CRAIG Fagan still his vivid memories of his first match action for Colchester United, nearly two decades on.

“In my first game for them, I hit the crossbar against Barnsley,” reflects the former U’s forward.

“And in my second game for them, I scored against Plymouth in the League Cup – this is how well I remember it!”

Fagan’s spell with Colchester spanned less than two years but it was nevertheless a fruitful one.


Indeed, it was a stint that ultimately played a pivotal part in him enjoying a successful playing career, one that took him to the very top of the English game.

He was signed by Phil Parkinson as a fresh-faced teenager on loan from then Premier League side Birmingham City in August, 2003.

Fagan arrived at Layer Road on the eve of that season with only a handful of professional appearances under his belt.

But he made a suitable impression in North Essex for Parkinson’s emerging team, leading to his loan deal from Birmingham being extended and eventually being made permanent.

In total, Fagan made 82 league and cup appearances for the U’s, scoring 24 goals before leaving to join Hull City in February, 2005.


“My days at Colchester were massive,” said Fagan.

“Now when I coach, I understand it a little bit more.

“I was at Birmingham in and around the first team and in the squads travelling but not really playing – they were in the Premier League so I kind of knew that I wasn’t going to be involved.

“They’d just signed Christophe Dugarry and Clinton Morrison, so I was never going to play.

“The opportunity came for me to go on loan and I joined Colchester.

“It gave me that bit of hunger – training sessions were about you and games were about you, as in being involved in the starting XI.

“As soon as the month finished, I signed again for three months and then the full year.

“It was vital in terms of going away from Birmingham where I lived, fending for myself, having to understand that you need to stay in and prepare yourself for games, doing your own washing and cooking, all that kind of thing.


“As an 18-year-old, it was vital for me as a learning experience going forward.

“I’ve said it in many interviews before but I can’t thank the club enough.

“There were a few loan players who came in at the time and we had a good squad and the seasons after that, they kicked again even more.”

Fagan relished playing at Layer Road, a place where under Parkinson away teams often feared to tread.

The intimate and partisan nature of the U’s crowd, situated so close to the pitch, made it a particularly hostile place for opposition teams to play.

Fagan said: “Layer Road was a horrible place for teams to come to!

“Teams didn’t like coming to play against us on a Tuesday night, because of the atmosphere.

“There was never a massive amount of fans but it was so tight and it made it feel like it was 10,000 fans.

“I always remember when we played West Brom there in the cup one night.


“I scored and the atmosphere was electric – it was a great night.

“I remember coming back with Hull and as an away player that day, you realise that’s why people didn’t like playing there.

“As a home player, it was a great place for us.”

Colchester fans lapped up Fagan’s drive and determination for the cause, during his time at the club.

He was never a player to give an inch or shirk a challenge, something reflected in the 11 yellow and two red cards he received during his time with the U’s.

“I have a lot of time for the Colchester fans,” said Fagan. “I think they understood that I wanted to win.

“You learn as you get older.


“You make some mistakes as a young lad – I wanted to win too much.

“I got booked too many times and got sent off a couple of times but it was all down to me wanting to improve and get back to where I’d come from.

“It was coming from a good place but I just needed to channel it a little bit better.

“I think the fans appreciate it when you work hard for the club.”

Fagan’s spell with Colchester was a memorable time for the club.

Something special was building under Parkinson and a few months after Fagan had departed for Hull for an undisclosed six-figure fee, the U’s won a historic promotion to the Championship.

Fagan went on to play in the Premier League for Hull and Derby County and also represented the likes of Bradford City and Gillingham, during a successful playing career.

But he still recalls his Colchester days with fondness and is in contact with many of his former U's team-mates.


“We all still speak,” said Fagan, who was reunited with some of his former Colchester colleagues when he played for Karl Duguid’s U’s legends team in the Hope for Grace charity match at Stanway Rovers, last weekend.

“Football is like that – you speak to someone every day and you get a phone call out of the blue and that connection is still there.

“We shared a changing room with each other and there’s always that camaraderie.”

Fagan has been coaching for several years now, working in roles at former clubs Hull City and Southend United.

The 39-year-old departed his role as assistant manager at Roots Hall when Phil Brown was sacked by the club in October, 2021 and has most recently been coaching at National League outfit, Welling United.


In the dugout - Craig Fagan pictured during his days as Southend United assistant manager Picture: Focus Images

He added: “I’m looking to get back in somewhere coaching.

“I’ve gone and done 23s for a certain spell now.

“I did first team with Phil Brown but when he got the sack, as part of that team you then leave with him and I understand that.

“At the end of last season, I went in with Warren Feeney to Welling and we managed to keep them up, so that was good.

“It’s all about learning.

“I don’t know what’s next and I’m open to opportunities.

“The problem is that there’s not that many jobs and there are loads of coaches that are out there.

“It’s just about waiting for that next opportunity but coaching, managing, assistant managing – it’s a path I want to take and one I enjoy.

“I’ve always loved football and I like passing it on to everyone else in terms of developing and getting better and not making mistakes I made and probably playing better than I did!”