Matt Hudson is Media Manager and Supporters Liaison Officer at Colchester United, and has worked at the club for more than a decade. Here he describes a less than typical game for the club – the 16 April tie against Peterborough that was the club’s second ever Football in the Community Day.
162 cub scouts, 86 dancers, and over 1,400 young children from across the local area. That was just the first of a raft of numbers that we had to work with for Colchester United’s recent home game against Peterborough United.
The match on 16 April was the club’s second Football in the Community Day and, working alongside our Community Development Officer Tom Tayler and the community staff, my matchday team were tasked with helping deliver a memorable matchday for all concerned.
At Colchester we think we’ve got a good matchday experience pretty well covered now and, as part of my role as Media Manager and Supporters Liaison Officer, I help formulate the shape of a match day both in terms of the lead-up to the day itself and those manic four or so hours when the supporters arrive at the stadium and watch the game.
We had started to promote our FITC Day a couple of months back, with our community team inviting many of the 65 schools they work with on a weekly basis, along with young footballers from our development centre teams and those who attend our term time courses.
However, while we try to strategise and plan ahead when the fixtures come out, a lot of the key parts of the event of a match day will come to fruition in the last seven days leading up to a game.
My colleague David Gregory and I will typically work on the match programme from the Monday ahead of a game, but this edition saw us start on the previous Wednesday as FITC Day sees us include a 16 page supplement on the work our community programme carries out.
The programme goes to print on a Wednesday evening – which is earlier than we have done in previous seasons – but, on the positive side, allows us two clear days to get ourselves in order for the day of the match.
This is particularly needed for this game, with so many different groups coming together to be a part of it.
The Thursday is a day where I’m rarely at my desk, with the day getting underway with the operations meeting to plan the game with other heads of department. This is then followed by a trip to the training ground to do pre-match press with the manager and selected players.
Friday is largely a desk bound day – we send out different email campaigns based on whether people are season ticket holders, regular buyers, or first time attendees to inform them what’s coming up.
Our efforts for first time attendees were what helped us win the Football League’s Family Club of the Year award in 2015, and the information we provide goes a long way to making it an easier first visit for the new fans we attract. This season will see us hit over 7,000 U11s attending for free at first team games and it’s a key part of our crowd growth strategy that has seen us grow by around 15% in the last three seasons.
On a typical matchday Saturday I am at the stadium for 10am, but on this occasion I arrive at 8.30am to meet Tom to work out which members of staff are looking after the various parts of the day.
While we are meeting, the first of the 162 cubs start to arrive for an eight-a-side football tournament on the astroturf pitches we have on site. We had hoped to get them up and running by 10.30am, but already face our first challenge of the day as we get started late – so we quickly opt to cut the match times from seven minutes to six to retrieve the time we’ve lost!
— Colchester United FC (@ColU_Official) April 16, 2016
Next up, the dancers begin to arrive for their half time performance. The kids are from a number of local schools and we have often welcomed this sort of display to liven up the half time interval.
While most of the cubs are playing football, we then meet some of their group who will be taking on matchday roles alongside our paid staff. We selected six lucky cubs, who became mini kitmen, grounds staff, stewards, match reporters, and photographers!
By 1pm they are joined by the band that are playing outside of the stadium pre-game. For the last four years, we have had a different local band playing before every game and this helps provide a great atmosphere pre-game with both sets of fans mingling.
For every match I like to prepare a matchday timetable that I follow for my own sanity, but also to give to other members of staff to tell them where I am at any given time.
For this particular game I know that there’s a LOT going on from 2.30pm onwards and it can be like herding sheep to get everyone in the right place at the right time!
We welcome Football League One Supporter of the Year Tommy Leggett pre-game to take the ball out to the referee and then attempt to get the guard of honour set up. Despite a few slow coaches we get everyone in position just in time for the two teams to come out and the game – which sometimes gets forgotten when so much is going on pre-match – can get underway.
The U’s are trailing at the break, but as additional time in the first half is announced I make my way down to the tunnel to prepare the music for the dance performance.
We advise visiting groups they get about five to six minutes to perform – we once had a performance involving six ladies with wheelbarrows overrun the half time interval (honestly!) and the teams weren’t impressed, as you can imagine.
— Kirby Primary (@kirbyreach2) April 16, 2016
With the dancers safely off the pitch, the second half sees Peterborough pick off the U’s on the counter attack and run out 4-1 winners, deepening our relegation worries.
The final whistle is blown and we then look after the post-match press requirements, before returning to our office to get the match report and social media updates all online to sum up the day.
Having arrived at 8.30am, I eventually leave the stadium just over 14 hours later having covered nearly five miles on foot going backwards and forwards.
The result might not have gone our way, but with a crowd of just short of 6,000 (compared to the seasonal average of around 4,100), it has been a great day of community engagement with plenty of smiling faces.