COLCHESTER United made the national headlines because of a bizarre incident, 40 years ago.

And our recollection of the curious events that took place at Layer Road back in September 1980 has prompted plenty of feedback from U’s supporters.

Last Sunday was the 40th anniversary of the policeman on the pitch incident that took place 25 minutes into the second half of an otherwise routine Third Division match between Colchester and Millwall, which the hosts went on to win 3-0.

The U’s led 2-0 when Sgt Frank Ruggles of Essex Police strode out from his duty monitoring the turbulent Millwall support massed on the away terrace and made a beeline for the visitors’ veteran defender Mel Blyth.

Phil Coleman, who went on to have two spells at Colchester and is now a PE teacher at Sigma Sports Academy at Philip Morant College, was 19 years old at the time and played on the left of midfield that day for Millwall.

He recalls the incident: “We gave away a corner and it was down to our goalkeeper Peter Gleasure.

“Mel Blyth, who had played for Southampton in the FA Cup Final a year or two earlier, was the experienced centre-back and from the six-yard box, started giving Peter, who was on the goal-line, some choice words!

“It was industrial language and in no uncertain terms, he told Peter he should have come for the cross or called for it, or something along those lines.

“He made it very known that Peter was at fault and you could hear him volleying the keeper off, which is normal.

“Peter just took it on board and got on with it.

“But the next thing you know, the policeman has walked on the pitch!

"He got right into Mel’s face, having a go at him for using foul and abusive language!

“I can remember a few players around him telling him to get off.

“I’m around the edge of the area, standing around 15 metres back from the policeman in the photo.

“As I can remember it, I was thinking ‘what the hell he is doing, we’re defending a corner – get off!’

“I can’t remember whether his mates dragged him off or not in the end or whether it was the players urging him to get off.

“There was certainly a hostile atmosphere about the place and he was probably thinking he was quelling an incident.

“At Layer Road, you were so close to the players it wasn’t true.

“You’ve got to know a little bit about Millwall to know that they take an almighty travelling away support to games,” said Coleman.

“At that time, they were downright hostile and violent.

“I’m a Millwall fan; I was brought up on the terraces and I know exactly what they’re going to do and when they’re going to do it.

“When Millwall came to town, there were police dogs behind the goal and that was quite normal.

“I can only imagine the policeman was thinking ‘Mel could cause a riot with his swearing and hollering; I’m under pressure and I’ve got Millwall fans all over me baying for blood’.

“But I don’t know what went through his head.

“As soon as he went off the pitch, we went into what I call ‘focus mode’.

“At a young age, I was told never to take my eyes off the ball – you couldn’t take your eyes off the copper in this game!

“But to the players, it wasn’t a great event really, it was more of an irritant – we have a corner to defend!

“I can’t remember even talking about it with my team-mates until it came up in the press.”

Coleman, 60, was an apprentice at Millwall and worked his way into their first team after turning professional in August, 1978.

He played his part in their winning FA Youth run in 1979 and scored one of the Lions’ goals in their win over Manchester City, in the final.

“We won the FA Youth Cup in 1979 and we had all 14 players sign pro and play in the first team,” added Coleman, who made more than 100 league and cup appearances for Colchester in the 1980s.

“We beat the likes of Sunderland, Nottingham Forest, Everton and Manchester City during that run.

“In the quarter-final against Forest, Brian Clough came into the changing rooms after we beat them 1-0 at Forest.

“He said ‘well done lads, good performance’ and Paul Roberts who was sitting next to me said ‘cheers Brian’.

“It was like you’d triggered an Atomic bomb.

“Mr Clough to you laddie’ he said. We were hauled before the manager in the morning for insubordination.”