Archive for August, 2008

Game 02 – Oldham

30 August, 2008

Approached the stadium from a different direction today and it occurred to me that there’s something missing. It’s evident from every direction actually. Who lives here? Yes, we know it’s the WHCS but more importantly it’s ‘The Home of Colchester United’. We need something that hits visitor’s in the face as soon as they arrive (not the Barside fans). Let them know that this isn’t Layer Road as they knew it. We need them to fear the new look Colchester United (maybe even the players will do something spectacular soon to add to the illusion). Let’s face it, this is a special stadium and we need to make our mark on it.

It’s great just wandering around outside the ground before a game. The massive open space gives you room to roam and spread your arms out without touching anyone else. I guess that’s what several people were doing today instead of coming inside to take their seats and we had a 10 minute delay to kick-off to give them time to get in. OK, I’m sure it was still some of the early teething problems. We have to give the club some time to adjust. It’s obviously a huge culture change for the club employees too.

There were some strange things happening inside the stadium today. There were flags blowing in opposite directions (at each end of the East Stand), and several players were tripping up without any hint of a challenge. It was almost acrobatics at one time. Of course there were two occasions when the whole United team went to sleep. One of these was when they were probably lulled into a false sense of security by the Barside who chose to taunt the Oldham fans with ‘top of the league – you’re having a laugh’ just at the moment when an attack was taking place. It was more of an own goal really and the away fans loved it. Barside walked right in. If I’ve learned one thing over the years it’s that Colchester United are at their most vulnerable immediately after scoring a goal.

On the question of away support I hope that the club got paid for the 100 or so seats covered by the Oldham flag. (I’m not talking about the Ernie Cooksey flag, which I thought was a nice touch). Actually I’m quite annoyed by this. Why should away fans come to Cuckoo Farm and be allowed to treat it like that? If there’s spare ground then the home fans should be able to display their support to the home team. Another own goal there perhaps.

It was good to see the match clock incorporated in to the video screen. That was much better.

I was quite surprised by the Oldham away kit. They looked like a bunch of stewards in their high-visibility yellow gear. Even their fans don’t seem to like it – I counted just three of them, or maybe there were more and they were disguised as our stewards? The shirts matched the ref’s yellow card and that was flashed far too often today. One who definitely deserved it was Hughes – and one wag in the crowd near me observed that perhaps he now has to tell his probation officer. Sadly I have to say that Wordsworth needs to think more carefully about his own name. It’s not worth uttering so many words when the ref wants to lecture you and his arrogant attitude got him booked after what clearly just a clumsy tackle.

The second half was the best period of football we’ve seen at Cuckoo Farm. A lot of good play from the U’s but also some of the old standards like winning the ball well, and then what …? A complete lack of imagination from most of the team, and we seem to be getting back to the habit of heading the ball to anywhere on the pitch that isn’t occupied by a U’s player. Added to this a distinct lack of movement when someone is on the ball, giving no options for a pass or building an attack.

It was good to see the family blocks getting filled up. Hopefully we will see some better attendances in other areas as the season progresses (4708 today – that would have been a good attendance at Layer Road). I fear we need to see some improvement in our league position to achieve that and it means winning some games and not converting 2-0 into 2-2. That kind of performance only gives the away fans the chance to come back with the expected chant.

Back to the drawing board all round.

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Emotions

26 August, 2008

I followed the Ipswich cup match on the radio and it occurred to me while I was listening that emotions vary during the course of a game even when you aren’t there. However there is one emotion that never seems to go away until the final whistle – HOPE. Some people might say it would better be defined as hopeless, but it doesn’t transfer to that state until the very last moment. For nearly half an hour we were on equal terms and it only needed one goal for us to take the initiative (like last season – only then we capitulated under the pressure of it all). Even going one goal down wasn’t a disaster – at least it wasn’t the turncoat Lisbie who scored it. Amazing that you can find comfort in disappointment. We were attacking enough to make an equaliser possible, maybe even before half-time. It would be great to go into the break on equal terms at least.

Shortly after the interval our world caved in. The ex-striker scored against us and it looks like we are doomed to exit from the cup. But no, true fans never give up hope. How do we transfer that mindset to the players so that they keep trying? Not sure really, perhaps a few chants to remind them of home? Well it worked, up to a point this time. Some substitutions also gave a renewed feeling of a chance to salvage something. Perhaps if we could get just one goal then the opposition would crumble and then we could get another, and would a winner be too much to ask? (Who do you ask for this type of request?) Well, getting that first one is the biggest hurdle and the longer it took to get that then the rest of our hopeless cause was rapidly flying out of the stadium.

