The characters I met covering Colchester United for Radio Orwell

Stephen Foster Radio Orwell

Foz in the studio during his Radio Orwell days - Credit: Radio Orwell

Football has always played a big part in my life. As an Ipswich lad there was only ever going to be one team for me although in my much younger days I did get a Wolverhampton Wanderers shirt for Christmas.

Another year my parents bought me a pair of Alan Ball white boots and I also recall getting some Leeds United sock ties although I can’t recall which number I went for. What was I thinking?  It must have been a mad phase I was going through and it wasn’t long before I came to my senses. After all, you can take the boy out of Ipswich but you can’t take Ipswich out of the boy.

I had always fancied the idea of reporting on my home club for Radio Orwell but with Pete Barraclough, Peter Slater and then Bryan Knights all doing such a great job there was no way a whippersnapper like me would get a look in. I did however get to cover Colchester United matches for Peter Robinson’s Sportsbeat shows.

Peter Robinson Radio Orwell

Sportsbeat presenter Peter Robinson at Radio Orwell in 1986. - Credit: Gill Powell

I have always had a soft spot for the U’s. It goes back to their wonderful FA Cup win over Leeds at Layer Road in 1971. It remains one of the greatest cup upsets of all time. In those days Colchester were managed by Dick Graham and a decade or so later, in the days he ran the Willis Faber and Dumas Sports and Social Club at Rushmere St Andrew, I got to know him well.

For a few years I was on the microphone at the annual Willis fete. A few weeks before the day I’d meet up with Dick to run through what was required. We always had our catch up in Mannings on the Cornhill.

My briefing would take all of a minute and for the next couple of hours we would talk football. He was a lovely man who I am proud to have spent many hours with. 

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When I began covering Colchester’s home matches Mike Walker was manager but not for long. Only days after winning a Manager Of The Month award in 1987 he was sacked by chairman Jonathan Crisp.

Crisp, a millionaire businessman who was also a member of the Ipswich Greyhounds cricket regiment, drafted in a total unknown in Roger Brown. It was a disaster. I recall being in Brown’s office a few days after a very heavy defeat at Leyton Orient. I asked him if he felt his job was at risk, at which point he jumped to his feet, glared at me and for a moment looked like he was about to land a punch on me. Thankfully the red mist cleared and it wasn’t long before his desk was cleared as well.

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His replacement was the legendary Jock Wallace who had enjoyed so much success as boss of Glasgow Rangers. You did not mess with him. I was mightily relieved when we hit it off really well.

I would do after-match interviews with him, only for the programme team back at base to complain that they could not understand a word he was saying. I had no trouble with his strong Glaswegian accent but several of my colleagues clearly did. It was never going to stop me doing the interviews with him and when the big man departed I missed our regular chats.

During the Jock Wallace-era at Layer Road a school friend of mine Clive Stafford joined the club and went straight into the first team. I had often played in the same sides as Clive and it was crystal clear he was a cut above the rest of us - in my case several cuts! Clive had a cultured left foot and did not look out of place in the professional game. He made 33 appearances for the U’s, had a short loan spell at Exeter and then returned to his job in insurance.

The next well known name to jump on board Colchester’s managerial merry-go-round was the aforementioned Alan Ball. The 1966 World Cup winner failed to make any impact in the job whatsoever. He was soon replaced by Ipswich legend Mick Mills but even he could not prevent the club dropping out of the Football League.

My move to BBC Radio Suffolk in the summer of 1990 meant my days reporting on Colchester were over. It wasn’t too long before I found myself covering my beloved Ipswich Town. I’ll save some of those stories for another day.

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