A bye to the third round!

THESE are strange, wonderful times at Layer Road. If you still needed convincing, then just think of what Colchester United are usually building up to at this time of year.

By Carl Marston

THESE are strange, wonderful times at Layer Road. If you still needed convincing, then just think of what Colchester United are usually building up to at this time of year.

This weekend, for the first time in 57 years, the U's will not be involved in one of the biggest footballing traditions - the first round of the FA Cup.

Instead of having to travel to such "dreaded" place as Bedlington, Yeading or Gravesend & Northfleet, the U's can look forward to a mouth-watering Championship clash at Leeds United.


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You have to search back to 1949 to discover the last time that Colchester United's name was not in the hat for the first round draw. And that year it was because the Southern League outfit had bowed out of the FA Cup at Wealdstone (1-0 defeat) in the fourth qualifying round.

Since then, the U's have always figured in the first round of the world's most famous Cup competition. In 1950, the year that they joined the Football League, Jimmy Allen's men breezed past Woodford 7-1 in the fourth qualifying round, to reach the first round proper.

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The only other time that they have had to qualify for the first round was during their second and final season as a Conference club, in 1991-92, when the Essex side thumped Burton 5-0 to play Exeter in round one.

However, and much to the U's delight, they will not be figuring in this weekend's programme of first round fixtures.

Promotion to the Championship last May means that the U's will not enter the competition until the new year, in round three, with the rest of the "big boys."

This Saturday, by contrast, the U's will be playing their first-ever league match against Leeds United, which confirms just how far Geraint Williams' men have come, in such a short space of time.

Leeds, with new manager Dennis Wise at the helm, are wallowing in 23rd spot in the Championship, 11 points and 14 places behind the U's. The two clubs have certainly travelled in different directions since Dick Graham's Colchester side shocked the footballing world by defeating Don Revie's mighty Leeds in the fifth round of the FA Cup in 1971.

This Saturday will be all about league points, not about progressing through to the second round of the FA Cup.

To some U's fans, no doubt, it is a situation that is still difficult to come to terms with - no Colchester United in the first round of the Cup! Who would have thought it?

And to those U's supporters travelling to Elland Road this weekend, just spare a moment to think about where you could have been going this Saturday.

Think back to some of the trips you may have made to follow the U's in the first round - to such humble destinations as Wisbech, Bishop's Stortford or Bedlington.

This season you can look forward to a trip to Elland Road instead.

Roll on Saturday!

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