The 1990s and 2000s

Sun 11 Aug 2013
Author: Matt Hudson
U's celebrate promotion to the Championship

U's celebrate promotion to the Championship

Image by : Rob Sambrook

Promotion to the Championship for the first time.

Lincoln and Darlington had both returned to the League at the first attempt from the Conference and the onus was on new Player Manager Ian Atkins to achieve the same. 


United remained full-time and wearing a navy and white striped kit enjoyed a 100% record from their first six home games. 


Layer Road was sold back to the Council for £1.2m to help clear debts with the club leasing for a maximum of three seasons. 


Barnet and Kettering were U's main challengers and it took until April for U's to hit top spot. 


United faced the ignominy of having to compete in the FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round and had a shock home defeat to Witton Albion in the FA Trophy Quarter Finals after beating neighbours Wivenhoe Town.


Facing late challengers Altrincham drew a Layer Road crowd of 7,221, but a draw and Barnet's matching form meant that Colchester finished runners-up by two points. 


Crisp fumed: "To come second with a fully professional squad in a part-time League is a bloody disgrace." 


He soon left the club, a wiser if not poorer man, as did Atkins who joined Birmingham as coach.


New chairman James Bowdidge appointed Roy McDonough in a playing role. At just 34, McDonough had been Atkins' assistant and vowed to go for goals abandoning Atkins' stoic sweeper system. 


McDonough equalled the club record scoring four at Slough on August 26th 1991, but couldn't have planned the astonishing goal that gave U's victory at sole rivals Wycombe. 


In the dying moments, goalkeeper Scott Barrett's long punt down field skidded up off the greasy surface into the net to give Colchester a priceless 2-1 win, and U's completed the double soon after winning 3-0 at Layer Road. 


Colchester Borough Council identified ten sites that might house a new stadium. Each would be investigated. 


The U's became the first team in history to be knocked out of the FA Cup without conceding a goal. 


Twice they drew 0-0 with Exeter only to lose on penalties; the consolation was that they led Wycombe by seven points as 1992 dawned.


The Football League decreed that all clubs must have at least 10 years lease on their stadium. Fortunately, the Council extended their arrangement. 


Sixteen home wins on the bounce failed to shake off their shadows from Buckinghamshire. 


A dreadful 4-1 defeat at Welling and a lackadaisical 4-4 draw at Macclesfield threatened to derail U's surge back to the League.


United's focus wasn't solely on the Conference they progressed to the Wembley Final of the FA Trophy having knocked out Kingstonian, Merthyr, Morecambe, Telford and Macclesfield on the way.


At just 34, McDonough had delivered his promise. He himself had netted 29 times with Steve McGavin (26) and Gary Bennett (18) part of the 98 goal League haul. as Wycombe trailed by eight goals going into the last game. 


United annihilated Barrow 5-0 with a Mike Masters hat trick to claim the Championship.


A week later 32,254 roared United, in their first-ever Wembley appearance, to a famous non-League double gaining revenge over Witton Albion with Masters, McGavin and Nicky Smith scoring in a 3-1 win.


Thousands packed the High Street a few days later as United paraded their trophies to the town. Colchester were back in the Football League


GM Vauxhall Conference Champions: 1991/2

Runners-up: 1990/1

FA Trophy Winners: 1991/2


The advent of the Premier League meant that Colchester jumped two Leagues, in name, to Division Three. 


Bowdidge stepped down because of business commitments handing over the Chair to former reserve player Gordon Parker. 


United lost Masters, an American, because of work permit problems and Barrett to a richer contract. U's lost four of their first five games and sunk to the bottom, they also suffered a hefty FA fine for their indiscipline on the field with McDonough one of the main culprits.


The attacking approach was not as effective against League teams and United concede a 7, a 5 and 4 goals on six occasions.


Despite this they rallied, with a young Mark Kinsella blossoming and finished just four points shy of a play-off place.


With 79 bookings and three red cards it was apt that their new blue shirts had an upward pointing repeating arrow which many fans, upset at the loss of striped shirts, dubbed the 'jailbird' kit. 


