I wanna tell you a story
There are a million of them … the stories of Cambridge United people who have lived and breathed the club, who, as the saying goes, bleed amber and black. They are told all over the world, from Barnwell to the Pacific Northwest and beyond.
On the following pages we present some of those stories, from contributors young and not so young, If you would like your memories preserved here, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We start with the recollections of David Cullum.
David Cullum's story
David Cullum was a stalwart of the Barnwell and Fen Ditton Local History Society. Shortly before his death in 2012, he spoke to Mike Barnes about his memories of growing up and living in Barnwell and of his lifelong connections with the U’s.
The tea gardens and the Corona works
In the 30s or before, where the car park is now was a big old house and tea gardens. There was a summerhouse in it and people used to go there at weekends and have tea in the gardens.
We moved here when the estate was built, all us kids. The football club was across the road and at the end of the war, because they were playing in the Cambs League, I don’t suppose we took much notice. The first match we took much notice of was when they joined the United Counties League and that would be about 1947, I should think. That’s when we were old enough to go. This was Abbey United.
Like a lot of lads at the time, we didn’t want to pay the threepence for the little bit of paper we got for a programme, so we used to go by the old tea gardens and across to the big black pipe across the brook, and get alongside the fence that ran across the brook up to the toilets at the corner of the ground. We used to look and see if there was anybody in there and if it was empty we used to nip over the fence and get in the toilets. Then one of us would go to the front and keep an eye out to see if there was anybody coming and then they’d say, ‘Right, come on over’. I’m sure somebody must have spotted all these kids coming out of the toilets!
We used to stand along the back of the tea gardens, which would be roughly where the clubhouse is now, where the car park starts, and because the Corona works was there, that was the main entrance up the side there for the Corona works. There was no terracing as such, and if there was a big crowd a lot of the chaps couldn’t see, so they used to get us kids to get over the fence and get out the Corona crates that were stored in the yard. We passed them over so they could stand on them and watch the match. And we used to get told off for climbing up the trees, because there were some big trees at the back of the tea gardens.
Marbles, winkles and orchard raiders
When we lived in Ditton Fields, there were only the houses in Whitehill Road and Elfleda Road and then it stopped. You didn’t have the Whitehill estate, no Howard Road estate, no Peverel Road estate, just the old ring road, overgrown. Then there were a few private houses down Ditton Lane near the cemetery, then the other ones were at Meadowlands. Apart from the few houses up Newmarket Roads here and Ditton Walk, once we got over the bridge we were in our own little world.
They built the estate in 1938 and a lot of people moved in during 1939 and the 40s. I think we moved in the 40s, so some of the families had already moved in when we got there. They built the houses in stages. All young families moved in, so all us kids went to the same school. We all went down Newmarket Road to Brunswick. We used to play marbles along Newmarket Road from school – you can’t believe it now. We used to get shouted at, at the gasworks, for going across their gateway: ‘You’ll get run over by them bloody lorries!’
I knew the Proctors. Peter became my best man and I was his best man. My brother-in-law and sister used to go around with Marina Proctor. Mrs Proctor always used to say to my mum, ‘You let me have David and I’ll have all the boys and you can have Rene – because I’d got two sisters – and you’ll have all the girls.’ Mrs Proctor used to make a big fuss of me because I was the odd one out from all her boys. She’d say, ‘Come in David, come in, I’ve got some nice winkles on the table for you today.’ I hated winkles. She used to wind me up, she did.
We used to roam, we used to plague the life out of Fen Ditton. We used to go down there raiding all the orchards. You can imagine it, can’t you? I’ve got a friend, John Gooden, he used to live in Ditton, and his grandparents kept the Plough on the side of the river and him and his mother and father lived in a houseboat at the back of the pub. I used to see him with his mates because my father was born in Fen Ditton, so he knew a lot of Fen Ditton people and I often used to go over to Fen Ditton and get my bread from Mr Gooden, who was a distant relative of John’s, but I used to see John and his mates and because we got talking we knew one another through families and that.
He used to say to me, ‘Oh God, we used to see all you lot coming from the Ditton Fields, coming over the bloody fences and hedges.’ You know, ‘Oh, Christ, here they come again.’ When we got there, instead of having any animosity it was all, ‘Hello Dave,’ you know, and we were all friends and we got sort of talking together. But they knew full well we’d go through the village and have all the bloody orchards. We’ve been chased a few times. When Guy Fawkes came along, there’d be all the kids out there with their axes that they’d nicked out the shed, and knives cutting bits of tree off.
There were no housing estates. Where the ring road was there was Proctor’s shop, Mr Proctor who was the Chairman at United, there was a gateway which went down to a cottage and there was a farmer at Ditton Lane and that was JP Hawkins, who had a cake shop in the town. You went down to the cottage and there was a big orchard at the back and all us kids used to go across. There was a big plot of ground and there were all cornfields across to the railway. We used to get in the bushes and make dens and nip in through the orchard and back in until the old boy used to come out of the cottage with his dog. I don’t know if that gateway’s still there. Then you’ve got the business park, which was originally a telecoms supplies factory by the Holy Cross church.
