Old friendships were renewed and new ones forged when members of Cambridge United Former Players' Association gathered at the Abbey Stadium on Saturday, September 22 to watch the 1-1 draw with Mansfield.
It was the first large gathering of the association, which was launched in 2015 by 100 Years of Coconuts and now has nearly 170 members.
Representatives of teams from the 1950s to the 2000s accepted the invitation of CUFPA chairman Rodney Slack and Graham Daniels, United's director of football, to attend the match.
They came from as far afield as Lancashire (Brian Greenhalgh), Oxfordshire (Paul Wanless), Lincolnshire (Derrick Christie) and Buckinghamshire (Wes Maughan).
United laid on a pre-match buffet lunch in the Abbey Arms, where 25 ex-U's, named in the top picture caption, met to swap memories over a drink.
After watching visitors Mansfield take a first-half lead, they took to the pitch at half-time to a warm reception from an appreciative Abbey crowd.
Relieved by George Maris's deserved 88th minute equaliser, they gathered in the Dion Dublin Bar to continue their reminiscences.
It was the first such gathering, but CUFPA and Cambridge United are looking forward to welcoming more members to future ex-player days.
CUFPA members line up in the Abbey Stadium centre circle, 22 September 2018. From left: Omer Riza, Derrick Christie, Tom Youngs, Soner Zumrutel, Ray Freeman, Roly Horrey, Peter Phillips, Peter Bowstead, Graham Felton, Terry Eades, John Hiner, Brian Grant (with Roly Horrey's grandson, Louis Brown), Willy Watson, Derek Haylock, Steve Fallon, Wes Maughan, Gerry Baker, Rodney Slack, Brian Greenhalgh, Tony Willson, Tom Higgins, Paul Wanless, Sam Harris, Andy Duncan, Colin Bate. All photos: Ben Phillips & Principal Studios.
Some of the inaugural members of the Cambridge United Former Players' Association at the launch event in the Supporters' Club on Monday, July 4. From left: Tom Finney, Graham Daniels, Vic Phillips, Rodney Slack, Peter Bowstead, Peter Hobbs, Tom Youngs, Dan Gleeson, Steve Fallon, Peter Phillips, Jim White.
The first three inductees of the newly inaugurated Cambridge United Hall of Fame were honoured tonight by 100 Years of Coconuts.
At an award ceremony in the Supporters’ Club, presided over by United chairman Dave Doggett and fans’ elected director Dave Matthew-Jones, Russell Crane, Lil Harrison and Rodney Slack were inducted into the Hall of Fame.
The ceremony was watched by members of the Cambridge United Former Players’ Association, also launched tonight by Coconuts.
The Former Players’ Association has been set up with the aim of bringing the extended U’s family closer together, while the Hall of Fame recognises outstanding contributions to the development and history of the football club. Like Coconuts’ recently opened mini-museum, The Story of the U’s, the two initiatives have been made possible by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The Hall of Fame inductees were chosen by Coconuts and CFU trust board members. In future, Coconuts will look to involve the entire U’s supporter base in the voting process.
At first the Hall of Fame will take the form of a website, but Coconuts and Cambridge United are looking at the possibility of a physical display within the Abbey Stadium.
‘We were very clear when we set out to launch the Hall of Fame that we didn’t just want to honour players,’ said Coconuts chair Pat Morgan.
‘Fans are just as important to any football club as players, directors, financial supporters and staff, and the first three inductees are a good indication of that.
‘Russell Crane was just as much a U’s supporter as he was a player. Lil Harrison was involved with the club before the first world war and was still going to games in the 1990s. Rodney Slack has the U’s in his blood despite being born near the other place [Peterborough].
‘As Russell told us, the club is a family affair, and you couldn’t find three more committed family members than these first inductees.’
Russell Crane (1926-2016) grew up in a U’s-mad household in Ditton Walk, opposite the United ground. He broke many club records during an 18-year career with Abbey and Cambridge United, and was still attending games as a guest of Coconuts as recently as last year.
Rodney Slack was born in 1940. Voted player of the year three times in his first five years as a U’s player, he was idolised by the fans and continues to live within a stone’s throw of the Abbey. He is a 100 Years of Coconuts committee member and chairman of the Former Players’ Association.
Lil Harrison (1904-1996) first saw Abbey United play at the age of ten. She went on to become a stalwart of the Supporters’ Club committee, raised countless thousands of pounds as the club rose through the leagues and came to exemplify the family spirit of the club.
The inaugural membership of the Cambridge United Former Players’ Association is around 100 – a number that is expected to grow fast in the coming months.
They range from ‘Tickle’ Sanderson, who first played for Abbey United in 1939, to more recent players like Liam Hughes and Coconuts patron Luke Chadwick.
CUFPA, chaired by Rodney Slack, is setting up a website and will keep members in touch with a quarterly newsletter. Occasional small-scale social events will be arranged and members are encouraged to contact each other via a password-protected members’ area on the website.
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