U’s and me: Colchester United and Ipswich Town – that special relationship

U's chairman Robbie Cowling congratulates Freddie Sears after the U's avoided relegation at Carlisle

U's chairman Robbie Cowling congratulates Freddie Sears after the U's avoided relegation at Carlisle on the final day of the 2012-13 season - Credit: Archant

That special relationship, between Colchester United and Ipswich Town, seems to be blossoming more than ever.

Tom Lapslie, on his League debut

Tom Lapslie, on his League debut - Credit: Su Anderson

And while many supporters frown upon such close relations, between the two clubs, U’s chairman and owner Robbie Cowling is not going to let such sentiments get in the way of good business.

Cowling understands why some U’s fans have found star striker Freddie Sears’ recent sale to Ipswich very difficult to stomach.

Not only had their talisman striker, with 14 goals to his name this season, departed with the club stuck in the relegation zone, but he had also signed for their East Anglian rivals.

But those days of rivalry, when the two clubs were plying their trade in the same division – those two wonderful years in the Championship in 2006-07 and 2007-08 – are long gone.

Ex-U's and Town manager, George Burley

Ex-U's and Town manager, George Burley

As are those darker days of 20 years ago, when the U’s and Town endured a very frosty relationship following manager George Burley’s sudden resignation as U’s boss, on Christmas Eve, 1994, to become the new Town supremo a fortnight later.

Burley had held talks with Town, without Colchester’s permission, after guiding the Essex club away from the Football League basement and into the play-off zone in just four months.

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The fall-out was big. The clubs could not agree on a compensation package, with the respective chairmen, David Sheepshanks and Peter Heard, sticking to their guns, although it was the U’s who fared better at the concluding Tribunal.

But that was 20 years ago. Since then, players have switched allegiance between the two clubs, separated by just 16 miles along the A12, with great frequency.

And here and now, the two clubs are working with each other, to the benefit of all.

There was further evidence of that ‘special relationship’ last week, with 20-year-old striker Jack Marriott completing his expected loan move from Ipswich to Colchester for the rest of the season, and Elliott Hewitt also extending his loan stay from Portman Road to the Community Stadium for another month.

“The club does not cut its nose off to spite its face,” explained Cowling, with reference to Sears’ recent sale to Ipswich.

“Ipswich are not in the same league as us, they are not threatening our league status.

“I’m disappointed too that he has gone, and I’d love him still to be here, and I understand the local rivalry, I really do understand that.

“But we don’t compete with Ipswich and Southend, on a day-to-day basis, and there’s lots we can do to help each other out, to make sure that we survive well as a club.

“My priority is Colchester United. I don’t care about Southend or Ipswich, I care about Colchester United and doing the best for us.

“And it works both ways.

“Ipswich have been more than prepared to work with us, because we are a good club to deal with too.

“In terms of business, Ipswich are a good club to work with, and I ultimately want to do what’s best for Colchester,” added Cowling.

In addition to loanee Hewitt and new recruit Marriott, the U’s have ex-Town defender Tom Eastman and young midfielder Byron Lawrence, another former Town apprentice, on their books.

Eastman has proved a terrific signing for the U’s, chalking up 129 senior appearances since his arrival in the summer of 2011, and has been ever-present so far this season.

And one glance at the U’s managerial and coaching staff confirms the strong bond that now exists with their Suffolk neighbours – manager Tony Humes and assistant manager Richard Hall were both ex-Town players, and coaches, while John McGreal (coach), Wayne Brown (professional development coach) and Steve McCall (chief recruitment scout) have similar strong links with Ipswich.

Going in the other direction, in addition to Sears, midfielder Anthony Wordsworth swapped the blue-and-white of Colchester for the blue-and-white of Ipswich at the start of 2013.

However, Wordsworth has failed to hold down a place in the Town side, starting just eight games in the Championship, and is currently on loan at Crawley following a previous loan spell at Rotherham.

Town boss, Mick McCarthy, is certainly not against sending some of his young players to the Community Stadium, to get some first-team action, especially as the training facilities at the new Florence Park complex, in Tiptree, are excellent.

Both clubs, therefore, seem to be comfortable with the current close relationship. And if Ipswich win promotion, and the U’s avoid relegation, then everyone will stay happy!

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