COLCHESTER United enjoyed one of the most memorable days in their history on this day in 1998.

They beat Torquay United 1-0 in the Division Three play-off final, at Wembley.

The Gazette's U's sports writer Jon Waldron caught up with match winner David Gregory about that fabulous Friday night for the club.

ON this day, 22 years ago, Colchester United basked in the glory of a fantastic Wembley play-off final win.

But the foundation for the U's triumph over Torquay United, which earned them promotion to the old division two back in 1998, was ultimately laid by the anguish they had suffered at the same venue, little more than 12 months earlier.

A year prior to their promotion, Steve Wignall's side had experienced penalty heartache against Carlisle United in the Auto Windscreens Shield Final.

It was a painful defeat and in retrospect, the run to the final ultimately proved damaging to Colchester's hopes of getting out of the old division three, that season.

From the moment they had booked their place in the final by beating Peterborough United on March 18, the U's managed only four league wins.

They missed out on the play-offs by a single point.

The disappointment of coming so near and yet so far to success that year drove Wignall and his U's players on to achieve something the following year.

And their triumph over Torquay on that Friday night in May - earned by David Gregory's first-half penalty, was the culmination of their efforts.

"In relation to the league and the budget we had we were probably not expected to be up there," said Gregory, who made 54 appearances for the U's in that promotion-winning season.

"But we were really disappointed that we'd not gone up, the year before.

"We had got to the Auto Windscreens Shield Final and I think that had been detrimental to the rest of our season.

"I remember that from the very beginning of the next season, it was very much a case of 'let's go one better' and go up.

"We had a good squad of players and the blend was right.

"We had a good group of strong-minded older senior pros and some good young players in and around it, along with the 'in between' guys that every club has who had started to gel.

"As a group of players, we felt strong and we had mental strength and resilience.

"There hadn't been massive changes before that season and we had that continuity.

"Back then, you tried to add bits here and there and you wouldn't necessarily get the amount of player movement that you generally get these days.

"Steve Wignall had got us to the play-offs in 1996 and we'd just missed out.

"I think we were favourites against Barnet and then Torquay in 1998, once we'd got into the play-offs.

"But I don't think the 'favourite' tag was as prominent back then - it's only since then looking back that that was the case.

"I don't remember at the time thinking a lot about it and we all knew as a group what we were capable of."

After beating Barnet over two legs, Colchester booked a Wembley date against Torquay.

The final was moved to the Friday night, due to Glenn Hoddle's England side playing Saudi Arabia in a pre-World Cup friendly on the Saturday.

It meant that the final only attracted a crowd of 19,486, an attendance that would no doubt have been considerably more had it played the following day.

"We were all gutted by the fact that it was moved to a Friday night," said Gregory, who is now Head of Media at Colchester United.

"We knew that Torquay would bring miles less fans than they would have brought, had it been a Saturday.

"We were disappointed with the lower crowd but it didn't really affect our preparation, as we'd played in plenty of Tuesday and Friday night games over the course of the season.

"After the game there against Carlisle United the previous year, the big thing for us was that it wasn't a day out, any more.

"For me - and I hope for the others too - it was a case of getting the job done.

"Don't get me wrong, we wanted to win against Carlisle, too.

"But the result of that match didn't really change anything unlike the play-off final, where the prize was so big for the winners and the difference between winning and losing was so stark.

"We knew what we were doing and what we wanted to achieve that day and it made us very, very focused.

"We knew that it gave the winners the opportunity to play the likes of Stoke and Manchester City in league games and getting us into League One again.

"We went to the hotel the night before and went to Wembley to do the job.

"There were a couple of little things that surprised us, like the fact that Torquay had stayed in a hotel at Rivenhall (in Witham) and given themselves a longer journey to Wembley on the Friday night.

"We felt that our preparation had been better."

It proved a tight game with Colchester making the all-important breakthrough in the 22nd minute through Gregory's penalty, awarded following Jon Gittens' handball in the area.

"I'd only scored one penalty before that game and that had been in the play-off final semi-final second leg against Barnet," he said.

"As a professional, I was never the penalty taker at either Ipswich or Colchester.

"It was Aaron Skelton or Simon Betts on the penalties for us that season.

"There was a discussion and I was designated our penalty taker at some stage, in the second half of that season.

"With penalties, my dad was the first person to tell me 'make your mind up and don't change it' and that was it.

"I knew that Torquay would have watched our semi-final and my penalty against Barnet.

"I knew Paul Gibbs from his time at Colchester so in my head, I knew I had to go one way and shape to go the other way.

"The feeling after scoring wasn't as great at the time as I think it could have been.

"It was a case of 'right, we're 1-0 up, celebrate it and get on it again'.

"Had it been in the 89th minute, I might have thought 'this is going to be the winner' but there was still a long way to go in the match.

"There was no thought process about it being the winner.

"It all goes so quickly, up until about the 70th minute.

"It carries on going quickly after that unless you're winning, when those minutes end up going very slowly.

"That bit seemed longer than the rest of the game.

"I don't think we changed much about what we wanted to do, after we scored.

"As a game progresses, as a midfield player you're not making so many forward runs.

"But we had some sensible senior players in that side and had enough understanding of the game not to go gung-ho, as the game went on."

One goal proved enough for Colchester, who went onto clinch victory and return to the third tier after 17 years away.

It sparked wild celebrations among the U's players, staff and supporters - but match-winner Gregory missed out on some of them in the immediate aftermath.

He said: "At the final whistle, it was a feeling of 'we've done it', the culmination of all 46 games, plus the play-off semi-finals and final.

"It was an amazing feeling and with my brother (Neil Gregory) being there, he was the first person to get to me and start all the celebrations.

"We got the trophy and did all of the pitch stuff and then I was pulled up to do the press stuff, with Steve (Wignall), so I missed out on the dressing room.

"Looking back, that was disappointing but not that disappointing in the grand scheme of things, because I was there to play football."

The Wembley win proved pivotal for Colchester's progress, as a club.

They held their own in the third tier until 2006, when Phil Parkinson led them to promotion to the Championship for the first time in their history.

It might be argued that the U's Wembley triumph back in 1998 paved the way for the success that was to follow, a few years later.

"When I look back, it doesn't seem like it's 22 years ago," added Gregory.

"A lot of water has gone under the bridge.

"It was a big moment in the club's history; that's the case any time that you get a promotion.

"It was very difficult in those first few years after we'd gone up and were always near the bottom but we always survived.

"We could have come straight back down but we didn't and we prepared really hard for that next season.

"We certainly didn't want to go up to a higher division and be embarrassed.

"The club were very good with the players who got them up.

"I think I played my best football between the ages of 27 and 30 - they were good times.

"I'm not always a great one for keeping in constant contact with the players I've played with.

"But whenever you meet up with those players from that period, there's always a real connection."

Colchester United are showing a re-run of their 1998 Division Three play-off final triumph tonight.

It is being shown on their YouTube channel colu_official, at 7.45pm.