The first eight games of 1993/4 yielded 40 goals - 18 in the wrong net. United just could not defend and McDonough, having used six goalkeepers in the wake of Barrett's departure, found himself in goal at Hereford in October 1993. 


Amazingly both John Keeley and sub Nathan Munson were sent off for professional fouls. Needless to say U's lost 5-0.


Fans fury continued unabated as United fought back manfully to 3-3 at home to non-League Sutton in the FA Cup, only to concede searching for an injury time winner. 


Things got worse. United used six keepers again and McGavin moved to Birmingham for £150,000 in January with no funds made available. 


It took a consortium of local businessmen to raise £10,000 to buy Steve Whitton on deadline day to fill the gap. 


On the last day of a disappointing campaign, where gates had dropped to 2,865, McDonough received a silver salver from Chairman Parker in recognition of his 500th career appearance. 


Three days later it was Parker, his father-in-law, that told McDonough he was sacked. 


Few, if any, listed the name of former Ipswich full-back George Burley as a candidate but the Scotsman was duly appointed in July 1994. 


Six straight defeats was not an ideal baptism, Burley dug out his boots, brought in new faces and called upon Dale Roberts as coach.


The turn around was immediate as United suffered just one defeat in the next 20 League and Cup matches. Few fans arriving for the Boxing Day clash with Northampton knew that Burley had resigned on Christmas Eve. 


Tapped up by Ipswich, who had been refused permission to speak to him, Burley walked out on fifth placed Colchester leaving a sour taste for years to come. 


Roberts became Caretaker for United's first-ever encounter with a Premiership side. 


Unfortunately it was Wimbledon, 1-0 winners, and half the 6,903 crowd at Selhurst Park were from Colchester.


Again the Colchester board defied speculation and appointed stalwart ex-defender Steve Wignall as new manager in January 1995.


Well-placed for a play-off berth United gained just two points from the last four games and finished 12 points adrift. 


Crowds increased, to 3,277, helped by an interesting promotion when all 6,055 were admitted free to the clash with Darlington on March 4th 1995.


Kinsella, like Adcock before, harboured ambitions of and deserved the big time. Wignall allowed him to play on a week to week contract and re-signed the now much travelled Adcock. 


Colchester's proud mantle as Cup fighters took another dent when humiliated 2-1 at non-League Gravesend & Northfleet preceding eight winless games. 


The loan signing of Scot McGleish rejuvenated United's season and a Joe Dunne injury time winner at Mansfield left U's needing to beat Doncaster in their last fixture to reach the play-offs. 


Paul Gibbs' cross-cum-shot sealed a narrow win to send the 5,083 crowd into delirium. 


Neil Warnock's Plymouth stood in United's way of a second trip to Wembley. Mark Kinsella's long ranger sealed a 1-0 first leg lead and rammed Warnock's words down his throat. 


He taunted: "Little teams like Colchester shouldn't even be on the same pitch as big clubs like Plymouth." 


His side, assembled for over £1m, quickly moved in front at Home Park against a U's side costing £2,000, but Kinsella pulled the score back level and more with a vital away goal. 


Five minutes from time U's hearts were broken when Plymouth added a third.


A fresh looking Layer Road welcomed in the 1996/7 season with the Clock End all-seated and covered. 


Kinsella finally got the move his talents deserved. A bargain £150,000 took him to Charlton and there was early League Cup cheer when U's turned a 3-2 deficit with a 3-1 victory at First Division West Bromwich Albion. 


All the more noteworthy as striker Whitton played the entire second half in goal.


Paul Buckle scored Colchester's first ever Golden Goal against Millwall in the Auto Windscreen Shield on January 9th 1997 and wins over Brentford and Northampton set up a Southern Final with Peterborough. 


All looked lost with a 2-0 first leg defeat but Paul Abrahams' glorious Golden Goal sent United to Wembley. 


Unfortunately six defeats in eight League games had seen United slip to 13th. 


Wignall declared: "I won't be happy until I have guided this club to promotion. All I ask of the fans is trust me with your club."


The Wembley Final against Carlisle, played on April 20th 1997 in front of 45,077, ended in a 0-0 draw after extra time. 


Peter Cawley and a young Karl Duguid missed from the spot leaving the Cumbrians to hoist the trophy in the cruellest of manners.


