The best of grounds, the worst of grounds
Today the portcullis to Layer Road`s fortress will lower for one last time as Colchester United take on Stoke City in the Championship, welcoming a riot of colour and noise. Ninety minutes of action remain before the active turf becomes passive and as hauntingly disregarded as a disused fairground.
Yes folks, the Slayer Road circus finally moves on, even if the last clash under the lights is meaningless for the U`s. United kissed goodbye to their divisional status in England`s second tier several weeks ago, with relegation`s black 'R` braded alongside the club`s name in every sports pull-out and newspaper since.
The last hours of Layer Road, though, signal the climax of a longer goodbye than the one that was afforded to marking the side`s relative Indian summer at their highest divisional level of all time.
The joke is that the one-time loudest crowd in the entire Football League should be able to sing the house down before the cranes even move anywhere near. Some six thousand throats, with presumably twelve thousand teary eyes, should not forfeit the right to lose their voices along the old terraces this afternoon.
This changing of the guard is history being unmade, and unpacked - rolled out in a pageant of collective consciousness of great games and goals from the memory bank of Britain`s oldest town. Taking also the account of the EADT`s journalist Carl Marston, from just 16 years ago, shows how much times have changed, even recently.
He talks about the "crazy" 4-4 draw between Rochdale and Colchester and highlights his broad CV by reminding us of the days when those in the press-box had to relay details of matches live, almost real-time via telephone. It was his debut game as a reporter.
There are also plenty of now sepia-toned photographical figures to be remembered - many great ghosts of the past might come back to life this afternoon on the mind`s own private video-reel. The list of great adopted Colchestrians would be too long, and too personal, to define.
Just for the sake of nostalgia, salute, too, the days when drinking alcohol or smoking was not band inside the ground, or when the nearly twice the capacity crammed into the ground to get a glimpse of the then Fourth Division U`s beating Don Revie`s Leeds in 1971. Seats, prawn sandwiches, or an elecronic scoreboard? Please don`t tease!
Society changes, for sure, although it would take a seldom found breed of pride and ignorance not to be able to admit that moving on to the new 10,000-seater nest a Cuckoo Farm is a huge boon. Leaving Layer Road is almost nothing like when Arsenal left the marble halls of Highbury - allowing the ball and chain near that stadium marked a licensed erosion of our country`s very sporting culture, as the ground was host to matches in the 1948 Olympic Games.
Yet, it is almost everything like when the Gunners swapped homes in 2006. The walking homage to that fact will be catalogued this afternoon by U`s fans dressing in any shirt of their choice from a season gone by. They will inhabit the space that no opposition liked but, Millwall fashion, home partisans didn`t care.
Southend fans have spent many an afternoon shouting across the airwaves of Essex about how the ground of their nearest rivals was falling down. On 26th April 2008, the Colchester United faithful, albeit with a hint of sadness, must now accept that it is.