A baptism of fire at Layer Road

COLCHESTER United will play their last ever game at Layer Road tomorrow. For more than 15 years Carl Marston has been the EADT's U's correspondent. Here he remembers his first match.

COLCHESTER United will play their last ever game at Layer Road tomorrow. For more than 15 years Carl Marston has been the EADT's U's correspondent. Here he remembers his first match.

I WILL never forget my first game at Layer Road, as the new fresh-faced U's reporter for the East Anglian Daily Times and Green 'Un newspapers, not simply because it was my first, but because it was also one of the most bizarre matches ever hosted by this famous old ground.

The date was Saturday, November 21, 1992, and the visitors were Rochdale for a Third Division encounter. Neither team were setting the division alight, so I was anticipating a gentle introduction to life as a U's correspondent.

Come 5pm, however, and I was in a daze of floating statistics and abandoned scripts. My press box debut was marked by a crazy 4-4 draw, including three penalties and then four goals inside the last 20 minutes.


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I was relaying a “runner” to the Green 'Un offices, via telephone (in the days before the wonders of the lap-top and e-mail), and I found it increasingly difficult to keep up with the proceedings.

To my left, the late Bernie Webber was frantically trying to send stories to various news outlets, continually dropping his phone in a panic.

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Bernie could already draw on more than 40 years experience of covering the U's, as could the esteemed gentleman in the left corner of the press box - the late Hal Mason, who too was looking a little flustered while trying to wax lyrical on an old-fashioned telephone, while munching on his much-loved boiled sweets.

I took solace in the fact that if these two doyens of the Layer Road press box were also feeling the pressure of an eight-goal thriller, with late goals aplenty, then this must be an exceptional game, unlikely to be repeated very often. In short, I had been thrown in at the deep end.

The attendance was 3,172, and I bet that every surviving spectator still remembers that day, whether it was their first or 101st visit to Layer Road. Some games you just never forget.

The headline in the following Monday's EADT captured the essence of the game - “U's keeper made to pay the penalty!”

Ron Green was the unfortunate goalkeeper in question. The much-travelled 36-year-old was making his U's debut, having been plucked out of non-league, and he celebrated by twice blundering to gift Rochdale penalty kicks.

The first came after 15 minutes. In attempting to boot away a back pass, Green's clearance merely ricocheted off Dale striker Andy Flounders, the ball rolling across the penalty area with both players chasing after it!

This comic scene ended with Green bringing down Flounders, who had far too much pace for the lumbering keeper, and Mark Payne converted the ensuing spot kick.

Referee Mr Scobie had chosen to show Green the yellow rather than the red card, which at the time seemed a relief - by the end of the game many in the ground were probably wishing that the poor keeper had been condemned to an early bath.

The U's were soon 2-1 ahead, thanks to two goals in three minutes from centre-half Peter Cawley and midfielder Steve Ball, and the sides were level at half-time due to Andy Milner's 36th-minute equaliser.

Roy McDonough missed a 63rd-minute penalty, and when Tony Sorrell did regain the lead for the U's, Green construed to let Rochdale back into the game by charging off his line to haul down Dale's leading marksman, Steve Whitehall. Again there was no red card.

Flounders crashed home the game's third penalty, only for McDonough to make amends for his earlier miss with a glorious chip for 4-3 in the 77th minute.

By now I had a sea of crumpled papers in front of me. I had just written my introduction for the Green 'Un, about how McDonough's men had edged a seven-goal thriller, when up popped Flounders with a late headed equaliser.

I was exhausted.

There have been several games to rival this rollercoaster ride in the intervening 16 years, but I will always remember my first taste of covering the U's at Layer Road, and in particular a goalkeeper by the name of Ron Green!

Details

Date: November 21, 1992 (U's first season back in Football League)

Score: Colchester United 4 Rochdale 4

U's squad: Green, Sorrell, Roberts, Kinsella (sub Cook, 46), Cawley, English, Ball, Bennett (sub Oxbrow, 64), McDonough, McGavin, Smith.

Attendance: 3,172

Final league standings: Colchester finished 10th and Rochdale 11th in Divison Three

Goals: The U's conceded 76 goals that season, more than any other club, and scored 67.

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