Three wins and a draw after Wembley meant that United missed out on the play-offs by just one point. A season of so much promise ended in just memories.


Colchester, once famed giantkillers, again lost to a non-League side when Hereford won a1997/8 replay at Edgar Street on penalties. The FA Cup was truly Wignall's Achilles Heel. 


Meanwhile, the club was vindicated in the Courts when the Burley case was settled at £300,000 and, with the lease on Layer Road due to expire in 2002, Kirklees McAlpine were commissioned as consultants for the new stadium. 


Wignall broke the club's transfer record spending £50,000 on Neil Gregory. 


The dividend was paid when U's won 10 of their last 15 missing automatic promotion by one point, but more importantly qualifying for the play-offs. 


Barnet held a 1-0 lead but in a powder-keg Layer Road atmosphere, a brace from David Gregory, the second in extra time, turned the tie in U's favour and earned a third trip to Wembley in six years. 


Disappointingly moved to a Friday night to accommodate a meaningless England v Saudi Arabia friendly match, the Play-Off Final with Torquay attracted just 19,486 with live TV coverage another factor. 


David Gregory's 22nd minute penalty was enough to fire U's back to the third tier after 17 years away. Once again the streets of Colchester thronged to an open-top bus parade.


Wignall was under no illusions as to the task his side had. Division Two boasted fallen giants in Manchester City and Stoke and Kevin Keegan led the Al-Fayed revolution at Fulham. 


A preferred site was found for the new stadium and, better still, Cuckoo Farm was owned by the Council.


From the magnificent stage of Maine Road and a loyal 25,000 home crowd, Wignall faced his FA Cup nemesis at the tiny Northumberland outpost of Bedlington. 


The Terriers walloped United 4-1 the most embarrassing defeat in the club's history. 


U's won just one of the next nine including a 5-1 home defeat to Gillingham in the AutoWindscreen Shield. In January 1999, seven days after unleashing a raw Lomana Tresor Lua Lua into the first team.


Wignall quit citing that he had taken his team as far as he could and was frustrated at the role agents were playing in transfer deals he was trying to set up.


Steve Whitton his assistant became Caretaker before Mick Wadsworth, recently of Scarborough, fought off the challenge of Cheltenham's Steve Cotterill to become the new manager. 


He kept Whitton on and brought in a number of foreign players including Brazilian Fumaca and Frenchmen Pounewatchy and Richard. 


He appointed Warren Aspinall captain and together they staved off relegation by two points. 


Fumaca's Colchester career lasted 14 minutes after being pole-axed. 


Crowds rose to 4,479 but the seasons end brought swingeing cuts to the playing staff. Nine were axed including Joe Dunne and Tony Adcock, who fell tantalisingly four goals short of Martyn King's club record of 131 career goals.



All was not well behind the scenes when Managing Director Steven Gage resigned on the eve of 1999/00. 


Within two weeks Wadsworth was off too. He lived in Pontefract and declared that Colchester was too far south to drive - then, directly after a League Cup tie at Selhurst, joined Crystal Palace! 


In reality, he had got rid of fans favourites and brought in a bunch of highly paid mercenaries, blowing the entire playing budget. 


Most were linked to controversial football agent Barry Silkman.


When midfielder Brian Launders was sacked for gross misconduct Silkman took United to Court and this exposed the influence agents had on the game, something Wignall had pre-empted. 


As a result United, now led by Chairman Peter Heard, invoked a policy of not dealing with agents ever again.


Promoting from within Heard appointed Whitton as manager in August 1999. One win in eleven including a 5-2 mauling at Cambridge saw United bottom by October.


Whitton re-instated Dunne, Tony Lock and Richard Wilkins and re-signed Steve McGavin. 


A thrilling 5-4 January 2000 win over Bristol Rovers was the highlight of the season and the emergence of the skilful Lua Lua, with 14 goals, complimented 16 from McGavin.


Colchester were not going to hold on to Lua Lua for long and a stunning hat-trick at QPR turned a 1-0 first leg defeat into a 4-3 aggregate win.


The virtuoso performance by the youngster from Kinshasa persuaded Newcastle boss Bobby Robson to part with a staggering £2.25m in September 2000. 


