May 23 2013 Latest news:
by Carl Marston
Monday, June 4, 2012
In part six of our seven-part series, we talk to Paul Roberts, who was the chatterbox and the mastermind of the U’s defence
PAUL Roberts was never short of a word or two (or three!), but his jovial nature and constant chattering was to have a huge impact on Colchester United’s success story of 20 years ago.
Before experienced defender Roberts arrived at Layer Road, in the late autumn of 1992, the U’s were not exactly taking the non-league stage by storm.
Beaten 3-2 at home by Farnborough, and held to draws at Witton (2-2) and Cheltenham (1-1), the month of September was hurting the U’s promotion cause.
Enter “Robbo,” however, and the U’s were transformed into a better organised defensive unit.
Recruited for just £750 from Fisher Athletic, Roberts made his debut in the infamous 2-1 win at promotion rivals Wycombe on September 28.
The U’s, and 29-year-old Roberts, never looked back. Operating as a sweeper, Roberts marshalled the U’s defence with a smile and a glint in his eye.
United did not lose another game in the Conference until Boxing Day, 2-1 at Redbridge, a 13-game unbeaten run that had put them on track for a return to the Football League.
“We had good team spirit, but when I first joined the team was in a bit of a lull, to be honest with you,” explained Roberts.
“They had just had a couple of bad results, but we got a bit fortunate in my first game against Wycombe (winning goal by keeper Scott Barrett), and we never looked back from there.
“I thought we were head and shoulders above everyone else in the league.
“Colchester was blessed with some very good players, who were perhaps too good for the Conference.
“I’ve been driving a London taxi for the last 14 years, so there’s been a lot of time to do some thinking, and reflect back to that time.
“And I firmly believe that if we hadn’t gone up that season, then maybe Colchester United as a football club, in its current form, wouldn’t still exist?
“If we had missed out on promotion, then club may have had to cash in, by selling players like Mark Kinsella and Steve McGavin.
“That’s not me patting us all on the back, and we certainly didn’t think this at the time, but I think the club had to thank their lucky stars that it did get up that year.
“We were mostly young lads, who didn’t look at it that deeply.
“We just got a little bonus for getting up, but that was a pittance. We were just fortunate to get up,” added Roberts.
East Londoner Roberts has always been good friends with then-player-boss McDonough, but he is the first to admit that the U’s boss was no tactical genius.
“Roy is an old pal of mine, but technically he wasn’t the greatest coach you are ever likely to meet!” admitted Roberts.
“His basic tactic was to score one more goal than the other team! No one would care if we won 5-4.
“We played three centre-halves, and I was the sweeper, usually alongside Shaun Elliott and Tony English.
“We were the backbone of the team. We also had full-backs Nicky Smith and Warren Donald bombing up the wings.
“And they all did as I told them!” joked Roberts
Roberts, now 50, went on to be an ever-present in the U’s first season back in the Football League, scooping a number of player-of-the-year awards at the end of the season.
However, his game slipped a little during the following campaign, and he was disappointed to be released in the summer of 1994, at the age of 32.
He dabbled with non-league, but soon drifted away from the game.
Although he was been happy in his role as a London cabbie, for the last 14 years, he does regret not pursuing a longer career in football, as a coach.
“I was player-of-the-season in 1992-93, winning lots of awards, but the following season wasn’t the greatest,” recalled Roberts.
“Yet I still felt hard done by, when I left. It could have been handled better, with the hierarchy at the club.
“But there’s no point in crying about it now.
“After 1994, I was player-manager of Chesham United for a while.
“But the non-league didn’t really suit me, if I’m being honest. It was hard to keep up with it, mentally.
“I suppose if I had my time again, I would try to get into coaching, so that I could put something back into the game.”