This article appeared in the Cambridge United programme for the match against Forest Green Rovers on 26 September 2017.
Several elements of the photograph on this page allow us to date it to the late 1960s/early1970s. The buzz cut, braces and button-down collar sported by the tall gent on the left, for example, were undoubtedly complemented by a pair of DMs, useful in the event of the aggro that was all too prevalent at the time.
The real giveaway, of course, forms the centrepiece of the tableau and permits us to pinpoint its exact date: 2 May 1970. The magnificent trophy held aloft by Malcolm Lindsay and his U’s teammates is the Southern League championship shield, and they had just won it by beating Margate 2-0 in the final league match of the season.
Play Spot the Player and you’ll pick out Jimmy Thompson, Robin Hardy and Terry Eades. Those of us who were around at the time could pass a happy half-hour playing Spot the Fan among the masses on the Abbey pitch.
It’s a memorable image, which is one reason it was chosen for the front cover of Risen from the Dust, the second volume of Andrew Bennett’s Celery & Coconuts history of Abbey/Cambridge United. It will be published next month; preorder your copy now from the CFU online store or the caravan in the front car park on a match day.
Another reason for the photograph’s choice is that it represents the culmination of two decades of sky-high ambition, dogged determination and sheer, unceasing hard work on the part of supporters, directors, officials and players. The rapidity of the club’s rise from local league part-timers to a position that made it almost impossible for Football League clubs not to elect United to join them was unprecedented. It will never be repeated.
In the early weeks of 1951, the year in which Risen from the Dust opens, the U’s were still called Abbey United and were grubbing around in the semi-pro United Counties League.
A limited liability company looking after the club’s affairs – a declaration of the ambition burning bright at Newmarket Road – had been set up the year before, but the change of name to Cambridge United and acceptance into the Eastern Counties League were still in the future. Even the Southern League, at that time the biggest non-League competition, was a very distant prospect.
The book recounts the story of the nineteen short years it took the U’s to surge upwards through the ECL and the Southern League, win the latter twice and its league cup three times and hammer irresistibly on the door of the Football League’s art deco headquarters in Lytham St Annes.
Over the course of 388 pages, Andrew (belated congratulations on your appointment as club historian, lad) covers all the great moments and talking points in his familiar, eminently readable style. They include the development of the Abbey funded and carried out by supporters, the sight of football legend Wilf Mannion in amber and black, the unforgettable derby tussles of the 60s, the incredibly successful pools operation driven by Dudley Arliss, the constant bitter argument over the issue of City-United amalgamation … it’s all there. And stats fans get page after page of the factual stuff.
It can be yours for the ridiculously low price of £19.99, or £1 less if you’re a CFU member. We look forward to taking your order.
Coconuts was saddened to hear of the death on November 2, at the age of 72, of Peter Leggett, who starred for the U’s before and at the start of the club’s Football League adventure.
Peter was a hugely talented but mercurial winger who, with his flowing locks, was sometimes compared to the Beatles and in his Southern League days was nicknamed the George Best of non-League. Between 1969 and 1971 he played 69 times for United and scored seven goals. The number of goals he created is probably incalculable.
He is recalled fondly by supporters of both United and Chelmsford City, both of whom he helped to Southern League titles, and it is accepted that he could have played at a much higher level.
Peter was born in Newton-le-Willows on 16 December 1943 and started his career at Weymouth. Swindon paid £1,000 for him in 1962 and he started 15 League games for the Robins before transferring to Brighton in 1965. He made only three League appearances for the Seagulls before joining Chelmsford.
He was an integral part of the Essex side’s team as they won the Southern League championship in 1967/68. The following season, United manager Bill Leivers devastated the champions by signing four of their players: Tony Butcher, Bill Cassidy, Terry Eades and, in March 1969, Peter, for an undisclosed fee. He made his debut, on the right wing, in a 3-1 loss at Hillingdon on March 1. He played just once more in the Southern League that season, but United won the title and he was retained for the following term.
In September Leivers placed Leggett, Cassidy and John Saunders on the transfer list with a warning that they should buck their ideas up. Cassidy quickly re-established himself but Peter was in and out of the team, and in December he left for Lincoln City on a month’s trial. Lincoln wanted to keep him for a second month, but he preferred to return to the Abbey to fight for his place.
He returned to first-team action in February with a tremendous display in a Floodlit League match against King’s Lynn, tormenting the visitors’ defence and creating four goals in a 5-1 win. The following month he was outstanding in a 2-0 defeat of Chelmsford at the Abbey, tearing the opposing defence apart at his teasing, tormenting best. His performance was summed up by the first goal in which he nutmegged his full back by the corner flag, sped along the byline and pulled it back for George Harris, who struck the bar for Malcolm Lindsay to net with a diving header.
Leivers was moved to comment: ‘It was hard to reason why he was not playing for a First Division side. This boy has everything – pace, ball skill and an eye for the opening, but most of all in the last year he has become disciplined, with a wholly professional outlook.’
Leggett missed the last five games of the season with injury, but he had played his part as United became Southern League champions for the second time and were elected to the Football League.
United’s first League win, a 3-1 defeat of Oldham, was inspired by Peter’s twinkling toes; on 49 he jinked past three defenders as if they were not there and rolled the ball past the keeper to put his side level, and five minutes later he won a 30-yard dash for the ball and crossed for Harris to score with a diving header. Cassidy then made it 3-1 from another Leggett assist.
Gifted but still sometimes frustrating, Peter lost his place to Roly Horrey in November and was transfer-listed at his own request. No offers were received. He was also hit by a recurring muscle injury, and after United finished the season in an underwhelming 20th place, he was one of six players declared surplus to requirements. Talks with Cambridge City broke down when he suffered a recurrence of a groin injury, and his professional career was over.
In 2013 Leivers revealed that, after one game in which Peter had run his full back ragged, he told the player that, if he continued to play like that, he could command a transfer fee of £50,000. ‘Don’t talk daft,’ replied the winger.
Peter later worked as a manager for the Britvic soft drinks company in Chelmsford, the city where he remained for the rest of his life. He left a widow, Margaret, and three children.
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