It was a fantastic deal for Colchester and secured the medium term future of the club. 


The FA Cup dream ended, as usual, at the hands of non-League opposition. Yeovil hammered United 5-1, securing ample revenge for the 7-1 replay win United had inflicted at Huish in 1958.


Whitton steered his troops to six points clear of relegation.


The 2001/2 season kicked off with an entertaining 6-3 win at Chesterfield. United were top of Division Two by the end of August and knocked First Division Portsmouth out of the League Cup at Fratton Park. 


They failed to capitalise and despite Whitton equalling the record transfer fee of £50,000 for Northern Ireland international Adrian Coote, the U's finished 15th - a steady year on year improvement after recording 18th and then 17th places previously. 


Whitton was content with the way he was progressing the club but the supporters were not. 


One fan noted that it would take another fourteen years before they could expect promotion to the second tier at that rate.


The collapse of ITV Digital spelt disaster for many clubs who had spent their money on players or new facilities before it had reached them. Prudently, Heard never budgeted more than his club could afford.


Whitton was unable to bolster his squad to push on quicker and after losing to Conference side Chester in the FA Cup at Layer Road and seven games without a win he left by 'mutual consent' in January 2003. 


This was very much the Peter Heard way, but Whitton insisted he was sacked. 


Assistant Geraint Williams took caretaker charge, fared well, and put himself forward as a candidate. However, with his many contacts at FA Board level, Heard introduced a surprise when he appointed Reading's player-coach Phil Parkinson as United's new boss. 


Parkinson saved United from relegation certainty to 12th place, their highest position for 23 years. 


The season did finish with a record-equalling 5-0 home defeat to Luton but Parkinson was experimenting, rather too much, with his squad.


The summer recess allowed Parkinson to apply everything he had learned whilst gaining his UEFA 'A' and 'B' badges as well as the Degree that he studied for in his spare time. 


He brought in Sports Science and revolutionised the way players trained, ate and rested. 


The 2003/4 season was almost a Cup campaign of its own. U's played a record 15 ties in progressing in the FA Cup and LDV Trophy.


Helped by the astute signings of Wayne Andrews and Premiership youngsters Craig Fagan and Rowan Vine, United blazed a trail to the FA Cup Fifth Round defeating Oxford, Aldershot, Accrington Stanley and Coventry, courtesy of a Vine hat trick, before succumbing to Sheffield United by 1-0 at Bramall Lane in the Fifth Round. 


Two days after the clash with The Blades U's were faced with the task of clawing back a 3-2 deficit from the LDV Southern Final first leg at Steve Wignall's Southend. 


A 1-1 draw and a barrage of fixtures proved too much and United slipped from 5th to 14th whilst on the Cup trail, losing influential Karl Duguid to a serious knee injury. 


Nine points separated United and the play-offs at the end of the season which had re-established United's Cup glories.


West Brom became the last-ever top flight club to visit Layer Road on September 21st 2004. Colchester didn't disappoint winning the League Cup tie 2-1 to earn a trip to another Premiership side in Southampton. 


Backed by a huge half-term holiday following, United scared their lofty opponents before bowing out 3-2. 


League form was relatively poor with nine home defeats and just four wins in a 25-game mid season spell. No team managed to score more than two goals in the League against the U's but a mid-table spot was always on the cards. 


A tricky set of draws in the FA Cup had Colchester winning through their travels to Mansfield, Rushden & Diamonds and Hull, although the Mansfield tie required a replay, before being paired with Premiership Blackburn at Ewood Park. 


United were shell-shocked from the moment goalkeeper Aidan Davison ensured his place on 'Football Bloopers' videos for life, applying an air shot to a tame backpass that struck a divot. 


United never recovered and lost 3-0.


With 15th place in 2004/5 considered a backward step, U's fans became increasingly frustrated at Parkinson's 4-5-1 tactics at Layer Road. 


The season kick started with the arrival of his old Reading team-mate Jamie Cureton on loan from Swindon. 


U's were in the top four by Christmas and their 12-match unbeaten run was halted at Swindon on Boxing Day. Parkinson's side simply embarked on another run of seven straight wins, 10 if Cup ties are included, and topped the table in January 2006. 


