NEIL Danns says he will be ‘forever grateful’ to Colchester United for helping him to enjoy a successful career in the game.

The 36-year-old flourished since rising to prominence for the U’s and playing a big part in their historic promotion to the Championship, in 2006.

Danns, who has just won promotion with Bury, now has more than 550 league and cup appearances to his name in a career spanning nearly 20 years and 11 different clubs.

He was signed by the U’s in 2004 after emerging through the youth ranks at Blackburn Rovers.

But it was at Layer Road - under Phil Parkinson - that the midfielder really grabbed the limelight, paving the way for his eventual rise to the Premier League.

Danns told the Gazette: “I’ll be forever grateful to Phil Parkinson and Colchester United.

“It was probably the point in my career where I built the platform to go on and have the career I had.

“It all started at Colchester – that’s where I made my name and I’ll forever be grateful to the club.”

Danns was a key member of the Colchester side that won promotion from League One as runners-up.

He made 51 league and cup appearances in that memorable 2005-06 season, scoring an impressive 16 goals from midfield.

“It was a fantastic season,” said Danns, who left the U’s soon after the promotion to join Championship club Birmingham City.

“We were the underdogs the season before and we just avoided relegation.

“The gaffer put a squad together that was full of real characters.

“We stuck together that season and achieved something that will forever be in my heart and I’m sure it’s the same for the Colchester fans as well.

“We created history when we went into the Championship, against all the odds.

“That’s how good the team spirit was.”

Danns was recently reunited with Parkinson and the Colchester squad of 2005-06 at a charity game, staged at Southend United.

He scored a hat-trick in the Sid Broomfield Trophy match, as the U’s side ran out 6-3 winners at Roots Hall.

Danns said: “It was unbelievable to see everyone – the gaffer, players and everyone involved.

“It was a really sentimental event and I travelled six hours to be there – it was worth every minute of it.

“It was amazing to have the Col U badge on again and score a few goals.

“Kemi Izzet hasn’t changed one bit – he’s still the ruthless guy he was back then!

“But that’s what I love and when we all get together, it’s like we’ve never been away.

“It was a really special squad.”

Danns played against Colchester twice last season for Bury, emerging victorious on both occasions.

“I played at the new ground for the first time this season,” said Danns, who also played for the likes of Crystal Palace, Leicester City and Bolton Wanderers during his career.

“It was weird – we beat them 2-0 a few weeks ago and after the final whistle, I went over to clap the Colchester fans and they all went mad at me!

“But I get it – it’s football and hopefully they know that Colchester will always have a place in my heart.

“Once my career is over, I’ll look back on those days with very fond memories.”

Danns is currently involved in the Gold Cup for Guyana and is hoping to cap a memorable season on a high.

He added: “It’s been a great year for me – winning promotion with Bury and going to the Gold Cup, this summer.

“At 36, it’s stuff that you can never imagine so.

“For me, my years in the game as a player are coming to an end but I just love to play football and I’ll never, ever get bitter about the game.

“It’s given me absolutely wonderful memories and I’m just happy to still be a part of it.”