This article appeared in the Cambridge United matchday programme for the match against Mansfield Town on Saturday, 21 January 2017.
The Coconuts chaps were talking the other day. They do a lot of that, and there’s usually tea and chocolate digestives involved; even doughnuts sometimes. This time, for a change, they were yakking about something important: Andrew Bennett’s brilliant book about the early history of our club, Newmarket Road Roughs.
It’s been selling really well, and if you haven’t got your copy yet, get along to the CFU caravan or online store before they’re all gone – just £14.99 to you.
Andrew spent thousands of hours researching at the Cambridgeshire Collection, but he was far from the first U’s fan to make use of that excellent resource. Long before 100 Years of Coconuts was a twinkle in Dave Matthew-Jones’s eye, the history of Cambridge United was being studied by Paul Daw, and the result was his trio of books: United in Endeavour (covering the period 1912 to 1988), On the Up (1988 to 1991) and First Team Match Statistics (1913 to 1991).
While his time at Newmarket Road wasn’t as chock-full of achievement, it wasn’t without its challenges. He was unlucky enough to join the U’s during the mid-1980s, when the tenures of John Ryan and Ken Shellito were threatening to undo all the good work of the previous 70 years.
Some of the inaugural members of the Cambridge United Former Players' Association at the launch event in the Supporters' Club on Monday, July 4. From left: Tom Finney, Graham Daniels, Vic Phillips, Rodney Slack, Peter Bowstead, Peter Hobbs, Tom Youngs, Dan Gleeson, Steve Fallon, Peter Phillips, Jim White.
The first three inductees of the newly inaugurated Cambridge United Hall of Fame were honoured tonight by 100 Years of Coconuts.
At an award ceremony in the Supporters’ Club, presided over by United chairman Dave Doggett and fans’ elected director Dave Matthew-Jones, Russell Crane, Lil Harrison and Rodney Slack were inducted into the Hall of Fame.
The ceremony was watched by members of the Cambridge United Former Players’ Association, also launched tonight by Coconuts.
The Former Players’ Association has been set up with the aim of bringing the extended U’s family closer together, while the Hall of Fame recognises outstanding contributions to the development and history of the football club. Like Coconuts’ recently opened mini-museum, The Story of the U’s, the two initiatives have been made possible by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The Hall of Fame inductees were chosen by Coconuts and CFU trust board members. In future, Coconuts will look to involve the entire U’s supporter base in the voting process.
At first the Hall of Fame will take the form of a website, but Coconuts and Cambridge United are looking at the possibility of a physical display within the Abbey Stadium.
‘We were very clear when we set out to launch the Hall of Fame that we didn’t just want to honour players,’ said Coconuts chair Pat Morgan.
‘Fans are just as important to any football club as players, directors, financial supporters and staff, and the first three inductees are a good indication of that.
‘Russell Crane was just as much a U’s supporter as he was a player. Lil Harrison was involved with the club before the first world war and was still going to games in the 1990s. Rodney Slack has the U’s in his blood despite being born near the other place [Peterborough].
‘As Russell told us, the club is a family affair, and you couldn’t find three more committed family members than these first inductees.’
Russell Crane (1926-2016) grew up in a U’s-mad household in Ditton Walk, opposite the United ground. He broke many club records during an 18-year career with Abbey and Cambridge United, and was still attending games as a guest of Coconuts as recently as last year.
Rodney Slack was born in 1940. Voted player of the year three times in his first five years as a U’s player, he was idolised by the fans and continues to live within a stone’s throw of the Abbey. He is a 100 Years of Coconuts committee member and chairman of the Former Players’ Association.
Lil Harrison (1904-1996) first saw Abbey United play at the age of ten. She went on to become a stalwart of the Supporters’ Club committee, raised countless thousands of pounds as the club rose through the leagues and came to exemplify the family spirit of the club.
The inaugural membership of the Cambridge United Former Players’ Association is around 100 – a number that is expected to grow fast in the coming months.
They range from ‘Tickle’ Sanderson, who first played for Abbey United in 1939, to more recent players like Liam Hughes and Coconuts patron Luke Chadwick.
CUFPA, chaired by Rodney Slack, is setting up a website and will keep members in touch with a quarterly newsletter. Occasional small-scale social events will be arranged and members are encouraged to contact each other via a password-protected members’ area on the website.
The weather wasn't too kind, but the crowds still flocked to Abbey People's Big Lunch, held on Dudley Road Rec, Cambridge on Sunday, June 12. There they found 100 Years of Coconuts volunteers manning a stall and offering the chance to have a go at the coconuts.
Leon Legge had a go; Cambridge's mayor, councillor Jeremy Benstead had a go; former U's physio Greg Reid had a go; everyone had a go, with the result that, for the second year in a row and despite ordering twice as many coconuts this time, Coconuts ran out of coconuts. Must get some stronger glue.
There was plenty of interest in the United memorabilia on show, too. Old programmes, especially those from the 50s and 60s, evoked memories of the old days among the more mature residents of Abbey ward. And younger U's fans listened as Coconuts committee member Rodney Slack doled out goalkeeping tips and tales from the dressing room.
This was Coconuts' first appearance at a community event this year. Others, including a stall at United's open day on Sunday, July 24, are lined up. Check social media for further news.
The latest family to visit The Story of the U's, Coconuts' mini-museum in Cambridge United Supporters' Club, was that of Len Saward, a highly talented forward who made 170 appearances for the U's between 1952 and 1958.
Len also played a vital role in the U's massively successful commercial department in the 1960s, working under manager Dudley Arliss to sell pools tickets across a wide area of East Anglia. The scheme was acclaimed as the biggest in the country, and it helped United to lay the foundations for life in the Football League from 1970.
Len's brother Pat was the better known footballer, playing for Millwall, Aston Villa and Huddersfield and earning 18 Republic of Ireland caps, but there are those who believe Len was the more talented of the two. Now aged 89, he loves to talk about the old days, and he was in his element at The Story of the U's. He was accompanied by Jill Saward, his son Patrick and grandsons Jack and Charlie. We hope to see them all again soon.
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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.