Once again United reached the LDV Southern Area Final but losing to Swansea. 


The FA Cup brought more success on and off the pitch. Poor Leamington were thrashed 9-1 in the First Round on December 5th 2005 equalling a 44 year club record. 


U's won at Shrewsbury and then beat Championship sides Sheffield United and Derby to set up a mouth watering tie at Chelsea. 


Mourinho's side had been assembled for around £225m whilst United were valued at £150,000. More than 6,000 fans in the 41,810 live televised game witnessed the incredible, as Carvalho's own goal put United in front. 


Chelsea threw on their big guns Joe Cole, Lampard and Crespo to win 3-1. United captured a little piece of worldwide acclaim and a huge bonus to their bank balance, but league form dropped alarmingly. 


U's won just one in 13, including Cup ties, went seven out of eight League games in February without scoring and lost the top of the table clash with Southend by 3-0 at Layer Road. 


Wins at Bournemouth and at home to Rotherham meant United only had to secure a draw in the last match at Yeovil. 


Ironically United's first ever professional match in 1937 was in the Somerset town and they nervously held onto a 0-0 draw to gain promotion to their promised land - The Coca Cola Championship - three points behind their Essex neighbours Southend. 


The average gate of 3,969 was paltry compared to some of the sides that they would face but Parkinson had delivered U's ultimate dream. 


Chris Iwelumo's 19 goals and 15 by midfielder Neil Danns put both players in the shop window. 


Danns left for Birmingham in a deal worth an eventual £850,000 whilst Iwelumo welcomed Cureton on a permanent deal. 


Parkinson, however, resigned on June 13th 2006 in a case reminiscent of the Burley saga 12 years earlier. 


Many thought that Hull Chairman Adam Pearson had approached Parkinson illegally and like Ipswich before him was made to pay when Peter Heard won £400,000 damages for the club. 


Geraint Williams oversaw pre-season training and, after a lengthy recruitment process, was charged with the daunting task of leading United in their first season in the Championship. 


He employed Mick Harford as his assistant and the pair worked miracles for a club that was now owned by Robbie Cowling, a very successful local businessman. 


United entertained Ipswich in the first League derby for 49 years and a Karl Duguid goal gave U's the victory they so dearly aspired to. Parkinson returned with his struggling Hull team in November 2006 and Iwelumo bagged four and a share of the club record as United trounced The Tigers 5-1. 


Parkinson was sacked five days later whilst United recorded eight home wins on the spin to be in a play-off position by Christmas. 


Talk turned to sharing Portman Road if United reached the Premiership with Cuckoo Farm still to rise from the drawing board. 


Reading paid a new record £2.5m for England U20s international Greg Halford, but the loss did not affect United too much as they continued to take playing against the likes of Leeds, Sunderland and Birmingham in their stride. 


Iwelumo netted an impressive 18 goals but Cureton went even better netting 24 times winning the Championship Golden Boot. Unbelievingly United were just one point off a play-off place with two games to go. 


Defeat at chief rivals Stoke ended their hopes but the 10th placed finish was the highest in the club's history making them 30th in the entire Football League. 


Gates at Layer Road had risen to 5,466, the highest since 1970/1 with most games sold out, and, the first turf was cut at Cuckoo Farm.


Ahead of United's largely unexpected second season in the Championship Cureton, Iwelumo, Wayne Brown and Richard Garcia all left on a rather sour note in the summer. 


Lack of ambition, for that read wages, cited as the reason.


Cureton fetched £850,000 from Norwich prompting boss Williams to smash the clubs own record by paying a reported £300,000 for MK Dons Clive Platt. 


On the same day he spent another six figure sum on Mark Yeates and news broke that England legend Teddy Sheringham would be donning a blue and white shirt. 


Robbie Cowlings move from owner to Chairman prompted an about turn where agents were concerned. He admitted that if Colchester were to compete then they would have to use agents. 


Peter Heard stepped down after 16 tremendous years as Chairman to become Life President. 


Life was tougher and so-called second-season syndrome set in. Layer Road had been a fortress but proved easy pickings in 2007/8. 


