second half the players generally still continued to make an effort and we did have chances. The score-line still remains at 1-5 and with Scunthorpe scraping a win against Cardiff the chances of salvaging some pride against them on the last day are looking quite grim. There have been some absolutely dismal performances this season and we have only lost those by the odd goal, yet today we get slaughtered and yet we tried hard. It's a funny old game, football!
I also have to say that if too many fans keep going on about Williams having to go, he just might think it's not worth staying on for them. He has been the one consistent performer for the U's in recent years. He is the one who has shown loyalty to the club when others have jumped ship. I really do hope he stays and is allowed to build up a decent squad for next season to get us back in the Championship. I wonder how many of those who phone, text or email to BBC Essex are those who leave these matches early?
It's time to show our support for George and the club as a whole despite our current position. We have one more home game in which to make an impact. People in my section of the ground are asking each other how many games they are going to see next season, and the most asked question I've heard has to be 'Are you going to buy a season ticket next season?'. Well, if that's the attitude of a large proportion of so-called fans then perhaps we deserve our current plight.
It's good to see the club has decided to review its prices for next year, but there's a still a way to go in my opinion. I think there's a need to get a lot more junior support onside and maybe there's some mileage in the plan to issue free tickets to local school groups for a number of matches next season, and much cheaper tickets for juniors who bring an adult. These are potential lifelong supporters.
Saturday, 12 April 2008
If only ...
Listening to the radio commentary I was full of hope until the commentator's curse reminded us in the 89th minute that we have a tendency to blow it late in the game. Well, it only took aout 30 seconds for that prophecy to come true. If league tables really do change in the middle of matches then for around 17 minutes we were off the bottom. The reality of it all of course is that we are heading full tilt towards a final day showdown at Scunthorpe where the loser rather perversely will be remembered more than the winner - hopefully.
In the meantime there are two final home matches in which we have the chance to reverse the results from the respective away games. I'm trying to put a positive spin on things here. The point is that every game provides a reason for wanting to win. In the case of the Ipswich game recently there wasn't any need for statistics. It was just the fact that we always need to beat them. Just in case the tractor boys across the border want to go on about the home win earlier in the season let's add it all up and show that in both our Championship seasons were have beaten them on aggregate - both times on away goals!
Oh, and just in case anyone's listening to this blog, here's a snippet from the end of match celebrations at the Ipswich game. This is what it's like when we win!
Thursday, 10 April 2008
The lads came alive in the second half and won by a significant 4-2 margin. Some fine keeping by Cousins too. Seven of the U’s have first team experience in the Championship. It will be interesting to see which players from both teams are lining up against each other next season in League One. So, for the record (and I don't think you'll find this information in one place anywhere else on the web), the line ups were:
Colchester United Reserves:
Cousins, Speed, Balogh, Hammond, Nelson, McLeod, Guttridge, Watson, Wordsworth, Guy, Webb
Subs: Quintyn for Guy, Griffiths for Speed - Unused: Smelt, Oakley, Olusanya
Goalscorers: Guy (3), Guttridge
MK Dons Rerserves:
Fox, King, Collins, Shuter, Thorne, Flannighan, Farden, Delderfield, Powell, Ashraff, Roles
Subs: Dowling for Farden - Unused: Heald
Goalscorers: Powell, Ashraff
I’m glad I was there, I witnessed Kevin Watson challenging and winning a header. I’m sure it happened. At least I’m reasonably sure it happened. I might have been distracted at the time by a movement of a large proportion of the crowd (6 of them) from the Tiptree stand towards the Layer Road terraces.
I got the feeling that a lot of the people at the game wondered what they were doing here. I think most of them were secretly eyeing up potential salvage items. Working out what size of screwdriver to bring to the last game to loosen the seats. I hope no-one brings any WD40 along. The rust is just about the only thing keeping the stadium together.
Saturday, 5 April 2008
It reminded me of last season when we felt invincible at home. What's more, a clean sheet for the second time this season. It's still more than 50 years since the tractor boys won at Layer Road (and they'll never do it again!). The biggest crowd of the season saw arguably the most important result. I can accept relegation, based on results over the whole season, but what I couldn't accept is losing to Ipswich twice in one campaign. The lads didn't disappoint me.
