An edited version of this article appeared in the Cambridge United matchday programme on 12 September 2015.
Even the most loyal of Cambridge United employees will admit that record-keeping has never been one of the club’s strong points. Coconuts’ requests for access to archives or objects have often been met with an apologetic shrug, although Abbey folklore tells of a long-lost vault, somewhere in the Main Stand’s warren of passageways and burrows, wherein lie the answers to a researcher’s prayer.
Having said that, your Coconuts team is hugely grateful for the club’s generosity in donating the precious artefacts that have graced the walls of the hospitality areas in days gone by. The same goes for Jez’s kind invitation to excavate a room whose existence was hitherto known only to a select few in the summer of 2015. So it was that on a sunny Friday morning, a ragged band of Coconuts volunteers looked on as the doors to this Aladdin’s cave swung open to reveal … dozens of bags of fertiliser.
Initial bitter disappointment – we’ve got nothing against fertiliser but, to be frank, when you’ve seen one bag of nitrogen-rich granules, you’ve seen them all – gave way to hoots of triumph as a dark corner of the nook was found to contain box upon box of what we in the heritage industry call ‘stuff’.
Framed photographs, trophies and mementoes of visits to clubs from Wroxham to Wiesbaden were uncovered alongside paintings, mirrors, pennants, a terrifically ugly clock, a toy lorry … then, with a grunt of satisfaction, a Coconutter, like a latter-day Pickles, emerged from the shadows clutching an extraordinary prize.
The photograph on the right shows a replica of the Jules Rimet Trophy – the one that was nicked prior to the 1966 World Cup before being found by the aforementioned collie in a South Norwood garden hedge; the one won by England that same year and by Brazil in 1970, before it fell into felons’ hands once more. ‘It's only twelve inches high, solid gold and it means England are the world champions,’ as Kenneth Wolstenholme described it on that unforgettable Wembley day.
This replica stands just eight inches high and is made not of gold but of an inferior painted metal. The brass plaque on its marble base is inscribed with the words ‘Presented by the Football Association to mark the winning of the World Cup 1966’. But to whom did the FA present it? Why was it languishing, seemingly forgotten, in a dingy Abbey cubbyhole? How did it get there?
There seem to be two schools of thought as to its origins: that such replicas were presented to the 1966 referees – the legendary Jack Cooke of Waterbeach wasn’t on that list, was he? – and that it was a gift to the grounds that hosted the games: Wembley, White City, Goodison, Old Trafford, Hillsborough and Villa, Roker and Ayresome Parks. The latter theory, which is supported by the fact that one of the little beauties can be found in the superb Everton Collection at Liverpool Record Office, leads us to suppose that there are only eight such replicas in existence.
How did this rare object come to be in United’s possession? Someone out there in the Cambridge football family must know the answer. If that someone is you, please get in touch here.
Until the question is answered, the replica will remain in its Costcutter bag, buried deep in good Fen soil near Prickwillow.
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, the saying goes. Bill Leivers, the manager who took Cambridge United into the Football League, adapted the adage to ‘if you can’t beat ’em, sign ’em’ as he assembled the side that won back-to-back Southern League titles in 1969 and 1970.
Chelmsford City’s championship-winning side of 1967/68 contained many good players, but four of them – striking double act Tony Butcher and Bill Cassidy, centre half Terry Eades and scintillating winger Peter Leggett – were outstanding. So, in one of the most astute managerial moves in United’s history, Leivers persuaded them to fight for the amber and black cause.
The U’s looked like a good side before the arrival of the Chelmsford Four. After it, they had the look of title winners.
First Claret to join the Leivers revolution, in October 1968, was Scottish hitman Cassidy who, having notched 29 goals in Chelmsford’s league-winning season, had spent the summer in the States with the Detroit Cougars. Driving to his Essex home, Leivers persuaded King Cass to jump in his car and follow him back to Cambridge.
Next to arrive, just two days later, was Butcher, Chelmsford’s record goalscorer, for a fee of less than £500. ‘This should solve our failure to score goals,’ observed Leivers.
The others were a little slower to follow. Leggett, hailed as the non-League George Best, signed in March 1969 for an undisclosed fee and a couple of days later Eades followed him to Newmarket Road, the U’s handing over a cheque for £2,500 in return.
‘This finishes my shopping at Chelmsford,’ said Leivers. His spree had laid the foundations for the next stage in United’s rapid evolution, from Cambridgeshire League minnows in the 1940s to Football League members in 1970.
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