Valentine`s Day. Just the right time for Colchester United fans to rediscover their long-standing affection for captain Karl Duguid. Whisper it, but the U`s longest-serving player turned in a man-of-the-match display on Tuesday evening against Preston.
Love for the side`s magnificent number seven has defiantly blown hot and cold this season – that goes for the team as a whole though. Colchester`s first win in nine home matches this week was greeted by an eruption of joy that nearly caused Layer Road to fall down, true to the chant by Southend fans, who will always insist the ground is on its last legs.
Duguid himself looked to be on enduring his last knockings in Essex before the turn of the year, but the tactical nous shown by Geraint Williams in pushing him from right back to his favourite wing position after the recent arrival of Tottenham man Phil Ifil might well have saved his skin and regulation.
“A lot went on,” Duguid admitted to BBC local Radio at the end of this week`s Championship clash, responding to quick-fire questions from the media about speculation linking him with a move away from the club in January.
As to the weight of the transfer talk, one can never be sure totally how much reality it reflects, although a private theory is that he skipper was certainly flattered by interest from Hull and Charlton.
Many presumed he would cash in after nearly fifteen years of loyal service and leave. Something about his lack of personal response to the interest altered fans to an idea that he was ready to chuck in Colchester`s impending relegation fight.
Who would blame him, the argument ran, after so many of his former friends and teammates had done the same last summer?
The U`s lost half-a-dozen key players, including Wayne Brown who will reappear from over the hill during the weekend`s Hull game. Success (a tenth-placed finish) was followed by stress for the boardroom and coaching staff. Still Duguid remained, like a living breathing monument of Colchester`s happy fusion between past and present as they look toward a new future in the Cuckoo Farm complex.
The lover`s tiff between Karl and the fans this season, brought on largely by a loss of form and consistency from the player always through of as Mr Dependable, is a rift fast healing. The 29-year-old`s words into the microphone at interview easily felt like prose intended for the confession box.
“I`m here, I`m a Colchester United player,” he asserted dealing specially in the here and now. “I`ve always wanted to be a Colchester United player; there`s no doubt about that.” Those words had been preceded by a nervous laugh; Karl`s response bore a tone littered with a mixture of boredom and nervousness. He must be tired of reasserting so often his commitment to a football club he one day fully intends to manage.
Duguid`s career so far has all the fairytale ingredients to make a ripping good yarn, of course, if one is prepared to include the fact that he had a horrific injury which almost saw him retire a few years ago.
He then returned a hero to skipper the U`s to their highest-ever level in 2005-6 and went on to fire an arrow of flames through local hearts by scoring in both games against rivals Ipswich as the club looked to gatecrash the elite in English football`s top-flight. His testimonial, which rewarded his decade of loyalty in 2004, is already an ancient memory.
Amid praise over his fine performance this week was a silent prayer from Colchester`s faithful that their Captain Fantastic is back for good; the flirtation away from previously fine on-pitch form, and resulting loss in fidelity from the fans, was just another loop in Karl`s career rollercoaster. But was it ever an irretrievable breakdown, grounds enough for an ugly and sad divorce?
Not likely. The next time Duguid walks out of the turnstile of Layer Road for good, it will be up the A12 with six thousand others as they all prepare to embark with raucous feaver on life in a new all-seater stadium.
King Karl will be among his own kind, for sure.
On A Winger And A Prayer