A solid and experienced central defensive display meant the full backs and keeper could get on with their jobs. The forwards played together, linked up and continually threatened the Ipswich end. Midfield bridged the gap and generally frustrated attempts to build against us. I had to admit today that we have a half decent team at last. Mind you, I'll stick with 'half' decent for now. Given time they could become a fully decent team. At last there's something worth building on.
It was significant for me today that several injuries showed where the weaknesses have been at times over the season. Did we miss Virgo and Platt? Not at all. Did we yearn for Sheringham? Not at all. That was an interesting diversion in the first half of the season and it might have come off, but sadly it didn't really work. It's ironic that Teddy was meant to draw in bigger crowds, and maybe draw some more players in our direction. Well we did get a lot of draws, but we needed wins. Did we need to use our substitutes today? Not at all. We didn't last season either, when incidentally we slaughtered the Suffolk side 1-0.
What was especially pleasing was that the majority of the crowd stayed to applaud the team off the pitch. Even better was the response of the travelling fans to the Ipswich team as they walked towards them to thank them for coming along - they didn't boo them, or jeer at their players, they just waved them away, ... priceless!
Talking of priceless, in our section today we got to discussing what parts of the ground we might want to salvage as souvenirs of Layer Road after the last match of the season. It didn't take long to decide that there probably isn't anything material worth having. What you can't put a price on, or replace, are the memories of beating Ipswich here twice in two years - and they couldn't get a goal past us in either of those two encounters.
Let's hope there's good news in the coming week about some realistic ticket prices for next season. (Oops, sorry, I said I didn't want to mention those!)
Sunday, 30 March 2008
The Colchester United faithful will of course realise that last season, with much the same background resources and the ability to keep a settled team together the results were significantly different. But hang on a minute, the manager was the same George Williams wasn't it? That's right, the guy who was thrown in at the deep end because Parky thought he'd leave it to the last minute to jump ship and head for Hull. (Didn't HE do well?) But who else was part of the management structure that guided the lads upwards from League One and through to a 5th round FA Cup tie against Chelsea. Oh yes, the assistant manager, George (Geraint) Williams. The same man who has been with the club since 1998 as a player, assistant and full manager? The 'Coca Cola Championship Manager of the Month' for September 2006.
I think his record as a player, sportsman, coach, manager and human being speaks for itself. So how do some people reward this loyalty, dedication and hard-working? They want him sacked of course. Why oh why do they bother sending emails and texts to BBC Essex complaining about the manager when it's the players that are at fault? We have a bunch of players that aren't of the right quality to compete at this level. Can't these so-called fans realise this? What right does a squad of average ability have to play Championship games every week? These guys have been spoilt and they need to knuckle down and start to earn their pay once again.
For now we need to focus on the positives. We know the defence isn't up to scratch - look at the scoreline. Yet we managed to score more goals in today's match than in any other game since 20th October last year. That must count for something.
We know we are going down, so let's just accept the fact and hope for a squad that wants to play for Colchester United in League One and who will be dead keen to support their manager in getting promotion back up to the Championship. We've got a new stadium to look forward to. I've seen stuff written that suggests a lot of folk aren't going to renew their season tickets. Their loss! Bye!
Bring on the Tractor Boys for our next Cup Final. How many years since Ipswich last got a point at Layer Road?
Sunday, 23 March 2008
Therein lies the problem I'm afraid. Players from last season who no longer pull on the blue and white stripes for us. Cureton and Iwelumo plundered every defence on our behalf and scored a combined 41 league goals. Now they 'grace' the colours of Norwich and Charlton respectively. So far they have scored 22 between them with only a handful of games left. They have both had an impact in games against us. Garcia and Brown followed the money to Hull who now occupy a play-off place - like we also did last time for a while. Halford has been travelling the country (Reading, Sunderland, Charlton) seeking fame and fortune - one out of two can't be bad. Barker and Ephraim (both on loan last year) have now turned their stripes into hoops at QPR.
So that's last season - what about this season? Let's look at the team that strode out on the first game of the campaign at Brammal Lane. Six of the eleven are not currently in contention - Elokobi and Connolly are playing elsewhere, while Duguid, McLeod, Yeates and Sheringham (remember that famous U's player?) are all injured. I'm losing count of the centre halves that we keep breaking (Coyne and Heath). Long term injuries to Davison, Watson and Cousins. Not forgetting short term loanee Izale McLeod.
How many of the first starting line up at Sheffield United also started the match at Norwich this week? Three. Gerken, Jackson, Izzet. If you add in the substitutes I can find two more, Baldwin and White who have both struggled to command regular places.
