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My Layer Roads of long ago

11 February 2020

Weather permitting, Casual Diary will be spending the day travelling to Colchester. Why the Football League habitually choose to make such fervent local derbies a Tuesday night game is beyond me. I'm sure it's absolutely nothing to do with promoting their £10 sale of the matches to armchair fans.

Having been part of 2,500 at Bradford, where some Town fans - an extremely small but unwelcome minority - chose to make absolute dicks of themselves, I would be surprised if we make 500 tonight. Even given its relative proximity to London, the train ride from Liverpool Street to Colchester is a ball ache.

Night games in Essex play an interesting part in my own personal GTFC history. The play-off victory wasn't a night game, but a previous night visit to Braintree was possibly the nadir of Town's exile in non-League. I was unable to attend due to, let's say, circumstances beyond my control. However, listening to the home side put five past us was embarrassing enough.

I was there when we secured promotion at Roots Hall under Buckley, on a balmy Friday evening, with a 2-0 victory. The blaring horns of the travelling fans turned Southend into a corner of Milan.

Which brings us to Colchester. Their new ground is a soulless, out-of-town, concrete monstrosity. The sort of venue our major shareholder would have us forget he spunked £1,000s of our hard-earned cash pursuing before finally coming to the conclusion we'd all arrived at five years earlier: that Freeman Street was the obvious place for any new stadium. We will leave it's funding for another day.

Our first evening away game back in the League was a visit to the whatever the corporate sponsors call it stadium. We were three down in 20 minutes, pulled one back and were denied a blatant penalty minutes later before going down 3-2. It continued my record of having never having seen us beat Colchester away.

Those old enough to recall will remember that in the glorious 1979-80 season, our trip to the old Layer Road was also a night game. The top-of-the-table, Friday night encounter attracted the attention of the BBC's Grandstand for a Football Focus feature the following day.

Layer Road was as different as chalk and cheese from the current horror. It had changed little since Ray Walker had put out dirty Leeds in a legendary FA Cup game in 1971. The away end was shared with the home fans. It was predominantly wooden, with a corrugated asbestos roof and fewer steps to the terracing than a fat lad's fitbit. The segregation was a wooden frame with cheap chicken wire fencing.

The game I can't remember too much of. Only that we went one up, I banged my head on the roof, and we lost 2-1. Trudging back up Layer Road to the car, our dejected selves could not know it would be the last time we tasted defeat that season. The run to the championship, culminating in a 4-0 thrashing of pre-season favourites Sheffield United, will no doubt be recalled excellently by Rob McIlveen in his forthcoming book. That Friday evening, such joy seemed a pipedream. There's the beauty football: you just never know.

So to tonight. Colchester are unbeaten in 18 league games and on Saturday beat Plymouth 3-0. I don't travel with any optimism of ending my winless record. But I do travel with a spring in the step, knowing that under Ollie we'll have a go. No more keeping us shape or tucking in, and hoping for a 1-0 win. It's 'you score three, we'll score four', and much better for it too.

So if I still haven't seen Town win at 9.45pm tonight, I'll not despair. After all it's the same week of the year that we lost in 1980, and then look what happened.

UTM. See you down there.