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An edited version of this article appeared in the Cambridge United matchday programme for the game against Oldham Athletic on 9 March 2019.
If you’ve been supporting the U’s for fewer than sixty-six years – that’s most of you, then – you might think that our club’s quest for a new ground is a recent thing.
Younger supporters will be aware of our landlord’s attempts within the last few years to develop a sporting village featuring a state-of-the-art stadium at Trumpington.
That grand scheme fell by the wayside, as have attempts over the last twenty years to get developments going at Milton, up towards Quy on the Newmarket Road, on various sites in the city and in the Ian Darler’s back garden. I made that last one up.
There have also been numerous ill-fated plans for the redevelopment and/or expansion of the Abbey. Most of them got no further than the drawing board before being pooh-poohed by the city council’s planners, but we did get as far as the erection of the South Stand before the rest of that scheme, which would have involved the redevelopment of the front of the ground, was shelved.
That’s all recent history, and the saga isn’t finished yet. We’re waiting to hear whether the Abbey will be redeveloped some day or whether we’ll eventually be playing in a New Abbey somewhere else.
But United had occupied the present site for only twenty years when there was an outbreak of itchy feet among the club’s directors.
The first game on our present territory was played in 1932. Before that United played on the Midsummer and Stourbridge Commons, on Parker’s Piece and at the fabulously named Celery Trenches, very close to the present site of the Abbey.
But delve into the minutes of 1952 board meetings and you’ll find references to the mooted new ground directors wanted to build on the opposite side of Newmarket Road, just the other side of Barnwell Bridge.
If their work had borne fruit, the U’s would have come full circle with a return to the place that saw the first Abbey United games in 1912 – Stourbridge Common.
At the site directors had in mind, however, ‘there would of course be no restriction as to development upon this ground for this type of sport, nor would there be any restrictions as to crowd capacity within limits.’
Board members busied themselves behind the scenes by lobbying the planners, but to no avail: the city council objected to the proposed development. It had, it said, acquired the land in question for use as a refuse tipping area and in the longer term it wanted it to be zoned for storing civil defence materials – Cold War tensions and fears of nuclear war were high at the time – or for use as a lorry park.
The chief constable weighed into the debate, saying that, even if United reached the Third Division and attracted crowds of 15,000, dispersing them from the current ground wouldn’t pose much of a problem. And that was that.
But we can still have some fun in trying to identify the land that United wanted to occupy.
Much of it is today occupied by the industrial estate, just the other side of the bridge, where some supporters park on a match day. Before that, and before the council used it as a tip, it played an important role in the history of Cambridge’s brickmaking industry.
For the last twenty years of the nineteenth century and the first thirty of the twentieth, Newmarket Road was the focal point of an industry that made use of the thick seam of ‘blue’ gault clay that lay beneath Barnwell. The bricks it produced are preserved in the distinctive pale cream of the Cambridge area’s houses and public buildings.
When, in 1977, Hilda Swann set about jotting down her memories of the brickyards whose factories, chimneys and huge clay pits once dotted the area, she recalled four operations.
To the left of the road if you were heading into the city, opposite Stanley Road, was the business of Watts & Co, which was also a timber merchant. Further along was the Cambridge Brick Company’s yard.
The Cambridge (Stourbridge) Brick Company was approached from Cheddars Lane, the other side of Newmarket Road, while near Barnwell Bridge stood Swann’s Brickyard, part of a larger family business founded by Hilda’s ancestors Henry John and Alfred Swann, and trading under the name of H&A Swann Brothers. The Swanns’ land is the area we’re interested in.
It extended to Garlic Row, and until Stourbridge Fair, once Europe’s largest annual marketplace, finally faded into history in the early 1930s, the fence along this edge had to be set back to make room for the business of selling and merrymaking. The other boundaries were formed by the Common, the railway and Newmarket Road.
Ever wondered how Swanns Road got its name? Now you know.
I’m happy to give a plug to 100 Years of Coconuts’ second home and the priceless source of a wealth of local history: the Cambridgeshire Collection. It’s where the photograph of HC Swann and his employees at the brickyard, taken in about 1910, comes from and also where you can find Hilda Swann’s beautifully handwritten memories.
It’s also where those United board meeting minutes can be found, among an invaluable stash of documents and other artefacts donated to the Collection by one of those directors who were in 1952 dreaming of relocation: local signwriting legend Cyril Swainland.
The map reproduced above comes from a time when ‘Marshalls Ltd’ still offered cars for hire and driving tuition by ‘qualified RAC instructors’, and when our neighbours across the river were still known as Cambridge Town.
The Imps manager – none other than John Beck – had instructed two or three of his players to charge the ball as the first whistle of the afternoon sounded, said Nader. As we all know, opposing players are only allowed into the centre circle once the ball has been played, not simply after the ref has blown.
‘Corazzin didn't touch the ball, only to see a Lincoln player steam in and take the ball off him, before the ref halted play and demanded a restart,’ wrote Nader. ‘However, after three starts, and three infringements by Lincoln players, the ref inexplicably booked Corazzin for time-wasting.’
Thanks for clearing that up, Nader. You seem to have understood what was going on, unlike most of us in the ground. We thought we were hallucinating.
