Andrew Stephen, editor of the CFU fanzine Amber News, gives his impressions of volume two of Celery & Coconuts, Andrew Bennett's history of Abbey/Cambridge United.
I find it almost impossible to like books about sport in general and about football in particular. Most writers who know about their sport find it difficult to convey the sense of excitement generated by a live event. Being there, when something that matters to you is happening, is a deeply personal thing. Football writers increasingly kill off their subjects with a kind of trainspotter’s approach to statistics, or, in the case of the tabloid ‘journalists’, a desire to dwell on celebrity and gossip rather than the nuances of the game.
Of course, Andrew Bennett has been writing match reports, with flair, insight and no little humour, for years. And he is a man who can be trusted with the history of the world’s greatest football team.
I was nearly seven when the fifties came to an end but this book brings that vital decade vividly to life, explaining how Abbey United were gradually transformed into a much more professional outfit ready to dominate the Southern League. Those watching games in that era will tell you that Wilf Mannion, even at 38 years old, was the greatest player ever to play for Cambridge United. Volunteers continued to develop and sometimes build parts of the ground, players of pedigree came and went and the club’s directors became ever more ambitious.
For me, the acid test for this book covered the games between 1967 and our election to the Football League, my first three years as a fan.
Leaving aside scores and their significance, I was taken back to paying 1/6d at the turnstiles as a Junior, the smell of sweet pipe tobacco at the Newmarket Road End, buying pies from the Supporters’ Club on the terrace which is now the Disabled Enclosure and the expectation of winning every game.
As the pages turned, I could see once again Ian Hutchinson’s booming long throws, the bravery of Rodney Slack, the elegance of Robin Hardy and the class of George Harris. Life was simpler then; cash on the gate, only one manager, no ‘simulation’, no corporate pressures or obsession with image – but I digress.
And there were the downsides, like the fateful Easter when we lost twice to our big rivals Chelmsford City. The following season, having bought their four best players, we were ready to storm into the Football League. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Andrew is a fine writer and a real fan. If you like football, nostalgia and the story of a little club which became great because of its people, you’ll love this.
Risen from the Dust: The story of Cambridge United Football Club; 1951-1970 by Andrew Bennett. Published by Lovely Bunch. £19.99 (£1 discount for CFU members). Available online at cambridgefansunited.org/store/c4/Books.html and from the CFU caravan on a match day.
This article appeared in the Cambridge United official programme for the game against Accrington Stanley on Saturday, 1 October 2016.
Footballers’ nicknames can be really boring, can’t they? Too often it’s just a case of adding a ‘y’ or an ‘o’ to a surname – Mooro, Bally, – or shortening the name and adding an ‘s’ – Becks, Blatts, Cholmondeley-Warns.
The U’s have been as guilty of this lazy practice as any other club. On the other hand, we have a proud history of nickname creativity: who was the genius who first dubbed John Taylor ‘Shaggy’? How did Gary Clayton become Hedgy? Was Lindsay Smith’s ‘Wolfie’ moniker the result of a Habbin wit’s contribution to a Saturday afternoon?
Go further back in U’s history and you’ll come across the likes of Buzzer, Cruncher and Scobie. But if you explore the period covered by Andrew Bennett’s wonderful book Newmarket Road Roughs, published this month by Lovely Bunch, you’ll be able to mine a fabulously rich seam of nickname gold.
Here are some of the mysteries 100 Years of Coconuts researchers hope to solve (if you know the answers, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org): whence came the ‘Pop’ in Stan ‘Pop’ Ballard? Why was Harold Watson known as Darley? Who put the ‘Pim’ in Bill Stearn? What was the story behind Jim ‘Squatter’ Smith? Why did everyone call William Freeman ‘Fanny’? Was it a result of dressing room bants? I shudder to think.
My favourite is the byname bestowed on Albert Dring, who was Abbey United’s top goalscorer in 1922/23 and finished his Wasps career with 34 goals from 46 appearances. I would love to know why he rejoiced in the nickname ‘Twitter’. We can rule out the suggestion that he spoke in sentences of 140 characters.
An extract from Newmarket Road Roughs (yours for £14.99, or £13.99 if you’re a CFU member, via the CFU online store or the caravan on a match day) shows how important Twitter was to the Abbey, and gives a flavour of the kind of football they were playing in the 20s: ‘In the Minor Cup, Abbey were favourites to beat Soham Comrades in the semi-final at Cambridge Town’s new Milton Road ground, but found themselves two goals down after 70 minutes. Wilson then swapped positions with Dring and converted a penalty to pull one back before Soham’s Talbot skied a spot kick that would surely have clinched it; duly encouraged, Dring headed an equaliser ten minutes from time and seconds later right winger Tom Langford snatched a dramatic winner.
‘The final at the same venue two weeks later was against Cambridge GER, whom the Abbey had already thrashed 10-2 and 5-1 in the league, but they were shocked when Cracknell fired the Railwaymen ahead inside the first minute. Dring soon equalised, but GER had a game plan that involved stopping the Abbey from playing their normal game and the nearest United came to scoring again was when Wilson hit the post in the second half.
‘United had no such difficulties in the league. In February they thrashed their nearest rivals, Newnham Institute, 6-0, with Wilson and Dring contributing two goals apiece. “Abbey played on the top of their form, and won with ease,” stated the match report. “They are a well-balanced side, and it will not be a surprise if some of their players find a way into higher class teams.”’
Recognise the players pictured above? Of course you do. Now, recall their nicknames, then order Newmarket Road Roughs here and enter a nickname wonderland.
Packed with the fascinating stories of the characters who saw our club, always firmly based in its community, through its formative years and on to the brink of national recognition, Newmarket Road Roughs comes with details of every game played by Abbey United in its first 40 years, plus league tables and playing records.
Those appendices alone are worth the cover price of £14.99 for this attractively designed hardback book – the first of many to come from Andrew Bennett and Lovely Bunch. To preorder your copy, go to cambridgefansunited.org/store/c4/Books.html or visit the CFU outlet on a match day. Alternatively, drop a line to email@example.com. Members of CFU enjoy a £1 discount.
We’ll let you know when your copy of Newmarket Road Roughs is available to pick up or is in the post. By choosing to collect from the CFU caravan you will avoid the postal charges of £2.99 for normal post and £5.99 for Royal Mail special delivery.
Happy reading! The past will soon be present.
Happy Harry's blog
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.