I Wasn`t At Runcorn...
An alternative View Of Herman Hreidarsson's Birthday Bash: 11/7/09, Eastney Tavern. Dedicated all @ Vital Pompey
I wasn`t there, at Runcorn. And I don`t mean the 1990/1 season home tie, when the U`s won 2-0 in the F.A. Trophy. I mean the match Colchester`s biggest celebrity supporter, Radio One DJ, Steve Lamacq, once said splits fair-weather fans from the die-hards. I imagine the dialogue: 'Fancy a Conference fixture, in some far-flung hell hfole, on a cold Tuesday evening? Oh, go on then... I`m a fan after all! Won`t you pass us the Bovril, please...'
You're standing at the ground - sorry, sitting - enjoying a delicious prawn sandwich, watching an ex-Premier League player strut his stuff. You`re just thinking about nipping to those air-conditioned loos to avoid half-time`s rush. Then, someone with a far deeper voice - and lot less acne - than you starts pining aloud for the days when flaked rust sprayed showers Layer Road`s tin roof with every thwack of a football.
They`re talking otherworldly eras, it seems, like when match programmes used to appear via photocopier, not pristine-looking printing press. About cramming up to 20,000 fans through United's turnstiles, pre-Taylor report.
Stop. They`ve seen you now. Making that eye contact was a school-boy error, the first mistake (Yes, worse even than one of Phil Ifil`s spot-kick giveaways). You`ve just committed a professional foul: Offside! Penalty! Red card!
So it is that an afternoon`s fun on the terraces becomes 20 questions. None of which, incidentally, you can answer: "Which now-Premiership did side Colchester beat on the opening day of the 1979/80 season? Who scored our only goal in 1998`s 4-1 away loss to Bedlington Terriers? How much was our record signing, before we broke it by six times as much buying striker Clive Platt?"
Some U`s games are glued to the collective consciousness without an apparently necessary dollop of glitz and glamour for sticking paste. They`re the ones elder people tend to quiz you about, to see if you`re in memory lane`s magic circle.
Showing a complete lack of knowledge is simply not acceptable in such situations.
This isn`t a general knowledge test anymore, oh no. It`s a DNA sample. Do you have a right to wear that football replica U`s shirt like a second skin? "That`s the trouble with kids these days," the sage sighs after seconds of silence with no reply forthcoming. "They just don`t bleed Blue and White."
Only through fandom can someone possibly make you feel an enemy on your own turf. It is almost like an undercover inquisition to unearth any rouge Southend supporters who might just have jumped over the fence without paying.
The biopsy grates you, of course. You`re the full-back whose just been skinned by an opposition`s electrifying winger and ended up on his backside. (Worse, in fact. At least he can blame gravity or a divot; what have you got?)
Staying silent seems sensible in this situation. Cue the inward protests: I know about the Chelsea game, you`re thinking. (`06. Richard Garcia`s cross deflected in to gift us an unlikely lead). I even know about Leeds, F.A. Cup victory, 1971...)
Something like that scenario has happened to me; my earliest Colchester memory, form a less-than-elastic bank, only stretches back to Lomama Lua Lua`s farewell hat-trick against QRP, before he took off to Newcastle and the Premier League.
Youngsters get a half-disappointed, yet still gleeful, reaction to an admission of inexperience like that; the person preaching the past, while you try to enjoy today's game, has found someone else to talk to in sepia-toned tongues about yesteryear. (The younger you are, the better, actually, because if they slip up at the stadium, you`ve no possible way of finding out. Except, of course, if you cheat and ask the next-nearest football-loving adult who looks old and wise enough.)
It`s not just on a matchday that slack-jaw goldfish impersonates during unexpected history lessons in your own team can catch you unawares. Yesterday, the genuinely charming people at network sister site Vital Portsmouth - of MoTD 2 notoriety, no less - found a few more holes in my sometimes Swish Cheese Colchester United knowledge. In the pub, this time.
