Coconuts was saddened to learn, following the death of Tickle Sanderson in August, that Cambridge United had lost another nonagenarian ex-player the previous month: Brian Holmes died on July 29, aged 91.
Wing half Brian, although better known for his career at Cambridge Town/City, played 46 times and scored two goals for Abbey United between 1947 and 1949, before crossing the river to join the Lilywhites.
Brian’s football ability first became apparent at Bottisham Village College and then with the Air Training Corps. A spell in India with the RAF saw him win station cups at Calcutta, Bangalore and Madras. On demobilisation, he played for Fen Ditton before moving down Newmarket Road to join the Abbey.
He made 26 United Counties League appearances, scoring two goals, for United during 1947/48, and played another ten games in 1948/49.
He made his first-team debut for Town in a friendly against DOS Utrecht in April 1949. Two years later, against Walton & Hersham in April 1951, he claimed the distinction of being the first scorer of an Athenian League goal for the newly renamed Cambridge City.
Brian had played 117 times and scored five goals for Town/City when his career was cut short by a knee injury: his final game was at home to Barnet on 5 December 1953. Earlier that season, he had played in City’s 3-1 FA Cup defeat to United in front of a crowd of 11,908 at Milton Road.
The funeral took place in Fen Ditton on August 23. He leaves a son, John, and daughters Carmen and Silvana.
Cambridge City historian Neil Harvey writes: Some of you may remember Brian as an education welfare officer working in Cambridge, and in the early 1980s I worked with him in the long-gone Gloucester Street offices of the county council. His stories of playing for and watching Cambridge Town/City helped to spark my interest in the history of the club. My favourite of Brian’s recollections was the day he saw the legendary Dixie Dean, allegedly under the influence, score eight goals in one game at Milton Road during the war. Brian was a guest of honour at the final game at Milton Road in 2013 and I had the pleasure of chatting with him on a number of times over the years long after his retirement from work.
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.
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