Colchester United v Crawley Town
Weston Community Homes Stadium / League One / 14th March 2015
As I’ve stated on these pages before, one of my main aims for the 2014/2015 season was to add to my ’92’ and get to a few of the more far-flung league grounds in the country. From my outpost in Salford, I have dragged myself on long hauls to Football League outposts such as Plymouth, Luton, Peterborough and Crawley. The day at Crawley Town is one of those ones that will stick long in the memory for the bonkers game I witnessed unfold there. A struggling Crawley found themselves beating promotion chasing MK Dons 2-1, until deep into injury time when Dele Alli equalised for MK. Now, this doesn’t sound too absurd, but when you consider that this was after over an hour of Crawley playing with striker Matt Harrold in goals…well, it was all just a bit mental, especially when Harrold made some heroic, yet slightly clumsy saves.
On that day I had my pal, Crawley fan Craig, going through an emotional rollercoaster by the side of me. After going through such a game, I did (drunkenly) promise him that I would try to tag along for a Crawley away trip this season if they visited a ground I hadn’t yet been to and was really desperate to visit. Which brings us to Colchester.
Had I been here before? No. Was I desperate to visit? No. Did the ground look particularly exciting and enticing? Definitely no. Yet, the point of this season has been sort of to get along to these remote parts of the Football League. When I mentioned to Craig that I was considering going, he used his persuasive ways to convince me that it was a good idea to go. “Count me in,” I thought. Then I was out again when I looked into how to get to Colchester and realised that there were rail works between London and Colchester. To get to Colchester a whole lot of public transport-hopping was required: a train from Manchester to London Euston; hop on the underground to Liverpool Street; train from Liverpool Street to Billericay; then a 50 minute rail replacement bus from Billericay to Colchester followed by a shuttle bus from Colchester station to Colchester United’s home on the outskirts of the town. It seemed a silly trip to make. But I like silly. I decided I fancied taking on the Manchester-Colchester public transport Odyssey. Oh, this better worth it.
Despite the amount of public transport I had to navigate, the journey to Essex was fairly simple in the end with no hitches occurring. I was in Billericay, perhaps best known as the home of Gavin in Gavin and Stacey, by 10am, but I didn’t have time to visit Pam and Mick’s, as I was whisked onto a bus and soon zooming towards Colchester.
I arrived at Colchester North station before 11am and so I went for a wander into the town centre. I actually found the town itself fairly pleasant on my brisk walk around. Interestingly, the town claims to be the oldest town in Britain and was at one point the Roman capital of Britain. Sadly, I did not have too much time to indulge in any real culture in the Essex town and instead I ended up in the town’s Wetherspoons, The Playhouse. I regularly laud Darwen’s Wetherspoons as my favourite in the country, but this has to be up there, with the pub still resembling the old theatre it took over. There were even cardboard cutouts of Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Catherine Zeta Jones looking on from one of the boxes above.
It was still before midday and one thing I noticed over the past few years is that the south of England seems to be against opening pubs before noon, so I had to resort to going into a another chain pub, Yates. Not much of note in here, although I did get to have a pint of my favourite, Estrella Damm. Onwards to Colchester United.
I hopped in a taxi near the train station and had a Liverpool fan driving me. He chatted to me (well pretty much ‘chatted at me)’ about the Swans v Liverpool game happening on the upcoming Monday night for the duration of the short journey.
Within 10 minutes we rounded a corner and the Weston Community Homes Stadium appeared ahead of me. First impressions: bland. It really is just a generic new build stadium built on the outskirts of a town.
My first port of call was to head to the ticket office to buy a ticket for the away end (£24 today), before I then spotted Crawley fan Ben beckoning me to come join the Crawley fans. Now this is one thing I did really like about Colchester United: the fact that the concourse bar is open hours before kick-off with the option to take drink outside and sit outside the ground. So beer was purchased and consumed in the fairly sunny outdoors in the shadow of the South Stand.
I’ve never thought of Crawley fans as a particular feisty bunch, but I did start to question this when we were soon joined by the army and a whole host of their vehicles. However, it just turned out that Colchester (and most of the Football League) were fundraising for Help for Heroes. Before the army arrived, I got chatting to Colchester’s Media Manager, Matt, outside the ground and he was a bit worried that the army, renowned for their discipline and timekeeping, were running late.
