The origin of 'Coconuts' and U's people United in Endeavour.
I was first taken to the United when I was nine in 1955 by a neighbour, Jack Morgan. Jack was the public announcer who had the bright idea of playing the song I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts by the Billy Cotton Band. It was he who first decided to play that record whenever we had a win. I have asked Jack why he chose that particular record. His reply was: ‘It was purely accidental. I had a pile of records in front of me and thought this one would do!’ He just carried on playing it and the tradition continues to the present day.
What made the event more exciting for me was that I was allowed to climb the ladder up to the little blockhouse above the Supporters’ Club, which can still be seen today.
In those days United was very much a family affair, especially with the Morgan family: Jack’s brother Arthur played in goal for the U’s and his mother worked as a volunteer in the Supporters’ Club canteen. The canteen had a hatch that opened out facing the pitch, where Mrs Morgan and Mrs Harrison would serve tea in thick white china cups and saucers and provide the largest, chunkiest ham and cheese rolls you could imagine.
One of the highlights of my afternoon was half-time, when Jack’s other brother, Peter, would go down to see his mother and bring back a tray of cream cakes and tea for us. There was also the anticipation of the half-time raffle, which cost sixpence. The prize was the much coveted match ball. I always thought I had a chance but I never won it, which was a shame; us U’s fans played on Sturton Street recreation ground pretending to be our heroes of the time – Russell Crane, Johnny Strachan, and later the great goal-scoring machine Phil Hayes, who was signed from Millwall.
As a boy, of course, I didn’t travel to away matches and there was no coverage of Eastern Counties League matches on radio or TV, so I had to contain myself until after 6.30 to get the result. The only way of doing this was waiting outside Long’s newsagents in Norfolk Street for the van delivering the Light Blue sports paper. We would soon know the match result by looking at the front of the newspaper. There to be found were two cartoon drawings: one of a Cambridge United fan and one of a City fan. These two little men were depicted in their cloth caps, rosettes, and rattles, with smiling faces, jumping up and down if we’d won, slightly less smiley if there had been a draw, and looking very glum if we had lost.
I enjoyed my school years following the U’s. I remember the night they switched on the floodlights – not the ones on pylons we have today, but small lights fitted to the top of wooden telegraph poles. The first match under floodlights was Wilf Mannion’s benefit, which was played against a team containing a number of international players including Ted Ditchburn, Joe Mercer, Neil Franklyn, Stan Mortenson, and others. There followed special benefit matches for Brian Moore and Len Sayward, which also brought First Division players to the Abbey.
Before the war, my father Fred Mansfield was a leading goalscorer for Abbey United in the 1938/39 season, with 18 goals in a team containing former chairman Reg Smart’s father, who was a bustling, robust centre forward. In goal was someone my Dad called Buck Arnold, who was a wonderful character. One day, after getting some uncalled for criticism, he said, ‘Bugger you lot,’ and stood leaning against the goalpost, letting the goals in.
That team proved to be quite successful, finishing fourth in the Cambs League Premier Division and winning the Creake Charity Shield. Trophies such as this and the Cambs Invitation Cup were quite important at the time, and later they put us up against local rivals Cambridge City. Often on the day of these matches both sets of fans would get fighting. Forget about the Posh, this was serious stuff! Well, it was in the town, anyway.
Robin Mansfield: The team photo above is the Cambridge United 'A' team, which was managed by my dad who is pictured on the front row, third left. Next to him is Roy Dunkley, who played in the first team on the famous occasion of the 1953 First Round FA Cup tie against Newport County. This picture must be from around 1952/53 as Roy told me he was very young to play in the first team. My dad played in the 'A' team as one of the over-aged players, which was allowed at the time. I remember the Post Horn Gallop (below) being played as the teams emerged from the changing rooms at the Abbey Stadium.
My dad went to play for Cambridge Town, now City, but never felt comfortable there. Cambridge Town were the better team at the time, being in a higher division and having the better ground. He often found that, after being named to play in a game, he was asked to stand down for an England amateur and Corinthian player, who happened to be the Chairman’s favourite. Dad thought there was a bit of a class divide at Milton Road, especially when he was called ‘a bread and dripping boy from Newmarket Road’ by the blazer-wearing lot from over the river.
We were still proud of our little club, who owed so much to our loyal supporters. They would always be there to do the mundane things, like mixing and laying the concrete that replaced the old railway sleepers in the Habbin Stand area. In between those sleepers at the time was a green-painted wooden hut that served as the changing room. Towards the end of the match, smoke could be seen coming out of the chimney –a sign that the baths were being prepared for the players. It was from this hut that players would emerge to cheers and the sound of wooden rattles, and the stirring tune The Post Horn Gallop, which certainly added to the atmosphere.
It’s really funny when you think that today’s young players turn up in their GTIs and hot hatches, but back then a great player like Len Saward would push his bicycle around the inside of the ground, always stopping to have a chat before the match. There was such a good loyal community spirit at the time. The best example of this was seeing 11 amber and black football shirts fluttering in the wind on Mrs Morgan’s washing line in Ditton Fields on a Monday morning. Fans doing everything; that really is being United in Endeavour.
The 1938-39 season ended with a fixture pile-up and Dad remembered playing two games in one day at the Abbey. To introduce a bit of fun, the time between these two matches was taken up by a game between the Abbey players and their wives and girlfriends. Dad never told me the score, but I understand that the ladies put on quite a show, including my mother, who turned out to be a very speedy right winger.