YOU wait ages for one - and then two come along at once.

Home under-23 Community Stadium games, that is. Our first-team's twin BBC TV showings in consecutive FA Cup rounds are on the backburner, meanwhile, after recent confirmation and schedule quick-change.

Unseasonably mild winter evening weather around these matches, good form as borne out first by a brilliant 2-0 win against Millwall and then creditable 0-0 draw later with Fulham U23s, plus an absence of a full home league fixture in Colchester since October's end, all combined to attract increasing crowds and create a real buzz about what's on offer at Professional Development level.

No losses at either match (albeit across separate competitions) inside eight days, mean I've yet to taste defeat watching this determined alternative-string strut their stuff.

There's also an upcoming 23s 7pm home clash in early December to red-letter ring next: we're facing Stoke City in the Premier League Cup.

These fine results are a credit to academy boss Dave Huzzey and lead coach, Richard Hall, but not only them. Verbal input is heard directly in hushed crowds from families and ensemble others at this entertaining, skilful and highly competitive step.


I say credit with reason: because, including loan agreements, arrangements between Maldon and Tiptree, the excitement of a half-known trialist, striker Colin Oppong twice featuring, for example, and player recovery/fitness demands feeding the main XI, it"s quickly obvious that fielding the same team twice running is nigh-on impossible, even if fancied. Living and breathing in a permanent flux.

There's many dedicated folk at this level, too, like Brian Waller, who appears in these pages.

He does an excellent job covering minute-by-minute reports at matches.

Often, in pre-pandemic times, he would cite stressful travel delays, last-moment fixture postponements, ground moves and otherwise all as reasons why he'd sweat over making good time for the squad's main games, come 3pm Saturday. Some of his legendary home-produced cottage industry programmes are possibly eminently collectable.

He first alerted me to young stopper, Ted Collins' decent displays, in July's pre-season U's 2-1 loss to Wayne Brown's Tiptree side and our gloveman did superbly well again here, against Fulham.


Fellow goalie, Endurance Johnson - yes, his real if heroic-sounding name - also put in a keynote performance facing Millwall, smartly saving a penalty. Both show huge potential.

Brendan Wiredu being sat in the West Stand both times at these matches lends gravity and an important aura to such undercard affairs.

Seeing true grit on the pitch too soon distracts you from any afterthought idea that it's going to be soft, or half-hearted in effort.

Our grounded midfield maestro Brendan is maintaining connections in his free time that run deep within United.

Given I first spotted him on a weeknight attending with friends so soon after his latest birthday, he confers my respect and likely peer role-model status.

His presence and the time taken to personally acknowledge my thumbs up at the gate shows we're a mini-community; invested in winning, for sure, but also about something so much more than just cheerleading single, individual scorelines.

Hayden Mullins, likewise, boarding the U18s bus alongside the squad as they booked a momentous upcoming tie against Arsenal tells us all we desire hearing about top-down, collective commitment at our club.

So, what's the biggest attraction then, bar seeing some possible Next Gen names at this U23s talent showcase?

Easy access to live, hyper-local, all-but-free (for season permit holders, £3 concessions, or £5) football, meeting mates without a ridiculous queue at the stadium's open bar and knowing the bout will provide some quality sport. We routinely face Championship-standings standard opposition.

Our side's heartbeat regardless of line-up personnel strives for an entertaining rhythm: pacey play all forms part of the allure behind being partisan, supporting a dog in the fight.

The Lamex Stadium, Colchester United's last away league venue, currently plays host to Tottenham's under-23 games.

A calendar quirk last month saw Manchester United play them at Stevenage on a Saturday lunchtime, before both clubs’ senior sides meet in the Premier League later that same day. You can surprisingly also bet on these outcomes too, if inclined.

The ball moving as in real time on my phone screen via an app, not only made me tempted to stick a small wager on, obviously hoping for next-goal-wins-means-victory type stuff, but also equally left us all agog at what's considered bet-worthy nowadays.

Young U's looked likeliest to snatch a result after soaking up some first-period Fulham pressure. Got to nick this, an inner voice said. Alas, no breakthrough came in a hard-fought tie.

Playing our innate 4-2-3-1 formation, while also encouraging wide work and good interplay between a confident Chay Cooper and his attacking cohort, including a lively Tom Stagg, brought more joy with each attack.

We're faring well under the lights though, as U23s, so, yes, I'll certainly be back.