Soon my pal Craig arrived on the scene, after heading over to the nearby McDonalds, and with him he had a Crawley Town scarf for me to help me fit in. A very fetching scarf it is too and I think it complimented my white and red flat cap perfectly. He had also promised 5-year-old Crawley fan Matthew that he would be featuring on this blog (before consulting me), so not to be one to shatter a child’s dreams, here is Matthew performing the famous thumbs up. Cute.
More beer was enjoyed, before we headed around to the East Stand where the Crawley fans would be housed today. There was still time for me to fit in a couple more beers before the big kick-off and then it was up into the stand for today’s big League One relegation scrap between 23rd placed Crawley Town and 22nd placed Colchester United.
Colchester United were born in March 1937 and began in the Southern League. The club entered the Football League in 1950 and that is where they have virtually been since, apart from a two-year stint in the Conference between 1990-1992. The Us would call Layer Road home from the first day of their existence until 2008, when they would eventually move to their new home, the magically named Weston Community Homes Stadium. I still remember on the late-2000s Football Manager games (I’ve now been clean of Football Manager for almost four years by the way) how many of the new grounds were named generically by the site they were built on, as the makers behind the game were still unsure if sponsorship deals would influence the naming of the new grounds. for example, Arsenal played at Ashburton Grove, not the Emirates, and at one point Swansea City played at the Whiterock Stadium, not the Liberty. However, easily my favourite new ground name on those Football Manager games was Colchester United’s: the club would move from Layer Road to the superbly named Cuckoo Farm. Why didn’t they use that name in real life?! It is brilliant! The ground was built on the site of Cuckoo Farm, which is not some sort of colloquialism for a mental institution it seems. At the site now you will only find a nearby industrial estate housing the football ground and several art studios named Cuckoo Farm Studios. Apparently there is a lot more amenities and stores to be built in the area surrounding the ground though.
Pitchside, my early opinion of the Weston Community Homes Stadium wasn’t really altered; it was still very bland. There are four separate stands making up the stadium and they all look very samey, with the West (Main) Stand standing out a bit more purely for being slightly taller. There really isn’t much to say about the stadium at all really and I don’t really have any snazzy or quirky facts about the ground to throw at you. Feel free to send some my way though.
What there was a lot to say about today was Crawley’s support. I know sometimes Crawley get mocked by bigger clubs in League One for being ‘tinpot’, but the 293 (294 including me) fans who travelled to Colchester were absolutely superb and made a whole lot of noise for the whole 90 minutes, accompanied by a drum which was passed around on the row behind us. The Colchester fans were remarkably quiet throughout, although their main ‘noisy section’ did seem really far away in the corner of the South Stand.
The teams came out onto the pitch (I was a little disappointed to see former Swansea player Gwion Edwards on the bench) and we were ready to go. In front of a ground with more than a few empty seats, the action got underway and I felt that Crawley looked the better team in the opening exchanges. They almost took the lead as Izale Mcleod went through on goal, only to hit the far post with the Colchester keeper beaten.
It would take just 11 minutes for the scoring to open and it came slightly against the run of play, as Colchester took the lead. They did take the lead in style though, as some shoddy defending from Crawley saw them fail to clear their lines, only for the ball to bounce on the edge of the box for Sammie Szmodics to volley home emphatically. 1-0 to the Us.
As I did when I visited Crawley, I stood next to Craig during the game and once again I had to contend with his passionate actions whilst he watched his team battle away. He certainly is a passionate and enthusiastic soul. The emotions very much came to the fore 3 minutes after Colchester scored, as Crawley grabbed an equaliser. As so often happens, it was to be a former Colchester player Ryan Dickson who would score for the Reds, as he tapped home a low cross at the near post. Then I had to deal with Craig floundering about celebrating, before he ended up the floor with his shirt over his head Ravanelli style. Funny stuff.
The game was proving to be thoroughly entertaining with both sides attacking and looking for a much-needed win. Crawley came close to scoring again as Anthony Wordsworth’s left-footed volley crashed off the crossbar, but they would eventually grab a second goal five minutes before half-time. Lewis Young once again played the ball into the box, which was stepped over by Matias Pogba, brother of Paul, for Gavin Tomlin to slot away from 10 yards out. 2 – 1 and more lively celebrations ensued in the away end with Craig deciding to steal my flat cap this time and once again ending up on the floor. Also, this was the first instance of Crawley fans taking their shirts off in celebration – it would not be the last.
