The frost has long-since thawed between neighbours Town and U’s
- Credit: Archant
Football writer Carl Marston assesses the continued strong links between Ipswich Town and Colchester United, ahead of this Friday’s pre-season friendly
Less than 20 miles separate them along the A12, between Portman Road and the JobServe Community Stadium, but it is not just the short distance that links neighbours Ipswich Town and Colchester United.
The cross over of players and back-room staff, mostly starting from Ipswich and moving to Colchester- but not just in this one direction - has been rich and various over the last few decades.
There was a tricky few years, following George Burley's shock resignation as U's boss on Christmas Eve, 1994, to take on the Town job just a week or two later (that really upset my own Christmas plans, with stories having to be written in between wrapping up presents and stuffing the turkey!).
The relationship between the two clubs was 'frosty,' to say the least, with the U's having refused Town the chance to speak to Burley, which had led to his resignation just six months into a two-year deal. The U's were eventually awarded compensation for Town's illegal approach.
But the two clubs have long since buried the hatchet. Players have continued to move between the two clubs, often via other clubs along the way.
Only last week, keeper Dean Gerken, released by Town at the end of last season, returned to his old club Colchester on a permanent contract.
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And also last week, Luke Garbutt, a former U's loanee, arrived at Portman Road on a season-long loan from Everton.
Here is a run-down of some of the current close links between the two clubs.
As I said on the eve of his arrival at Portman Road, last week, I was very impressed with a 20-year-old Garbutt when he turned up at Colchester on loan from Everton in September, 2013.
Garbutt made his U's debut the day after signing, and proceeded to make an immediate impact with a very mature-looking performance at left-back in a 1-1 draw at Bradford City.
He bagged three goals in 20 appearances, including a superb equaliser in a 1-1 draw at Preston North End on November 23, 2013.
In fact, at the end of the season, I included Garbutt's superb goal at Deepdale as one of my 10 highlights of the 2013-14 season.
Now aged 26, he should prove a big hit with Town fans.
Gerken could be excused for feeling a little strange, and perhaps a bit disorientated, when he makes his first home appearance for the U's in more than 10 years, this Friday evening.
The 34-year-old keeper made his name at Colchester, during the club's last few years at Layer Road, helping them to win promotion to the Championship in 2006 by keeping a clean-sheet in a final day 0-0 draw at Yeovil.
Gerken played 109 league games for the U's, between 2004 and '09, often vying for the No. 1 spot with Aidan Davison. He joined Bristol City in the summer of 2009.
Six years followed at Ipswich, and in more recent times a regular battle for a starting berth with Bartosz Bialkowski, before he was released at the end of last season.
Back at Colchester, he played his first 45 minutes in a pre-season friendly against Welsh club Cefn Druids on Saturday.
This powerful front-runner has been around the block, over the years. He signed for Ipswich, on an 18-month contract, in early 2013, but was mostly employed as a substitute during his 60 games for the Championship club.
Nouble ended up moving to Coventry, and turned up at Colchester last summer after a productive year at Newport.
Still aged only 27, Nouble scored nine goals in 43 league games for the U's last season, despite often operating on the left flank rather than as an out-and-out striker.
A summer recruit from Yeovil, centre-half Sowunmi has already scored a couple of goals for the U's during pre-season.
Colchester-born, Sowunmi was a product of Ipswich's Academy and was a mainstay of the under-18s and under-21s. He earned himself a one-year professional contract (2014-15), but never played for the Town first team.
Loyal servant Eastman has played more than 300 games for the U's, since his move from Ipswich in 2011. An old-fashioned centre-half, then-Town boss Roy Keane insisted on playing him at right-back for most of his 10 games. He has three times been voted the U's player-of-the-year.
Freddie Sears: Played more than 100 league games for the U's, before his move to Town in early 2015 for £100,000. But he is currently sidenlined by long-term injury.
John McGreal: The U's manager, this is his fourth season at the helm. Played 123 league game for Town as a centre-half between 1999 and 2004. Joined the U's Academy staff 10 years ago.