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In the days where every act or sin committed by somebody in the public spotlight is highlighted in a matter of minutes, not many pieces of news genuinely shock me. Therefore when I heard the news that Gary Speed, the Welsh national football manager, had tragically died in an apparent suicide, I thought it was some sort of sick joke.

The former Welsh Captain and ex-Leeds, Everton and Newcastle midfielder was found dead at home by his wife, Louise, the mother of his two boys, early on Sunday 27th November. Remarkably, I had seen Speed the previous day on the BBC 1’S Football Focus magazine show. He was live in the studio and appeared cheery, relaxed and completely at ease with himself. This along with the recent upturn in the Welsh National team’s form in the previous few months makes his passing all the more sad and shocking.

For me, as a fanatical Newcastle United loving child, Gary Speed was one of my heroes. I used to have a poster of him up on my wall and I always made sure I wore the no.11 shirt when I played football for my school. He was a heroic figure for many, as I’m sure you’ve come to realise in the days since his passing. Countless tributes and kind words from Speed’s illustrious colleagues in the game have been attributed to the former Welsh Captain; ‘role model’, ‘model professional’ ‘good guy’ and ‘gentleman’ to name but a few, all of which go to show just how highly he was regarded as a player and more importantly as a man.

My memories of Gary Speed are of a man who commanded respect on the pitch without ever asking for it. A goal scoring, cultured midfielder who was quiet and unassuming yet oozed self-confidence and authority that made him that man in the team who you could trust with your life. These qualities seemed to be engrained in him as he made the step into management, firstly with a largely unsuccessful spell at Sheffield United but then more recently he seemed to making big strides with his national team, a recent 4-1 thrashing of Norway being the highlight.

Why then would a family man with his experiences, resumė and talent want to end it all?  That has been the question on all of our lips. As of today, the whole story surrounding his death is still vague and still just as shocking. Speculation and rumour will be rife until the real story comes to light. Indeed we may never know what drove Speed to his untimely passing but it again poses stark emphasis on the volatility of the human mind, in particular the minds of those in the sporting arena. The death of Robert Enke in 2009, the German no.1 Goalkeeper at the time, was a tragic loss. Then Dale Roberts, the Accrington Stanley ‘Keeper committed suicide last year. In both cases, the players had suffered personal loss or heartbreak. Whether Speed suffered similar misfortune is unknown, regardless, it raises questions surrounding depression and mental health in the sometimes lonely and ruthless world of professional sport.

 

Speculation aside, Speed leaves behind a loving family, adoring fans and a legacy which singled him out as the perfect role model for any up and coming footballer. He was a real football man and I’m sure all football fans are nothing but proud to call him ‘one of their own’ regardless of the colours he wore.

May he rest in peace.

Words by Thomas Rutherford

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In this week’s State of Affairs explains why you should be a Colchester United fan. This article also features in the current issue of the Rabbit. 

Colchester United are a professional football team, competing in League 1, who play their home games at Weston Homes Community Stadium in Colchester. So, just a standard lower league team then, you might think. Well, this year, for the first time, The Rabbit have gained access to press conferences and home games at Colchester United.

This allows us to comprehensively cover the U’s and bring you all the news and updates from the team. So, the question here is why should you care? Firstly, unlike the Goliaths of the premiership, lower league football brings out the passion of the game that simply can’t be bought, no matter how many millions you throw at it.

Colchester United has been an established club within the football league for over 5 decades, and over that time have developed passionate rivalries that always deliver entertaining football. Even in non-rivalry games the atmosphere is great, as any Col U fan will tell you!

The U’s are a competitive and exciting team to follow, with players such as last year’s leading scorer Ian Henderson, young star midfielder Anthony Wordsworth and defensive stalwart Magnus Okuonghae providing the thrills for U’s fans. Most importantly, it’s not hard to follow! With the comprehensive coverage the Rabbit will provide through the newspaper and online, as well as the student discount on already very reasonably priced game ticket prices, why not give the U’s a shot? 

Colchester United are not Manchester United. They aren’t Arsenal either, nor Chelsea, nor Tottenham or even Blackburn. No, what they are is your local team now you are here at the University of Essex, and they are a team that you can, and should, be proud of.




In this week’s State of Affairs, I examine The U’s chances this weekend against MK Dons.

Since the end of October, Colchester United have been in good form, with convincing wins against Notts County and Crewe Alexandria, both of which saw the U’s net 4 goals, and a solid draw away at good competition in Tranmere. John Ward’s side have played in a creative and confident fashion the likes of which were lacking during the first 3 months of the league year, and fans will hope that form should continue in the coming weeks.

As reported by the club’s website today, in light of the tough upcoming schedule facing the team, Ward believes these upcoming fixtures will say a lot about the squad. Given the positive performances John’s men have delivered recently, there’s no reason to think why the good form shouldn’t continue, but they will have a job on their hands with MK Dons this Saturday.

