Sunday, 27 January 2008

New Stadium

I was fortunate enough to attend a presentation and reception about the new stadium this week. I learned a few things about our new home. First of all it's a 10,000 seater. I guess the seats will cost at least £23 a match (as they do now) so that's potential revenue of £230,000 each game, or potential more than £5 million for the season. At an average of £250,000 for a new player that's a nice squad of 20 for starters (without agents' fees, expenses and their ongoing wages of course)!

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

Pitch Waterlogged

The homecoming of two our former favourites has been delayed by heavy rain. Lots of it. There’s not a lot we can do about this. I don’t know how many of our squad can swim, but on the evidence of recent matches I should imagine several would be floundering. I’m sure the ground staff will get the carpet back into tip top condition in no time at all. I only just realised that we managed to get through the whole of last season without a game being cancelled.

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

Transfer Window

This is the time of year when unwanted Christmas presents get sorted out. Realisation sets in that the tie isn’t really to your taste, you might even have tried the body spray once but it leaves an unpleasant smell, and as for the chocolates and other sweets, well they just don’t fit with the New Year Resolution to lose weight. Anything else can just be chucked out. It’s no different in football – they just call it the Transfer Window, or January for short.

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

FA Cup - Peterborough

The romance of the F A Cup is with us at Layer Road for the first time in a couple of years. After being dumped out of the cup away at Barnet in last year's 3rd Round we were looking for something special to rekindle the memory of the season before that when we made it all the way to Chelsea in the 5th Round. Something special was on the cards too since we beat Charlton away in the Championship on New Year's Day to start 2008 off on a positive note.

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, ...