Wembley

Colchester United – A True Community Football Club

The 2015/16 Football League season begins at 3pm tomorrow with Colchester United kicking off their Sky Bet League One campaign at the Weston Homes Community Stadium against Blackpool, and fans will be hoping that this is the season where fortunes on the pitch see the club achieve the kind of success we all dream of. But there is much more to Colchester United than just the activities on the pitch, as the club’s Media Manager, Matt Hudson tells Colchester 101.

Photo by Richard Blaxall, Colchester United Football Club photographer.

Photo by Richard Blaxall, Colchester United Football Club photographer.

The new Football League season gets under way on Saturday – and Colchester United will be hoping that their on pitch record this season can reflect the off pitch successes the club has enjoyed over the past year.

The U’s will begin another campaign in League One after their dramatic late escape from relegation against Preston back in May in front of a national TV audience.

And yet it is the club’s off field activities that are starting to make headlines of their own.

The Weston Homes Community Stadium recently celebrated its 7th birthday following the club’s switch from their former home at Layer Road back in 2008.

At that time, the club was only able to trade on matchdays, had hospitality for about 30 people and no opportunity to make additional revenues.

Photo by Richard Blaxall, Colchester United Football Club photographer

Supported by Colchester Borough Council with funding for the construction of the 10,000 all-seater Weston Homes Community Stadium, the club was charged with making the stadium a true community hub and figures from 2014 show that we have made significant headway in recent years.

Over 260,000 people visited the stadium during the course of 2014, making it one of the most frequently visited venues in the local area, but only 92,925 of those came to watch the U’s in action.

Elton John at Colchester United

Photo by Richard Blaxall, Colchester United Football Club photographer

That leaves some 170,871 having attended for non-football events, with the piece de resistance the Elton John concert in the summer of 2014.

An international music superstar he might be, but the first concert at the Weston Homes Community Stadium had a very local feel on a memorable June evening.

Some 61% of the 16,500 tickets bought were acquired by people in a CO postcode, with a further 14% from CM postcodes as music fans from across the local area came to the stadium to watch Elton in action.

Whilst the real Elton caused waves at the home of Colchester United, we have also enjoyed some fantastic imitators over the last few years at the Weston Homes with our popular tribute nights.

Artists of all musical bents have been given the chance to wow the crowds in the stadium’s Layer Suite and, in 2014, 44,886 people came along to watch tribute nights and comedy clubs at the home of Colchester United.

On top of that, the club’s hospitality facilities saw 3,409 people enjoy their Christmas festivities with the U’s as the stadium continues to be a popular place to hold Christmas functions.

Those activities are just the tip of the iceberg for the wide range of community engagement activities that take place at the stadium. Boxing dinners, darts events, school proms, tattoo conventions, mens’ health events and more have taken place in the last year to continue to bring in a wide range of the local community to the stadium.

And whilst they’re key financial generators for the club – with revenues well into seven figures now, the stadium has also been a key hub for community and charity events, too. Charities of all sizes have been able to use the club’s facilities for fundraising activities, with tens of thousands raised by events held by the U’s in 2014.

“We are hugely proud of what we’ve achieved in our seven years at the Weston Homes Community Stadium,” General Manager Tim Waddington told Colchester 101.

“With every year that passes, we engage with a wider range of people within the local community and continue to establish the stadium as a real hub locally.

“From children attending birthday parties through to our Christmas functions, we attract people of all ages and backgrounds and this grows every year.

“The relaunch of our Football in the Community programme in 2013 has also allowed us to take that message about the stadium out into the local town and beyond, with our coaches working in 60 schools a week and engaging with over 5,000 children a week.”

Photo by Richard Blaxall, Colchester United Football Club photographer

And it is with school age children that the club are continuing to build for the future – with efforts on and off the pitch bearing fruit.

Off the pitch, the club were crowned as the Football League’s Family Club of the Year in 2015, providing the best family experience for supporters out of any of the 72 league clubs.

Nearly 7,000 U11s attended live first team football for free during the course of 2014/15 and crowds overall were up 4% on the season before, despite spending much of the campaign at the wrong end of League One.

Key to that success on the pitch and ultimately survival in League One were players who themselves had watched from the terraces in seasons gone by.

The club have gone to great lengths in recent years to build a strong Academy, with an open pathway to first team football.

Last season, 122 first team appearances were made by Academy graduates with the likes of Alex Gilbey (Gilberd School) and Sammie Szmodics (Stanway School) wearing the kit of their home town team with real pride.

Sammie has been with the U’s since he was seven and exemplifies what the club are trying to achieve with their young players.

A recent friendly game against Fulham in pre-season saw the U’s finish with seven homegrown players out of the eleven on the pitch, with ten in total having had some match minutes at some stage that afternoon.

The Col U team for the coming campaign is truly one that is ‘made in Colchester’ and the successes of the stadium all told mean that the club are well placed to grow for the future.

Matt Hudson

 

 

 

 

Matt Hudson
Media Manager, Colchester United

Roy McDonough – Football’s Hard Man

With Colchester United’s ‘Great Escape’ from the dreaded drop down to League Two the other week still fresh in people’s minds, my thoughts turned to events 23 years ago when the U’s were actually relegated out of the football league, only to make a triumphant under Layer Road legend Roy McDonough. So I thought I would give another airing to a post from my personal blog and publish an edited version of my 2012 interview with the big man himself.

