The Cambridge United family is mourning the death on March 7, at the age of 89, of Len Saward, a highly influential and popular player in the 1950s and later a huge contributor to the club’s commercial success.
Len was born on 6 July 1927 in Aldershot. August of the following year saw the birth of his brother Pat, who would go on to play for Millwall, Aston Villa and Huddersfield and earn 18 caps for the Republic of Ireland. Len was less driven than his brother but there were those who thought him the better player. Indeed, no less an authority than Wilf Mannion called Len the cleverest footballer he played with.
He developed into an elusive inside forward with a powerful shot and, having played nine League games for Crystal Palace between 1948 and 1950, he turned down Notts County before joining non-League Tonbridge. United player-manager Bill Whittaker signed him for £750 in late September 1952 and he scored on his debut, a 5-1 win at Stowmarket, on October 2. He came close to scoring a hat-trick when his penalty hit the post in a 3-0 defeat of Chelmsford City Reserves.
The following season he claimed a hat-trick in a 5-3 win over Stowmarket and played a prominent part in United’s notable 3-1 FA Cup win at Cambridge City before a crowd of 11,908. That cup run led to the club’s 2-1 giant-killing victory over Division Three South’s Newport County in a replay at Somerton Park, in which Len headed United’s first goal.
Newport were impressed, and Len joined the Welsh club for £750 on New Year’s Day 1954. He soon regretted the move. For a time he continued to live in Cambridge and trained in London, but after 25 League games, five goals and a trial with Brentford he was allowed to rejoin the U’s in March 1955, just after Whittaker had resigned.
Playing under new manager Gerald Williams, Len scored within 30 seconds of the start of the first game of 1955/56, going on to complete a hat-trick in a 3-1 win over Lowestoft. After a one-month suspension for failing to be ‘in a fit state to give of his best in the interests of the club on the field’, he regained his place under another new manager – Bert Johnson – and scored in United’s first game under floodlights, a 3-0 East Anglian Cup win at Bury Town.
The 1956/57 season saw Len playing on the right wing as part of perhaps United’s strongest ever forward line, which included Mannion, Bernard Moore, Brian Moore and Kevin Barry. He was allowed to miss a match in March so that he could watch brother Pat play for Villa in an FA Cup semi-final against West Bromwich Albion.
In October 1957 he was granted a benefit match against Aston Villa, and he used some of his testimonial fund to buy the club its first floodlights: lamps mounted on telegraph poles, costing £14 each. Villa could not make the agreed date so United’s first game under the lights was a 3-0 defeat of Great Yarmouth in the East Anglian Cup on October 21; fittingly, Len scored the first goal.
His benefit match eight days later attracted a crowd of 5,500 to see United take on an Invitation XI including stars like Peter McParland, Jack Kelsey, Noel Cantwell and of course Pat Saward. Len subsequently sold the floodlights to the club.
He was released in 1958, having played 170 games and scored 43 goals for the U’s. He joined Sudbury Town, later moved on to Newmarket Town and was player-manager of Soham Town Rangers in 1965 when he took on the job of assistant admin secretary at United.
He proved a vital part of Dudley Arliss’s massively successful pools team, which helped to provide the funds to support the club’s applications to join the Football League. United’s successful bid in 1970 owed much to the work of Dudley, Len and other members of the team.
Len worked in the commercial department until 1987 and in later life was a porter at Magdalene College. He lived in Cambridge until his death.
He is survived by brother Fred, sister Kathleen, former wife Jill, long-term partner Sylvia Emmerson, son Patrick, daughters Theresa, Rebecca, Jill and Lynn and grandchildren Charlie, Jack, Daisy, Toby, Pippa, Natalie, Leroy and Anthony.