Today is the 20th anniversary of Colchester United’s memorable Division Three play-off final victory over Torquay United, at Wembley.

David Gregory’s 22nd-minute penalty gave Steve Wignall’s side a 1-0 triumph over the Gulls in front of a Friday-night crowd of 19,486 on May 22, 1998, to secure the U’s promotion to the third tier.

The spot-kick was awarded for handball against Torquay defender Jon Gittens, after Steve Forbes had tried to lift the ball over the former Portsmouth defender in the area.

And it was enough for Colchester to celebrate their first promotion from division three in 22 years.

The U’s had finished fourth in the division three table that season just a point off the automatic promotion places, having risen from mid-table with ten wins from their final 15 games.

A semi-final victory over Barnet over two legs booked the U’s a trip to Wembley.

And although he did not feature in the play-off final, attacker Paul Abrahams played his part in Colchester’s promotion that season and says it was an unforgettable experience.

He said: “It’s difficult to explain the feeling of winning promotion in that way.

“It’s one of elation – it’s a long season and we had been so close to winning automatic promotion.

“We went to Cardiff and Hull and won away to pick up big wins.

“I remember Joe Dunne scoring in that Hull win and you need everyone pulling those magic moments out of the bag.

“But we just missed out and we had to get over that disappointment very quickly for the play-offs and the adrenalin gets you to Wembley and the play-off final.

“David Gregory showed so much calmness to slot that penalty away from 12 yards.

“I had split feelings. I was very disappointed not to start the game but it was over 46 games and I played my part in getting us out of that league.

“We’d also been at Wembley the year before in the Autoglass Windscreen Shield Final when I had started and also in the FA Trophy, in 1992.

“I had three trips to Wembley in my time at Colchester, which was wonderful.

“Wembley isn’t a great place to lose a game of football.

“But if you had to lose one game there, it would be the Auto Windscreen Shield rather than the play-off final.”

Along with Abrahams, the Colchester promotion-winning squad that year featured the likes of skipper Richard Wilkins, Aaron Skelton and joint leading-scorers Mark Sale and Neil Gregory, while goalkeeper Carl Emberson was an ever present.

“I can’t believe so much time has gone since then,” added Abrahams, who made 25 league appearances for Colchester in their promotion-winning 1997-98 season.

“They were great moments in my lifetime and I’m still good friends with a lot of that squad.

“We didn’t have many superstars but we worked hard for one another and it was more about the whole team, rather than individuals.

“Layer Road was a very good place to be.

“Like other players in that squad, I was a local lad and it was a fantastic period of time for me.

“We had the likes of Peter Cawley and Karl Duguid and the mentality of the squad was full of winners.

“It was a good time for Colchester and I hope those days aren’t too far away again.”