This article appeared in the Cambridge United programme for the match against Forest Green Rovers on 26 September 2017.
Several elements of the photograph on this page allow us to date it to the late 1960s/early1970s. The buzz cut, braces and button-down collar sported by the tall gent on the left, for example, were undoubtedly complemented by a pair of DMs, useful in the event of the aggro that was all too prevalent at the time.
The real giveaway, of course, forms the centrepiece of the tableau and permits us to pinpoint its exact date: 2 May 1970. The magnificent trophy held aloft by Malcolm Lindsay and his U’s teammates is the Southern League championship shield, and they had just won it by beating Margate 2-0 in the final league match of the season.
Play Spot the Player and you’ll pick out Jimmy Thompson, Robin Hardy and Terry Eades. Those of us who were around at the time could pass a happy half-hour playing Spot the Fan among the masses on the Abbey pitch.
It’s a memorable image, which is one reason it was chosen for the front cover of Risen from the Dust, the second volume of Andrew Bennett’s Celery & Coconuts history of Abbey/Cambridge United. It will be published next month; preorder your copy now from the CFU online store or the caravan in the front car park on a match day.
Another reason for the photograph’s choice is that it represents the culmination of two decades of sky-high ambition, dogged determination and sheer, unceasing hard work on the part of supporters, directors, officials and players. The rapidity of the club’s rise from local league part-timers to a position that made it almost impossible for Football League clubs not to elect United to join them was unprecedented. It will never be repeated.
In the early weeks of 1951, the year in which Risen from the Dust opens, the U’s were still called Abbey United and were grubbing around in the semi-pro United Counties League.
A limited liability company looking after the club’s affairs – a declaration of the ambition burning bright at Newmarket Road – had been set up the year before, but the change of name to Cambridge United and acceptance into the Eastern Counties League were still in the future. Even the Southern League, at that time the biggest non-League competition, was a very distant prospect.
The book recounts the story of the nineteen short years it took the U’s to surge upwards through the ECL and the Southern League, win the latter twice and its league cup three times and hammer irresistibly on the door of the Football League’s art deco headquarters in Lytham St Annes.
Over the course of 388 pages, Andrew (belated congratulations on your appointment as club historian, lad) covers all the great moments and talking points in his familiar, eminently readable style. They include the development of the Abbey funded and carried out by supporters, the sight of football legend Wilf Mannion in amber and black, the unforgettable derby tussles of the 60s, the incredibly successful pools operation driven by Dudley Arliss, the constant bitter argument over the issue of City-United amalgamation … it’s all there. And stats fans get page after page of the factual stuff.
It can be yours for the ridiculously low price of £19.99, or £1 less if you’re a CFU member. We look forward to taking your order.
While the United players were toiling in the Cypriot sun in 1973, the supporters back home were celebrating promotion to Division Three and paying tribute to their player of the year: Brian Greenhalgh.
The 26-year-old striker had finished top of United’s 1972/73 goalscoring charts, notching 18 times in 47 games, but his tally of 19 the previous season had already established him as an Abbey favourite. The fans were certainly glad he had overcome his initial misgivings about dropping from the First Division to the Fourth when Bill Leivers came calling in August 1971.
Greenhalgh made his reputation with Preston North End and Aston Villa, but the goals dried up when he moved to Leicester and then, in 1969, to Huddersfield. Leivers was certain of his potential, but there were some grumbles on the terraces when he failed to score in his first six U’s games.
The moaners were silenced when his first goal came at Bury in September. Greenhalgh then married Annette the following Monday and, five days later, netted four times in a 6-0 drubbing of Darlington.
He drew a blank in his first eight games in 1972/73, but his class was plain to see and the goals soon began to flow again. The winner in a 1-0 win at Workington was a Greenhalgh classic: he allowed a Vic Akers cross to run through his legs at the near post, then flicked it in off a dumbfounded defender.
Eleven more goals followed in 1973/74, but his happy relationship with United fans came to an end in February when Leivers, declaring ‘every player has his price’, sold him to Bournemouth for £40,000.
He was a regular starter the following season, helping to anchor the midfield as United challenged for the title again. He missed the last away game, a 4-1 loss at Yeovil, with tonsillitis, but got out of his sickbed to play in a 3-0 defeat of Worcester five days later. The following evening he started in front of the Abbey Stadium’s record crowd of 14,000 in a friendly against Chelsea, but like the rest of the first team sat out the second half in anticipation of the title-deciding game against Margate the following afternoon. United won 2-0 and were champions again.
Following the club’s election to Football League Division Four, Mel remained a regular first-team choice, although his 1970/71 season was ended three games early by an ankle injury. United finished 20th in their first League season and, as Leivers revamped his squad, Mel signed for City.
He returned to the Abbey in November 1971 to play in the first leg of the Cambs Professional Cup final. Cautioned for bringing down Peter Phillips, he reacted by throwing a punch when the U’s striker returned the compliment, earning an instant dismissal.
He had explained why he was no stranger to the physical side of the game the previous season. ‘I was brought up in a hard school at Sunderland, where we were always instructed to put our opponents out of the game before starting to play the football. Great play was made of mental attitude as we prepared before each game to do battle, and I have always played hard, whether in training or a match.’
Nonetheless, Mel’s skill on the ball was considerable and, while he was not known for scoring – he netted just three times for United – he will long be remembered for one moment of brilliance. With the score at 1-1 with five minutes to go in the first away game of 1969/70, he dribbled through Gloucester’s attempted offside trap to score an outstanding winner.
He believed his best asset lay in another area, however: ‘I feel I am at my best when the boss says before the game that so and so have a particular danger man and I am given the job of playing him out of the game.’
Remaining in the Cambridge area after his retirement, Mel became widely known as the landlord of the Rose & Crown in Teversham and later lived in Fulbourn. He leaves widow Joan, daughter Keely and two granddaughters.
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