Double boost for U's

TEAM-of-the-moment Colchester United received a double boost yesterday, to round off a tremendous last four days for the Essex club.The news that Sky TV will screen the U's FA Cup fifth round tie, at either Chelsea or Everton, has guaranteed a massive pay-day.

By Carl Marston

TEAM-of-the-moment Colchester United received a double boost yesterday, to round off a tremendous last four days for the Essex club.

The news that Sky TV will screen the U's FA Cup fifth round tie, at either Chelsea or Everton, has guaranteed a massive pay-day.

The U's will bank a cool £265,000 from this live television broadcast, to be staged on Sunday, February 19, with a 4pm kick-off. That is the figure paid to every club featured in a televised game at this stage of the competition.

Last Saturday, a sell-out Layer Road crowd cheered on the U's to a superb 3-1 victory over Derby County, in the fourth round of the FA Cup, to book a berth in the final 16.

Then came Monday's exciting fifth round draw, with Colchester's No. 14 ball being drawn out of the hat to face either Premiership giants Chelsea or Everton - the duo will contest a fourth round replay at Stamford Bridge next Wednesday.

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And these fantastic last four days culminated in the news last night that the U's had survived the final day of the transfer dealings with their whole squad intact. The transfer window officially closed at midnight.

U's chief executive Marie Partner, who has been at the club in a variety of roles for the last 19 years, anticipates a very busy few weeks ahead.

She was understandably delighted with Sky TV's decision to screen the U's fifth round fixture - it promises to be one of the biggest games in the club's history as a professional outfit, sitting alongside the historic FA Cup fifth round triumph over Leeds in 1971, the subsequent quarter-final defeat at Everton, and the Division Three play-off final victory over Torquay in 1998.

“It's a huge coup for us to get Sky TV coverage of the game,” enthused Ms Partner last night.

“It's been long, long overdue. The last big pay-day from Sky TV was the home match against Manchester City (March 20, 1999), when a certain Jose Antunes Fumaca played a few minutes for us, before he got injured and went on to sign for Newcastle.

“Of course we had a taster earlier this season, with our league match at Bristol City being screened live on a Saturday lunchtime (0-0 draw on September 3, 2005). That earned us £30,000, but it's nothing like the money we will receive from the Chelsea or Everton tie.

“It will certainly go a long way towards depleting the club's deficit from the start of the season,” added Ms Partner.

The U's recently reported losses of £300,000 for the year ending May, 2005, and that was despite a good run in the FA Cup last term - beaten 3-0 at Premiership club Blackburn Rovers in round four - and matches against West Brom and at Southampton in the Carling Cup.

Phil Parkinson's League One high-fliers are now waiting for next Wednesday's fourth round replay at Stamford Bridge, to discover their next opponents.

Ms Partner continued: “We are waiting for the outcome of that replay, although I have already made tentative inquiries to both clubs.

“A home club has to gave an allocation of at least 15% of their tickets to the away team. That would mean us getting around 6,000 tickets, whether it be Chelsea or Everton.

“I'm confident that we can accommodate everyone. Obviously with it being on TV, a few people might choose not to go, but we have to be fair to all our loyal supporters.

“Season ticket holders will obviously take priority, followed by those who have come to a lot of our games and collected a number of match Credits. Hopefully, we will just about be able to squeeze everybody in.

“As with regards to getting even more tickets, each club has to work within their own segregation policies. Chelsea have a huge waiting list for season ticket holders, so any of the current ones who decide not to take up their tickets, will be given to other fans down the list. It should still be a full stadium.

“Goodison Park's capacity is only 2,000 or so less than Stamford Bridge (about 42,000), though obviously if Everton were to win the replay, then this would mean a longer way to travel.

“However, I'm sure that this would not put off our fans, and I would hope that the people of Merseyside would also come out to see their team play,” added the U's chief executive.

In addition to the revenue from television, and ticket sales, the U's are also looking to cash in on the sale of merchandise.

Ms Partner explained: “We will be making sure that the club shop is fully stocked with shirts, banners, flags and alike.”

With regards to transfer activity, there were no late approaches for any of Colchester's highly-rated players, which was a relief for a club that is currently on the crest of a wave following 18 wins from their last 20 matches.

England Under-20 international Greg Halford had been attracting the interest of Championship outfit Norwich City, while leading marksmen Neil Danns and Chris Iwelumo has also been catching the eye of the many scouts who had been attending Layer Road fixtures in recent weeks.

“I guess having the “no vacancies” sign up outside helped!” joked Ms Partner.

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