Against this backdrop of defections and injuries how can any manager be expected to deliver the same results as last season, unless he has a solid squad of enough players to field two strong starting teams? Our current plight is not the manager's fault. It's partly circumstances, partly down to money, and partly the fact that Colchester have been unlucky with the amount of injuries. That doesn't mean the players are excused from turning up and performing for their employer every week.
Wednesday, 19 March 2008
The standard of play was different too. I have to say that Hull played some attractive imaginative football at times and thoroughly deserved the win tonight. As for the U's, well once again I am amazed that the manager can think they gave 100%. I saw forwards ambling around for most of the game, unable to control or pass the ball. Midfield ran the ball into trouble for no apparent reason, and defenders were panicking whenever they had the ball with time to spare. That's not even 50% in my calculation. How we managed to keep the score so close for so long until the killer goal near the end I don't know. Even some of the die-hard fans were out on the street before the end of this game along with the regular early leavers.
I remember earlier in the season Kevin Watson moaning at the fans who were moaning at the players. For a good half an hour the fans tonight were in great voice and we had quite a noise from the away terraces to contend with too. The atmosphere was much like a lot of the home games last season when we were on a high. But then the final hour brought a procession of half-hearted attempts, poor passing, running into trouble, and time wasted by Gerken tending to his cabbage patch ahead of every goal kick.
Even the best chances passed by without so much as a 'wooooooooo' from the home support. It has reached the stage when we just know that there's no point in getting excited unless someone is clear on goal and it's a dead cert that it's going in.
On the radio after the game the BBC Essex commentator was obsessed with the standard of refereeing, despite Geraint Williams telling him to get over it and move on. In fact I heard there were a lot of fans who felt that the referee spoiled the game. True, he wasn't up to an acceptable standard, but the real reason we lost is that the players didn't show enough quality on the ball, not enough passion or desire to win, no sense of where their teammates were, no idea what to do with the ball. I'm sorry, but my fellow supporters are blind to the obvious. Forget the officials. We need to get back to basics and play a team game.
Sunday, 16 March 2008
But first we really need three points against the Bluebirds that flew across from Wales chanting their Wembley song. (I wonder if it really upsets them that the Millennium Stadium has been relegated now that Wembley is back on the agenda.) Three points, while those around us are losing their heads elsewhere in the country are vital to our own slim chance of survival. Three points to bring us closer to Scunthorpe - I'll bet no-one ever thought we'd be thinking like this. I remember earlier in the season Nigel Adkins, the Scunthorpe manager, saying he wanted to 'do a Colchester' in the Championship this season. I bet he wishes he'd kept his mouth shut now. Ironically our last match of the season is against them.
Three points just now would be one of the most welcome gifts we could ever enjoy in this sorry second season of Championship fun. Even Sheffield Wednesday might get nervous if they thought they had just got three points nearer the bottom of the league again. Three points. That's all I'm asking for. Preferably in the same match.
Well, I think I've been wishing too much for those three points. They have arrived in an envelope from the cops up the road in the Metropolis. It's a shame I didn't see the amber and red lights in time. An even bigger shame I didn't spot the camera or the signs either. So, I have my three points and I do wish I'd kept my mouth shut and my eyes open.
As it happens the one point we salvaged from Cardiff was a bright spot on an otherwise dull day. It brought the losing run to an end. We had the joy of seeing Hasselbaink sent off and Dave Jones getting ratty with the local fans. We saw the first senior start of Medy Elito, and another rock solid performance in the back four - Matt Heath on loan from League One strugglers Leeds. Smile, the man says, be happy, things could be worse.
So what shall I wish for next?
Wednesday, 12 March 2008
Mind you, the first quarter of an hour was uplifting. The first thing that made it all feel different was the choice of ends for starting the match. For the first time in simply ages we kicked off towards the Tamdown stand. It felt like things were going to be different. Then our goal celebrations were dampened by the uncertainty of whether the ball had crossed the line. Have you ever tried to start cheering again after your first attempt has started back-pedaling down your throat. For a few moments it wasn't clear whether we were in the lead until the linesman starting running back to the halfway line. Too late for most of us - we had to resort to celebratory actions without the words. However, after going a goal up the self-destruct button was pushed and by half time it really was all over bar the shouting.
