1969/70 Saturday 2nd May 1969 a day of reckoning for Cambridge United, a day that was to shape the next 35 years. Mid table Margate were the visitors to the Abbey, mathematically United needed a win to secure the Southern League Championship for the second season running although a draw would be enough providing Yeovil didn’t win by more than 4 goals at home to mid table Brentwood Town. A second successive title would go a long away to helping United gain enough votes at the annual meeting of league clubs at the end of the month to secure election into the Football League. The previous evening 14,000 fans had crammed into the Abbey Stadium to see Chelsea and former United star Ian Hutchinson bring the FA Cup to Barnwell, but the shirt-sleeved crowd of 5,298 on Saturday created far more atmosphere as they watched the U’s stake their claim for that coveted place in the league. They were made to wait, with Margate “parking the bus”, and despite Bill Cassidy and Roly Horrey both hitting the woodwork the score remained 0-0. Then in the 80th minute United were awarded a penalty. As leading scorer George Harris stepped up to take it nervous silence fell on the stadium. Harris later revealed “you cannot imagine how nervous I was. I decided to get it over with quickly, then I remembered taking one in a similar situation at Reading. On that occasion I rushed it and missed, so this time I waited and settled. Boy I was glad to see the ball hit the back of the net! That moment I knew I had won something at last.
The crowd erupted. Two minutes later nerves were completely rested when Cassidy doubled the lead and with only seven minutes left the celebrations in the stands began. Shortly after the final whistle the massive championship shield was paraded around the pitch among the most of the fans who had joyously invaded the playing area.
Unbelievably, United still had five Eastern Professional Floodlit League matches to play before 15th May, needing two points the secure that title also. A 0-0 draw at home to Boston United on the following Tuesday was followed by another draw, 2-2 at Cambridge City to clinch the league and give the U’s another League Championship. So, with a squad of less than 20 United had completed 73 first team competitive matches and won two trophies.
Surely the club had done enough to attract enough votes to gain entry into the Football League? United’s average home attendance was better than any of the four clubs seeking re-election, Newport County, Darlington, Hartlepool United and Bradford Park Avenue. In a final PR stunt the club had three girls in miniskirts parading outside the League meeting with placards saying “Please vote for Cambridge United” and “Cambridge needs League Football”. There was a gasp of amazement when the voting results were announced. Bradford PA could only muster 17 votes while United gained 31 along with Newport County. The other non-league hopeful, Wigan Athletic only managed 16 and Cambridge City just 2 votes. When the players, who had recently left on a tour of Germany, were told of United’s election manager Bill Leivers declared “I never doubted we would get in. Our performances over the last two years made sure we would. Now we have to show that we merit the member’s decision”. Meanwhile euphoria was gripping the city and fans were planning a big welcome home for the players and manager. Coach loads of cheering supporters met them at Royston and along with the City of Ely Brand escorted them into the city and to a civic reception at the Guildhall hosted by the Mayor George Dean.
1989/90 With the first leg of the Forth Division Play-off Semi Final finishing in a 1-1 draw and giving the away goal advantage to Maidstone. The second leg played at Maidstone’s temporary ground at Dartford was always going to be a tense affair with the Stones determined to keep the score at 0-0 and go through on the away goal rule. After 90 minutes and the first period of extra time it remained goalless, but United’s class paid off early in the second half of extra time with Dion Dublin and manager John Beck seizing the moment. With Maidstone winning a rare corner Beck leaves three players on the half way line, the ball is quickly cleared to Dublin who runs with it and scores at the second attempt. Two minutes later Dublin is fouled for a penalty which Alan Kimble scores to send hoards of United fans into ecstasy. Suddenly the atmosphere is something those present will never forget with players sharing their champagne with fans at the final whistle. The procession back through the Dartford Tunnel was Italian-like with car horns sounding and flags waving.
The timing couldn’t have been better. Before this season the Play-Off Final had been decided on a home and away basis. Now they were a one-off occasion at Wembley. So United’s match with Chesterfield was the first ever to be played at Wembley. Both teams were strangers to the national stadium with United’s Colin Bailie being the only player on either side to have played there before (in the Simod Cup for Reading in 1988). A mostly uneventful match was turned in the 77th minute when United won a corner. Steve Claridge rebuked Dion Dublin for taking up a position at the far post. Dublin duly scuttled to the near post and headed home the winner. Cambridge United became the first club to win a Play-Off Final at Wembley and after 5 years in the basement of the Football League the U’s were on the way back up. The season was climaxed with an open top bus procession through the city a few days later.
Happy Harry's blog
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.