Williams failed to find an adequate replacement for Brown and his defence leaked goals all season. 


Platt and Cureton's replacement Kevin Lisbie had no trouble scoring as United maintained their ability in the opponents' box. 


It was pretty clear by Christmas that United would be in a relegation battle particularly after a dismal home defeat to Blackpool.


Cowling made funds available during the January transfer window with Chris Coyne arriving for another record £300,000 with £250,000 spent on both Phil Ifil and Dean Hammond. 


The rot was briefly stopped but a series of injuries and inability to win any of a batch of five home games in seven left United bottom. 


They could have been relegated on April 5th 2008 but a 2-0 win over Ipswich ensured that it wouldn't be U's neighbours applying the final nail. 


The inevitable happened four days later when, without playing, relegation was confirmed. 


Layer Road hosted its last ever League game on April 26th 2008, just over 70 years after its first, when The U's lost 1-0 to a Stoke City side on its way to the Premier League.


The Old Lady had been nursed through many seasons but was long past its use-by date. Chief Executive Marie Partner bid a sad farewell to Layer Road as she ceremonially locked the gates for the last time.


An auction of memorabilia followed with the Clock End timepiece being a much sought after lot. Other items to sell included patches of turf, a tea hut, a complete set of seating and the entire Family Enclosure structure.


Life at the new stadium began with the announcement of a sponsorship deal that would see it being named The Weston Homes Community Stadium. 


The first-ever match was a reduced capacity ramp-up event against Spanish side Athletic Bilbao on August 4th 2008. Scott Vernon had the honour of scoring U's first goal at their new home as 5,610 watched a 2-1 defeat.


Fans favourite Karl Duguid left in the summer to pursue Championship football with Plymouth and Kevin Lisbie joined neighbours Ipswich for a reported £650,000 fee. 


Short on fire power manager Geraint Williams broke U's transfer record yet again bringing in Cheltenham's Steven Gillespie for £400,000.


In order to iron out any teething problems United were granted permission by the Football League to play their first two games away from home and thus the first-ever League fixture came on August 16th against Huddersfield when a 0-0 draw was played out.


Mark Yeates became the first U's scorer in a competitive match at WHCS when he bagged both goals in a 2-2 draw with Oldham on August 30th. 


United couldn't force a win at home and following a 3-0 home defeat to MK Dons that left United in the bottom four with a record of 1 League win from 6, Williams was relieved of his duties.


Assistant manager Kit Symons took charge for four games amid speculation that Phil Parkinson, number two at Charlton, or indeed Teddy Sheringham could be the new man in charge. 


On October 10th 2008 former Wycombe manager Paul Lambert was unveiled as Colchester's new manager. He quickly inspired The U's to record their first home victory in a thumping 5-0 win over Carlisle 15 days later.


On November 18th 2008 the Stadium was rewarded with its first-ever international match when a Henri Lansbury goal gave England Under-19's a 1-0 win over their German counterparts in front of a record crowd of 9,692.


Lambert set to work bringing in several loan players including Marc Tierney, Jimmy Walker and Alan Maybury but a pillar of the club departed in December when Marie Partner left her post as Chief Executive as owner Robbie Cowling shuffled his upstairs pack bringing in Steve Bradshaw. 


Marie had been Mrs Colchester United for over 21 years and a loyal and valued servant.


Back-to-back wins over Yeovil and Northampton were the first of that kind for 19 months and set up a run spanning the New Year of nine games unbeaten. 


Hopes were high, off the field, of the much-needed A12 junction but funding was still not in place because of the economic downturn and the subsequent fall in the housing market that would have contributed to the scheme.


Lambert, very publicly, pursued central defenders Mike Williamson (Wycombe) and Rob Jones (Hibernian) for the January transfer window but failed on both counts, but did sign Marc Tierney and Simon Hackney.


Robbie Cowling bought out all remaining shares in the club via his Aspire Media Group to become sole owner.


A terrific run of 10 wins and four draws from 18 games earned Lambert the January Manager of the Month award as United rose to just 7 points off the Play-Offs. 


Funding was approved for the A12 junction in March and Lambert continued to strengthen his squad with the loan signings of Ashley Vincent, Neal Trotman and Karl Hawley.