I found my own way to celebrate the goal by taking over drumming duties. Having drummed (briefly) at a few places last season, I took up the Crawley drumstick and led the drumming for one chant, but then I felt that the beer may have hindered my rhythm, so I passed it straight back to Ben.
Half-time: Colchester United 1 – 2 Crawley Town. A deserved lead.
With everyone now fully dressed and having had the usual ‘ground in the background, thumbs up photos’, I headed back down to the concourse for a half-time beer. It was also good to have a very brief chat with young groundhopper Dan North, who was in the Colchester end; Crawley and Colchester were sharing the East Stand, so he simply strolled through into the away fans part of the concourse with a Colchester scarf around his neck.
I had noticed that Craig had become rather fond of my flat cap, so, just as the second half was about to kick off, I told him that if Crawley won he could keep it as a lucky charm. I instantly regretted this agreement, as it occurred to me that I was wearing one of my most treasured flat caps, the one which I acquired off a Gambian man whilst I was in The Gambia last month. It is definitely my most fetching cap.
The second half started and it looked like I’d be keeping the flat cap anyway, as Colchester scored moments into the half. David Fox curled a low freekick around the wall and it went soaring into the bottom corner – probably a bit too easily really.
The game continued to be a very entertaining attacking affair, as both teams continued to create chances. Crawley even had the ball in the back of the net again, only for Ryan Dickson’s tap in to be ruled out for offside; it was a tough call to be honest, but he may have been marginally off.
Then in the 75th minute, a great through ball through the middle of the Colchester defence by Wordsworth saw McLeod go through on goal, but he would be brought down by Sam Walker in the Us’ goal. Penalty. 100%. I thought Walker was maybe even slightly lucky to only get booked as McLeod had taken the ball past him as he brought him down. Craig was again an emotional wreck and so decided to look away from the pitch whilst McLeod stepped up to take it and I commentated on it for him. McLeod performed a ridiculously slow run up, before confidently slotting the ball away in the bottom corner with Walker going the wrong way. 3 – 2 to Crawley and it is fair to say that the away end did go a bit mental, as did Craig by the side of me.
Going in the Crawley away end today was quite similar to going to a strip club, but probably cheaper. By the time the celebrations had finished there were more tits on show than a bird sanctuary (I should add here that they were all male nipples – this wasn’t a rock concert). Then, with half of the Crawley fans around me seeming to have their tops off, the “Shoes off, if you love Crawley!” chant started and so the shoes started coming off too. I began to wonder how far the undressing was going to go!
Fortunately, the undressing did stop but the boisterous celebrations did not. The drumming continued and the ubiquitous football chant of “Since I was young…” began, although Crawley’s bouncing around did involve a lot of arms around each other bouncing along the stand side-to-side which was jolly good fun. It was good fitness too, as I was shattered by the end of it all.
The final few minutes involved a relentless Colchester attack. Last time I watched Crawley, they conceded an equaliser deep into injury time and I began to fear that they were going to be consigned to another late equaliser here. Colchester had a whole hosts of corners in the dying minutes and various penalty boxes scrambles developed with even Colchester’s goalie in the box attacking the Crawley goal now.
Eventually, after one last corner, Crawley managed to lump the ball away and the referee blew his whistle to confirm the 3 points were Crawley’s. Predictably, the away end was a scene of joy as the Crawley fans celebrated a very important 3 points which brought them within touching distance of escaping the relegation zone.
Full-time: Colchester United 2 – 3 Crawley Town. A deserved win for the Reds, after another very entertaining game. It seems that Crawley always provide me with entertainment – I need to watch them more often.
At the final whistle, Craig seized the flat cap I had promised him, but I then performed puppy dog eyes and apologised profusely to him, as I just could not let the flat cap go; it is virtually my only memento from my trip to The Gambia and he kindly let the agreement drop. I did feel like a bit of a dick though. In fairness, he was still buzzing from the win and so I’m sure he didn’t really give a damn about my cap.
The whole away end was still abuzz with delight and it was a great sight watching the fans literally bounce and dance their way out of the stand, have a bit of a dance on the concourse, before then dancing their way all the way to their coaches after the stewards had basically dragged them out of the concourse exit. I think the fans’ delight is perhaps best summed up by the photo below, as Craig decided it would be a good idea to jump on my back. As Barry Davies once said, “Just look at his face.”