Roy McDonough

Of all the players and managers who have come and gone over the years at Colchester United, Roy McDonough is still the one who is remembered most fondly by many fans. He was certainly one of the most charismatic. And controversial.

When I wrote the original post, at the time it was 20 since one of the most memorable seasons in the club’s history, which culminated in the Boys of ’92 earning promotion back into the Football League, along with the little matter of the club’s first ever Wembley appearance. So I had thought with Big Roy’s autobiography Red Card Roy, which he co-wrote with Bernie Friend and which Amazon described as “ …the jaw-dropping story of terrace cult hero Roy McDonough – Britain’s wildest footballer who was sent off a record 22 times in a career of more than 650 games, 100s of goals, thousands of beers and, allegedly, 400 women” being released at the time, it was a good time for a chat with the great man himself.  So I caught up with ‘Big Roy’ in Spain where he and his wife Liz had been living for the past nine years, and where they still live.

Roy’s last competitive game of football was back in 2003 playing for Harwich & Parkeston, where he played two games under former U’s team mate Steve McGavin who, at the time, was the non-league club’s player manager. With his boots finally hung up for the last time a new life in Spain beckoned, and Roy is now enjoying success a second time around as a partner in a Spanish property company.

During a playing career that saw him make over 650 appearances, and score some 150 goals, for a host of professional and non-league clubs including Birmingham City and Southend, with of course two spells at Colchester, Roy earned himself a reputation as one of the game’s ‘hard men’.  Did he model himself on anyone in particular? “Not at all. I think I was a full blooded, honest player who took no prisoners when going for the ball. Everyone should be the same for his team. Roy Keane and Mark Hughes were two of my idols for obvious reasons.”

Roy McDonough

It was a philosophy that saw him earn the record for the most career dismissals, 22 in total, with him being shown 13 of those red cards in the Football League, a record he shares with former Leicester City and Coventry defender Steve Walsh.  Does he think his record will ever be broken? “Probably not,” he says, dismissing the very notion.  “The modern game is full of pussies I’m afraid.”

For U’s fans it was Roy’s second spell at Layer Road as player manager that earned him legendary status and the gratitude of generations of fans. At the end of the 1989/90 season the club had dropped out of the football league into the GM Vauxhall Conference. Roy’s predecessor, Ian Atkins, had failed to get us back into the League at our first attempt, in spite of having a full time squad, and there was a very real fear that we would end up a part time club and never find a way back up.

However, in a moment of brilliance, the board appointed Roy player manager when Atkins, who had brought Roy back from bitter rivals Southend United, departed the club. He then set about putting together a squad to win promotion, and instilled in them the battling mentality needed to get the job done

There was only one other Conference side capable of spoiling the party, Martin McNeill’s Wycombe Wanders, and they quickly became our bitter rivals.

The tight stadium and atmosphere at ‘Fortress’ Layer Road has often been credited with giving the Us an edge at home, well when things were going our way at least. I ask Roy if he thinks it made a difference in our home match with Wycombe that season. 20 years later Roy is was quick to dismiss O’Neill’s efforts: “We didn’t need an advantage, we were far better than them all season! A full Layer Road did create a great atmosphere though.” It’s classic Roy, one of the game’s great characters who liked nothing better than to wind up O’Neill, and never more so than when we were  3 – 0 up in that same game and he looked over at O’Neill on the bench and said to our players “No more goals, let’s play keep-ball”.

“We had to take the mick, it was lovely. Trust me” Roy reminisces, adding that these antics extended to using the local press to rattle O’Neill. “Some herbert who worked for the Gazette was a Wycombe fan, so the odd remark thrown their way didn’t hurt, did it.”

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Roy’s mickey taking would have stung O’Neill all the more when, at the end of the season, it was the Us, and not Wycombe, who were crowned Conference champions. And just to rub his nose it in even further Roy also took us to our first ever Wembley Final in May 1992, and won it in style of course, adding the FA Trophy to the club’s trophy cabinet. It was the town’s biggest ever day out and it seemed like nearly everyone in Colchester made their way by car, coach and train to the famous Twin Towers to see the U’s demolish Witton Albion 3 – 1. It also led to unbelievable scenes in the High Street a couple of days later as 1000s turned out to welcome the team home.

And Roy’s fondest memory of that season? “Winning the Conference the last game of the season.”

But of course.

Colchester United FA Trophy

Fast forward 20 years to 2012… and Roy was back in Colchester for a reunion with the Boys of ’92 squad, including American Mike Masters who had flown in from the US especially for the event. Roy was also inducted into the U’s Hall of Fame, and told me in typical style when I asked him how it felt “Delighted pal. I think the whole team should be in the hall of fame”.

These are a few of my own pictures from our day out at Wembley and the celebrations back in Colchester.

Colchester United Bakers Street

 

Wembley03

Bus

Bus1

TownHall

TownHall2

And his thoughts on the Weston Homes Community Stadium? “The new stadium is great.” But would the kind of facilities the Us players enjoy these days at the new stadium have helped give the Boys  of ’92 an even greater edge over Wycombe during the epic promotion battle 20 years ago? I’ll let Roy have the final word “To be fair we didn’t need an edge over Wycombe because we easily beat them most times when I was there.”

Red Card Roy by Roy McDonough and Bernie Friend is available on Amazon.

Simon

Simon Crow