It was a great pleasure for 100 Years of Coconuts to welcome Jim White to the Abbey on Saturday. Jim, who as an ex-Portsmouth and ex-U's player had a foot in both camps, held his listeners in thrall as he recounted tales from a long, distinguished playing and coaching career and regaled listeners with his thoughts on the 3-1 Pompey win.
Dorset-born Jim was just 15 years and 321 days old when he made his debut for Bournemouth on 30 April 1958 – and he was still only 16 when he first played for Portsmouth, having switched south-coast clubs. Having been capped for England Youth, he moved to Gillingham before returning to Bournemouth in 1966.
He played in 175 League games for the Cherries before joining United on 9 December 1970 as player-coach, replacing non-playing coach Peter Watson and taking responsibility for the youth team. 'Before I was even considered for the post everybody I met in the game spoke highly of the club,' he said, 'and when I came for the interview I couldn’t help finding that there was an attitude of tremendous pride among the people here.'
Manager Bill Leivers made Jim his captain, and he made his debut on December 19 in a 2-0 home defeat by Northampton. He became a regular as either a centre-back or sweeper, and after a defiant 1-0 win at Stockport on January 15, Leivers declared: 'Jim White is about the best professional I have come across.'
Jim scored his first goal for United on 30 January 1971: a 25-yard free-kick in a 3-3 home draw with Barrow. He lost his first-team place to Alan Guild for the 1971/72 season but was a regular for the reserves and continued to coach. He stopped playing at the end of that season but remained as coach until he left at the beginning of 1973/74 to become first team coach at Reading. He had played 37 times and scored three goals for the U's.
He later returned to the Cambridge area and managed or coached at King’s Lynn, Histon, Cambridge City, Chatteris and Swavesey among other clubs. He still lives, with wife Sue, in Cambridgeshire and indulges his passion for the game regularly.
Coconuts thanks Peter Reeve for his sterling work in hosting his friend Jim on Saturday, and Andrew Bennett for providing the career information.
This article appeared in the Cambridge United programme for the game against Stevenage on 26 September 2015.
Favourite moment in United history? A certain early summer day at Wembley in 2014, perhaps. A cheeky flick, lob or chip from Dave Kitson? The moment in 1991 when the U’s strode out at Highbury to face the mighty Gunners, roared on by (literally) countless thousands? That unforgettable 5-1 at London Road in 1989? Or perhaps your memory goes back to the day in 1970 when United’s election to the Football League was announced, or further back to the days of Wilf Mannion, the Gallego brothers or even Abbey United’s Wally Wilson and Harvey Cornwell.
The story of the U’s covers a long, long time – 103 years, perhaps even longer – and involves innumerable people, places and events. It’s Coconuts’ aim to cover that entire era and recognise the huge part played by the Cambridge United family in making this the greatest little club in the world.
The first chance to do that in the flesh, as it were, comes next month when a 100 Years of Coconuts display opens at the Museum of Cambridge – the fascinating and inspiring place that used to be known as the Folk Museum. It’s on from October 9 until November 27, and you’ll find the museum at the corner of Castle Hill and Northampton Street.
This will be the first pop-up display in a series enabled by our grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and will be followed by a more permanent mini-museum in the Supporters’ Club. We’re talking to other museums that are keen to welcome similar displays. We’re also talking to the Abbey Stadium landlords, Grosvenor, but that’s a story for another time.
The Museum of Cambridge’s Community Cabinet, on the first floor of the ancient building that was once the White Horse Inn, enables many groups to put on this kind of exhibition. The Coconuts display will take visitors (that includes you) on a journey from 1912 to the present day using photographs, rare documents, memorabilia, other precious artefacts, a pair of ladies’ pants and a little imagination. The Coconuts mannequins, whom we’ve named Julian and Sandy in an act of homage to Round the Horne, will model contrasting football fashions from different eras.
While we’re making every effort to make this little exhibition as good as it can be, we’ll also be using it to learn museum-making lessons that will benefit us in formulating future displays. That’s where you come in. Feedback forms will be available at the museum, and we’d also welcome your thoughts in writing on what you’ve seen: please email firstname.lastname@example.org or use the contact form at 100yearsofcoconuts.co.uk/contact-us.html.
While we contemplate the prospect of huge swarms of U’s fans and football historians queuing all the way down to Magdalene Bridge, we’re also wondering where to put all the stuff we’re accumulating when it’s not on display. We’ve been particularly overwhelmed by donations of programmes. While the Coconuts programme collection is in its infancy, it’s fair to say we’ve more than enough from recent years. But please, if you’re thinking of donating or loaning programmes from between the 1940s and the 1980s, go right ahead. You can contact us via the means above, or perhaps leave small donations at the CFU caravan on match days.
See you at the museum.
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I'm the living embodiment of the spirit of the U's, and I'll be blogging whenever I've got news for you, as long as I don't miss my tea.