On a Road to Colchester
What with one thing and another, I’d only seen one game this season before Saturday. That might be acceptable for most; hell, given my team’s current form it’s actually quite respectable, but since I like to spend my spare time airing my opinions on here, I tend to start feeling a little sheepish if I miss too many games in a row.
It was inevitable, then, that I made the journey to Colchester on Saturday when I realised that it was only 45 minutes outside of London Liverpool Street. I’d decided against trips to Layer Road in the past through a mixture of poor geographical knowledge and lack of funds, so having been paired with the U’s once again following relegation, I wanted to travel to Essex to see whether Beastie of Sheffield Wednesday forum Owls Alive had it right when he spluttered the following assessment of Colchester’s (relatively) new ground:
All you lot that moaned and whinged about Layer Road ya can fook right off no way on gods green earth is this better than a ground like that. Layer Road was wonderful with a proper vibe to it. It had purpose, it had feeling, soul and character by the shitload, it had a vibe to it, this new place has nothing, it doesn’t even have a pub within several miles, in fact it has absolutely nothing within miles it’s at the end of a meaningless, featureless road .you can hear Talking Heads singing at the back of your mind ‘We’re on a road to nowhere’ […] To my mind, you don’t grow up loving a ground like this, you don’t connect with it, there’s no affinity with it and I find it sad TBH. You just know this place folds away under some fookers bed when not in use. I think Colchester has gone from having one of the best grounds in the country to THE worst IMO and should stand as a warning to fans of clubs who have an older ground and yearn for ‘modernisation’ be careful what you wish for, it isn’t always better.
Let me start by making clear that, in contrast with Beastie, I actually enjoyed the experience. Granted, the new stadium is a mile or three outside of the main town, and its only neighbours are half-finished building projects and a roaring A12, but there was something rather pleasant about it all. To begin, it’s dead convenient from the town’s main train station in that the shuttle bus (yes, I too shudder as I type that) runs from just around the corner. And fear not, there’s also a cracking pub that sits nicely in the itinerary between station and said bus stop. As a home pub, it’ll perhaps be out-of-bounds when bigger teams than Plymouth visit, but it offered everything that this correspondent and his drinking partner were looking for, including an impressive selection of real ales which, judging by an article in Sunday’s Observer, is what pulls in the crowds these days.
Having become wearily accustomed to hopeless trips north to places like Wolves and Derby, there’s also something to be said for the cosiness of a place like Colchester. It’s not to say that I don’t miss the intensity of days out in the Championship where games seem to mean that little bit more, but it was all so civil in Essex on Saturday once we left the gurning West Ham youths behind in the drinking holes of the greater Liverpool Street area. The football may have been awful and the ground was half empty, but there was a certain satisfaction in being there. Something along the lines of an unconscious response to non-existent cries in the future of ‘where were you when you were shit’ from opposition supporters when we hopefully become less shit.
As for Colchester as a footballing team, I wouldn’t be overly-surprised if they have a go at League 1’s top six this season. Paper-thin though their squad is, the starting line-up possessed enough vim and vigour to suggest that they’re capable of putting a run together. At the back, the impressive Nigerian Magnus Okuonghae formed a solid, if treacle-slow, partnership with fellow centre-half Pat Baldwin, which Plymouth rarely looked like threatening. Otherwise, the sought-after Marc Tierney provided penetration from the left-back position and, despite his early injury in this game, Brian Wilson is surely competent enough to perform on the opposite side of defence.
The midfield’s lack of height might prove an issue against more aggressive sides, but David Perkins and Kemal Izzet, nippy ball-players both, will have their days in this league. Further afield, the rangy attacking midfielder Anthony Wordsworth looks like a player, possessing as he does a wicked shot and an eye for a pass. Expect to see him at a Championship ground near you one of these days. Andy Bond, the ex-Barrow midfielder who’s already bagged four goals this term, seemed to me to be doing a Cahill by supporting main striker David Mooney in an advanced position. His opportunistic headed goal for Colchester was, a few rasping drives from Wordsworth aside, the highlight for the U’s. With staple Football Leaguers Paul Reid, Simon Hackney, John-Joe O’Toole and Steven Gillespie missing from Saturday’s squad, I for one have John Ward’s side down as this season’s League 1 dark horses.