IT is more than 11 years since Colchester United's Community Stadium opened its doors for the first time.

Gazette sports writer Jon Waldron looks back on the U's first-ever match at the venue back in August, 2008.

A FANTASTIC night for the U's.

That was how the Gazette's back-page headline read, following Colchester United's first-ever match at their sparkling new Community Stadium.

After years of speculation, talks and planning, the U's finally opened the doors of their new ground for a match on Monday, August 4, 2008.

La Liga side Athletic Bilbao provided the opposition for Geraint Williams' side in a pre-season friendly, ahead of the new League One programme.

Having waved an emotional farewell to the club's beloved Layer Road ground a few months earlier, U's fans were eager to get their first glimpse of the brand-new 10,000-capacity home.

So much so that the kick-off time was delayed by 15 minutes in order to allow spectators into the new ground, in time for the kick-off.

Initially, only about 5,000 U's ticket holders were to be allowed through the gates of the stadium.

But following a successful internal test at the ground a few days earlier, the safety advisory group monitoring the stadium allowed the U's to raise the capacity by a further 1,000, which went on sale at the door on the afternoon of the match.

As a result, a crowd of around 6,000 was present when captain Chris Coyne led Colchester out for the first time in the new stadium.

The Colchester side that night was: Gerken (sub Cousins, 46), Ifil, Coyne (sub Reid, 46), Heath (sub J Hammond, 78), Lockwood (sub White, 46), Yeates (sub Elito, 46), Izzet (sub D Hammond, 62), Jackson (sub Wordsworth, 46), Perkins, Vernon (sub Platt, 62), Gillespie (sub Wasiu, 62). Substitute (not used): Quintyn.

Bilbao's David Lopez was the player awarded the honour of kicking the first ball at the new stadium.

And the Spaniards took a 16th-minute lead through Aritz Aduriz with a team goal that I described in my Gazette match report as 'fit to grace any stadium'.

Colchester equalised in the 33rd minute through Scott Vernon, who scored from the spot after Mark Yeates' goalbound shot had been handled in the area by Ustaritz Aldekoaotalora.

Bilbao were reduced to ten men on the hour when Ander Murillo was sent off, following an altercation with Kem Izzet.

But the visitors won it with six minutes remaining through Lopez, who scored from the spot after youngster James Hammond had been adjudged to have committed a foul in the area.

The match was a fractious affair at times, particularly for what was supposed to be a pre-season friendly; the headline accompanying my Gazette match report was 'Bitter taste to 'friendly' match'.

I wrote: 'While Athletic Bilbao were probably worth their narrow victory, it was the La Liga side's somewhat over-zealous approach which left something of a bitter taste in the mouth.

'The Spaniards finished the game with only ten men and there was little 'friendly' about the often bad-tempered pre-season affair.'

When I spoke to the Colchester boss Geraint Williams after the match, he focused less on the fractious element of the match and more on his own side's preparations for the new season, which was a few days away.

"It was a good workout," he said.

"It came a bit soon after the Norwich game for us and Athletic Bilbao were good opposition.

"They used the ball well and their movement was superb.

"I was a bit disappointed with the way we used the ball but we won't come up against the likes of Bilbao every week.

"It was a case of getting used to the new surroundings and we had to make sure as many of our players get used to playing at the stadium as possible."

In general, it was a successful first taste of the new stadium and aside from one or two teething problems and the outcome on the pitch, it was a successful operation for the U's.

"I think the night went fantastically well for us," chairman Robbie Cowling told the Gazette afterwards.

"The stadium seemed to have a good atmosphere and I'm sure it will get better and better.

"I hope we can have many more here for the Huddersfield Town game, in a couple of weeks time.

"We were pleased with the amount of people who came but we would have expected this amount of interest for the first game at the new stadium, especially with the calibre of the opposition."

Vernon's penalty meant that he was the first Colchester player to ever score a goal at the Community Stadium.

The striker revealed to me afterwards that the significance of the moment did not really sink in until after the final whistle had blown.

"You didn't think about it at the time but it was a privilege and an honour to be the first Colchester player to score in a match there," said Vernon.

"It's only afterwards when you get back into the dressing room and the lads start talking about it that it starts sinking in."

Colchester were back in action at their new home 12 days later, when they played out a goal-less draw with Huddersfield Town in the first-ever competitive match to be played at the stadium in front of a crowd of 5,340.