WHEN Garry Richards made his professional debut for Colchester United, the club were on the cusp of something special.

Having emerged through the Layer Road youth ranks, it was without doubt a proud moment for the home-grown defender when Phil Parkinson handed him a surprise first-ever senior start for the U’s in a live televised League One game at Bristol City in September 2005, following an injury to Sam Stockley in the warm-up.

Playing alongside the likes of Pat Baldwin, Liam Chilvers and George Elokobi, centre-back Richards went on to make a further 18 appearances for Colchester that season, their historic promotion-winning campaign.

“They are great memories…I’ve still got all the scrapbooks,” said Richards.

“It was a lucky time for me in that Colchester was all I knew, at that stage in my career.

“I was fortunate to come through with such a good group of lads and the camaraderie in the dressing room was amazing.

“Great friendships were made there and the bonds we made.

“They were great management staff and everyone associated with the club too, so it kind of sets up a high expectation for how a football club should be really, at such an early stage in my career.

“Looking back now, I really cherish those years that we had.

“They are memories that will always stay with us.”


When Richards played for Colchester, he more often than not lined up alongside Wayne Brown, who last month was installed as the club’s permanent head coach.

The 35-year-old says he is not at all surprised that his former team-mate and defensive colleague has gone into management.

Richards said: “I keep in touch with Browny and it’s great to see him, Johnnie Jackson and some of the other boys make their way into the dugout.

“It’s great to see Browny use that experience that he used at the time on the pitch to guide me as a youngster to hopefully now guide Col U back up a few tiers.

“It’s quite a cliché thing to say sometimes but I did feel that he was the sort of character to go into management.

“You don’t always think that at the time but looking back now with a bit more experience, someone like Browny had great leadership qualities on and off the pitch.


“He would help mentor the younger boys and always have time for them.

“He played a big role off the pitch, especially in those years when we went from League One into the Championship and then were able to hold our own, at such a great standard.

“Looking back now, he had all of the attributes you would say that a manager would need.”

Richards was reunited with some of his former Colchester team-mates last month when he played in John White’s testimonial match, at Roots Hall.

The former Gillingham defender said he was only happy to play his part in his ex-colleague’s special day.

“We came through the ranks and in the youth team to making our debuts in the same season,” said Richards, who made a total of 24 league and cup appearances for the U’s before leaving to join Southend, in 2007.

“We were part of that era at Colchester and they were good times, going from League One into the Championship.

“It’s been amazing to watch him have such a great career.

“It was great to see such a strong turnout for him.

“I’ve been away from the lads for a period of time now so it isn’t too often where you get days like that when everyone’s together.”


Richards’ spell at Southend was short after he joined them from Colchester.

He spent just six months there before joining Gillingham.

Richards was at Gillingham for nearly five years, making more than 100 appearances and helping them win promotion with victory in the 2009 League Two Play-Off Final.

But a fractured fibula suffered during Gillingham’s victory over Barnet in March 2012 sadly proved to be the final competitive game of Richards’ professional career.

The former Brentford loanee moved to Luton Town on a two-year contract that summer.

But he did not make an appearance for the Hatters and was forced to retire in October 2013, due to the complications related to him breaking his leg.

Richards said: “I’ve been away from the game now for a decade.

“I got involved with a health and nutrition company called Herbalife pretty much off the back of my career in that final season when I picked up my injury.

“That’s what I’ve been doing for the last ten years and I love it.”


Richards still looks back on his time at Layer Road with fondness – and says he will be following Colchester’s fortunes with great interest as his old club bid for better times under new boss Brown.

Richards added: “I still look out for all of my old teams’ results.

“It’s tough to see some of your old clubs have a wobble along the way but at the same time, that’s football.

“But I do follow Colchester’s results and I’m more keen to follow their results over the next couple of seasons, because I think good times are ahead.”