An edited version of this article appeared in the Cambridge United matchday programme on 12 September 2015.
Even the most loyal of Cambridge United employees will admit that record-keeping has never been one of the club’s strong points. Coconuts’ requests for access to archives or objects have often been met with an apologetic shrug, although Abbey folklore tells of a long-lost vault, somewhere in the Main Stand’s warren of passageways and burrows, wherein lie the answers to a researcher’s prayer.
Having said that, your Coconuts team is hugely grateful for the club’s generosity in donating the precious artefacts that have graced the walls of the hospitality areas in days gone by. The same goes for Jez’s kind invitation to excavate a room whose existence was hitherto known only to a select few in the summer of 2015. So it was that on a sunny Friday morning, a ragged band of Coconuts volunteers looked on as the doors to this Aladdin’s cave swung open to reveal … dozens of bags of fertiliser.
Initial bitter disappointment – we’ve got nothing against fertiliser but, to be frank, when you’ve seen one bag of nitrogen-rich granules, you’ve seen them all – gave way to hoots of triumph as a dark corner of the nook was found to contain box upon box of what we in the heritage industry call ‘stuff’.
Framed photographs, trophies and mementoes of visits to clubs from Wroxham to Wiesbaden were uncovered alongside paintings, mirrors, pennants, a terrifically ugly clock, a toy lorry … then, with a grunt of satisfaction, a Coconutter, like a latter-day Pickles, emerged from the shadows clutching an extraordinary prize.
The photograph on the right shows a replica of the Jules Rimet Trophy – the one that was nicked prior to the 1966 World Cup before being found by the aforementioned collie in a South Norwood garden hedge; the one won by England that same year and by Brazil in 1970, before it fell into felons’ hands once more. ‘It's only twelve inches high, solid gold and it means England are the world champions,’ as Kenneth Wolstenholme described it on that unforgettable Wembley day.
This replica stands just eight inches high and is made not of gold but of an inferior painted metal. The brass plaque on its marble base is inscribed with the words ‘Presented by the Football Association to mark the winning of the World Cup 1966’. But to whom did the FA present it? Why was it languishing, seemingly forgotten, in a dingy Abbey cubbyhole? How did it get there?
There seem to be two schools of thought as to its origins: that such replicas were presented to the 1966 referees – the legendary Jack Cooke of Waterbeach wasn’t on that list, was he? – and that it was a gift to the grounds that hosted the games: Wembley, White City, Goodison, Old Trafford, Hillsborough and Villa, Roker and Ayresome Parks. The latter theory, which is supported by the fact that one of the little beauties can be found in the superb Everton Collection at Liverpool Record Office, leads us to suppose that there are only eight such replicas in existence.
How did this rare object come to be in United’s possession? Someone out there in the Cambridge football family must know the answer. If that someone is you, please get in touch here.
Until the question is answered, the replica will remain in its Costcutter bag, buried deep in good Fen soil near Prickwillow.