An edited version of this article appeared in the Cambridge United matchday programme for the game against MK Dons on 13 October 2018.
Long winter evenings spent yarning round a hissing log fire are just around the corner. You’ll be wanting some U’s-related trivia for you and your mate to debate.
Here’s a question to set tongues wagging: can you name the grounds within the Cambridge city boundaries that United have played at?
We don’t need to refer to Andrew Bennett’s brilliant Celery & Coconuts history books to be able to list the Abbey Stadium (formerly known as the Abbey ground or simply Newmarket Road) and its predecessor, the Celery Trenches, located nearby.
Early in the last century, ‘home’ United venues included Parker’s Piece, Stourbridge Common and Midsummer Common, and at least one fixture of more recent times was played on Coldhams Common.
Early ‘away’ venues included the New Cherry Hinton ground, somewhere in Newnham, Chesterton Rec and Trinity New Ground.
United have performed on the sacred turf of Fenner’s cricket ground and, equally surprisingly, have turned out twice at the University’s rugby union headquarters in Grange Road.
The first occasion they ventured on to oval-ball territory was in December 1942, when the wartime Abbey United stuffed a local civil service team 10-2.
The next came on 20 March 1954, when the U’s took on their supposedly bigger and better rivals from over the Cam in a Cambs Invitation Cup semi-final.
The new-look cup was supposed to have featured eight clubs that season but holders Wisbech decided they had better things to do. That left United, City, Camden, Ely, Histon, March and Pegasus – a club composed of Cambridge and Oxford students – to fight it out.
Centre forward Albert George – father of former Abbey beat bobby Trevor – notched a hat-trick as the U’s thrashed March 6-1 in the first round and set up the Grange Road showdown.
United were expected to beat the City gents, who had finished a disappointing seventh in the Athenian League, and goals from inside left Jack Thomas duly made it 2-0 in front of an all-ticket crowd of 5,000.
The final, against Histon at Milton Road, started badly and quickly got worse.
Player-manager Bill Whittaker had to have painkilling injections before and during the match (partly excusing a late penalty miss, perhaps) and Thomas, victim of a leg muscle strain early on, hobbled through the game as a passenger. It finished goalless.
Chaos then ensued: no one had a clue what was supposed to happen next. Should extra time be played or not? Eventually, Cambs FA secretary Bill Ling stepped forward to decree that the match should continue.
A crowd of 5,645 watched, grumbling, as U’s and Stutes slugged it out. At the end of 120 strength- and patience-sapping minutes, it was still 0-0 as far as anyone could make out – night had descended by that stage.
The season was at an end and there was nothing else for it: a replay would have to be staged the following season.
United finished the job nearly six months later with a 3-1 win at Milton Road, Thomas (two) and Peter Dobson doing the goalscoring honours.