Introducing Colchester United’s super fan – 94-year-old Charles Chapman
- Credit: Su Anderson
Colchester United’s oldest season ticket holder, Charles Chapman, is still a regular visitor to the Weston Homes Community Stadium, at the age of 94, and he shows no signs of giving up any-time soon!
Charles watched his first Colchester game, way back in 1931, even before the club had become known as Colchester United.
In those days, the Essex outfit, who played in the Spartan League, were an amateur club – Colchester Town – until they were usurped by the new professional club, Colchester United, in 1937.
Over the years, Charles has witnessed the highs and lows of the U’s, at the old Layer Road ground, as well as undertaking many trips on the road to see his beloved club.
And when the U’s moved from Layer Road to the Community Stadium, in 2008, Charles went with them.
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In fact, although Charles loved Layer Road, and still misses its intimacy and the many memories built up over eight decades of gracing this charismatic old ground, the U’s move to a new stadium has enabled him to prolong his personal love affair with the club.
It is doubtful whether Charles, who has recently become a resident at Freda Gunton Lodge Residential Care Home in Balkerne Gardens, would still have been able to watch the U’s at Layer Road.
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But the excellent facilities of the Community Stadium have allowed him easy access to home games – his son Nigel, himself a life-long U’s fan, drives him to games – and Charles is able to get to his seat via the players’ entrance and a lift.
There is no reason, then, why Charles won’t still be supporting the U’s, by gracing them with his presence, at the age of 100!
“I watched my first Colchester game as a 10-year-old,” recalled Charles.
“There were two newspapers in Colchester at the time, the Telegraph and the Standard.
“The Telegraph printed the football programmes and I was asked, by one of my schoolteachers, whether I would like to sell the programmes before one of the games.
“That’s what I did. I got a shilling, if I sold 100 programmes, and nine pence if I sold 75.
“Then, 20 minutes into the game, I was able to go and sit in the stand, and watch the match for free.
“That introduced me to the club, but over the next few years I was only able to watch them at midweek games, on Thursdays, because I was working in a shop in Colchester on Saturdays,” added Charles.
Competitive league football was put on hold, during the War years, although Charles himself, blessed with a good left foot, played a few friendly games while serving his country out in India.
“As a patient, I played in seven games, against the Sergeants. We only lost one of these games, winning three and drawing the other three,” recalled Charles.
One of Charles’ best memories came away from Essex, during the club’s famous FA Cup run of 1947-48.
Along the way, Ted Fenton’s men had become the first non-league club to beat First Division opposition in the FA Cup, when defeating Huddersfield Town 1-0 in the third round, thanks to Bob Curry’s winner in front of a 16,000-strong crowd at Layer Road.
But it was the fifth round tie which Charles most fondly recalls, with the long trip to another top flight team, Blackpool. It was certainly an unforgettable journey.
“I was on a supporters’ coach which left Colchester on Friday night, at 7pm,” recounted Charles.
“We arrived in Blackpool the following morning, and got to see the great Sir Stanley Matthews playing for Blackpool (the U’s lost 5-0).
“But on the way home, the coach driver got lost and we ended up in Droitwich, in Worcestershire! We eventually got home on Sunday morning.”
Charles remembers clearly the U’s promotion to the Football League, in 1950, a status they have maintained ever since, with the exception of two years in the Conference (1990-92).
He was confident they would do well, in these early years in Division Three South, until the news of star striker Vic Keeble’s sale to Newcastle United at the start of 1952, for a club record transfer of £15,000.
“I was very disappointed when Vic Keeble was sold,” admitted Charles.
“He was not a great ball player, but he was fantastic at heading the ball. I thought we were going to do great things, with Vic Keeble up front.
“But I was still a big fan of his, and I was fortunate enough to see the FA Cup Final of 1955, when Vic helped Newcastle United to a 3-1 win over Manchester City. Jackie Milburn scored after only 45 seconds in that game.”
Charles has also been at Wembley to cheer on the U’s, in the FA Trophy Final of 1992, the Auto Windscreens Shield Final of 1997, and the Division Three Play-Off Final a year later.
With regards his favourite players, over the last nine decades, Charles gave special mention to the likes of Albert “Digger” Kettle, Vic Keeble and Bob Curry.
He also praised unsung hero, Steve Leslie, who rattled up 432 league appearances for the U’s during the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s.
“Steve was a regular of the Jim Smith era (promotion in 1973-74). I definitely think that he could have played at a higher level,” insisted Charles.
Before his recent move to Balkerne Gardens, Charles used to live in Magazine Farm Way in Colchester. In earlier days, he used to either drive or cycle to Layer Road, often taking advantage of an Aunt living at the nearby Cannons to park up the bike or car, and then walk the few yards to the ground.
Speed on to the present, and Charles still loves his football, especially the U’s.
“I do miss Layer Road, because it was very intimate. You were so close to the pitch, whether you were standing, or sitting in the main-stand,” continued Charles.
“But the fact that the club now plays at the new stadium means that I can still get to home games, and sit next to some good friends from my Layer Road days, including Godfrey Kyte and Bob Rowland.”
And even if the U’s suffer relegation this season, back to the fourth tier for the first time in 17 years, Charles will continue to support his favourite club.
“It doesn’t matter what division they are in, I will always support them,” insisted Charles.
“Nothing will alter. I support them through thick and thin. It is all part of my routine.
“In fact, even though one of the low points was seeing the club get relegated out of the League (in 1990), we went on to have two enjoyable seasons in the Conference.
“We went to a lot of away games, like to Merthyr Tydfil and Kettering, and saw (keeper) Scott Barrett’s fluke goal at (promotion rivals) Wycombe.
“The Conference clubs were always very friendly,” added Charles.
Let’s hope that Charles is a mainstay of Colchester United for many more years to come!