Colchester United Football Team
In spite of the fact that they have the lowest average attendance in the Championship, Colchester United are one of the most talked-about teams. Having risen from the Conference League just a few seasons ago, the 2006-7 season marked the highest ranking in the club’s history, when they finished the season in tenth place in the Championship.
Their rise continues with a new stadium to be opened in the 2008-9 season, and the team, who play in blue and white strips when at home in Layer Park, have been making back page headlines with their off-pitch and on-pitch dramas ever since they won the non-league double in 1992. Before that year, the only moment of glory in living memory had been the club’s 1971 shock FA Cup victory over Leeds.
Colchester has also acted as a ‘nursery’ for many excellent players who have gone on to international fame after being trained by the club. Arsenal’s Perry Groves, Irish international Mark Kinsella and Congolese international Lomana Tresor Lua Lua, as well as many others, have all spent time honing their skills at Layer Park, before being scouted for greater fame.
Colchester is one of the oldest existing Roman settlements in the British Isles, and football was played there long before the formation of Colchester United in 1937.
Prior to the emergence of United as the town’s dominant team, Colchester Town F.C., nicknamed ‘The Oystermen’, because of the famed local shellfish, represented the area in national football games. Colchester Town had been formally established in 1867 and played at a stadium in Layer Road from 1909 until 1937, when they were dissolved.
From the ashes of this team, Colchester United arose. United had shared Layer Road for a while, but they took over officially after Colchester Town were dissolved in 1937, and United continues to occupy the ground to this day.
The stadium was originally owned by the army, which has always had a strong presence in the town, but United purchased the land and the property in 1919. The ground’s capacity at that time was much higher than it is today – it currently stands at 6,340.
In November 1949 the club recorded their highest ever attendance for a home match, a record which stands to this day. 19,012 fans arrived for an FA Cup fixture against Reading. Ironically, however, the match was called off due to heavy fog which was affecting visibility so badly that the players were unable to perform.
FA Cup Victory
Until very recently, Colchester’s defining success story had occurred in 1971, after spending 40 years playing in the national leagues without ever achieving much fame. That year, Colchester won an infamous victory over Don Revie’s all-star Leeds United. Pundits had predicted an easy win for Revie’s side, which had been impressing crowds and trouncing opponents in recent matches. Colchester’s 3-2 win made headlines all over the world, but the surprise victory catapulted them beyond their abilities.
In the following years, media and fans demanded similar performances from Colchester, and the team could not deliver. Essentially, the victory over Leeds had been part skill, part fluke. The club continued on a downward trajectory which eventually culminated in the club being sent out of the league in 1990.
That year it seemed likely that Layer Road would have to close for good, with attendance at an all-time low, and finances in the red. However, once again Colchester managed to frustrate predictions, to turn the 1990s into one of their more successful decades.
The first years of the decade proved that Colchester were too good for the Conference, as they dominated all matches with an unbroken success rate in the first two seasons. In 1992, Colchester won a memorable double – the Vauxhall Conference champions, victory in which won them promotion to the Football League proper, and the FA Vase, which they took at Wembley. A 5-0 victory over Barrow secured the Conference Cup and promotion to the league. Audiences were returning too, with sell-out matches at Layer Road for the deciding games.
Not pausing to celebrate, however, the team were on the way to Wembley just two weeks later, and in front of a 20,000-strong crowd, United beat Witton Albion 3-1 in the FA Trophy to secure the non-league double. Earlier in the season, goal-keeper Scott Barrett had made another landmark for Colchester in a match against United’s traditional league rivals, Wycombe Wanderers, when he scored a goal off a goal kick, to the delight of Colchester fans.
Colchester only just managed to hang on in Division Three, narrowly escaping relegation a couple of times, but were back at Wembley for the second time that decade to take on Carlisle in the Auto Windscreen Shield Final in 1997. After a valiant ninety minutes, ending in a scoreless draw, Colchester lost the shield to Cumbria after Peter Cawley and Karl Duguid missed out on penalties.
The next year, however, the loss was sweetened by the U’s third trip to Wembley in the 1990s, for the Division Three play-off finals. The match was played, unusually, on a Friday night, due to more important international matches occupying the Wembley pitch on Saturday. A penalty from David Gregory saw off Torquay Untied to take Colchester to a 1-0 victory, and the club had won their way into the Second Division.
The Second Division would prove a challenge for Colchester, however, playing teams of much greater national significance. However, after taking time to find their feet, they would slowly rise through the division, with hints of further promotion.
In 2000, Colchester announced new plans for the new millennium , outlining the construction of a new 10,000 capacity all-seater stadium at Cuckoo Farm. However, Colchester would have to prove their worth as a successful local sporting club before they could get the go-ahead. The local council, who were needed to put up funding, had worries about the use of a brand new stadium for the poorly-performing team and the often sparse attendance at their matches.
However, the arrival of a new manager in the shape of Phil Parkinson in 2003, was set to change the face of the club. ‘Parky’ immediately set to work totally refurbishing the squad, bringing in transfers and promoting junior players, and by the time he left in 2006 just three players remained from the squad of his 2003 arrival.
The 2003-4 season started off under Parkinson with a magnificent run of impressive victories. However, 2004-5 looked likely to stall the progress, with key players in Parkinson’s squad out of play due to injury.
