U's win cup for fantastic fan support

AS 6,000 fans stood singing in the Shed End at the end of 90 minutes, you could be forgiven for thinking Colchester United had won their FA Cup tie against Chelsea.

AS 6,000 fans stood singing in the Shed End at the end of 90 minutes, you could be forgiven for thinking Colchester United had won their FA Cup tie against Chelsea.

For, despite seeing their team go down 3-1 to the Premiership champions' international team of superstars, they had sung their hearts out.

It had been the same throughout the game, with the home fans silenced by the travelling contingent from north Essex.

The atmosphere had built to fever pitch before the 4pm kick-off with thousands of yellow balloons blown up ready for the kick-off.

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“Who needs Mourinho, we've got Phil Parkinson” sang the giant bank of U's fans, who were starting to believe something special could take place.

After hitting the post, their dreams then became reality when Ricardo Carvalho put through his own net, sending the fans wild.

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It was a carnival atmosphere and, even after Chelsea equalised, the chants and songs continued at maximum volume.

It soon became clear to Chelsea they would need England international Frank Lampard and Joe Cole, both named as substitutes, to break the U's resistance and prevent one of the biggest upsets in recent football history.

And even when Cole broke Colchester hearts with a late double strike, proud fans sang on and stayed behind to thank Parkinson and his men for their brave efforts.

“We just tired in the second half, but the players should be proud of themselves,” said Emma Henderson, from Colchester.

James Fox, who lives in London but supports the U's, braved sitting among the Chelsea supporters to ensure he got to see his team play.

“It was a bit hairy in there at times and we were getting some abuse, but it was worth it. We were not outplayed and it shows we will be able to hold our own if we go up to the Championship,” he said.

Earlier in the day, nearly 1,000 fans had gathered at Abbeyfields at the town's Garrison to board the 25 coaches bound for Stamford Bridge.

Young and old donned brightly-coloured wigs, painted their faces and wrapped flags around themselves.

Just after 11am, the U's began their march to the capital with television cameras on hand to capture the moment.

As the coaches headed out of town, well-wishers waved them off from outside their homes and people lined bridges on the A12 to show their support, while passing cars hooted their appreciation.

On board the coaches, fans were buzzing with excitement about the U's cup run and fantastic season so far.

Jon Burns, chairman of the Colchester United Supporters' Association, said the town's affinity for the club was clear to see.

“This is a wonderful scene - such a lot of hard work has gone into this from our committee to make sure it runs smoothly.

“No fans are causing any problems - they are all as good as gold. It shows how much love there is in the town for the club.”

Jeanette Westlake, the association's travel secretary, said there would normally be two coaches booked for an away game.

In between blowing a horn and leading the chanting, she said: “It's a bit different to one coach going to Hartlepool on a Tuesday night with 28 hardened souls on it. It's the biggest one we have had to organise and what a day out it is.”

EADT posters wishing the U's good luck were pushed up against the coaches' windows as the party began before a ball was kicked. On arrival at the capital, U's fans could be spotted on their way to the match, proudly waving scarves and banners.

Fans waited excitedly for their first glimpse of the Stamford Bridge stadium - a far cry from Colchester's Layer Road ground - and roared their approval as the players' coach rolled in.

As kick-off approached, the rain started to pour down, and barely stopped throughout the match.

But, even in defeat, nothing could dampen the enthusiasm and pride of U's supporters as they celebrated one of the biggest and best days in the club's history.

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