This article appeared in the Cambridge United programme for the match against Dagenham & Redbridge on Tuesday, 27 September 2015
In advance of last Friday’s Cup tussle – some called it a clash, but we at 100 Years of Coconuts prefer the term tussle – there was much pub and terrace talk about connections between the two Uniteds: the Luke Chadwicks, Dion Dublins, David Moyeses and Ron Atkinsons, even the Peter Beardsleys and Colin Heaths of this world. At Coconuts Acres, however, we were glorying in a more tenuous link between the Abbey and Old Trafford.
Graham Felton holds a unique place in United’s history – indeed in the history of football as a whole. A rapid
Cambridge-born, he was just 15 when he made his first-team debut for the U’s in a Mithras Cup tie at Dagenham in December 1964. (Yes, the Mithras Cup was a thing; St Albans City won it that season.) At the following year’s Football League AGM, United proposed that non-League clubs should be allowed to take on one apprentice for every five full-time pros on their books. Not wishing to be labelled stick-in-the-muds – perish the thought – the League passed the motion and young Felton duly became non-League’s first apprentice.
He made his Southern League debut in November 1965 and was carving out a highly promising career when Northampton Town came calling. Graham signed for the Cobblers in 1966 and went on to make more than 250 League appearances for them, having played for England Youth with such luminaries as Trevor Brooking, Brian Kidd and Joe Royle along the way.
What has all this to do with Cambridge United v Manchester United? I told you the link was tenuous: on 7 February 1970, it was Northampton who took on the Red Devils in the FA Cup, and that tie has gone down in history. In the Cobblers’ side that day was the same Graham Felton who had blazed the apprenticeship trail at the Abbey Stadium. He recalled later: ‘I lined up opposite my hero, George Best. I looked around and saw Bobby Charlton, Pat Crerand and Alex Stepney. I was in awe of the whole situation.’
Like his teammates, Graham must have been sick of the sight of Manchester United, and Best in particular, by the time the ref blew the final whistle. The Reds made light of the County Ground’s acres of mud to wind up 8-2 winners, with the great Irishman notching a club record-equalling six goals.
Graham went on to play for Barnsley and Kettering Town before retiring to take up painting and decorating. He still lives in Northampton and it is 100 Years of Coconuts’ aim to visit him one day and record his memories of Cambridge United.