Colchester managed to compensate for the men they were missing and that year they made it to the fourth round of the FA Cup and the third round of the Carling Cup, where they managed a spectacular performance to knock out Premiership side West Brom. The glamour of the new Colchester team was attracting more and more attention off the pitch, and Parkinson cashed in on this in the transfer market, attracting Premiership players and internationals to the club in the first years of the new millennium.
In 2004-5, United mounted a strong defence to finish the season sharing a record with Chelsea – that of the only two clubs to avoid conceding three goals during a league match. But that season will always be remembered by United fans as the season they finally gained promotion into the Championship.
Having conceded just over 50 goals in the 2003-4 season, the U’s worked hard on their back line and let in just 40 goals for 2004-5. The promotion was sealed by a 0-0 draw at Yeovil, after a white-knuckle match with everybody present holding their breath for a goal, on the last day of the season. The dramatic promotion marked the U’s first ever season in the Championship, and they were guaranteed a record-breaking league rank in 2005-6.
On November 13, 2006, emboldened by recent improvements in the club’s performances, Colchester Borough Council publicly gave the go-ahead to the club’s plans to build a new stadium at the Cuckoo Farm site. The construction of the new ground was begun in 2007, and Colchester hope that it will be opened for the start of the 2008-9 season. Despite the renewed hope for an enlarged, improved club, fans have complained about the lack of any pub or bar facilities at the new ground.
However, after this quick run of success, the man who had taken Colchester up was scheduled to transfer over the summer break. When Parky left United for a position at Hull, his assistant Geraint Williams was drafted in as a familiar replacement, with Mick Harford joining the team as his assistant.
Under their new managers, the U’s did not continue on an astonishing trajectory towards the Premiership, as some optimistic fans had hoped. However, they demonstrated a solid level of play and finished the season comfortably clear of the relegation zone. Indeed, they had spent much of the season looking as though they might be able to scrape through to the play-offs.
The penultimate game of the season, an away match at Stoke, put paid to these hopes with a 3-1 defeat. The club finished the season not so very far below the top six, ranking tenth, thus recording their highest ever ranking, and they managed to make these achievements while staying on the right side of the Fair Play table, playing in by far the smallest stadium in the Championship.
Recent years have been the most successful in Colchester United’s history, not only because of their good performances and high rankings but also because of consequent media and fan attention and increased financial interest. Although the U’s have not registered the blazing rise of contemporaries such as Mohammed Al Fayed’s Fulham FC, their slower rise seems likely to promise good performances for some years to come, and Colchester fans have reason to hope that the club’s recent promotion will mark the beginning of a new era.
Colchester United’s main rivals are, unusually, not a local team. Wycombe Wanderers were the U’s consistent opposition throughout the 1980s and 1990s, both in league and in cup matches.
Locally, Colchester compete against fellow Essex team Southend United. During November 2006 the U’s registered their first victory over Southend since the 1980’s, adding fuel to the fire of their league victories in the Championship. The return fixture, in April 2007, cemented the U’s superiority, with another victory over Southend.
Colchester’s nearest neighbours geographically, Ipswich Town, also nurture a healthy hostility towards the U’s. Ipswich and Colchester had not historically been rivals, but they met for the first time in half a century in the 2006-7 season. Colchester won the first match 1-0, but a 3-2 defeat in the return game sent Ipswich above them for the end of the season.
Colchester United Ladies have been a very successful subsidiary of the main club, winning the FA Women’s Premier League Southern Division in 2006-7.
- Coca-Cola League One Runners-Up: 2005-06
- Third Division Play-Off Winners: 1997-98
- Fourth Division Runners-Up: 1961-62
- Football Conference Champions: 1991-92
- Football Conference Runners-up: 1990-91
- Southern Football League Champions: 1938-39
- Southern Football League Runners-up: 1949-50
- FA Trophy Champions: 1991-92
- Watney Cup Champions: 1971
- Football League Trophy Runners-up: 1996-97
- Southern Football League Cup Champions: 1939-40, 1946-47
- Essex Senior League Challenge Cup Champions: 1974-75
- Essex Senior Cup Runners-up 1981–82
- Attendance: 19072 (vs Reading, 27/11/1948 )
- Best league win: 9 – 1 vs Bradford City, 30/12/1961 (Division 4)
- Worst league loss: 0 – 8 vs Leyton Orient, 15/10/1989 (Division 4)
- Best cup win: 7 – 1 vs Yeovil Town 11/12/1958 (FA Cup Round 2)
- Most league appearances: 613 (Micky Cook, 1969-84)
- Most league goals: 131 (Martyn King, 1959-65)
- Goals in a season: 37 (Bobby Hunt, 1961-62)
- Transfer fee received: £2,250,000 for Lomano Tresor Lua Lua to Newcastle United in September 2000
- Transfer fee paid: £50,000 for Neil Gregory from Ipswich in March 1998
Colchester United FC Layer Road Ground Colchester Essex CO2 7JJ
Telephone: 01206 508800
0871 226 2161
Fax: 01206 715327
Tickets are not available online, but pricing information and admissions policies can be found on the club’s ticket page.
To purchase tickets for home or away matches, fans must telephone the club booking office on 0871 226 2161, or call in to the club shop – address below.
The nearest station to the Colchester stadium is Colchester Town, situated just over a mile away. On match days, numerous local bus services run between the station and the ground. The ground is also situated off the M11, junction 8. Directions can be found on the club website or through Google Map link.