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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.