Actually the shouting in one part of the ground was the most controversial part of the night. One foolhardy shirtless (yes, shirtless) Wednesday supporter in Terrace 2 kept Block A entertained for the first half. A curious set of circumstances then led to his ejection from the ground. The un-funny half-time roaming microphone carrier decided to invite all-comers from Terraces 1 and 2 for the crossbar competition. Our shirtless wonder didn't need any further encouragement and saw his chance to grace the hallowed turf. He wasn't really interested in the crossbar compo, and he didn't retreat more than 10 yards from the corner flag - preferring instead to engage in more bare-bating with the home fans. That was enough for the stewards who escorted him from the ground before the second half started.
There followed a lengthy period of chanting from both sets of supporters in favour of the ejectee, which resulted in a negotiated settlement whereby he was allowed to be reunited with his shirt and he disappeared into the depths of Terrace 2 for the rest of the evening. A victory for common sense? Hardly. The half-time safety announcement was forgotten so I have to conclude that we were at serious risk of danger for the next 45 minutes. Except that we weren't of course. There was no chance of the football creating any real enthusiasm after all that.
I think our fate is well and truly sealed now. I'd like to see us display our sense of humour when the away supporters taunt us with the predictable: 'Going Down, Going Down, Going Down'. We need to reply to the same tune: 'So Are We, So Are We, So Are We'. Or maybe someone will come up with a more original chant that we can take with us to our new home.
Let's cheer the Cardiff crowd on Saturday and remind them of their recent glory in reaching the Cup semi-final. Perhaps they will forget where they are and we will sneak a few goals while their minds are at Wem-ber-ley! We need to employ every tactic at our disposal now.
Thursday, 6 March 2008
In the immediate future my eyes are on Scunthorpe, Sheffield Wednesday and Coventry and I wish them all the worst over the next nine and a half weeks - especially as we have to play all three of them in the run down. Looking further afield Preston, Leicester, Southampton and the other Sheffield outfit are possibly within range so my bad luck charms extend in their direction too - and two of these are also on our final checklist, so maybe we will have a little more say in the final reckoning after all.
But what of the good old U's and the Layer Road effect of last season? Is it just possible that even our own players are starting to feel intimidated by their own secret weapon - that they no longer feel welcome at Layer Road? Perhaps they have been spoilt by playing in the larger stadia which have seen some keen top flight conflicts over the years. Maybe they've had one eye on the new ground and are dreaming of future success in front of a capacity 10,000 crowd (or larger in years to come). Over the last few weeks it certainly seems as though the fans (myself included) have had their thoughts elsewhere during some games. Let's face it, at times the performance has left some people wishing they were somewhere else, and several of them have demonstrated that by leaving early.
I wonder how much effect the support from the terraces and stands really does have on a team's performance. I've speculated before whether the team needs to play well before the fans will respond or whether the fans need to be in full voice before the players even consider coming out for some pre-match practice.
Without a doubt we will be there to the very last home game hoping for a magical turnaround in performance and results along the way. I'm sure the 120 true fans will also be at Scunthorpe for the final game of the season. Is it too much to ask that this will be a final battle for survival - the winner gets to play at Derby next season?
Sunday, 2 March 2008
Sadly we sold him a few weeks ago to today’s opposition. I can’t pick another U’s player for special mention today. If I had to pick a Colchester ‘man of the match’ it would still be a Wolves player – any one of them. I left the ground feeling that even though Wolves were terrible and unlikely to have scored unless we gifted it to them – which we did – some of their players did more to threaten their domination of the game than we did. Even clear chances, or one-on-one with the keeper, or shots from afar went begging. I can’t argue that it just wasn’t our day. Wolves were the better team and they deserved to win because they kept on trying. The Wolves fans were louder as well.
I’ve mentioned Wolves enough times now to make a Very Important Point. What’s the next word that comes to mind when you think of wolves? Hungry! That’s what was missing. From the start of the afternoon’s entertainment (hah!) when the sponsors were paraded in front of us – fresh from the bar. They weren’t hungry either. They’d been polishing off their pints and pasties in the hospitality area. So it seems were the players. Nobody came onto the pitch with any indication of hunger. You just have to look at the forwards at kick-off. Their body language told us that they weren’t ready for this. Most of the rest were at least jumping on the spot or stretching their tired muscles. Our forwards were standing as still as statues, and they didn’t move much more during the rest of the match.
