U's chief hopes for dream promotion

MARIE Partner has seen it all in nearly 20 years at Colchester United - from the lows of having season tickets hurled at her from disgruntled fans through to the highs of promotion and FA Cup giantkilling.

MARIE Partner has seen it all in nearly 20 years at Colchester United - from the lows of having season tickets hurled at her from disgruntled fans through to the highs of promotion and FA Cup giantkilling.

Having started out as ticket office receptionist, she has risen through the ranks to chief executive with an office overlooking the Layer Road pitch.

Currently home to Division One football, Mrs Partner hopes that by 5pm on Saturday the U's will be in dreamland with automatic promotion to the Championship.

With only a point needed away against struggling Yeovil, it is perhaps the biggest week in the club's 69-year history but all the focus is on 90 minutes' football and the champagne is staying on ice.


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During her time at Layer Road, Mrs Partner, who celebrates her 48th birthday today, has worked with 14 different managers, five chief executives and four chairmen and admits it has been “a hell of a journey”.

That journey has seen the U's suffer the heartbreak of relegation out of the football league through to the elation of promotion in the play-off final at Wembley in 1998.

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It is an exciting time on the pitch for the U's with the door to promotion wide open and off the pitch plans are in place for a new community stadium which the club hopes will be ready the season after next.

And as all thoughts turn to Saturday, Mrs Partner said everyone was trying their hardest to keep focused on the job in hand.

But with next season promising capacity crowds, a number of local derbies, not to mention games against teams are playing in the Premiership this season - that is no easy task.

“We have all got an inner buzz, but on the outside we are very calm and too scared to be jubilant - you can't be in this game. Football has a habit of coming round and kicking you in the teeth,” she said.

Mrs Partner said she was relieved to see Yeovil get the result they needed last week to guarantee avoiding relegation, although she said the U's remained totally focused on getting the right result.

Since taking over as chief executive five years ago, Mrs Partner has been in the spotlight as a member of a very small group - women in charge at a football club.

And that means knowing the game inside out and talking the talk, whether it is with the director of a major company or with the man at the pub with a pint and a packet of crisps.

But for any fans worried that her success will take her away from Layer Road, Mrs Partner insisted she could not see herself anywhere else.

“I have always said that once you have worked in football it is a form of drug and you get hooked and I would find it very hard to do the same job working for another club.

“I have been so used to Colchester United for such a long time but I have never reached a stage where I feel I cannot take the club any further.

“There are always so many doors still to open - we have come through the conference and the old third division to where we are now.”

The rollercoaster ride that is Colchester United is no nine-to-five job and Mrs Partner suggests anyone thinking of following in her footsteps should have a “rod of steel running through their spine and 100% dedication.”

But she admitted of all her seasons at the club, this one has been something special with manager Phil Parkinson's “unquenchable thirst for success” inspiring all those around him.

And when she dares to dream about the U's playing in the Championship, she admits the aim would be just to stay in the division with the hope of playing in a state-of-the-art stadium the following year.

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