Roots of rivalry are deep set

WHILE Blues fans feel no animosity to their neighbours down the A12 the feeling is not mutual as many Colchester United fans, although by no means all, despise all things Ipswich, to Town supporters' bemusement.

By Derek Davis

WHILE Blues fans feel no animosity to their neighbours down the A12 the feeling is not mutual as many Colchester United fans, although by no means all, despise all things Ipswich, to Town supporters' bemusement.

EADT football writer Derek Davis explores the reasons why

FOR those with long enough memories, one of the main factors in Colchester United supporters' anti-Ipswich feeling stems back almost 50 years.


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The U's and the Blues were fighting, along with Torquay United for promotion out of Division Three (South) and met at Layer Road in February 1957.

An incredible 18,559 fans were packed into the tiny Essex ground and the game was as tight as can be when Colchester were awarded a penalty.

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A confident Benny Fenton strode forward and hit it low but South African keeper Roy Bailey anticipated correctly and saved. The father of Manchester United keeper Gary even recovered to scramble away the follow up for a corner.

U's fans are convinced to this day that Bailey moved before the ball was kicked, which was illegal in those days, and feel the failure to take both points - instead sharing them with Town - cost them the title and promotion.

The two clubs went their separate ways. Under Alf Ramsey - later Sir Alf - Town reached the top flight and went on to win the Division One title, while Colchester stayed in the lower reaches until this summer.

The resentment among U's fans grew as they perceived Ipswich becoming condescending and aloof as they went on to win the FA Cup and the UEFA Cup and two bosses, Ramsey and Bobby Robson, went on to become England managers.

One man who played in that epic encounter that saw the clubs grow so far apart was John Elsworthy, the Ipswich Town star who was also part of the Championship-winning side.

Elsworthy recalls: “Roy made up his mind early and made a good save. He probably did dive a fraction early but you had to really. You can't blame the keeper because that is his job, and anyway if you hit a penalty properly then you score.

“It is true that we went on to win the league that season and then went on the greater things while Colchester never did.”

That was to be the last league game between the two clubs until now, and the only competitive match since that day was in the 1969 League Cup, with Ipswich winning at Portman Road.

While many U's fans may see that defeat in 1957 as the reason for their failure to get promoted and the parting of the ways, others point to a run of three away defeats in succession, following an unbeaten run of 20 matches.

They finished third in the table, a point behind Torquay and Town, with Ipswich going up on goal difference - coincidentally Norwich City had to apply for re-election that season.

Elsworthy believes the U's failure to reach the second tier of English football before that owes much to Layer Road itself and the perception of Colchester United.

He said: “It is amazing that the two clubs never played in the league again until now and how their fortunes differed from that day onwards. But I don't think it was because of that penalty or because we got the draw we went there for.

“I always felt sorry for the managers at Colchester United because it was always so difficult to attract players. They were never like Ipswich, or even Norwich and could not get any bigger.”

As chairman of the Ipswich Town Supporters Club, Elsworthy was invited by his Colchester United counterpart John Burns to look around Layer Road and while the stadium is still pretty much as he remembered it - the playing surface was significantly different.

He said: “The pitch is as good as any I have seen. It is absolutely perfect - far from the bumpy mess we played on.

“The players will love the surface but the ground is still tight. They were more than 18,000 when we played there and they were right on top of you. It will be a good game on Friday night and I think Town will get a draw. That was all we could hope for when we played them because it was such a difficult place to go, and anything else will be a bonus.”

Another, more contemporary element to the view of some U's fans that Ipswich are the big bad neighbour came at Christmas 1995 when manager George Burley moved from Layer Road to Portman Road.

That move angered Colchester supporters and infuriated the board so much that legal proceedings followed.

The little club won and not only secured the £150,000 compensation but were awarded costs too.

Since then the animosity between the clubs has thawed.

Colchester chairman Peter Heard and Ipswich chairman David Sheepshanks have served on the Football League and FA board together in the past.

Billy Clarke played a small, but significant, role in helping the U's win their promotion while on loan from Ipswich.

Former Blue Wayne Brown had a massive role in the success, winning all the major player of the year awards, while Geraint Williams, who used to patrol the midfield at Portman Road, was Phil Parkinson's assistant and is now in charge of the Essex side.

The antipathy could be worsened on Friday night in front of the Sky television cameras if Ipswich win and go second in the Championship, or could be purged for many if the U's emerge victorious and leapfrog the Blues - for a few hours at least.

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