The U's History: The 70s
Graham increased the average age of United's squad at the start of the 1970s with the summer signings of ex-England international Ray Crawford, Brian Garvey, John Kurila, Mick Mahon and Brian Owen.
The Football League, despite the protests of the pools companies, re-introduced permission to play Friday night football.
Colchester arranged ten games for Friday kick offs but it would be the FA Cup that drew worldwide attention.
United disposed of non-League Ringmer via a Crawford hat trick in round one and then completed a Cup double over new boys Cambridge, having already secured a 5-0 win over the 'other' U's in the League Cup.
Both Roy Massey and Owen incurred career ending injuries forcing Graham to sign Brian Lewis and Dave Simmons.
Colchester knocked out non-League Barnet at Underhill in the third round only to be drawn away to Rochdale. Trailing 3-1 with just five minutes left, United staged a remarkable comeback to earn a replay.
With the knowledge of the Fifth Round draw having been made, United trounced hapless Dale by 5-0 to earn a home tie with mighty Leeds on February 13th 1971.
Leeds were top of the League and boasted ten internationals in their side, Colchester were eighth in the Fourth Division.
Nobody gave the U's a chance but they raced into a 3-0 lead, in front of a 16,000 Layer Road crowd, with goals from Crawford (2) and Simmons before Leeds generated something of a comeback to finally lose 3-2.
The result was sensational as was the fact that United were in the FA Cup Quarter Finals.
Sixth Round opponents Everton did their homework and Graham's 'Granddads Army' finally succumbed to the tune of 5-0 in front of 53,028 at Goodison Park.
While United finished sixth, just two points off promotion - they simply had too many fixtures to complete in rapid succession as a result of the cup run.
The U's goalscoring prowess however did qualify them for the 1971/2 pre-season Watney Cup. The competition was open to the two highest scoring teams from each division that had not won promotion.
U's saw off Luton and Carlisle at Layer Road to reach the final against West Bromwich Albion, at The Hawthorns.
A thrilling encounter saw the tie level at 4-4 after extra time leading to Colchester's first-ever penalty shoot-out. Albion missed two and U's one leaving youngster Phil Bloss to slam hone the decisive winning spot-kick.
After the exploits of the previous season's cup run and now Watney Cup success, United were firm favourites for promotion.
But with an ageing side and a club debt amounting to over £21,000 (£400,000 today based on average earnings index) and with the floodlighting requiring urgent maintenance work, Graham turned full circle and introduced youth to United's side.
Steve Leslie, Steve Foley, Lindsay Smith, Micky Cook and John McLaughlin were just some who came in during the rapid break up of Granddad's Army.
All would become regulars in United's side but youth alone was not sufficient for United to maintain a serious promotion bid and they finished 1971/2 in eleventh place, nine points adrift of promotion.
When the club held its AGM in September 1972, Graham was so incensed of the questioning, by a shareholder, of his team and tactics that he tendered his resignation.
The shareholder, it was alleged, had won his five shares in a raffle but his actions put United in chaos.
A month later an unknown Jim Smith was appointed manager. He had led Boston United to the Northern Premier League title and one of his first signings was Boston striker Bobby Svarc for £6,000 but United had just six points from 13 games and sat bottom of the entire League.
Smith's arrival gave an initial boost and he actually collected the Manager of the Month award for lifting United off the bottom.
It was not to be and United had to go to the Football League to seek re-election. Just as their Cup heroics in 1948 had helped them into the League then the 1971 FA Cup campaign ensured the U's earned a maximum 48 votes from their fellow clubs.
Smith brought wisely in the summer, bringing in Mike Walker and Mick Packer from Watford and splashing out a club record £11,000 on striker Paul Aimson.
Whilst Aimson suffered a career-ending injury early in the season, Svarc plundered 25 league goals including a record equalling four goal haul at Chester in November 1973.
U's led the table around Christmas time, but failure to beat Peterborough and Gillingham at Layer Road cost them the championship.
They also lost their first ventures into Sunday football losing at Bury and Doncaster by the same 2-0 scoreline.
Svarc's goals dried up at the wrong time, but the astute Smith brought in Gary Moore on loan and he scored 7 goals in 11 remaining games.
United were promoted in third place five points behind Peterborough and two adrift of the Gills. The final home game of the season drew a 10,007 crowd as Gillingham stole runners-up spot with a 2-0 win.
This would be the last time that Layer Road hosted a five-figure League attendance.
United were back in the Third Division but the board warned that a break-even gate of 9,200 was required and that players would be sold if gates didn't reach 7,500.
Smith returned to his old club Boston and signed Svarc's old strike partner John Froggatt.
The pair rekindled their partnership with Svarc netting 24 in the League with 16 coming from Froggatt. Crowds fell way short of the board's ambitions with an average of 4,941 clicking the Layer Road turnstiles as United finished in a steady eleventh position.
Having reached the Quarter Finals of the FA Cup only four seasons previously, United emulated that achievement in the League Cup.
Beating Oxford and Southend, the U's hosted First Division Carlisle beating the Cumbrians 2-0 to earn a home tie with Southampton.
A 0-0 draw at Layer Road led to an amazing 1-0 replay win at The Dell, courtesy of a Barry Dominey goal, setting up a Quarter Final tie with Aston Villa.
