It is with immense sadness that 100 Years of Coconuts passes on the news of the death on Wednesday, 7 February 2018, at the age of 58, of Andrew Bennett, Cambridge United supporter, club historian and writer extraordinary.
Andrew became known to the wider U’s fanbase through his brilliantly written match reports, compiled almost totally from memory and first published online in the late 1990s. His death came at a time when the third print volume of his magnum opus, the definitive history of Abbey/Cambridge United, titled Celery & Coconuts, was moving into production in preparation for autumn publication.
Typically, despite suffering from a long illness that necessitated lengthy periods of debilitating treatment, he finished the manuscript long before deadline, and had already prepared future volumes.
Born in 1959 in Kingston upon Thames in Surrey, Andrew moved with his family to Cambridgeshire when he was very young. The Bennetts lived in several villages before settling in Histon, where Andrew stayed for the rest of his life.
After gaining A levels in English and French at Netherhall School in Cambridge, he embarked on a 33-year career with the National Westminster Bank. Following redundancy from NatWest in 2012, he started work in earnest on Celery & Coconuts, which continued after he secured a job as a porter at Selwyn College in 2014.
Football, and Cambridge United in particular, was one of Andrew’s great passions; a vast music collection testifies to another. While one room of the house he shared with his mother, Joyce, was filled with shelves, racks and cabinets of carefully sorted CDs and vinyl discs, another contained an astonishing collection of U’s memorabilia and programmes.
He was a meticulous and thorough keeper of records and statistics, a trait that led to him being named United’s club historian in the summer of 2017.
His father was ‘not much of a football fan’ in Andrew’s recollection, but he nevertheless took the young man to watch United and Cambridge City on alternate Saturdays. There was never any question that he would become a City fan, however. His first U’s match came on 13 April 1970, when United beat Gloucester City 3-0.
He recalled last year that his first favourite United player was the fleet-footed, ex-Chelmsford right winger Peter Leggett. ‘My favourite footballer at the time was George Best, so naturally United’s version, Peter Leggett, with his Peter Wyngarde/Jason King droopy moustache, made the biggest impact on me in my early days as a United fan,’ he said.
‘Then came Brian Greenhalgh, and later there were the great 70s sides with the likes of Steve Spriggs, Steve Fallon and Alan Biley.’
Leggett was the provider for George Harris, Bill Cassidy and Malcolm Lindsay in that 1970 win over Gloucester. Andrew’s attendance at that match was followed by countless others, at home and far afield, over the ensuing decades.
The 1990s rise of the internet, and its opportunities for expression and communication, gave Andrew an outlet for his gift for entertaining and illuminating writing. Encouraged by editor Andrea Thrussell, he started to contribute his inimitable match reports to the unofficial United website and the Moosenet news group, and they soon won legions of fans.
Tellingly accurate, captivatingly written and often laugh-out-loud funny, the reports related the exploits of the likes of Le Dieu du But (Lionel Perez), Terrier Fleming and Captain Fantastic (Paul Wanless). Many readers looked forward eagerly to attempting Dancing Shaun (Marshall)’s Dance of the Week.
More recently published on social media by 100 Years of Coconuts – of whose management committee he was a dedicated and valued member – Andrew’s reports were followed by regular articles for the United programme, contributions to the Coconuts website and, latterly, Celery & Coconuts, whose first two volumes – Newmarket Road Roughs and Risen from the Dust – have met with critical acclaim.
The result of tremendous dedication and many long hours of research in the Cambridgeshire Collection and elsewhere, Celery & Coconuts – whose publication will continue – will stand as a tribute to a kind, devoted, brilliant and unimaginably brave man.
His long, courageous battle against cancer was fought with unfailing cheerfulness and resolute determination. Besides his mother, Andrew leaves two sisters and a brother.
He was even more surprised to hear that the young starlet, finding life at the top was not to his liking, wanted to come home.
‘We were living in a hotel and, as a reserve player, I was earning less than I had been at the Abbey Stadium,’ Hutchinson recalled later.
'So I approached Bill Leivers and asked if he would take me back. He said there would always be a place for me at the Abbey Stadium.’
But his big break in Chelsea’s first team wasn’t far away and, despite an awful succession of injuries that ended his career far too early, he became one of the Shed’s favourite adopted sons.
United and Chelsea fans alike mourned his premature death, at the age of 54, in 2002.
Well said, that woman. While I understand better than most that the dear departed will crave their nicotine hit beyond the grave, and will be anxious not to miss Strictly, I'm a stickler for strict adherence to the Cremation (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2016.
I'm writing to Ms Ball to ask if the explosive coconut bore any traces of amber and black.
After a 6-2 home win over Cottenham two weeks later, the local press hailed him as Abbey’s best player, adding: ‘He was originally a forward, and it was in that capacity that he was signed by Chelsea about two years ago.
‘He was then a good shot, but he has not only benefited by his sojourn with the professionals in that direction, but in all-round football ability.’
Alsop’s career was punctuated by periods when he concentrated on Thursday league football, and there were times when he seemed to be on the verge of signing for Cambridge Town.
But he occupies a prominent place in the list of the most influential players United have ever had.
Their mother placed five of her kids in an orphanage, but they were soon on their way to Britain aboard the liner Habana. They settled well in Cambridge – and football played a big role in the process.
‘Football meant everything to us; it was the only thing we knew about,’ Antonio (known as Tony) told El Pais in 2012. ‘We got attached to Cambridge and made a lot of friends here through playing football.’
Goalkeeper Tony and winger José (Joe) signed for Town as teenagers. Tony moved to the Abbey in 1943 before rejoining Joe at Milton Road, spending time as a professional with Norwich and then returning to United in 1947.
Joe left Town for Brentford and went on to play for Southampton and Colchester, but came back to United in 1951.
The Gallegos stayed in Cambridge for the rest of their lives, Joe dying in 2006 at the age of 82 and 90-year-old Tony passing away in 2015. I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts rang out loud and proud at the funeral.
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