Abject apologies to the many readers who attempted to visit Salut! Sunderland yesterday only to run into a brick wall of “site maintenance” and “this page not available” messages. We were up and down like a harlot’s drawers, as a judge once put it to me (he was describing the yo-yo existence of his own team).
The excuse is simple: our friends at footballunited.com were changing server. It’ll all be for the best, we’re assured, but some disruption was inevitable.
All the same, the interruptions and imperfections caused some inconvenience and disappointment, and meant that our Who Are You? feature for tonight’s Carling Cup tie may have been overlooked. So here’s another, with any luck hitch-free, outing for the interesting replies of Jon Burns*, chairman of CUSA (Colchester United Supporters’ Association), who takes heart from a good start to the League One season to point out that a big upset is far from an “impossible task” …
Salut! Sunderland: I remember coming home from Paris, where I was then living, to see us beat you 3-1 in 2006 while thinking you could have won (afterthought: the Halford game, wasn’t it?), as you did in the return. Memories of either game? Fancy your chances this time?
Our very first season in the Championship was a wonderfully special time for the Us fans. We could travel to the Stadium of Light and grounds of similar stature, expect nothing and yet often coming away with something. Being a “lower league” club we were used to travelling to the delights of Hartlepool and Darlington, so it was a nice change to have a new destination in the North East. My memory is quite poor about the game, I can only recall the strong winds that seemed to engulf the stadium. The return fixture brought mighty Sunderland into the Layer Road domain. Intimate and vociferous, the Black Cats fell victim to dodgy changing rooms, a small pitch and a Us crowd so close to the action to ruin anyone’s comfort zone.
As for the game, I’m a firm believer that anything can happen in football and the brave Us fans who have made the journey wouldn’t have made the effort if they thought it was an impossible task.
That was a great season for you but it hasn’t been so good since. Unbeaten, though, so far this season, Is promotion a realistic target?
Being unbeaten after your first handful of games is a good way to start, but there’s plenty more football left to play and if you were to ask the other 23 clubs then they’ll all answer positively. John Ward has got a large squad at his disposal and has done wonderfully well with his selections and tactics so far. In my opinion, promotion back to the Championship is a definite target. If we can keep scoring and creating, and if we can keep key players fit then the Us will have an excellent chance.
Who are your key players and where are your weaknesses?
The first names to appear on any Us team sheet are probably the new skipper Kem Izzet in his testimonial year, Marc Tierney and keeper Ben Williams. That said, whilst Ben has been injured, Mark Cousins has shown once again that he’s a very decent gloveman so maybe Ben’s name will be in pencil for a while. Our “new face” of the season so far, and already proving to be a key man for the Us is Andy Bond. Described as Forrest Gump because he never stops running, that barely does him justice. At Rochdale last Saturday he was everywhere and even got on the scoresheet. I just hope that he has enough left in his tank to grace your pitch tonight.
When are you happiest – and unhappiest – memories as a Colchester supporter?
22nd May 1998, and the play off Final win over Torquay thanks to David Gregory’s penalty. This is without doubt my happiest memory watching the U’s. Being surrounded by friends who couldn’t stop hugging each other, because the relief and reward that all our hard work had brought the U’s promotion to Division Two.
My worst time without doubt was our second season in the Championship and our ultimate relegation. We gave up and surrendered that season, and to make matters worse it was to be our last time at Layer Road, and that was no way to send the old girl off.
And is it a town where kids wear the gloryseeking tops of the big Premier clubs?
Colchester is a stones throw from London, so does attract kids with the likes of West Ham, Spurs and Arsenal. We’ve also had an historic problem with a certain Suffolk side who have a legacy fan base from their glory days, many, many years ago! In this day and age, with TV football fans and a shortage of dosh, the ultimate question for a club like the Us, is how to grow your fan base without giving it away for nothing and crippling yourself financially. Answers on a postcard to…..
Any Sunderland links you can think of now or in the past, and any thoughts on Sunderland the club, city and fans?
Not many links I can think of. If I was to have one opinion on Sunderland it’s that through thick and thin, your supporters remain incredibly loyal. Football appears to more of a way of life in the North East which sets it aside from many other parts of the country. Others look on in admiration and with envy
Is cheating – diving, feigning injury, trying to get opponents booked or sent off, shirtpulling etc – as rife in your division as at the higher levels?
I’m afraid that it’s common place at every level of football. Think back to the World Cup, or take in any Sunday League game. OK, so there may have been higher quality diving in South Africa, but it’s still cheating and I hate it. More worryingly, youngsters are now becoming experts in copying our footballing stars. Try to imagine what football will be like to 10 years time!
What is your greatest hope for Colchester United?
Promotion to the Championship, sell out crowds at the Weston Homes Community Stadium which is then sold by the Council to the U’s for a quid, a few years of consistently competitive football, a Wembley final and then at some point, do a Blackpool. Surely that’s not too much to ask for?
Did the World Cup excite you or leave you cold, and why?
I mistakenly had time off when the World Cup was on. What a waste of a fortnight that was! It took ages to get going, the atmosphere was rubbish and England deserved what they put into it – nothing! I couldn’t wait for “proper” football to begin again.
Will you get to the match? If not how will you keep tabs – and what will be the score?
Sadly work prohibits my attendance, and pulling a sicky is out of question because they’ll know where I’ll be. I’m pleased to say though that a full coach of Colchester United Supporters Association (CUSA) will be making the trip. I’ll have to get content with the internet for my Tuesday night U’s fix now that Sky Sports News has done the dirty deed!
* Jon Burns on Jon Burns: chairman of CUSA for more years than I can remember, and a Us fan since about 1978. I’m lucky enough to work with an excellent committee and to have built up so many good friends through supporting Colchester United.
Roger Westlake, CUSA secretary, adds: “One link that Jon didn’t mention was Greg Halford but that’s probably just as well! Jon’s a shy lad as far as pictures are concerned so take your pick between our CUSA Badge or the photo where Jon is the guy on the extreme left talking with a Us legend Peter Wright** after our last game at Layer Road.
Here’s to a good game.
** Wright has been named Colchester United’s “player of the century”, having made 448 appearances for the Us between 1952 and 1964, scoring 98 goals.