A community club
You imagine all us kids, like Colin (Proctor) for instance, growing up in the estate, you’ve got a football club over there which was a successful club, even when they were in the Cambs League. And of course, we were so close as an estate, because we all grew up during the war, and we‘ve had six or seven Ditton Fields reunion parties. Last year we had about 70-odd, before that we had 120 and we’ve got one in April this year. We hold it in the ex-servicemen’s club down the road. We still like to get together and we all have our tales of when we came up here, and when we went all over the fields here when there were no houses.
I met my wife in the clubroom up the far end. I was home on leave one Christmas time and her mother said to her, ‘Go and ask that young man to dance.’ All my mates danced, I didn’t. And I’m sitting there in uniform
and she comes and says, ‘Will you dance?’ I says, ‘I don’t dance.’ She says, ‘Well, please yourself.’ Then she said, ‘You can try,’ so I got up. Anyway, we finished up getting married. The top and bottom was, in later years my wife’s elder sister, she was married, but they lost a kiddie, their second kiddie, in that bad winter and they’d been taking in footballers as lodgers and because she got friendly with the footballers they divorced in the end and she finished up marrying Brian Boggis. So now I’ve got Brian Boggis as my brother-in-law, and they live in Gorleston.
My wife used to sing up the club here and then in later years she came and worked for, I think it was the Vice-Presidents’ Club, I’m not sure. She used to come up here and one of the directors, Mr Douglas, he came from Histon, he’d seen my wife one day because she was talking to some of the footballers’ wives. She used to go to keep fit with all the footballers’ wives, because through my sister-in-law palling up with Boggis, we got to know Jackie Scurr, Rodney Slack, Gerry Graham, Gerry Baker, Bill Cassidy, Rowland Horrey, a lot of them were living in Quainton Close, just up Newmarket Road.
Gerry Graham I think lived in one of the houses nearby, Matt McVittie lived along there, Howard lived across the road near where Rodney lived, Alan Moore lived at the top of Ditton Fields where his wife still lives, Miriam, and I went to school with Curly Smart because he lived in Ditton Fields. He won’t admit to it, but he did for a little while. So there’s lots of little family connections all the way along the line. Russell Crane lived down in Ditton Walk, Albert George, another ex-footballer, lived in Ditton Fields, Reg Barker the trainer lived in Ditton Fields, Lil Harrison, who was one of our big favourite supporters, and Mrs Morgan, her sons played football here. They were all here and we knew them all. Lil Harrison’s daughter married Len Crowe, who was another footballer.
The club was very closely connected with the community, because loads of the families who didn’t want to go to the pubs could come to the club and that was ideal because they could bring the kids in here and they had bingo, they had a little stage show, somebody performing on the stage, and United became a focal point for the community. But I think there was a tightening up as the club became more professional and it wasn’t as close to people then. When we went into the Football League, it gradually lost its family content, but the players still used to drink over the road at the Globe, and met all the locals.
I did jobs for the various footballers, like Rodney Slack, Derek Finch. I should have done some for Graham Lawrence but I never got round to it, he lived out in Comberton. Jackie Scurr I did some work for, and I did a lot of work for Dudley Arliss, who was the instigator of the lottery and we used to sell a lot of tickets.
Over the years, we used to come to the football ground quite a lot. I knew Mr Proctor, because we always went to his shop, and then when Dudley Arliss came, he asked me if I could do some work for him. One of the first things I made was a barrel, for the lottery tickets. He dumped this barrel in my house in Ditton Fields and I cut a hole in that and it stank the house out because it had had Guinness in it. My wife was moaning at me all the time. Anyway, I made that into a barrel and put it on a stand and as far as I know that probably got thrown away, but I did that for him.
Mr Proctor, Dudley Arliss and Tom Ainsworth, they set up the Abbey Sports and Social Club and they took over the old Rex Cinema on Magrath Avenue. Alan Moore, when he retired from being manager of the club, he finished up managing the Sports and Social Club. I also did a lot of work up the old Rex ballroom for them. Also at the time, Mr Proctor, when he was director, said to me one day when they were getting all this stuff out, when they pulled the rest of the tea gardens down – the Corona works were still there but they pulled the rest down – and they were grabbing all the flowers and that out and I was talking to them about roses and he said, ‘If you want any old roses, take them,’ but I didn’t have any means of taking them home.
Mr Proctor said to me, ‘While you’re here, are you a carpenter?’ and I said I was and he said, ‘Can you do something about the old wooden stand?’ I said, ‘Why, what’s wrong with it?’ and he said, ‘Well, where the directors sit at this end, we get a terrible draught. Do you think there’s any chance of putting any glass in the end of it?’ So what I did, I made some frames up which sloped and I put in some wired glass, I had it cut at Constable’s. I made these frames up, then took them on my bike down to Constable’s and they cut the glass and sent it up here and I fixed it in the end of the wooden stand. I said, ‘What about the other end?’ but they weren’t worried about the other end, they were just worried about the directors’ end. That would be in the 60s.
Then they bought an old cinema in Soham that they were going to have as a nightclub, so I went and did a lot of work on that and Alan Moore used to run me over there. I used to come home at night and Alan Moore would come round in his little car and pick me up, or his daughter would, and run me over to Soham and then I’d work there till about 11.00 at night. Sandy Alderton, who was a taxi driver – he did a lot of work and he was the barman at the Rex – he was going to be the manager at Soham, so he was over there all day long and when I used to go there in the evening he used to bring me home at night because he lived in Whitehill Road and I lived in Ditton Fields, so it was ideal.