This article first appeared in the 24-30 May 2017 issue of the Cambridge Independent.
While some English footballers are currently seeking new employers or poring over contract offers, others are in a more relaxed state of mind. Those Cambridge United players whose futures at Newmarket Road are secure – at least for another season – may well be dreaming of a faraway beach, or perhaps getting down to a little light DIY. They won’t be pulling on the amber and black for a while.
Twice in United’s history, however, the season has extended well beyond the usual mid-May finish and taken the players on punishing overseas tours that must have had them yearning for their deckchairs. On both occasions, those players had already endured long, hard seasons – and been rewarded with unprecedented success.
By the end of May 1970, the U’s had fulfilled more than 80 competitive fixtures, had secured the Southern League title for the second year running and were waiting to hear if the 92 Football League clubs would vote to admit them to the game’s elite. The all-important meeting was a day away when the squad set out for West Germany, to take part in a summer tournament.
The news of United’s election to the League, when it reached North Rhine-Westphalia, inspired the players to win all of their three group matches inside five searingly hot days. Bonner SC, captained by former Uruguay skipper Horacio Troche, were beaten 2-1, then Wesseling District were despatched 3-0 by a U’s side putting on a show: goalkeeper Rodney Slack played up front and winger John McKinven delighted the crowd when he flicked the ball up, caught it on the back of his neck and ran past a defender.
United then beat DJK Gütersloh 4-3 after falling behind three times, before, exhausted by the schedule and the heat, losing 2-1 in the final to Bayer 04 Leverkusen of German football’s second tier. Jubilant crowds awaited them on their return to Cambridge.
Three years later, United had just won promotion to League Division Three, thanks to a breathless 3-2 win over Mansfield at an overflowing Abbey Stadium, when they flew to Cyprus for a tournament organised by ASIL FC. One man who didn’t join them was manager Bill Leivers, who was enjoying a family holiday in the Spanish sun. Under the wing of trainer John Simpson, and in stifling heat, the U’s played three European teams in the space of four days.
First time out they lost 3-0 to Praionia of Romania but made a great start to their second game, against Brno-Moretz: Graham Smith became the only U’s goalkeeper to score a first-team goal when his monster clearance bounced off the rock-hard pitch and past the keeper to give his side the lead. The final score was 3-3.
The following day, the tiring U’s lost 2-1 after taking the lead against Cypriot champions Omonia Nicosia – and the capacity crowd of 10,000 included at least one United supporter. Seventeen-year-old Richard Harradine, who was based in Cyprus with the Royal Navy, walked 18 miles in low-30s heat to wave his scarf – that’s dedication. I bet the players sank a beer or two after the final whistle of an exhausting year.
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.