An edited version of this article appeared in the Cambridge United match day programme for the League Two game against Swindon Town on 17 March 2018.
If you would like to witness a vision of almost unparalleled ugliness, pay a visit to the Abbey Arms, behind the main stand.
The clock hanging on the wall behind the bar is not, in my opinion, a thing of beauty. Some people disagree; I suppose there’s no accounting for taste.
Made somewhere in eastern Asia and imported specifically for the purpose I’m about to describe, it was scavenged from a bin by a gang of Coconuts mudlarks a couple of years ago and forms part of the organisation’s collection of U’s artefacts.
Although I recoil from the sight of it, I admit this hideous timepiece has two uses: telling the time (although not accurately) and throwing light on an often-overlooked aspect of United history.
The clock’s inscription tells its story: ‘Presented to the directors of Cambridge United by the manager and players in appreciation of their generous acts and support during the Southern League double season 1968/69.’
Everyone knows that United won the Southern League title two years running, in 1969 and 1970, helping to ease open the doors to the Football League. But the club’s 1960s exploits in the Southern League Cup receive far less attention.
Having already claimed the trophy in 1962 and 1965, the U’s set out to win it again on a Fenland summer’s day in 1968, drawing 1-1 at Wisbech with a goal from Tony Nicholas. Mick Brown and Richard Habbin did the business in a 2-0 second leg win and United were, thanks to a bye, through to round three.
This brought Brentwood to the Abbey; they must have wished they’d stayed in Essex. Andrew Bennett relates in Risen from the Dust that the U’s were 4-0 up inside 30 minutes, ‘combining slick football and deadly finishing’. Six players were on the scoresheet as United emerged as 6-1 victors, the highlight of the day being a ‘contemptuous’ backheel over the Blues goalkeeper by Bill Cassidy.
Our heroes had a few memorable tussles with Chelmsford City in the 60s; another awaited them in the quarter-final.
Smarting from the loss of Cassidy, Tony Butcher, Terry Eades and Peter Leggett to Bill Leivers’ side, the Clarets deployed an eight-man defence and carried out a thorough clogging job on the unfortunate Cassidy. It worked: they came away with a 0-0 draw.
Cambridge United's 1968/69 Southern League double-winning squad and their manager and directors with their trophies, from left the Cambridgeshire Professional Cup, Southern League championship shield and Southern League Cup. Personnel, back from left: Geoff Proctor (director), Jack Woolley (director), Mick Brown (coach), John Gregson, Terry Eades, Keith Barker, Gerry Baker, Robin Hardy, Bill Leivers (manager), Rodney Slack, Jackie Scurr, Peter Leggett, Phil Baker (secretary), Paddy Harris (director), Matt Wynn (director); front: Brian Grant, Mel Slack, Roly Horrey, Bill Cassidy, Dennis Walker, Jimmy Thompson, Tony Butcher, John Saunders
Semi-final time: Leivers had just 13 players including two goalkeepers at his disposal when Ashford came to town, but they proved adequate to the task and Cassidy, John Gregson and Horrey notched in a 3-2 win.
United’s depleted team took the game to Cheltenham in the first leg of the final, played at the Abbey on Easter Saturday. The Robins’ penalty area was busier than Mitcham’s Corner, noted the CEN, but Gerry Baker’s strike on the hour was the only score.
Second leg man of the match, the heroic Rodney Slack, was knocked unconscious near the end but found himself submerged by joyous teammates at the final whistle of a 0-0 draw that ensured the trophy’s return to Newmarket Road. The cup was United’s for the third time in eight years.