An edited version of this article first appeared in the 24-30 May 2017 issue of the Cambridge Independent.
Andrew Bennett’s definitive history of Cambridge United, Risen from the Dust (available from the CFU store) picks up where the first volume, Newmarket Road Roughs, left off in 1951, and ends with United being elected to the Football League in 1970.
It’s memory-stirring stuff for us old codgers for many reasons, but perhaps the most evocative passages are those that cover the old U’s-City rivalry.
Younger readers will probably struggle with this: back then, the battle for football supremacy in Cambridge meant just as much to supporters as those in Liverpool or Manchester. We lived in a divided city.
Eagerly awaited derbies drew massive crowds, and as a fan you were either a U or a Lilywhite. But there have always been players who were happy to be either.
It started in 1921, when Abbey United loaned top scorer Wally Wilson to Cambridge Town for a big FA Cup tie against Kettering. As United began to rise up the Cambs League, their players started to attract regular attention from the bigger, wealthier Town.
During the 1920s, Bert Langford, Bill ‘Pim’ Stearn, Tom Caldecote, Frank Luff, Cyril Morley, ‘Erstie’ Clements and Harold ‘Darley’ Watson were all tempted to cross the river; at a time of rising unemployment, Town could offer the players off-pitch jobs.
In 1936, striker Harry Mann scored hat-tricks in his first two games for United, whereupon Town snapped him up. The exodus continued before and after World War II as Reg Kimberley, Joe Richardson and Den Smith moved north of the Cam but, once the U’s turned semi-pro in 1947, the flow slowed to a trickle.
Former Town players Tony Gallego, Len Hartley, Fred Mansfield and Stan Thurston all signed for United, although not directly from Milton Road. A turning point came in 1950 when Town’s top scorer, Neville Haylock, defected to the U’s, and Bill O’Donnell, Ted Culver and Len Linturn also later crossed to Newmarket Road, the latter causing a minor sensation in turning pro.
In 1958 City turned professional too. They signed the skilful Eddie Robinson from United in 1959, and when the U’s began employing only full-timers in 1960, hitman Brian Moore, wanting to keep his job at Pye Telecom, moved to Milton Road.
During the 1960s the rivalry intensified but the player traffic continued. United signed City full back Dai Jones in 1962, and a year later City exchanged cash and Willie Devine for U’s forward Freddie Bunce. United captured Barry Smith, Roy Poole and Billy Wall from Milton Road, while Frank Allen, John Hiner, Norman Bleanch, Matt McVittie and Gerry Graham (signed by former U Roy Kirk) moved north.
The clubs’ paths diverged in 1968 when City experienced relegation for the first time. From now on, players signing for the Lilywhites, such as Gerry Baker (1969) and Wes Maughan (1970), were surplus to requirements at United. When the U’s were elected to the League, decades of rivalry effectively ended.
But cross-Cam dealings have continued. The clubs may now be four pyramid levels apart, but players will doubtless swap amber for white as long as they exist.
It was apt that Joe and Tony Gallego should play for both senior Cambridge clubs – which, at the time that they first appeared, were known as Cambridge Town and Abbey United.
It was our city that welcomed the brothers as refugees in 1937, when they fled their native Basque country to escape Hitler’s deadly Condor Legion bombers.
The Legion, flying in support of Francisco Franco’s Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War, killed the Gallego children’s father when it bombed the Basque town of Guernica.
‘Football meant everything to us; it was the only thing we knew about,’ Antonio (known as Tony) told El Pais in 2012. ‘We got attached to Cambridge and made a lot of friends here through playing football.’
Goalkeeper Tony and winger José (Joe) signed for Town as teenagers. Tony moved to the Abbey in 1943 before rejoining Joe at Milton Road, spending time as a professional with Norwich and then returning to United in 1947.
Joe left Town for Brentford and went on to play for Southampton and Colchester, but came back to United in 1951.
The Gallegos stayed in Cambridge for the rest of their lives, Joe dying in 2006 at the age of 82 and 90-year-old Tony passing away in 2015. I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts rang out loud and proud at the funeral.