Talking points: Colchester United’s ‘abandoned’ match is completed on a surreal day in East London
- Credit: Richard Blaxall / Pagepix
In a nutshell
It is an impossible to encapsulate all what happened at Brisbane Road, on Saturday, April 29, 2017, in just a few paragraphs.
The tale of Leyton Orient’s last home game (at least for a while), as a Football League club, after a tenure of 112 years, could easily be transformed into a book.
But the nuts-and-bolts of Saturday’s remarkable goings-on in East London, and the stark statistics that will appear in the record books, boil down to the fact that Colchester United won the match, 3-1, to stay in the League Two play-off race.
The result, for the travelling U’s, was all-important.
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By contrast, the result for Leyton Orient fans, who spilled onto the Brisbane Road pitch in their hundreds on the 84-minute mark, was completely academic.
Their club had already been relegated out of the Football League – that inevitable news was confirmed by a 3-0 defeat at Crewe the previous weekend – following a desperately sad decline from being on the brink of the Championship, to non-league wilderness, inside three years.
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O’s fans, venting their anger at owner Francesco Becchetti, who had presided over this mess since buying the club from Barry Hearn for £4million in 2014, refused to leave the pitch.
They stayed there for an hour, before an announcement was conveyed over the Tannoy that the match had been abandoned – although the term used was ‘cancelled’ – and that news finally led to supporters heading for the exit gates.
On the pitch – when the players rather than the fans were gracing it – the U’s produced a very professional performance to seal their first away win of 2017.
The impressive Tarique Fosu bravely headed home Tom Eastman’s 26th minute cross, to give the U’s a half-time lead, only for midfielder Sandro Semedo to crash home an unstoppable 30-yarder, out-of-the-blue, to make it 1-1 on 52 minutes.
But the visitors took control again, when Fosu pounced on a woeful back pass by Jen Janse to square for Chris Porter to steer home his 16th goal of the season, into an unguarded net, for a 2-1 lead on 78 minutes.
Just two minutes later, substitute Macauley Bonne turned his marker to guide a precision low shot into the far corner of the net for a killer third.
The U’s had the game won, but instead of celebrating victory at 5pm, it was another two hours before the points were safely bagged.
A decision had been made and agreed (by League and match officials, both clubs and the police) for the players to return to the pitch and play the final six minutes plus three minutes of stoppage-time, inside a near-empty stadium and behind closed doors.
The U’s merely gave the ball to their hosts, on the restart, and the O’s passed it between themselves for the last nine minutes, until referee Carl Boyeson blew the final whistle.
And so ended one of the most bizarre afternoons of football that I have ever witnessed, in my 28 years as a football writer, 25 of those covering Colchester United.
It was a surreal end to a surreal day.
Saturday’s pitch invasion was as peaceful as it was inevitable.
A single red flare was thrown into the Leyton Orient penalty area, just four minutes after Bonne had tucked home the U’s third goal to effectively seal a first away win in 10 attempts for John McGreal’s side.
The score-line, though, was irrelevant – the flare seemed to be a premeditated signal for O’s fans to start spilling onto the pitch, a trickle at first, soon followed by several hundred of the home faithful.
They were determined to get the match abandoned, no doubt to bloody the noses of the Football League authorities who they believe had failed to intervene in the ‘demise’ of their club.
They eventually left Brisbane Road, in the belief that the match had indeed been abandoned – in effect, they had been duped, again.
It was like watching a lazy game of keep-ball in the park, on a sleepy Spring evening, as Leyton Orient players passed the ball between themselves for those last few minutes, with Colchester players just watching on.
All members of the media had stayed to “report on” the subdued finale to the craziest of days, but there were no fans to witness this sham ending to League football at Brisbane Road.
Final day fun
The U’s will be one of seven teams vying for the remaining two play-off places, when they entertain Yeovil next Saturday.