Date:Monday July 21 2008
Layer Road Spirit Couldn`t Be Bottled
Steven Green and Matt Calmus went to witness Layer Road`s last hours after 101 years of footballing action. The gabble came down on history and an era at yesterday`s auction. Matt Calmus Reports.
Fair-weather fan Bob Russell, MP, would argue we knew the price of everything but value of nothing on the weekend when Colchester United`s old stadium made way for bulldozers by going under the hammer. Layer Road`s final hours became a haven for scores of die-hards and opportunist scrap merchants as Britain`s oldest town put a tariff on 71 years of nostalgia.
Flaking turnstiles and quaking wooden terraces went under knife as well as gabble, though; seeing the fabled ground have its still-beating heart removed brought tears from eyes; pounds from wallets. For the most fond of acolytes, it was like an out-of-body experience, not least because the event reinforced a reality that had been passing lips as a mere idea for nearly thirty years: United really are switching homes.
Tiptoeing around the hallowed turf was a luxury most people had only afforded themselves in dreams. Those curling a foot around the stray ball which sat in the centre-circle, blissfully unaware of the weighty significance of every kick it absorbed, exchanged furtive glances. They almost appeared to be waiting for someone, anyone, to tell them to keep off the grass, as if such a shout would pinprick the daydream and restore normal routine.
It felt destructive and almost criminal at times to put a price on the priceless, with history being unpacked into 516 lots, and strung out over five hours of ferocious bidding. It felt farcical, too. Only in England could you persuade a football nut to bargain in a tense triangle against the auctioneer`s babble and his fellow man for items like a used urinal, stale showerheads, or bespoke gates.
The cards went up and down with the prices, interest swelling and dwindling as much as the crowd could stand to keep pace with the action. Some became desperately hysterical about prices as each lot expired - the awning over the club shop went for just a pound, but the Clock End timepiece for some £1,600. Visible strain showed when articles with such an implied sentimental value were offered before partisan punters, in the name of squeezing pockets for profit.
Equate the sensation to a guilty pleasure at best, or robbing a grave, at worst. Some felt it was legalised stealing, especially when family silverware was in the offering. Certain lots might have been obscure trinkets, photos and ribbons from the club`s greatest-ever triumphs in the seventies, eighties and nineties. Yet, they represent Colchester United`s very heritage, none-the-less.
There was a moment when life-long fan Russell, who has been attending games for fifty years, spoke up for the purists. The auction stalled, and a man who must feel his cries in times-gone-by have caught only in the wind was heard, loud and clear.
Framed photographs from the Watney Cup win against West Bromwich Albion and the club`s finest-ever victory, in the F.A. Cup against Leeds United, should be saved for the new ground, he said. In a split-second, it looked as if the individual mutiny on behalf of values had scored a victory for the romantic in us all. As hesitation reverberated through those gathered, a mass boycott looked likely. Until bidding limply recommenced, that is.
Little were distracted rank and file fans to know that the last copies of a commemorative programme from Colchester United`s final game under the postcode CO2 7JJ were being dished out for nothing next door. A piece of genuine memorabilia was on offer amongst questionable keepsakes like clusters of office seats, fitted shelves and filing cabinets.
There`s one thing they couldn`t bottle, bag or brand when Layer Road was stripped of its soul last weekend. Okay, so part of the People`s Game went home, destined for various front rooms and back gardens, but at a price. It was a price some were willing to pay, too, and sadly there seemed no clearer way of distributing lots without milking the commercial cash-cow.
Yet, through touch, taste and sight of the greatest games, goals and glory, a price-tag-free spirit preserved by the mind is inside everyone ever to grace the ground. It`s inside me. It`s inside you, too.
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VITAL COLCHESTER IS 100% UNOFFICIAL - FOR THE FANS, BY THE FANS
Date:Monday July 21 2008
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