Last time the teams met in March, MK Dons prevailed 3-1 thanks to an impressive hat-trick from Sam Baldock. Whilst Baldock has moved onto West Ham since, the Dons are still dangerous opposition. They sit 4th in the table and are coming off a streak of some good form of their own, including an emphatic 6-0 victory in the FA cup last weekend (over the mighty Nantwich Town no less!)

Karl Robinson’s side look like one of the premier teams in League 1, and a little help from a footballing legend probably helps to give them an edge as well. Whilst I’m not entirely convinced by the whole ‘they beat us last time so we want to show them we can beat them’ theory, the U’s will be wanting to show they can make a real run at the playoffs this year by performing at the Weston Homes Community Stadium on Saturday.

If the team want to impress and show that they can compete with the big boys, they need to start getting points from big games – particularly at home as they are this weekend. With the foundations of a strong team in players such as Magnus Okhuonghae and Anthony Wordsworth playing so well of late, Ward’s side have the ability to contend with the likes of MK Dons if only they can bring it to the pitch on the day.

I agree with John Ward. The U’s didn’t get a single point from high-flyers Charlton, Huddersfield, Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United in their fixtures so far this season. Whether Colchester come out of this game with 23,24 or 26 points will tell us a lot.

Follow @_adambond on twitter for updates on Colchester United

Per the official Colchester United website, it was announced this morning that the U’s have signed Swansea City striker Casey Thomas on a 2 month loan deal. The 20 year old has played little football in his time at Swansea, making only 2 senior squad appearances for the Swans, and so he is keen to get some experience.

“It’s important I try and get some Football League games under my belt at my age. I’ve had spells on loan at Newport and Port Talbot, so this is the next step for me.”

Originally brought to Swansea as a winger, Thomas could provide the depth that Colchester desperately need in both central and wide attacking positions (a subject I discussed yesterday). However, with his only experience coming in limited playing time with Swansea, with Welsh sides Newport and Port Talbot and a handful of international appearances with Welsh youth teams, it remains to be seen how effective a player he can be at this level.

John Ward will certainly hope he can make a contribution however with Steven Gillespie out for an indefinite period, as well as Michail Antonio’s last game of his impressive loan spell being tomorrow’s encounter at Tranmere. Nonetheless, if Thomas is to make an impact he most certainly is going to have to impress quickly given his short spell at Weston Homes Community Stadium.

Follow @_adambond on twitter for all your Colchester United updates 

In a weekly column that will usually be published on Thursdays, The State of Affairs will examine current debates, issues and news regarding Colchester United. This week, I discuss formations.

Despite limited use thus far this season, it seems that Colchester United seem a more comfortable and creative side when playing a 4-4-2 formation, as demonstrated last weekend in the 4-2 victory over Notts County.  Of course there are many factors that go into the performance of a team aside from tactics, but from viewing the team’s play it is hard to deny that the team look a more fluid and dangerous side going forward. However, there is good reason why this formation has been utilised little, and good reason why that looks to be the case going forward.

John Ward’s more familiar formation this season has featured 3 central midfielders, 2 wide attackers and 1 central striker – a 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 formation.  With talented wingers, a deep core of central midfielders and a lack of depth up front, this formation suits well the squad that Ward has had at his disposal. The problem here however has been a lack of attacking prowess. On the other hand, playing the 4-4-2 brings a problem in that it highlights the holes, and fails to shows the strengths, of the squad on the whole.

With the group of talented midfielders at his disposal, the 4-4-2 presents a tricky task for Ward in deciding who’s names make the team sheet. Last weekend it was Anthony Wordsworth and Andy Bond who got the start in the centre of midfield. Captain Kem Izzet sat on the bench alongside Lloyd James, and not in the squad was John Joe O’Toole. Arguably, all 5 of these players could be starting in the league. Whilst this is a good problem to have, particularly when injuries predictably take their toll, what Ward will want to avoid is a drop in morale for these players if their playing time should drop.

It lies in stark contrast the situation up front however, with viably only 3 true strikers on the first team in Kayode Odejayi, Steven Gillespie and youngster Craig Arnott, the latter of which is yet to make an appearance for the club. Whilst reports earlier this week give hope to help from the transfer market in that respect, Steven Gillespie’s injury last weekend has only served to highlight further that depth at the position is still thin. Wide players such as last season’s top scorer Ian Henderson can fill the role when required, but given that Michail Antonio’s loan ends soon, he will most likely continue to be utilised on the wing.

What remains to be seen then is what Ward can do come January to help improve the depth up front, including perhaps bringing someone like Antonio back to the club (something he discussed in a press conference this morning), but in the mean time it looks as if his tactical options are limited.