What I was doing supping pints on the South coast (exiled until 2010, at least) is another story. (Don`t worry, at first when I arrived, their site members were all asking the same thing!) But, after the rip-roaring tale of how Pompeygray, AKA Dave Mathews, had gone through hell and high water, via Australia, to arrive in one-piece for the 2008 F.A. Cup Final at Wembley, attention turned back to Colchester. Gulp.
"I can think of a link between Colchester and Portsmouth," he chirps, not betraying much of an accent after 35 years out in Oz as an ex-pat. He`s flown over especailly to meet other Vital Pompey web-posters on what coincidentally is defender Herman Hreidarsson`s Birthday.
I'm nervous. I struggle, in my head, to get past the obvious names, those who've played for both: Lua Lua, clearly, plus ex-England international, Teddy Sheringham. I want, instead, to retort after his great Cup Final tale. I nearly blurt: "We`ve been to Wembley. Twice, you know. 1992. And in 1997/8 Division Three, play-off Final. Old."
I`d mean the old Third Davison, but I don`t say anything at all. Part of me knows that Colchester`s glory tales were at the Old Wembley, too, not the brand-spanking new one, like Portsmouth`s. Hardly a lot of pizzazz in taking about a retired stadium, with steps the F.A. cared so about much that they sold them to a German museum.
"Mick Mills," Dave says, scribbling furiously on a pen and paper - there`s his connection between Portsmouth and Colchester. "I played with him at school, a modern County Secondary at Broadwater. He was a former Pompey youngster who was forced to leave when they disbanded their squad in the 1960`s. Captained Ipswich for their 1978 cup win, against Arsenal."
Unfortunately, Mills the manager later took Colchester out of the Football League in 1990, Dave explains, despite having a good pedigree and inheriting the captaincy at World Cup 1986 with England following Kevin Keegan`s unexpected withdrawal. I get past being caught off-guard about my lack of knowledge here; I`m fascinated, instead, although now not surprised that Mills is hardly an Essex hot-topic.
Later, Dave is asking me about Leeds, `71. 3-2, with seven over-thirties, and all that. I`m proud but apologetic - U`s fans are still dining out on their date with Don Revie`s men, nearly forty years on. Although I wasn`t born then, I know all about the event, of which DJ Lamacq recalls: "Leeds players look like a spaceship has appeared in front of their eyes - they can`t believe this is happening."
Dave waves away my regret. I feel foolish, this time, for wanting almost to deny The U`s past in public place, just because it might not appear fashionable to those in the upper-leagues. It`s silly, I see now, since football and nostalgia go together like Colchester and castles.
And I know Dave`s right; I shouldn`t shy from boasting about what the club have achieved so far, even if we`re just a relative spring-chicken at aged 72, against Pompey`s comparative 110 years of grandeur.
Besides, the reason I`m asked about the obscure date and day when, say, St. John`s Ambulance service ran out of stretchers and carried out injured goalscorer off on a door, isn`t to catch me out.
I understand now that it is because such stories are interesting; they bed common ground between all football fans and are therefore worth hearing, no matter which side you support, or how bad a supposed interrogation of your general knowledge feels. Everyone already knows enough about the best games, the really big ones. They were there, or usually knew someone who was. Watched it on Telly, read about it in the newspaper.
That`s why people want to know about your first signature, the longest trip, most disgusting hotdog you`ve ever tasted (and, more importantly where you tasted it). It`s what makes football a personalised experience amid sport's mass-solidarity.
I also realise on my way home that it`s time to stop the guilty for missing out on character-forming trips, like Runcorn V Colchester away in midweek, from nineteen-ninety whenever-it-was.
Yes, I wasn`t there. It doesn't matter. And that`s the end of it.
Other Pompey-U`s Connections on Vital:-
Click here to re-cap an exclusive interview by Vital Colchester with Lomana lua lua, published January 07.
Click here to see the site`s exclusive dispatch on Teddy Sheringham, July 07.