Britain’s oldest recorded town hosts the youngest of all current League members. Colchester United was formed in 1937 when a number of enthusiasts of the much older Colchester Town club, founded in 1874, decided to establish themselves as a professional concern becoming a limited liablity company. In the early days, many of Town’s games were against army opposition, including teams from the Irish Fusilliers, the Scottish Rifles and other regiments. In 1937 Colchester United took over Layer Road, which had been the home of Colchester Town since 1909. Colchester United have always been faithful to blue and white colours, presumably because of the town’s large army presence.
The actual design of the shirt has varied over the years, ranging from stripes, through quarters with overlaid stripes, to the most classic and famous kit worn by the U’s – the all blue kit with white trim worn in 1971 when they beat the then seemingly invincible Leeds United of Don Revie.
For their nickname Colchester have unfortunately been a bit unimaginative – they are called the U’s, from the initial letter of the suffix, United. Their predecessors Town were once known as the Oystermen, because the town of Colchester has been famous for the production of oysters since Roman times.
The first emblem Colchester United took as their insignia, in 1937, was similar to the coat of arms of the town. The arms are described as “The True Cross”. But what does that signify? The earliest record of the arms of the borough occurs in the Charter granted to the town by Henry V on 7th July 1413. The Charter has an illuminated initial letter showing the arms and the figures of St. Helena holding a cross and her son, Constantine. Around her is a scroll with a Latin inscription, stating among other things that she was born in Colchester. Historians have it that she was born in Drepanum in the old Roman province of Bithynia down on the shores of the Black Sea – but let us not allow history to get in the way of a medieval good story! The Common Seal of the Borough, which dates from the early fifteenth century also depicts St. Helena. She was evidently regarded at this time as the patron saint of Colchester and it seems that the arms were designed to commemorate the various legends surrounding her.
St. Helena was the mother of Constantine the Great and it is due to her influence that her son became a Christian and enacted the edict of Toleration in AD 313. As a result of a vision, she went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem around AD 326, during which she discovered three crosses on the site of Golgotha, as well as founding the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Church of the Nativity. One of the crosses was still green and like a tree with the branches lopped off. Its identity as the True Cross was proved beyond doubt to all around by the restoration to health of a dying woman upon its touch. Helena thereupon divided the cross into four parts and sent a piece to each of the principal churches in Jerusalem, Alexandria and Rome, while retaining the fourth for herself.
According to legend St. Helena had many other visions, one of which directed her to Asia Minor. Here she discovered the relics of the Magi, whom medieval legend regarded as kings. These relics were sent to Milan, and were later interred in a shrine in Cologne Cathedral, where incidentally they are commemorated by the three crowns in the arms of that city. Helena was certainly an astute bargain hunter when it came to religious relics. But, you ask, what does all this mean to the design of a football club’s badge?
The True Cross is shown as a green living tree divided into four parts by what is called a fylfot. It is interesting to note that the fylfot or swastika, although now associated with the Nazis, was a very ancient symbol of good fortune. The cross is pierced by the iron nails of the crucifixion and is surmounted by the crowns of the Magi or Three Kings, and the field is red for the blood of Christ.
In 1972 Colchester United made the change to a new emblem: the Roman Eagle, with a wreath of laurels, perched on a pole, the kind that used to top the banners of the Roman legions. How appropiate for Camulodunum, meaning “fortress of Camulos the war god”, being the ancient capital of Roman Britain, the first town to be captured by Claudius, and later destroyed by Boudicca in perhaps the first hooligan disturbance in the town.
It became a circular design in 1983 when in addition the club name was added whilst in 1986 the image of the eagle itself that was slightly modified. Today’s crest, in use since 1994, is yet another modification of that design. The creature now displayed in the club badge is still our Roman Eagle, but now depicted on a blue and white background, representing the club colours.
And there you have the history lesson. The youngest League club, who themselves “came back from the dead” when they lost their place in the League in 1990, only to fight their way back again two years later, have a place still for legends and history, that many other clubs with an eye to corporate design rather than history have lost. Three cheers for the Colchester Uniteds of this world!