Then someone threw a lifeline and we scored, but with only three minutes of normal time left you had to wonder if there was time for an equaliser. It was too much to ask (who do you call?) to expect a winner at this stage but maybe the disappointment of having a two goal lead dragged back might work in our favour during extra time. I’m already getting myself ready for the extended commentary. I can even visualise us winning by two goals to put it beyond doubt. However, I’m getting way ahead of myself and the ref has blown the whistle and we are out of it.

It seems that we should have been asking Saint Jude for help.

Away Win

23 August, 2008

Now we know what it feels like to lose, draw AND win in the league, and winning feels so much better.  Judging by the limited radio commentary available to us we were always on top and even had some match official support.  That bodes well for the rest of the season – unless of course it evens out.  It was all the better for Southend losing, and Ipswich failing in yet another home game ahead of our cup match coming up this week.  It seems as though the squad is starting to pull together and a return to the Championship might not just be the fantasy football experience of the last two seasons.

Game 01 – Huddersfield

16 August, 2008

Funny how a bigger stadium can make a large crowd look small. The attendance today was 5340 which is a good crowd in comparison to previous seasons, but there were some big gaps. One of the amazing things was how much noise the crowd generated, especially when East, North and West stands chanted / sang in unison. There’s still a bit more work to be done before we can enter ‘Last Choir Standing‘. We need a choirmaster – any volunteers?

I was confused by the colour of the away team’s shirts. They were sort of gold, but perhaps not bright enough, so perhaps they had a bit of silver mixed in, or maybe they were bronze. I guess you could call them an olympic pic’n’mix. I had hoped to remark that on the result of this game we took the Gold medal and Huddersfield the Silver – but a 0-0 bore draw doesn’t produce any winners.

The game did have its Olympic moments. Gymnastics took centre stage. Yeates hit the bar and ran rings round himself and we produced two Matts in our line up. There was a regular supply of diving, occasionally synchronised with the referee’s whistle, and plenty of wrestling that the officials ignored. The ref got involved in lots of rowing (you need to pronounce this correctly). Several players put their shot(s) wide of the mark and at half time an archery target appeared on the field. Sadly absent was the 100 metre sprint (upfield) and lots of shooting. I’m sure there are lots more events that others can think up along these lines.

The half time entertainment involved a golfer and our very own David Perkins aiming their balls at the target on the halfway line. A commentary on what they were actually trying to do would have been good, and maybe an explanation of how they chose the winner. Despite that I think this could be a better time waster than the shed and wall of previous seasons.

A lot of the old chants and songs emerged throughout the game, but the one thing that can’t be replicated is the stamping of feet on the wooden floor during the preparation for corners and free-kicks. Sadly the lack of goals also meant that the Layer Road Cheerful couldn’t express the full range of emotions associated with a good game of football. In the New Barside (East) the residents stood up throughout the game. Old habits die hard!

I think I missed the safety announcements. Maybe we don’t now have to remain calm or await further instructions, although I guess they are still thinking about what things to warn us about. The steps in the stands are pretty steep so perhaps we need to be warned about that.

As for the game, it was overawed by the occasion. The players didn’t seem to fight hard enough, often enough, and it was all rather flat at the end. There didn’t seem to be a desire to win the ball back or make the most of promising positions. In Olympic terms it was all a bit like today’s sailing competition – canceled due to lack of wind.

At Last, a Cup Run

14 August, 2008

Great result against the Gills. Not only did we win, but we kept a clean sheet and we are now on our first cup run in three years. A clean sheet! When was the last of those you may ask. Well, it wasn’t that long ago actually – 5th April this year. It’s worth a mention because we beat the tractor boys 2-0 at Layer Road. You have to go back to 25th August 2007 for the previous one to that, 3-0 away at Preston.

Talking of the tractor boys, they are our prize for having dispatched the Gills in the Carling Cup. How about that then? It’s a shame we can’t have them at home, but perhaps we’ll get drawn against them again in the FA Cup later in the season. You never know!

First home league game at Cuckoo Farm coming up this weekend. I wonder how big a crowd we’ll get? Surely we must get somewhere near capacity for the first one.

We’re Not Bottom

9 August, 2008

Let’s start this off on a positive note. For the last 12 minutes we had them beaten, Gilly got two goals, and we’re not bottom. Beyond that I guess there’s not much to say. It would have been nice to share the whole miserable experience with the BBC Essex commentators but ‘the powers that be’ deemed we could only manage half of such a thrilling encounter. How they knew which half was going to be the best to broadcast I’m not sure. Maybe they can tell us the lottery numbers too – that’s covered by the BBC as well.

Elsewhere it was a day of mixed fortunes for local clubs. The good news is that our leading scorer from last season was on target again and Ipswich still lost. The bad news is that the team from South Essex scraped a victory (and the whole match was covered live by BBC Radio Cambridgeshire).

