HIS formative years at Colchester United paved the way for a long and productive career in football.

But former U’s winger Ian Allinson has revealed his memorable time at Layer Road was almost over before it began.

Allinson, who was recently inducted into the U’s Hall of Fame along with fellow legend Steve Foley, started his career as an apprentice at Colchester back in 1974.

He made more than 300 league appearances for them before leaving to join Arsenal, in 1983.

The 61-year-old, who later returned to Colchester for a second spell, says his grounding at the U’s was pivotal – but the Hitchin-born former U's attacker says it nearly did not happen because of home sickness.

Allinson said: “I had some really special years at Colchester United.

“At 16 years of age, I was taken away from home, put into a hotel room and practically told to get on with it!

“The first few weeks were quite difficult – there was a bit of home sickness.

“Jim Smith was brilliant at the time.

“He let me go home for a couple of days and within 48 hours of coming home, I realised I missed it and went straight back.

“For me, I never looked back from then.

“I made my debut when I was 17 against Preston North End and got the young Player of the Year and was a regular in the first team from the year after, at just over 18 years of age.

“I had nine or ten really good years here in my first spell and then went away and came back for another 18 months after that.

“I really enjoyed it – it was a great club to be at and it’s great to see where they are now.

“I was 16 when I came to Colchester and I’ve never really been out of football, either playing or managing.

“I’m 61 now and it’s given me a really good life, really good family life, it’s given me two fantastic children, grandchildren and it all started here at 16 years of age.”

Allinson was at the JobServe Community Stadium for the Former Players Association dinner, where he was officially inducted into the U’s Hall of Fame.

He enjoyed two productive spells with Colchester, with one of the highlights scoring the all-important winning goal in their final game of the 1976–77 season against Bradford City to help secure them division four promotion.

Allinson is suitably impressed by the facilities his old club now boast – but admits for him, nothing will surpass the memory of Layer Road.

“It’s only the second time I’ve been to the stadium and you don’t realise until you come off the roundabout how big and bright this place is,” added Allinson, who is now manager of National League South club St Albans City.

“It’s a fantastic place and it’s a proper football stadium.

“No-one will ever take away my memories of Layer Road, though – that was a bit special with the large baths, wooden benches and the heaters where many times you’d sit on there with no clothes on and then burn yourself!

“We had a fantastic time there.”