Coconuts and Cambridge United Former Players’ Association send their best wishes for a long and enjoyable retirement to Malcolm Webster, who ruled supreme between the Abbey goalposts for eight years between 1976 and 1984 and then served as manager Chris Turner’s assistant.
Malcolm, a highly respected goalkeeping coach who worked at Ipswich in two spells, retired from the game after a 2-2 draw with Middlesbrough last week. He told the Tractor Boys’ website: ‘I have had a great time over the 50 years and I’m happy with what I have achieved.’
The latter part of his career may have been spent teaching keepers the tricks of the trade – at Norwich, Colchester, Hearts, Southampton and Crystal Palace among other clubs – but it’s as a player that Malcolm is remembered at the Abbey. Dependable, brave, athletic, efficient and occasionally awe-inspiring, he played in 286 games for the U’s as they rose from the Fourth Division to the Second and stayed there for six seasons.
He kept 90 clean sheets during that time, 22 of them coming in his debut season of 1976/77, when he was ever present as United won the Fourth Division title.
Malcolm is a native of Doncaster, where he was born on 12 November 1950, but it was in north London that he made his first impression on football. He was 18 when he made his League debut for Arsenal, being thrown in at the deep end against Tottenham at Highbury when Bob Wilson broke an arm. The Gunners lost 4-3 but Malcolm kept his place until he was floored for 12 weeks by glandular fever and the club signed a replacement in Geoff Barnett.
He played around 100 times for both Fulham and Southend but fell out of favour at Roots Hall and was released in 1976. Disillusioned with football, he was working in a friend’s furniture store when he was given a month’s trial by U’s boss Ron Atkinson. His first appearance came in a behind-closed-doors pre-season friendly against Mansfield at the Abbey, won 3-1 by the visitors.
Malcolm’s United career really kicked off in the first leg of the League Cup at Oxford on 14 August 1976, when he was outstanding in a 1-0 defeat. A string of impressive performances and a couple of penalty saves earned him a permanent contract, which he signed following a 4-0 September win over promotion favourites Watford.
Quickly establishing himself as a lively presence in the dressing room, a reliable shot-stopper and – despite a previous reputation as vulnerable to crosses – commanding in the air, Malcolm made the number one spot his own and was voted player of the year by Supporters’ Club members.
That season was the start of a happy and fruitful stay at Newmarket Road that saw the club establish itself in Division Two under John Docherty. Malcolm’s last game as a U came in a 0-0 draw at Oldham on 4 February 1984, but he was back in 1986 as Chris Turner began the process of turning United’s fortunes around.
After a break from football starting in 1988, he began a coaching career that was remarkable for its longevity and successes. Malcolm was in great demand as a coach, both at club and at the goalkeeping school he ran with Fred Barber. Malcolm Webster, we salute you. Keep ’em out, Webby!
Clockwise, from top: Malcolm Webster in action for Cambridge United in a 2-1 Division Two defeat at Crystal Palace on 29 August 1981 (photograph: Cambridge Evening News); Webster in the late 1970s; saving the day in a 2-0 Division Four win at Scunthorpe on 26 March 1977; comparing hands with a youthful Keith Branagan (photo: Cambridge Evening News); with manager Chris Turner on 9 May 1986; as goalkeeping coach at Ipswich Town, 2017.
100 Years of Coconuts was saddened to hear of the death on March 29, at the age of 71, of former United loanee Colin Harper.
Left back Harper, better known for a long career at Ipswich Town, played an important role in United’s Fourth Division title-winning team of 1976/77, adding experience and ability to Ron Atkinson’s side in the latter part of the season.
Signing on a month’s loan in February 1977, with a view to a permanent move, he arrived at the Abbey Stadium to Atkinson’s words: ‘He has got a magic left foot and wants to prove something still. He has a world of experience and a good knowledge of the game.’
Harper made his debut in a 1-0 win at Bournemouth that put United two points clear at the top of the table. His loan was extended to the end of the season after a run of impressive performances but, after 15 games in amber, he failed to agree terms on a permanent move and moved to Port Vale as player-coach.
Born in Ipswich on 25 July 1946, he made 171 full appearances for his hometown club, scoring six goals, winning a Second Division winner’s medal in 1967/68 and playing in the UEFA Cup for Bobby Robson’s team.
Plagued by a knee injury picked up in 1973, he played just four times for Vale after leaving the Abbey, but filled in as acting manager after Roy Sproson’s departure before joining Waterford as player-manager. Back in East Anglia, he managed Sudbury Town and Chelmsford City.
Colin Harper in amber and black in 1977.
After retirement, he ran a successful building firm in Ipswich and was a regular spectator at Portman Road. He died after a long illness, leaving a wife, Carol, and three children.