When Time Stood Still
Matt Calmus caught up with veteran commentator, Godfrey Thomas, whose 1971 Hospital Radio commentary from the FA Cup win against Leeds United is now available on a limited edition CD in the U’s club shop
Those arguing that Colchester United’s clock stopped on February 13th, 1971, have probably forgotten the whole point of the FA Cup: it specializes in the creation of outrageous and improbable reversals of fortune.
Suggest to Godfrey Thomas, of the town’s Hospital Radio commentary team, that the Little Tin Idol is in any way a poisoned chalice, or that it harbours too much nostalgia, to pick out a modern complaint, and you will draw a stoic response.
“The 3-2 win, against Don Revie’s revered Leeds XI, including Charlton, Hunter et al, was the greatest single result of the club’s seventy year history,” says the man who still covers Colchester’s exploits behind the mike.
Godfrey has been doing so for the past 55 years: “I’m the link between the game in ’71 and the match on Easter Monday,” he told U’s Review.
After the Fifth Round victory, Cup romance flourished in the flatlands of Essex. In the words of then manager, Dick Graham, still besotted some time later, “On the morning of the match I went down to the waterfront… It was beautiful, like a summer day, with blue sky and a calm sea.
As I looked out, I knew, beyond all shadow of a doubt, that we were going to beat Leeds.”
It seems Godfrey, whose father Arthur was a founder member of the Hospital Radio movement in Colchester during the 1960s, had a similar conviction.
He admitted: “We decided it was worth the gamble of recording the commentary, and made an LP of the occasion. Had we known we were going to win, we might have risked more than the original outlay of 1,000 copies which our budget ran to.”
The popularity of the recording, edited at the time for several thousand patients across eight District hospitals, was such that they were sold “within minutes” at the next home game.
It was only after one vinyl, complete with signatures, fetched a sizeable amount of money under auction in 2005, that Godfrey began to entertain the idea of re-releasing it.
Colchester then won promotion, ending a thirty-six year wait for another chance to play Leeds at Layer Road. It also meant the chance to produce a limited edition CD of the commentary, released today to coincide with their return.
“With still so much public interest, it seemed like an ideal opportunity to make the magic of the day available to another generation of fans, using the original hospital track,” explained Godfrey.
The proceeds should help toward funding for a studio move, which is soon due to take place, away from its current site at Colchester’s Wilson Marriage Centre.
Putting the game’s result into perspective by comparing it with last season’s Chelsea clash, Godfrey reflected: “Beating Leeds was a greater achievement, in some ways, because the gap callable was exceptionally wide.”
Leeds, having been favourites to scoop the Cup, went on to win a European Fairs trophy. Should the U’s have made it through to the Final, they would have defied odds of 100-1 against, although did enjoy a trip to Wembley, lifting the Watney Cup.
“What is interesting, is that Leeds and Colchester were relatively much further apart in the League hierarchy than we were when facing Chelsea; they were top in the old First Division, and Colchester virtual unknowns at the bottom of the Fourth,” Godfrey added.
If the clock didn’t stop in 1971, then time defiantly stood still.