There is money at Colchester United. There can be no doubting this fact. The hierarchy openly admit this, but the budget for the playing squad was scaled back at the start of the season in order to promote a policy of bringing through youth players. This is admirable in theory, but in reality, is it too much to ask Tony Humes to do the job that Joe Dunne ultimately failed to do? This is not any sort of article aimed at attacking Humes or Dunne, and it should be acknowledged that on performances during recent seasons that keeping Colchester in League One is no mean feat.
The board are not being criticised either, because the approach, although relatively cliché of ‘building for the future’ is designed to save Colchester from the path that many other league teams have taken in recent years; Luton, Portsmouth, Blackpool, Stockport have either tumbled down the leagues or are in the process of doing so. The demise of Hereford would emphasise the point further, but the situation at that club is/was so ridiculous that it is not worth going off on a tangent.
The problem is that relegation would cause more trouble for a team who is still reeling from the financial error that is the new stadium. When the Weston Homes Community Stadium designs were proposed, there was almost a romantic sense that a lowly league club, (I’m not going to pretend for one minute that Colchester are some sort of sleeping giant) were on the brink of promotion to the Premier League. Hovering outside the playoffs, outstripping local rivals such as Ipswich and Southend, the dream was certainly on. However, attendances never fulfilled the early promise, and with the loss of key players such as Chris Iwelumo and Jamie Cureton, so prolific during the mid-noughties, along with a manager with a proven track record of getting league clubs promoted, the dream gradually faded away, and Colchester were relegated back to League One.
The atmosphere of the stadium was criticised by many younger fans as well as older stalwarts, used to the close-knit standing areas of Layer Road. With a capacity of 10,105, the U’s are lucky to reach half of that this season, with a notable poor attendance at the opening game of the season against Oldham, resulting in a 2-2 draw. The meagre crowd of 4,023 watched as a dogged performance saw Colchester come from behind to grab an unspectacular point, and it effectively set the tone for the season.
Arguably the squad needs a bit of impetus, and Chris Porter, a proven goal scorer, and Matthew Briggs, yet to realise the early promise he showed in his Fulham days, are both shrewd signings as the U’s attempt to beat the drop. These signings, however, came at a cost, with the loss of Freddie Sears to Ipswich left Colchester mourning genuine quality. The rise of Oldham certainly emphasises the need to strengthen, as a refreshed squad has spent the majority of the season in the playoffs. They have also lost a manager during the course of the season but for entirely different reasons than those that surrounded the sacking of club legend Dunne. There are still twelve games left, but with rival teams gradually edging away from the relegation zone, the situation is becoming precarious for Humes, but a lack of funds and Sammie Szmodics the only youngster showing true potential at this stage will surely leave U’s fans questioning whether safety this season will merely result in the same dogfight again next season.