I said my goodbyes to the Crawley lot as they got on their buses and I was told that I’m welcome along with them any time as a ‘lucky charm’. That’s now Notts County, York City and Crawley Town who all consider me some sort of flat-capped lucky mascot. I may start charging them a fee to get me into their games. I said my goodbyes to Craig and gave him a kiss on the forehead just as I randomly had when I was with him at Crawley last time, before heading to the shuttle buses on offer back to the station.
Within minutes I was back at Colchester North station, where I got chatting to some Crawley and Colchester fans about the day in general. Then as we got on the bus, which was heading back to Billericay, it occurred to me that I recognised one of the Colchester fans. I queried my mind and it suddenly hit me:
“You’re Steve Lamacq!” I shouted at him as we sat down on the bus. There was a moment of no reply before he then confirmed that he indeed was Steve Lamacq. For those unaware of who Steve Lamacq is, Steve is a renowned DJ and was one of my favourite Radio 1 DJs in my uni days with his Monday night new music show being a must listen for me. He even hosted Top of the Pops a few times in the 90s. I did admit to him that I’d not really listened to him on his new show on 6 Music, but then I did wonder why I hadn’t, since I loved his show so much on Radio 1. I promised him I would make an effort to listen.
The bus trip back to Billericay turned into a very enjoyable one as I talked to Steve about football and music for the entire journey. It was a bit surreal hearing a voice I was so familiar with on the radio talking to me about Lost Boyos and my travels; it did dawn on me that I had literally not stopped talking all the way back to Billericay though, as I have a habit of doing at times. I did make sure to ask him to give me one new band who I must listen to at the moment and his reply was a band called Blossoms – so get listening folks. I also couldn’t leave him with asking my favourite football question: “Who’s your all time favourite player for your club?” I always love that question as people always go into great stories to support their answer. For the record, Steve Lamacq’s all-time favourite Colchester is Steve Cawley (I think I’ve got that right anyway).
I thought I’d leave Steve in peace for the last part of the journey back to London with us hopping on the train in Billericay back to Liverpool Street.
As all Lost Boyos days out end when going back to Euston station , I headed into the brilliant Doric Arch pub, next to Euston station, for a couple of pints whilst I waited for my train. I do absolutely love that place. I forgot I still had my Crawley scarf on and so I did end up confusing some Wolves fans, who asked me “How did you get on today?” only to inform them that ‘you’ to me means Swansea City. “So you’re a Swansea fan living in Manchester and you’ve come down today to watch Colchester v Crawley?” Spot on mate. I’m mental I know.
At 9pm my train left London and I was en route back to Manchester. I even managed to claim a free mini bottle of wine as the shop worker on the train made an announcement saying that whoever comes tell him a story would get free wine. I basically just told him the story of what I’ve just chronicled here and as no-one else came to speak to him, I won the wine by default. Now that’s how you finish off a day out.
Whilst I drank my free red wine, I had time to reflect on the day. Earlier in the day, I had kicked off a Twitter debate by asking ‘What’s the worse ground you’ve been to?” To be honest, I would possibly answer that with Colchester United’s home now. It’s hard to despise the place as there is nothing offensive about the club, their fans or their ground, but it didn’t really make me feel anything at all. I come back to the word I used earlier: bland. Plus, it’s not exactly ideally located. I don’t really get the fact that it is dubbed a ‘community stadium’ when it is placed away from the main community of Colchester. I was a fan of Colchester town itself though and I’d happily go back to explore more one day.
The real highlight of the day though had to be the Crawley fans. They really were great. I’ve since seen various tweets on Twitter hailing their support with some Colchester fans even saying they were one of the best groups of supporters to ever visit the Weston Homes Community Stadium since it opened. Fairplay. I really hope they mange to stay up, something which does look possible since Dean Saunders became manager.
Lots of public transport, beer, another random football ground, more beer, half-naked football fans, a thrilling 3-2 game, boisterous away end, more beer, football/music chat with Steve Lamacq and winning free wine – well played Saturday…well played indeed.
Highlights: the journey being easier than expected, nice town, concourse bar open early, Crawley fans, exciting game, spending time with Steve Lamacq on way home, winning free wine.
Low Points: really dull stadium, saw more nipples than I had planned to.
Check out all my photos from my trip to Colchester here.