An edited version of this article appeared in the Cambridge United matchday programme for the game against Barnet on 26 December 2017.
You can still hear echoes of the joyous whoops that shattered the peace of Coconuts Acres’ long, dusty corridors when the news broke: the Abbey Stadium, known to generations of United supporters as the Abbey Stadium, would henceforth be known officially as the Abbey Stadium.
Although I think the club could have found someone a little less unsightly to present the Coconuts view on its splendid announcement video, we applaud this recognition that some things are sacrosanct.
We recognise that the sale of the naming rights can present football clubs with a valuable – sometimes essential – amount of dosh over prolonged periods. It’s to United’s credit that sources have been found to cover for the future absence of this kind of revenue from Cambs Glass.
Mind you, I’ve never heard any true U's supporter call our ground anything other than the Abbey. No one I know ever said to his mate, ‘See you up the Trade Recruitment on Saturday,’ or ‘Cor, the old R Costings was rocking last night’.
But the Abbey Stadium was not always the Abbey Stadium. Time for a history lesson, perhaps.
In Risen from the Dust, the second volume of the Celery & Coconuts history of United (available from CFU’s online store and the caravan), Andrew Bennett notes that the first official mention of the name came in December 1961, almost 30 years after the opening of the ground in August 1932.
The ‘New Abbey Stadium’ project, the club said, would encompass the erection of the magnificent floodlights you see today and an extension of the cover over the Coldhams Common side terrace.
Ambition was the watchword at United. The club proclaimed its intention ‘to make our stadium one of the finest in football’. It goes without saying that the aim was achieved.
Supporters and directors may well have informally referred to the ground as the Abbey Stadium before 1961, but the more usual descriptions were variations on ‘the Abbey ground’, ‘the United ground’ or simply ‘Newmarket Road’.
To continue the history lesson, have a butcher’s at the photograph on this page, snapped by a passing aeronaut some time before the Corona works at the front of the ground were demolished in 1996.
Some features, not least the aforementioned works, will be unfamiliar to younger fans. It was this soft drinks depot (Every bubble’s passed its Fizzical!) that gave the north terrace its popular name, which is still popular to those who spurn the use of the unromantic, unimaginative ‘NRE’.
Where, you may ask, is the South Stand? Gather round, kids, and you will hear a tale that must be told in turn to your children and your children’s children.
Long before Reg Smart and his army of workers began to dig the South Stand footings, home and away fans alike would gather on the shallow terrace known affectionately as the Allotments End. I'll give you three guesses as to why.
The unlamented age of football aggro brought segregation with it, and the Allotments End was given over to visiting supporters. I’m sorry to say it was not unknown for United boys, on being ejected from the Abbey, to make their way to the allotments, uproot a selection of lovingly tended vegetables and lob them over the wall.
This was one of very few instances in the history of football of away supporters being bombarded by volleys of leeks and carrots.
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