I have to confess to being a member of the Luton Town Virtual Supporters Club (if indeed it really exists) for this season only. With the daft penalties imposed by the official bodies it’s only fair that someone takes pity on them. Just look at the bottom of League Two before today’s games:

What a ridiculous way to start a season. Mind you losing 2-4 away to Hartlepool isn’t all that impressive either. So here come the familiar sayings – ‘We’ve got it all to do’, ‘The only way is up’, ‘Wait till we play them at home’, ‘We’re not bottom!’.

We need a ‘cuckoo clock’

5 August, 2008

This wasn’t the usual trek up Layer Road to the old ground, past houses and dodging traffic. We didn’t even have to look far for a parking space. There were plenty of places along the way, but I reckon it won’t be long before the ‘lines and signs’ start to appear. Walking through the commercial park and into United Way was a new experience. The first real ‘sign’ of a major change was the road signs indicating ‘Stadium’. We now play in a real stadium. Layer Road was after all just a ‘Ground’ (although most will tell you it was a collection of sheds, and I can’t really dispute that).

An impressive turn out for our first match. The crowd was fairly well spread around all four stands and I should imagine a lot of lessons were learned about how to get us all into and out of the ground. The first chant from any of the fans seemed to be ‘Oh when the U’s, Oh when the U’s, Oh when the U’s go steaming in … ‘ and a few other favourites were aired at times, but the acoustics in the ground may need a little tweaking. The co-ordination between North and East stands particularly needs a little practice.

Half time entertainment amounted to just a troupe of dancing girls accompanied by varying levels of music (occasionally lost in the evening air) and the 50-50 draw. We were introduced (once again) to a couple of former favourites from our Layer Road days- Peter Wright and Mark Kinsella. Eddie the Eagle seemed a bit subdued tonight – maybe that was the effect of a long flight from Layer Road, or maybe he is intimidated by the real name of the stadium – Cuckoo Farm.

The floodlights were very effective, and the view of the pitch was excellent. I somehow expected there to be a pole or something in my line of view. The trade off here is that in the colder days of winter we may be a bit exposed. No cosy sheds to cuddle up in this time around. I asked one of the stewards what he thought of the new stadium. His only response was ‘At Last!’  Someone else I spoke to won a bet (£50) on the kick off being delayed by 15 mins. We were reminded that it’s a no-smoking stadium (good) and anyone who goes outside for a drag won’t be readmitted. Ha!

I have to say that the stadium feels the right size for where we are now – in League One – and when it’s full it will feel a worthy place for the Championship. The atmosphere needs to be tested at a real competitive match but it’s clear we have lost the old intimacy and oppressive atmosphere (for the opposition) that we enjoyed for so long at Layer Road.

As for tonight’s match, the significance of such a good set of opponents tended to get lost. Not a lot was made of it during the game and they had a small contingent of travelling support. I think they were outnumbered by the stewards. It was a typical display by both sides. Typical Spanish cynical play with time-wasting and niggling tackles and a player sent off. Typical Col U play with missed passes and opportunities. There were some moments where it was clear that the lads are happy with the bigger pitch and a lot of useful passing took place, but not a lot to get too enthusiastic about. We deserved to lose 1-2.

The Big Thing for me was the lack of a stadium timepiece. Where was the clock? I need a clock I can look at and get anxious about the lack of time remaining. I guess in this new environment we need a digital timepiece, so perhaps the video screen might be updated to show this.  We need our very own ‘Cuckoo Clock’.

As we left it felt like there was a huge crowd milling around the stadium. The crowd streamed down United Way, dutifully keeping to the footpath on one side of the road. I guess the majority of the attendance didn’t bother with the public transport, although I bet there are significant differences in the availability of on and off-street parking along Axial Way (on the commercial estate) before the end of the season.

This is what life will be like for years to come. We have entered a new era. The bar has been raised (and so have the prices).

Pre-season Friendlies

2 August, 2008

Pre-season matches have given the squad a good run out and the Norwich game was probably our best chance to settle some scores from last season.  In the event a draw was a fair result by all accounts and we even held the lead at one point.  Pre-season friendlies aren’t a good guide to the form we can expect for the rest of the year.  George has been putting out up to 22 different players in most games and although we have had a good set of results the opposition until now has been relatively lightweight.  The best indicator is that we have a large squad and appear to have some options for every position.  Only time will tell.

I wasn’t there myself but a friend sneaked an aerial view of the game at Carrow Road from a room at the Holiday Inn hotel situated at the same site.  Hence the two  pictures that accompany this post.  I have some larger versions if you think you were one of the Col U fans in the pictures.