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.
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, the saying goes. Bill Leivers, the manager who took Cambridge United into the Football League, adapted the adage to ‘if you can’t beat ’em, sign ’em’ as he assembled the side that won back-to-back Southern League titles in 1969 and 1970.
Chelmsford City’s championship-winning side of 1967/68 contained many good players, but four of them – striking double act Tony Butcher and Bill Cassidy, centre half Terry Eades and scintillating winger Peter Leggett – were outstanding. So, in one of the most astute managerial moves in United’s history, Leivers persuaded them to fight for the amber and black cause.
The U’s looked like a good side before the arrival of the Chelmsford Four. After it, they had the look of title winners.
First Claret to join the Leivers revolution, in October 1968, was Scottish hitman Cassidy who, having notched 29 goals in Chelmsford’s league-winning season, had spent the summer in the States with the Detroit Cougars. Driving to his Essex home, Leivers persuaded King Cass to jump in his car and follow him back to Cambridge.
Next to arrive, just two days later, was Butcher, Chelmsford’s record goalscorer, for a fee of less than £500. ‘This should solve our failure to score goals,’ observed Leivers.
The others were a little slower to follow. Leggett, hailed as the non-League George Best, signed in March 1969 for an undisclosed fee and a couple of days later Eades followed him to Newmarket Road, the U’s handing over a cheque for £2,500 in return.
‘This finishes my shopping at Chelmsford,’ said Leivers. His spree had laid the foundations for the next stage in United’s rapid evolution, from Cambridgeshire League minnows in the 1940s to Football League members in 1970.
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