January 24th 1959. Were you around in Colchester – that murky, muddy day?

Harold McMillan was Prime Minister, John F. Kennedy was President of America and the Dalai Lama still ruled over Tibet.

Britain’s first bit of motorway, the Preston Bypass, had just opened.

Men faced winter in gabardine raincoats. Women wore hats and skirts.

Skiffle was the music thing. Cliff Richard had just had his first hit; John Lennon had just left school; Prince Charles was ten.

Colchester was still an old market town.

Most residents had been born in the area.

High Street had two-way traffic, steam trains ran to London, the A12 went through every town and hamlet on its way to London.

There was no Colchester Zoo; no University of Essex; no dual carriageway.

A house in New Town cost £750. The 32(large)-page Essex County Standard cost 4d.

Town goes ‘CUP MAD’

But the town was national news.

Television cameras arrived.

Led by their street-wise manager Benny Fenton, Colchester United were enjoying one of their famous FA Cup runs at Layer Road.

After beating Bath Town, drawing with Yeovil at home and beating them 7-1 on the their famous sloping pitch (Colchester’s largest ever away win), they saw off Chesterfield to earn a home tie against Arsenal, perhaps the most famous team in the competition.

The newspaper headline read ‘CUP MAD’.

There was a rush to buy tickets.

Queues stretched down Layer Road.

National papers sought out houses with telephones from which to file their reports.

Police leave was cancelled. The Home Office supplied them with walkie talkies, Chelmsford with dogs.

Mindful of the 19,000 who had crammed into Layer Road for a Cup Tie against Reading, police imposed a gate limit of 16,000.

Arsenal fielded six internationals, including Tommy Doherty and Jimmy Bloomfield. Everyone outside Essex expected them to win.

Amid deafening roars, Colchester ran out to the tune of the post horn gallop. They began at a furious pace, but by half time Arsenal led 2-0.

Game over?

Cheered on by the crowd, Colchester fought back in one of the most exciting halves Layer Road had ever seen. They outplayed Arsenal and clawed back to 2-2.

Winger almost did it

With almost the last kick of the game Colchester’s flying winger, Peter Wright, Colchester’s official Player of the Century, almost won the match. If he had, it would not have been an unfair result.

The replay at Arsenal took place the following Wednesday. Something like 6,000 travelled from Colchester to see it. Given a Colchester population of Arsenal fielded six internationals.

Everyone outside Essex expected them to win.

less than 60,000 this must represent an astonishing percentage of the town’s adult males – and on a working day.

For example, almost 800 of its 2,200 workforce left Paxman’s, the town’s largest employer, mostly by coach.

Freezing smog engulfed London, a poisonous yellow haze. Traffic snarled up. Highbury shut its gates half an hour before kick-off. Some 3,000 Colchester supporters were locked out.

Some coaches did not even unload; they just turned round and drove home.

Even so, Arsenal recorded its largest gate of the season – 62,686.

Colchester’s share of the takings paid for their first floodlights.

But the game was a walkover: Arsenal 4 Colchester 0. Hair-dried by their manager, Arsenal were sharp, skilled and clinical in the mist, though the crowd applauded Percy Ames, the Colchester goalkeeper, for some amazing saves.

And then Colchester United went back to the Third Division.

This coming Monday, Arsenal, the current Cup holders, will play a club called Manchester something in the Fifth Round. The two leading teams ever, both have won the Cup 11 times.

But there’s no comparison, is there, with 1959?