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The Colchester Town Era

11 August 2013

Football in the town before the U's.

 Colchester Town Football Club was founded in October 1873 and although not part of any League or Association found itself playing against the likes of Braintree, Brentwood, Coggeshall, Ipswich and Maldon between the months of November and March.

Town adopted colours of blue shirts and stockings along with white knickerbockers and played its home games at Cambridge Road. 

Nicknamed 'The Oysters', the club was a founder member of the Essex County FA in September 1882 and a season later won the inaugural Essex Senior Cup defeating Braintree by 3-1. 

The team contained some well-known old Colchester names in Daniell, Griffin, Cant and Orpen. 

The former from the famous Colchester brewery, Griffin whose furniture business would later team up with Williams and the latter pair as world class rose growers.

By 1885 a club rule change meant that it was permissible to play in shirts rather than knitted jerseys and Town changed its colours in rather dramatic fashion. Out went the blue tops and in came chocolate and pink quarters.

Town was not the only club in the Borough. The Excelsior club were very strong and were on a par with The Oysters. 

So much so that in September 1890 at The George Hotel it was agreed that the two clubs would merge to play stronger teams whilst keeping their own identity for local fixtures. 

Most of the Town players were scholars being drawn from the Grammar schools of Colchester, Dedham, Ipswich, Framlingham and Felsted but, with the advent of the English League, in 1888 football was thrown to the masses. 

Colchester's Recreation Ground and Abbey Fields were awash with games of football and club membership was thrown open to everyone from 'artisans to mechanics'. 

There was always of course a strong military presence with each passing regiment boasting its own football team. 

Town reached the coveted Essex Senior Cup Final on two further occasions, losing to Ilford in 1892 and Leyton in 1900. 

As the new century began, the club changed its colours again - adopting red jerseys and white knickerbockers and entered the FA Amateur Cup, losing narrowly to Old Malvernians after a draw at Cambridge Road. 

A new force was growing in the town in the shape of Colchester Crown and they defeated The Oysters by 4-2 in the 1902 Pearson's Cup Final played on 'The Rec'. 

With the Cambridge Road ground required for building work and the emergence of the Crown, it was feared that Town would fold but funds were found to prepare a new pitch for 1902/3 at Reed Hall. 

Town suffered a nomadic existence over the next few years playing at The Drury Field and then at Albert Road. Attendances were meagre at the cramped Albert Road and the Committee men would often put their own cash in the entrance 'box' to increase the gate. 

Players changed and showered in The Globe Hotel and training consisted of a run or walk through Berechurch and home via Layer-de-la-Haye with a stop off at The Donkey and Buskins for hot cocoa or coffee with cheese and pickled onions. 

In 1908, the club vacated Albert Road for Sheepen Road for a pitch which became known as The Oval. The pitch was a quagmire having previously been the Borough's refuse dump. 

Players often took it upon their selves to jump in the nearby river after proceedings to wash off the 'municipal dust'. 

The Oval was often under water and Town would be forced to hire a pitch at Land Lane. 

The 4th Battalion Kings Rifle Regiment were the incumbent regiment in the town's Sobrahan Barracks from 1906 and in order to progress into the South Essex League had prepared a pitch on Layer Road next to Mr William Paxman's residence of The Cannons. 

The first ever match staged at Layer Road was on September 30th 1907, when the KRR entertained South Weald, the Essex Senior Cup holders. The military team easily won 10-2 against a weakened team.

Matters came to a head in early 1909. Town's attractive fixture with Norwich City Reserves in the East Anglian League was switched to Land Lane, but attracted takings of only four pounds. 

Meanwhile the KRR's played in front of a record 4,000 Layer Road crowd, made up mainly of servicemen, as they entertained Ilford in the FA Amateur Cup. 

Town were fortunate that the KRR's were posted to India and on April 19th 1909, the Committee seized the chance to secure a three-year lease on Layer Road from its owner Arthur Cant. 

Layer Road had no stands and was a bleak spot on a cold and rainy day. 

It was Alfred Crowther, using his own funds and his ability to extract generosity from others, who set about the building the first long covered stand on the enclosure side of the ground. 

The foresight of Crowther helped increase attendances and with the better facilities, even the fairer sex began to show up in numbers. 

Town entertained a strong Arsenal side in April 1910, losing 3-2. For 1910/1 Town joined the South Essex League and, although finishing bottom, were re-elected unanimously. 

Many famous names visited Layer Road in exhibition matches with Sheffield United, Derby, Millwall and Norwich to name a few. 

When Town entertained Luton in the autumn of 1911 the Committee invited all of the senior military XIs to witness the game free of charge and issued what is believed to be the earliest known programme issue. 

However, Town continued to struggle in the nether reaches of the South Essex League until in 1912/3 they won the title. The trophy was secured with three wins over the Easter weekend when Town won at Custom House, Southend Amateurs (at The Kursaal) and Grays Athletic. 

It was a fine season as the club also won the Essex and Suffolk Border League, the East Anglian League and the Worthington Evans Cup. 

Yet again, we see famous Colchester surnames associated with the club such as Benham (the printers) and the club's President Alderman Alec Blaxhill (school).

To kick off the 1914/5 season a friendly match was arranged with Sparta of Rotterdam but with the clouds of War looming in August any chance of the game going ahead was curtailed. 

Indeed on August 31st 1914, the Committee met and closed down the football club. Layer Road enclosure was earmarked for drill purposes or recreational activities by HM Forces. 

The Athletes Volunteer Corps (later the 6th V.B. Essex Regiment) occupied the ground whilst the Stand (for lectures) and the dressing rooms and refreshment buffet (for demonstrations) were loaned to the Area Anti-Gas Authority. 

Seven club members are listed as making the ultimate sacrifice during The Great War and their names were inscribed on a tablet in the Layer Road dressing room.

Following the announcement of Armistice the committee reformed and the club purchased the Layer Road enclosure. 

Town entered the 1919/20 English Cup (FA Cup) and were narrowly defeated in the Fourth Qualifying Round replay by Ilford at Layer Road in front of their own record crowd. 

Many of the clubs in the South Essex League gradually migrated to the London League leaving Town with few fixtures apart from friendly games. 

In 1922/3 they joined the Middlesex and District League winning the title at the first attempt. 

Three years later Town found themselves in the Spartan League playing the likes of Aylesbury, Chesham, Slough and Walthamstow Avenue. 

Their best season was in finishing fourth in 1928/9, but more often they were placed around 10th in the thirteen-team League. 

The East Anglian Cup was secured in 1931/2 but, with limited success, Town joined the Eastern Counties League in 1935/6 along with Braintree & Crittalls, as many Spartan League sides refused to travel to North Essex in the harsh winter months. 

Notwithstanding the long journeys, changing facilities were in a converted railway carriage with the present day changing rooms under the Main Stand not being provided until the late 1920s. 

Town finished joint top with Harwich & Parkeston in that inaugural Eastern Counties League season. Although Town were joint-reigning champions, attendances were poor and moves were afoot to form a new professional club in Colchester. 

March 2nd 1936 marked the death knell for Town and the birth of a team that would become Colchester United - The U's. 

The Committee had been hoped to run the Amateurs alongside the Professionals, but Essex County rules stated that a single group could not run the affairs of clubs of differing status. 

The way was clear for professional football to be established in the town. The Layer Road plot at this stage was valued at £700 and the stand at £1,542.

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