Fans say farewell to Layer Road

LAYER Road was awash with memories, and decked in blue-and-white, for one last time on Saturday.

Carl Marston

LAYER Road was awash with memories, and decked in blue-and-white, for one last time on Saturday.

The curtain came down on 101 years of football at this famous old ground, following Colchester United's 1-0 defeat to promotion-chasing Stoke City in front of a capacity crowd of 6,300.

In truth, the result didn't really matter. It was all about reflecting on past glories, and soaking up the atmosphere. Legends of the past mixed with lifelong supporters, all crammed into this tiny stadium, with its peeling paint and shallow terracing, to share in the moment.

Everyone has their own individual memories of Layer Road, whether it be the historic FA Cup triumph over Leeds United in the 70s, the cup games against Newcastle United and Manchester United in the 80s, or the two promotions under Roy McDonough and Steve Wignall in the 90s.

Of course for many of the U's older fans, those memories stretch further back, into the 50s when the U's joined the Football League, into the 40s when the U's became the first non-league side to beat a First Division club (Huddersfield Town) in the FA Cup, and even into the 30s when Colchester United FC was first formed (1937).

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The year 1937 was when the U's began playing at Layer Road, but the ground was used before then by the Army from 1907, and the old amateur Colchester Town from 1909.

Younger fans will have shorter memories, perhaps of the U's amazing promotion to the Championship of two years ago. Like all of us, they will be looking forward to moving to a new home at Cuckoo Farm for next season. The capacity will be bigger, with a 10,000 all-seater stadium, and the facilities will be better, but it won't have quite the same character as Layer Road.

The ground might have been on its last legs, but it was bursting with personality. Fans could almost touch the players, while the players could hear every comment from the spectators. It was a very personal experience.

Saturday's landmark occasion was a sea of colour and a cacophony of noise. Colchester supporters rolled up in their favourite old shirts, armed with flags and banners, and 16,000 balloons were distributed before kick-off.

There were musicians, dancers, fireworks and a guard of honour, and at half-time a procession of ex-U's stars were introduced to the Layer Road faithful, including record appearance maker Micky Cook, record goal-scorer Martyn King, and the EADT's official greatest ever Colchester player Mark Kinsella.

Stoke City won the game 1-0, to move a step nearer promotion to the Premiership. By contrast, Geraint Williams' Colchester side had already been relegated a few weeks ago, and will begin next season in League One.

But that didn't really matter on Saturday. Layer Road was given a fantastic send-off, regardless of the result.

The stadium may be coming down this summer, but the memories will live on. As all U's supporters will tell you - Layer Road has always been more than just bricks-and-mortar (and wood-and-corrugated iron!). It has been about emotions, old and new, happy and sad, thrilling and frustrating.

There will never be another Layer Road.

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