Unfortunately the 'first season syndrome' returned to haunt United as they lost 6 of the remaining 9 home games including the last four on the trot. 


A new club record attendance was set in April when 9,559 watched one of those defeats to Leeds, but The U's fell back to finish in 12th position - 13 points off a Play-Off place.


Strangely the U's had enjoyed their best-ever away season with 11 victories but endured their worst-ever home season with 12 defeats. 


Lambert vowed he would have a mass clear out in the summer and called each player in one by one before May was out to tell them their fate. He had identified his targets and Robbie Cowling was willing to try and fund those wishes.


In came David Fox, Ashley Vincent, Alan Maybury, Lee Beevers, Ben Williams and Magnus Okonghuae all on permanent deals with Mark Yeates, leading scorer in that first WHCS season, joining Middlesbrough for a reported £350,000. 


On the down side Lambert's outcasts were cruelly consigned to training with the Youth team and denied squad numbers and a place in the squad photo, whilst the manager poured scorn on being linked to the vacant job at Motherwell.


With Chris Coyne leaving for Australia, Scott Vernon being touted as a transfer makeweight and John White, Jamie Guy, Matt Lockwood, Phil Ifil, Matt Heath and Johnnie Jackson feeling the backlash Lambert turned his attention to Shrewsbury's leading marksman Grant Holt. 


Failing on that deal Lambert tied up a deal to sign Hamilton duo Richard Offiong and Joel Thomas for a combined fee of £225,000. 


Offiong pulled out at the last minute whilst Thomas signed for £125,000. Rumours also suggested that Lambert's ex-Celtic colleague Henrik Larsson could sign in the Swedish off-season.


To add to its growing reputation the WHCS staged it second international on July 16th 2009 when England Ladies hosted Iceland Ladies before 4,170 fans. 


Lambert saved his best transfer news until three days before the season opener at Norwich when he secured U's old boy Kevin Lisbie on a season-long loan after the striker refused to move to within 30 minutes of Ipswich as demanded by Town manager Roy Keane. 


Lisbie responded in magnificent fashion as United walloped their Norfolk neighbours in a truly sensational 7-1 thrashing at Carrow Road.


A week later U's confirmed top spot in League One with a 2-1 win over Yeovil but amazingly Norwich contacted Robbie Cowling after the game wanting to appoint Lambert as their new manager following their sacking of 7-1 fall-guy Bryan Gunn. 


Cowling refused at first, but then relented when it became clear Lambert's mind was made up despite no official approach by Norwich. 


He offered Lambert the chance to talk to Norwich on the proviso that no position could be accepted until compensation was discussed and agreed between the two clubs. 


Compensation was never agreed and so Lambert resigned, on a match day with U's due to host Gillingham, taking assistant Ian Culverhouse and Gary Karsa with him, both of whom resigned the day after Lambert's appointment.


Robbie Cowling and Steve Bradshaw both came out fighting vowing to take Norwich to a Football League tribunal and declaring that the next U's manager would be of Premier League quality and better than Lambert. 


They did not go against their words as former Watford boss Aidy Boothroyd was unveiled on September 3rd 2009.


Boothroyd's U's banished the home hoodoo with 7 wins from 8 League games to the end of the year and he enjoyed 9 games without defeat after his appointment. 


He signed John-Joe O'Toole, Kayodi Odejayi and Danny Batth on loan with the first named pair agreeing to join permanently ahead of the January transfer window.


With the Lambert compensation saga set to run on and on, Robbie Cowling refused Norwich fans additional tickets over and above their normal allocation for the return match in January 2010 saying he would rather have an empty seat than one occupied by extra City fans.


The decade ended with United consolidated in a promising top four position after a 2-1 home win over Southampton in front of 8,514. 


Cowling's determination had inspired the Colchester public and a new ground record was set to be recorded for the visit of Norwich. 


Steve Bradshaw, who had been in the team fighting for the U's new £3.5m training ground at Tiptree which was finally approved at its third appeal hearing, resigned from his position, whilst ex-Newcastle star and Peruvian International Nolberto Solano was training with the U's.


The decade ended with the U's in a strong position in the league - and much to look forward to in the future.

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