The defence weren’t hungry enough – let the ball bounce first – oops there’s a hungry Wolves player who does want the ball and it’s in the net. The midfield weren’t hungry today. Not one of them really got stuck in – none of them were booked. Free kicks and corners didn’t get above a few feet from the ground, and passes went astray. Everything about today’s performance was drab. It lacked passion and pride – and in the end it lacked what we actually need at the moment, Points! Yes, today was downright pointless.
Teddy Sheringham isn’t hungry for it any more either. He’s decided that this season will be his last. Well it’s looking like this will be our last in the Championship. It decision time chaps – forget the new stadium, which league do you want to be playing in next season?
I’ll bet if you ask the caterers who ate all the pies they’ll tell you that they sold more to the Wolves fans. Yes, even they were hungrier.
Sunday, 24 February 2008
In the second half I was in my car and heading back home and the news on Radio 5 Live was that the U’s had taken the lead. This was followed within about 20 seconds by a ‘bleep!’ on my mobile to tell me a text message had arrived. I couldn’t stop to read it at this moment, but a minute later … ‘bleep!’… another text had arrived.
It didn’t need a brain surgeon to realise that probably meant there had been another goal, but who had scored it? I have to confess to a bit of pessimism here and it’s been true of the U’s this season that we are extremely vulnerable immediately after we have scored a goal. Today was no different and the BBC soon confirmed the fact that the scores were level. I got stuck in traffic for a few moments at this stage and managed to retrieve the two text messages from my son to further confirm the position. The first described in detail what had happened, while the second just said ‘1-1’.
I guess the scores were equal now between the BBC and my son in their efforts to get the news of Layer Road goals to me first. For the next five minutes I was anticipating a further update at any moment and I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a bleep! or the BBC that took the honours.
I didn’t have to wait long before the radio commentary reported, “… and now back to Simon Mann at Layer Road …” ‘bleep!’ “… and Bristol City have taken the lead.” The text message was as short as the previous one – ‘1-2’ and that’s the last I heard from my son.
The BBC did return to Layer Road a few times and raised my hopes of a redemption but there were no accompanying ‘bleeps’ from the mobile to lift my hopes. As I neared the Essex border I was able to get BBC Essex on my car radio and listen to the post-match-analysis and interviews. I think Neil Kelly was more disappointed than one of the players he interviewed, and that was also reflected in the response of the manager who confessed to being ‘annoyed’ at the way the players froze after taking the lead.
We can blame it on injuries, we can give credit to Bristol City for their hard work, we can look for any number of excuses, but in the end it probably comes down a simple case of bad organisation in defence.
Wednesday, 13 February 2008
Fresh from the battle of Turf Moor where we shared the spoils for the thirteenth time this season there was an air of expectancy right from the off. Even the public announcements seemed clearer tonight - was it just the night air? Despite some rousing words from the stadium announcer and some extra noise from the batside (sorry - that's Barside) the first half was spectacularly uneventful. It was completely overshadowed by the junior penalty kick competition at half time where we won a thrilling encounter 3-2, despite some dodgy goalkeeping by Eddie the Eagle who seeemed to favour the away team this week.
In the second half it was an early bath for one of Preston's men after battering Doogie in the penalty area and Scott Vernon blasted the ball home for a deserved lead. We feared the worst after Preston equalised with about ten minutes left and prepared to batten down the hatches for a final onslaught.
But it was the superheroes of Layer Road who stepped up to the plate and sent in a battery of charges which resulted in a series of amazing events. I swear it all happened in slow motion . . . a cross from the right which found its way perfectly onto a blue and white head . . . a directed header down to the feet of a U's team-mate . . . and the ball struck first time with such sweetness . . . into the back of the net for what turned out to be the winner . . . but wait, the scorer was Jacko . . . and the shot came from his right boot! I'm sure he flew through the air during his celebration - the caped crusader. Three goals in three games - that's our first bat-trick this season.
Some frantic plays by the opposition couldn't breach our defensive battlements in the dying moments of the game and before we had filed out of the ground the announcement we had all been waiting for wafted through the airwaves - we are no longer bottom of the championship.
Onwards and upwards lads. Maybe we saw batman tonight, next up must be robin - which reminds me - Hull did a bit of that last summer, robbin' two of our players. Now it's our turn next Saturday.
Sunday, 3 February 2008
Discussion before the game centred on whether the away team would wear a change strip since both clubs wear stripes and it might be difficult for those with black and white TV sets to tell the difference. Check it out for yourselves!