Follow @_adambond on twitter for all your Colchester United updates 

Saturday saw the U’s triumph 4-2 over a tough opponent in Notts County, a game in which John Ward’s side looked confident and possessed the hunger for goals that has been lacking of late.

In a move away from the 4-5-1 formation that has been favoured recently, Steve Gillespie started his first game of the year partnering Kayode Odejayi up front in the 4-4-2 formation the team ended Tuesday’s 1-1 draw against Bournemouth playing. Notably, the odd man out in the centre of midfield was captain Kem Izzet, with Andy Bond and Anthony Wordsworth getting the nod to start.

Michail Antonio gave the home fans hope early on, as a patch of strong attacking play resulted with his shot being narrowly parried over the crossbar on its way to the top left corner of Stuart Nelson’s goal. After starting strong, Gillespie’s game came to an abrupt end when he left the game after 23 minutes due to a hamstring injury. His exit was one of the few points of note during a first half that finished goalless.

It didn’t take long after the break for the deadlock to be broken, as Anthony Wordsworth’s free-kick from just outside the box took a deflection before heading in the left hand side of the goal. Notts County weren’t behind for long however, with Sam Sodje nodding home the equaliser from Jude Sterling’s long throw in the 57th minute.

From this point onwards Colchester began to dominate the game, leading to Antonio’s goal in the 65th minute and a top effort from outside the box that whistled into the top right corner by Ian Henderson just after the 70 minute mark. Kayode Odejayi finished the goal-fest a few minutes later by picking up Henderson’s defence splitting pass and taking to around the keeper to put home the U’s 3rd goal in 10 minutes.

During injury time Notts County got themselves a late consolation prize in the form of Ian Hughes’ shot deflecting off of Matt Heath’s right boot into the back of the net, however it was too late for the visitors to salvage anything from the game.

Post-game, John Ward spoke of the way the team responded to changes he made leading up to the game.

“I’m delighted with the way that my team has responded to the whole game. We changed the format slightly, and then we’ve had to change it again with Steven Gillespie coming off.”

Colchester United now sit 12th in the League 1 table with 22 points from 16 games.

Follow @_adambond on twitter for all your Colchester United updates 

With the English summer having passed us by (predictably lacking in sunshine!) now is the time to sit back and reflect on sporting successes, and what a successful summer it has been for the England cricket team. Since Andy Flower took over the reins following the Peter Moores – Kevin Pietersen debacle in 2009 the ultimate aim has been to build a team to achieve the number one Test match ranking in the ICC World rankings, the question is; now that this current group of players have achieved that goal, what next?

It is a question that is asked of many top athletes: How can Usain Bolt improve from his performance in Beijing? Can Novak Djokovic improve on his incredible record from this year (he has won 64/67 matches so far)? Of course, there is rather more limited scope for improvement in an individual sport such as Tennis, but cricket is essentially a team game made up of many individual performances which means that the notion remains the same. The team (as individuals) will work on every aspect of their game that they can in order to discover that extra 1% that will give them an edge over their opponents. It may sound very clichéd but it does perfectly epitomise the mentality of Andy Flower and his charges.

The nature of sport is that it is an evolutionary entity raising standards and expanding boundaries, rarely does any sport stagnate over a significant period of time, change is inevitable due to the cyclical nature of the majority of mainstream sports (most have a defined ‘season’) and it just so happens that at the moment the England cricket team – and surrounding staff – are at the peak of their powers, a result of 2½ years hard-work and dedication towards a set goal.

Since Andy Flower took over as head coach in the Spring of 2009 his regime has been one built around professionalism and the attention to detail previously not synonymous within the England cricketing setup, always previously seen as a laughing stock amongst cricket’s elite. Always the younger brother looking up to his superior (in the shape of Australia) in terms of preparation, player quality and of course performance, how the tables have been turned. England’s infamous Schofield review after the ill-fated tour down under in 2007 (in which England were whitewashed 5-0) has been recently mirrored by the ACB (Australian Cricket Board) following their humiliating home & away defeats to England in successive Ashes series; whoever thought that the Australians would resort to such stereotypically English panic-stricken measures? Is it cruel to smile at the thought of struggling Australians?

So to my original question; what next? Well, England are current world T20 and Test ‘champions’ so the logical step would be to aim for the ultimate triumvirate of being at the top in all forms of the game and thus win the 50-over World Cup, right? Well, actually probably not, as fantastic as it would be to win the World Cup it is uninterrupted dominance of the Test arena that truly drives this English setup (and one could argue supporters as well). To follow on from the great West Indian teams of the 80’s, the all conquering Australian teams of the 90’s/2000’s wouldn’t have been in these players wildest dreams four years ago, but now it is a real possibility, it is just for them to take that last push and grasp it. Now to the small task of two winter tours in the sub-continent, one which England must be successful in to cement their place atop the world rankings.