An edited version of this article appeared in the Cambridge United matchday programme for the game against Notts County on 20 February 2018.
Half-close your eyes and squint at the fuzzy, poor-quality photograph on the right. There are some unforgettable faces there; award yourself five points if you can name them all.
Clue: you’re looking for the likes of John ‘Shaggy’ Taylor, Tom Youngs, Alex Russell, ‘Dancing’ Shaun Marshall, Paul ‘Captain Fantastic’ Wanless, Andy Duncan and Martin Butler.
There are several others; some of them achieved great things at United and elsewhere. It’s a talented group of young men and also, it appears, a happy bunch.
Why wouldn’t they be? They’ve obviously passed a fun half-hour in creating an imaginative backdrop and they’re grouped round one of England’s most respected players and managers of recent decades – a man who a few months later would lead them to promotion to Division Three.
And Roy McFarland (for it is he) is showing off a rather handsome pot earned by the lads the previous season – the PFA Bobby Moore Fair Play Trophy for 1997/98 – topped by a black 'n' amber Father Christmas titfer.
Roy Mac, although proud of his charges for achieving the best disciplinary record in the Premier and Football Leagues, was at pains to stress the team’s fighting qualities when he spoke to reporters. ‘We are not a soft touch and not a lightweight side,’ he insisted.
It’s true that United, with battlers like Wanless, Duncan and Ian Ashbee in the side, could never have been accused of being softies. And the hefty presence up front of Trevor Benjamin ruled out any ‘lightweight’ jibes.
Indeed, the U’s claimed the award despite seeing two players – Messrs Wanless and Butler – make early use of the showers in one game. Then again, that match was the infamous FA Cup second round replay at Stevenage Borough in December 1997, when United were eliminated thanks to one of the most ridiculously inept refereeing performances ever seen in the Home Counties.
You can inspect the Fair Play Trophy at close quarters when you visit The Story of the U’s, our little museum in the Supporters’ Club. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange that visit. (To answer the disappointed punter who wrote words to the effect of ‘is that it?’ in the visitors’ book: yes, we know it’s small, but it’s a start.)
Established in 1988, it was of course named after a man who exemplified the spirit of fair play and was also one of the game’s greatest practitioners. Bobby Moore was, according to Franz Beckenbauer, ‘the best defender in the history of the game’, and Jock Stein observed: ‘There should be a law against him. He knows what's happening 20 minutes before everyone else.’
United’s connections with Moore don’t end with the capture of the 1997/98 trophy. As Andrew Bennett revealed in Risen from the Dust, the U’s provided the opposition to an all-star XI in Chelmsford manager Peter Harburn’s testimonial on 10 May 1966, and Moore and Geoff Hurst were among the guest players.
Hurst nabbed three goals in a 4-3 win for the stars. I wonder when his next hat-trick was.