Today's opponents have brought a veritable who's who of former top flight players to the most intimidating ground in the football league - 'The Management' of Bryan Robson and Brian Kidd with players Gary Speed, Ugo Ehiogu, James Beattie and Keith Gillespie. Beattie was good natured enough to share some humour with the home fans at one stage while warming up.
It was 'Welcome to Layer Road' for three new players making their home debut after some frantic activity by our own management during the January transfer window. Chris Coyne was dominant in defence, Phil Ifil was rugged at right back and Scott Vernon made his second appearance here this season as substitute (his first being for Blackpool when he scored both goals that beat us 2-0).
The most impressive thing today was the fact that the whole defence looked more confident for the most part. The midfield didn't have to stay back as much and started to get creative in their own way and it was great to see Duguid back in his right wing role. Even the guys up front seemed to be playing with more enthusiasm and it was a team performance that gave the fans a great afternoon's entertainment. OK there were a couple of slip-ups that cost us two goals, but that's for George to deal with in the changing room and on the training ground.
Our two goals were taken with small measures of opportunism and luck and a 2-2 draw was probably the right result. No-one was really upset at this, except that I found it really strange that there were a few dozen home fans leaving the ground a good ten minutes before the end with the scores level. Didn't they want to see us score again and win it, or had they seen the future and they knew it was all over?
There was a lot more noise and enthusiasm from the fans today and I realised that we will be lacking a major voice in the new stadium. I guess I have to call it 'Woody' - the wooden boards in the stands. At corners and free-kicks we have our own drumbeats to regulate and build up the heart rhythms of the players and strike fear into the opposition. How will we manage without the wooden boards? What are the alternatives - CUFC drums on sale in the club shop? Or maybe just slap the seat in front of you?
We left the ground today with the feeling that we have it in us to beat the drop. It's not going to be easy, or even pretty, but it will be gritty with performances like today. Bring on the Burnley.
Sunday, 27 January 2008
The floodlights will be the traditional type - on pylons in each of the four corners - instead of being built into the stands. This will need a rethink if the decision is ever made to increase the seating capacity by filling in the corners. There are quite a few executive boxes planned (24) and there are already quite a few that have been snapped up. It works out that all the boxes being sold for the season generates around half a million pounds for the club. That's two more players thank-you.
There's plenty of space being allocated for disabled access, making it one of the best in the league in this respect. Sadly the car parking is going to cost a packet. There are over 600 spaces at the ground but it's going to cost £10 + vat per match for the privilege of parking there. That's only about six grand per game, or over a hundred and fifty thousand for the season (that's half a player).
Let's not forget this is a community stadium so outside of matchdays it will be available for other uses. Who will be the first to get married there? I only hope it's a U's fan who's the first to get hitched in the new surroundings. Maybe they'll offer a discount and provide a guard of honour from the current squad. Food for thought?
Talking of food. There will be restaurant facilities at the stadium in addition to all the usual catering outlets. A 'Chef's Table', VIP area, and a number of 'Suites' (air conditioned of course) help to complete the picture. Whoever would have believed it, indoor air-conditioning and fine dining at the U's? This is serious stuff.
There are a few unresolved questions at the moment. First of all is season ticket prices although I believe that will be publicised fairly soon. Then of course we want to know how much space we get to occupy for each seat (seat width and legroom). I don't suppose we can expect padded seats but maybe for a small additional cost you can have a cushion which doubles as something to wave when we score a goal.
Of course the big question is the name of our hallowed place of worship. I'm sure people have realised that there are obvious negative issues around the name 'Cuckoo Farm'. Apart from the likely calls whenever a goal is scored against us, the fact that cuckoos lay their eggs in other birds' nests is bound to give visiting fans a head start. There must be a public competition to decide on this, and I'd like to think that each of the four stands could be named after prominent U's who have served us well in the past. Then again, perhaps we need to keep our famous Barside too.
Unless there are some useful or interesting suggestions we could end up with North, South , East and West stands, or the 'A12 End', or even the 'Severals Enclosure'. I'd also like to think that the name of 'Layer Road' could be included somewhere on site - how about the walkway under the stands?
Whatever it's called it will be home to the U's.