If Mr Bennett’s actions that day didn’t impede his progress in the game, neither did they have much impact on Carlo’s. Our much-loved Canadian striker shook off the insult to star for United and several other clubs here and in his own country, and earn 59 international caps.
In 116 appearances for the U’s (plus one as sub) he scored 43 goals, and enhanced his tally with 23 strikes for Plymouth, 30 for Northampton and 20 for Oldham, before returning home and netting 14 times for Vancouver Whitecaps. His international career yielded 11 goals.
Born Giancarlo Michele Corazzin on Christmas Day 1971 in Westminster, British Columbia, he made his first big steps in football at the age of 16 in Italy, his parents’ native country to which the family had returned for a while. After spells with Fourth Division Giorgione and a level higher with Pievigina 1924, he returned to Canada and signed for Winnipeg Fury.
He was on his way up, and it was after being selected for his country’s 1992 Olympic squad that Carlo gained his first experience of playing against an English team. It was at the Abbey Stadium and it was another bizarre occurrence.
Some years before, our county FA had decided to broaden the horizons of the Cambridgeshire Professional Cup somewhat: it had already been won by Norwich and Northampton, and the following year would see Chester claiming the trophy. In March 1992, however, the association went all international on us and invited Canada’s Olympians to compete against the U’s in the ‘final’.
The visitors lost 4-0 in front of 600 semi-interested spectators, most of whom took note of the lively, all-action forward with a nose for goal.
Back in Canada, Carlo won the domestic title with Winnipeg then signed for Vancouver 86ers, where former Arsenal full back Bob McNab saw him and recommended him to Stoke.
His trial period in the Potteries ended when manager Lou Macari moved to Celtic, but ex-United keeper Graham Smith was instrumental in getting him a five-week trial at the Abbey. ‘I’d love to make a career in the League over here, and my family back home are right behind me on that,’ said the young hopeful.
United fought off competition from Coventry and Peterborough and paid £20,000 (bolstered by a generous sell-on clause) for the 22-year-old in December 1993. He scored his first goal in his third game in amber and scored one and made one in the next, a 3-0 defeat of Exeter after which manager Gary Johnson described him as ‘brilliant’.
Carlo gradually built up a lethal striking partnership with Steve Butler that culminated in a thrilling finish to the 1993/94 season in which United won 3-0 at Plymouth, 5-0 at Exeter and 7-2 at Cardiff. His full international call-up was not long in coming.
The following season saw Carlo sometimes adopting a deeper role behind Butler and Jason Lillis. But nothing seemed to be going right, and he was dropped for the first time in March 1995. He made a point by equalising as a sub in the last minute, only to see Oxford break upfield and score the winner.
He was recalled to the starting line-up but United’s results still weren’t good enough. After a goalless draw at Orient, O’s joint manager John Sitton mused: ‘If we had the likes of Corazzin and Butler in our side, I think we would be in the top six rather than the bottom six.’
Johnson was sacked, Tommy Taylor couldn’t save the team from relegation (the U’s finished fifth from bottom but went down as part of a rejig of the divisions) and Carlo, top scorer with 19 League goals, made it clear he was not enthusiastic about football in the basement.
A pre-season trial at Derby proved fruitless; Oxford offered £300,000 in cash for his services but were rebuffed. In October Carlo saw red for the first time in a 3-0 defeat at Northampton, after informing a linesman – correctly but a little too vehemently – that the ball had not in fact gone out of play. ‘I didn’t swear at him,’ he insisted.
He felt that he and Butler were under too much pressure to score goals because the U’s defence was leaking too many at the other end. ‘At the moment we’ve got to score three or four times to get anything out of the game,' he told the Cambridge Evening News.
Butler was sold to Gillingham soon after the Lincoln kick-off fiasco, and goals became harder to come by. In transfer deadline week Oxford were back with a bid for Carlo, and Luton and Plymouth also made their interest plain. Argyle won the auction and shelled out £150,000 for the Abbey favourite’s signature.
United had had little choice but to sell, observed Taylor: ‘[Carlo] made it clear he wanted to leave at the end of the season and might have gone to Portugal, which would have meant we wouldn’t have got a penny for him.’
So far former players Alan Biley, Terry Eades, Steve Fallon, Tom Finney, Sam Harris, Peter Hobbs, Keith Lockhart, Rodney Slack and John Taylor have confirmed their presence on the night.
Three players, one manager and two ‘off-pitch’ personalities will be inducted to the Hall of Fame, where they will join other heroes from United’s history. Visit cuhalloffame.org.uk to read their stories.
Tickets, priced at £25 for a two-course dinner and the chance to rub shoulders with the stars, are available from the CFU online shop.
Organisers are gathering an enviable collection of prizes to be won in the event’s popular raffle, and guests will have the chance to chat with U’s legends over a drink before and after the ceremony.
Go to the CFU online store to order your tickets, but you are advised to do it quickly – the Hall of Fame dinner always sells out quickly.
Look out for updates here and on social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.
The Cambridge United Hall of Fame is managed by 100 Years of Coconuts, the heritage arm of Cambridge United supporters' trust CFU.
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I'm the living embodiment of the spirit of the U's, and I'll be blogging whenever I've got news for you, as long as I don't miss my tea.