The Midlanders proved just a shade too strong for United winning 2-1 before an expectant 11,812 crowd. Whilst United's focus had been on the League Cup they were knocked out of the FA Cup by non-League minnows Leatherhead.
Out of the cups, fifth placed U's could concentrate on achieving Second Division football. Just one win in seven from New Year's Day onwards saw U's fall to mid-table and they never recovered.
The League Cup run had brought recognition - only it was for U's manager Smith who left to join Second Division Blackburn in the summer of 1975. His coach Bobby Roberts was appointed manager.
His early days were disastrous. Not only did United not win any of their first five games, but Smith returned with £25,000 to prise away Svarc from cash-strapped U's.
Roberts' side rallied mid-season to climb to twelfth place but some crushing defeats including 6-1 at Chesterfield and 6-0 at Brighton put Colchester back into the relegation mire.
The U's also suffered the ignominy of a second successive defeat to a non-League side when they were demolished 4-1 at Dover in an FA Cup replay. Inevitably United were relegated with Steve Leslie being leading scoring with a record lowest total of just six League goals.
The Board kept faith with Roberts for the 1976/7 campaign and, just as they did in the 1960s, United bounced back at the first attempt.
Built on 12 successive home victories from the start of the season United's 'G-men' Bobby Gough and Colin Garwood scored 17 and 16 goals respectively with centre-half Steve Dowman adding an amazing twelve strikes in his first season.
A splendid FA Cup run saw United reach the Fourth Round only to lose to First Division Derby in a replay at The Baseball Ground.Over 14,000 had seen Garwood equalise in the seventh minute of injury time in the first match at Layer Road.
Once again a settled side aided United's progress - eight players played over 40 of the 46 League games.
Colchester soared to the top of the Third Division table with four straight wins at the start of the following season.
Embarking on a League Cup run that saw United thump Jim Smith's Second Division Blackburn 4-0 in a Second Round replay before facing up to Leeds at Elland Road in the next round.
Leeds were not going to be embarrassed twice and gained some revenge with a 4-0 win.
When the U's visited leaders Wrexham on November 19th 1977, it was the first time that United had one of their League fixtures featured on the prestigious Saturday night TV slot.
One win in ten after January and the sale of Garwood to Portsmouth for £25,000 spelt the end of United's promotion aspirations.
Colchester finished in eighth place and eight points behind third-placed Preston.
Roberts kept faith with his squad but with a second injury to Eddie Rowles, Garwood's replacement, forced him into the transfer market.
Cash-strapped United splashed out £15,000 on Millwall's Trevor Lee who became the first black player to represent Colchester's first team.
Once again, United fell short of promotion finishing seventh - nine points behind third-placed Swansea.
In the final game of the season May 9th, 1979 United recorded their biggest ever away win in the League with a 5-1 romp at Tranmere less than a month after they had stunned champions-elect Watford with a 3-0 Good Friday win at Vicarage Road.
Colchester's season wouldn't be complete without the obligatory cup run and after disposing of Oxford, with a Gough hat trick, laying the ghost of Leatherhead with a 4-0 replay win at Layer Road and overcoming tricky away ties at Darlington and Newport, the U's welcomed Manchester United to Layer Road.
Called off from the original Saturday date, Colchester were so near to an Old Trafford replay only for Jimmy Greenhoff to break the hearts of most of the 13,171 crowd with a 86th minute winner.
The 1979/80 season had barely begun when United faced yet another top flight club.
Beating Watford over two legs in the League Cup, the U's were drawn at home to Aston Villa, rekindling memories of the Quarter Final tie five years previously.
A 2-0 defeat in front of just 6,221 meant to many that the tie was over, but remarkably United went to Villa Park and won 2-0 to take the game to extra time and then penalties.
So successful were all the takers that it was necessary for the goalkeepers to take their turn. U's stalwart Mike Walker missed his and Colchester bowed out 9-8.
The U's were in fine form in the League from then on going ten games undefeated and positioning themselves level on points with Sheffield United at the top.
Chairman Maurice Cadman announced that Layer Road needed £280,000 (over £1.5m in today's terms) of basic improvements just to meet the then safety legislation. Despite some grants being available the figure was unattainable.
The club could not relocate because a series of covenants was placed on the ground when it was purchased from the Council in 1971. One of those was that the club could not sell the land for housing.
Plans were drawn up to virtually lose the Open End by moving the pitch to create a 5,000 capacity terrace behind the Layer Road goal whilst building a new main stand on the Popular side of the ground with executive boxes. The capacity would increase to an 'adequate' 18,000.
Tracking the leaders for most of the season, with ten away wins to boot, United succumbed to successive defeats to Blackpool, Blackburn and Reading as February turned into March 1980 and, with injuries to Steve Foley and Bobby Gough, the goalscoring was left to Lee who returned 18 League and Cup strikes.
Colchester had occupied a top four slot for virtually all of the season but had to be content with fifth place and six points short of the promotion places.
It was the closest that the club had come to the dream of Second Division football since the 1956/7 season but the Colchester public had not responded.
The average gate of 3,818 was the third lowest in the division ahead of Wimbledon and Chester.