Sunday, 20 January 2008
I hope when we eventually get to play this game the fans will give Wayne Brown and Richard Garcia a rousing welcome. Garcia scored 21 goals in 96 games during the most successful spell the club has ever enjoyed, and netted our first ever Championship goal. Brown played every minute of every game last season and was easily our player of the season. The evidence is in the goals conceded column this season. We should be grateful for what they did for us.
After the welcome, then it’s another matter. They are Hull players now and we want to make them feel as uncomfortable as possible during the game. Yes we can laugh at them every time they make a bad play and we can jeer when they do something we don’t like. For ninety minutes we should forget what they did for us.
At the end of the game we can thank them again for coming along to Layer Road one more time, and let’s hope they return the compliment.
Sunday, 13 January 2008
It’s time to reassess the squad, the gifts bestowed on the manager in times past, and those forced upon him by circumstances. It’s unlikely that he’ll shed anything that was on his own Christmas list though.
The U’s have had the fortune to pick up two ‘presents’ from other clubs. One was chucked out by Spurs (to add to the growing number of North London evacuees) and the other was, well I’d best describe it as ‘stolen’ from a neighbour. OK so the neighbour couldn’t keep up the payments and they look doomed to a very uncertain future, and the player himself has financial commitments of his own to meet I expect. I guess we are acting as a Good Samaritan in this instance. Now if I was a Luton supporter would I be looking at the sale of my captain as an act of benevolence, a necessary move to balance the books, or a lifeline to longer term survival? Of course not, but then, I’m not a Luton supporter.
The best news for the fans is that we have bought two defenders and a third is being talked about. The not so good news, or rumour to be precise, is that our own captain is being sought by other clubs. This has been fuelled by the fact that he didn’t travel to the away game at Bristol City, and isn’t on the injury list. We’ll just have to hope that he is just gazing out of the window, taking time to reflect on his career and will return to midfield very soon – a role that would improve the structure of the team I believe.
As for the match against the Robins, well I’m delighted with another solid performance away from home and still completely bemused that we can’t transfer this to our Home matches. Who was it that said ‘It’s a funny old game, football’ ? He was right. Just look at what happened to the Championship table for that game. Bristol started the game in third place, we were one up from the bottom. After a 1-1 draw, they went top and we went bottom. Work that one out!
Sunday, 6 January 2008
I really expected a good turn out for this encounter with one of our East Anglian rivals, despite the fact they are in League Two, and especially because they have Ferguson Jnr in the managerial position. I took advantage of the automatic issue of tickets for cup games to keep my usual seats warm and I expected to see all the familiar faces around me.
I was in for a real shock on all fronts today. We only recognised two others in our area of seating. It seems that very few season ticket holders chose to buy their own seats for the Cup and there were huge gaps in the stands all round the ground - except in the away terraces which were full. I was shocked to hear that the total gate was just over 4000, our lowest of the season by a long way. What on earth has happened to the Layer Road 'faithful'?
What on earth has happened to the players yet again? Another abysmal performance only made worse by the fact that even the players know they are playing badly (post-match interview with BBC Essex) yet they don't know what to do about it. It seems they are happy to be dropped and replaced with new players if the transfer window should open wide enough to let through a glimmer of hope for us. I have to question who in their right mind would want to come and play for us at the moment. Most of the first team squad clearly don't.
I think it's time for Teddy Sheringham to re-evaluate what he wants to get out of this season. I really hoped that some of his experience would rub off onto the others, but I fear that it has worked the other way. Our shining star is beginning to fade and I'd much rather we let him go than drag him down with us the way we are performing at the moment. The difference in class between Sheri and the others is far too wide and there isn't a hint that anyone wants to match him. I'm glad he managed to snatch the ball quickly to grab the penalty kick and put it away with deadly accuracy.
That was the only good point in a match that again saw us give in to simple crosses and allow the opposition to run straight through us. We didn't compete, we didn't challenge for the ball, we didn't string together any meaningful passes, we didn't look like we were ever going to score. Losing 1-3 is what we deserved and I would have been tempted to say that we can now concentrate on our league position, but I fear that might be beyond a few of the players.
Perhaps it's just a passing phase. Perhaps we have hit rock bottom and the players will rise to the challenge. Perhaps there are a few players out there who fancy their chances at keeping us in the Championship for our new ground.
I read somewhere that football is the new religion. We're already on our knees. Perhaps if we keep our hands close together in front of us and we mutter some kind words of encouragement, and we promise to forget all previous transgressions, missed opportunities, bad passes, and poor defending, we just might, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps, ...