Date: 25th June 2007 at 8:37am
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When Colchester United Supporters` Association chairman Jon Burns said he felt the club needed “new heroes” on Wednesday, he had presumably forgotten that one name on the pantheon of Essex footballing legends remains untouchable. Step forward, please, one Mr. Karl Duguid.

The 28-year-old club captain, an authentic modern-day warrior in Britain`s most famous of former Roman outposts, is free from reproach as U`s fans everywhere play the blame game. His name seems perennially etched on the team-sheet when 3pm Saturday rolls around.

The burning question among those who regularly inhabit Layer Road`s auditorium is: just why have so many of the squad that achieved United`s highest league finish in history last term chosen to shed their Blue and White stripes?

Burns, speaking in the town`s Evening Gazette, did not pretend to have the answers. He did, however, successfully encapsulating an overriding doom-and-gloom felling, saying: “It’s all a bit sad and depressing and quite a shock.”

“After such a great season”, added Burns, “when everyone has said nice things about the club, the players, the management and the fans, all of a sudden we have Chris Iwelumo leaving, Chris Barker going to QPR and Jamie Cureton handing in a transfer request.”

The mood after an unexpected exodus, throughout what is being christened ‘black June` in several circles, is casting a huge cloud of doubt on Colchester`s very ability to compete again in the Championship.

This was emphasized again on Thursday of last week, as more bad news arrived. League rivals Hull City began flirting with the idea of signing out-of-contract winger-cum forward Richard Garcia, while assistant manager Mick Harford also dove for the exit.

In search of some comfort and reassurance as U`s fans fear the future and unknown, it is of little surprise that Duguid appears as an emblematic steadfast rock. During this time of change, he provides at least one constant. His twelve-year CV, making him currently the club`s longest-serving squad member, radiates a rarely seen loyalty within the modern game.

Beyond that, and impressive statistic that the right-winger has scored 44 times in more than 300 career games, also lies an intriguing paten of triumph and disaster.

A most recent example came as ‘Mr. Colchester` completed a remarkable comeback season by carrying the U`s up the league ladder via a League One promotion in 2005-6. Duguid had been out for the previous eighteen months with an injury that nearly ended his spell in professional football.

During his time on the sidelines, however, the club made the highly symbolic gesture of awarding a testimonial in autumn 2004; he only took the kick-off against a West Ham XI. Continuing the resurgence in the season just ended, most U`s fans will highlight how Karl produced some of his best-ever displays.

Whether at right back or on the wing, Duguid has certainly remained particularly true this year to the attacking instincts of manager Geraint Williams.

He netted twice against rivals Ipswich from midfield and inspired a barnstorming comeback by winning (and delivering) two stunning set-plays on Easter Monday at home to Leeds, as the U`s eventually run out winners.

While it is hardly beer and skittles right now at Colchester United, Duguid`s long-term achievements are a good way to put the worries over a threadbare team into perspective.

Some might say he’s on a pedestal, but recent events have only served to propel him higher in that perceived position of popular esteem.

At around the same time, for example, as the recent David Beckham knighthood debate caused eruptions in Whitehall, U`s fans were touting their own golden boy to one day receive some extra letters before his name.

He was also a very eligible nomination for the club`s Hall of Fame, which will arrive when the new stadium at Cuckoo Farm is complete to mark 70 years since the 1917 formation. A poll on this website found that 82% thought he was a dead certain inductee.

Ask Southend fans, however, and they will tell you the only letters that should be seen near Karl`s name are ones worthy of blotting from the page with an asterisk. It`s objective, after all, not to be carried-away with an idea that the No 7 is a saint.

Lest it be forgotten, Karl was the first senior member of the squad to declare that he and his men ought to get a fair share of the booty gained from an upturn in success and popularity, prompting the somewhat acrimonious headline: ‘Duguid: Pay Us What We Deserve.`

The Gazette quoted him as saying: “The money made from Greg [Halford`s] deal with high-flying Premiership club Reading should be earmarked on enhancing the current squad’s contracts.” The report appeared just days before he unveiled his own new deal, so he responded by pulled the pug on his column-penning duties with the paper.

Since then, however, a number of senior players have echoed his thoughts, and with more disastrous consequences. This has caused even a casual observer of the situation at Colchester to point out that he might have been right.

“It’s not the first time that we’ve had hurdles to get over,” Jon Burns reminded U`s fans, before declaring: “We have to put faith in Geraint and his ability to find us some new heroes.”

Amid the inquest at United, where the squad has been crumbling faster than those Roman remains in the Isle`s oldest recorded town, Duguid has already won virtually unconditional respect from the terrace mob.

Their search for answers during this summer of discontent definitely excludes him.