U's celebrate FA Cup cash bonanza

COLCHESTER United were last night celebrating the prospect of a huge cash boost after the FA Cup draw set up a possible clash with the Premiership champions Chelsea.

By Carl Marston

COLCHESTER United were last night celebrating the prospect of a huge cash boost after the FA Cup draw set up a possible clash with the Premiership champions Chelsea.

The U's were drawn away at either Chelsea or Everton in the fifth round of the FA Cup after Saturday's fourth round win over Derby County.

The Layer Road club stand to earn more than £500,000 from their dream tie, and that figure could rise closer to the £1m mark if Chelsea manage to defeat Everton in their fourth round replay.

The U's recorded a loss of £300,000 for the year ending May 31, 2005, but that figure would be wiped out in one day with a probable trip to Stamford Bridge on the weekend of February 18-19.

“That's the one we wanted!” exclaimed chief executive Marie Partner after yesterday's televised lunchtime draw.

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“I'm over the moon. Everyone wanted to get a big club, and the players and the fans really deserve it. Whether it's Everton or Chelsea, it will be a big stage to play on, in front of a big crowd.

“As soon as the draw was made, I was making quick calculations about a crowd of around 40,000 and ticket sales. We would be very disappointed if we made less than half-a-million.

“That would keep us going for a couple of seasons without the directors having to dig into their pockets. “This tie gives us some security and some cushioning.”

The U's, who are riding high in second spot in League One, booked their place in the last 16 of the FA Cup with a 3-1 victory over Championship visitors Derby County on Saturday.

Premiership champions Chelsea, meanwhile, played out a 1-1 draw with Everton at Goodison Park to secure a fourth round replay, to be staged at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, February 8.

A trip to Merseyside would also be a big pay-day for the U's, but everyone connected with Layer Road wants Jose Mourinho's Chelsea to win the replay.

“We might have had a better chance of doing well at home, but from a commercial point of view, it's more sensible to be away from home at a big ground,” said Ms Partner.

“It could well be the biggest pay day in the club's history, certainly since I've been here, and that's going back 19 years.”

Colchester mayor Terry Sutton, a lifelong fan and associate director of the club, said: “I am really excited.

“I'm over the moon. However, it's no more than the club deserves - its players, staff and supporters. It has wiped out last year's deficit in a stroke.”

Colchester town centre manager Chris Rawlinson said: “This is very good news in the town. This sort of thing affects spending and generally and improves the whole atmosphere.

“Everyone feels better when their team does well, and all of a sudden everybody is talking about Colchester United, not just the fans.”

North Essex MP Bernard Jenkin said: “It is a fantastic result and I wish them the very best for the next round.”

Robert Leng, president of Essex Chambers of Commerce, said the success of the football team unquestionably boosted the local area.

“It puts the place well and truly on the map, even down to things like people wanting to relocate businesses,” he said.

And Radio 1 DJ Steve Lamacq, a dedicated U's supporter, said: “I don't think I've been this excited about football in 25 years.

“Wouldn't it be brilliant if we got a draw and brought Chelsea to Layer Road? This is probably the biggest, if not the most important, game since I started going to see the U's in 1981.”

Dee Evans, chairwoman of Colchester 2020, the borough's strategic partnership, said: “I am absolutely thrilled. It is great kudos for the town and it makes us all feel good.”

Colchester are currently on an amazing run that has seen them win 18 of their last 20 matches. They are pushing for promotion from League One, and are also just one step away from an appearance at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium in the LDV Vans Trophy.

But the Essex club are hampered by the tight confines of their old-fashioned Layer Road ground, which boasts a capacity of just over 6,000.

Last Saturday's FA Cup fourth round victory over Derby County was played in front of a sell-out crowd of 5,933, their biggest home gate of the season.

By contrast, nearly 30,000 were at Goodison Park to watch Everton's clash with Chelsea. And the Premiership's runaway leaders regularly attract sell-out crowds of 40,000-plus for their home games.

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