INTERVIEW WITH PAUL BARRY
Nigel Pearce is an old friend of United’s owner Paul Barry. Back in January 2020, pre-covid, he spoke to Paul about his memories of growing up in Cambridge, watching the Us and his move to the USA.
I’m meeting Paul on the 0930 from Euston to Morecambe, via Lancaster. He’s very welcoming (we haven’t seen each other for a good few years) but there is a little fog in his eyes – jetlag. He had flown into Heathrow from Seattle the previous day, so it was the middle of the night his time, before cabbing it to the station. I suspected it wasn’t jet lag alone, though. There’s no way the U’s recent awful run of form, and the future of head Coach Colin Calderwood, were not on his mind.
Paul had agreed for me to interview him about his backstory, up to the point he joined the United board in 2000. That suited me just fine, I’m more than happy to leave the more serious stuff – his plans and ambitions for Cambridge United etc – to those with actual journalistic qualifications.
I used to travel to United games with Paul in the early 80s, when we both lived in London. We were part of the depressingly small “Inter City Trickle”, or ICT, that followed John Docherty’s United around the country in the old second division. They were successful years, but away from home, it has to be said, United stank. We could usually bank on no more than a couple of away wins a season, if we were lucky. We were, however, regularly travelling to wonderful grounds like St James Park, Elland Road, Filbert Street, the Baseball Ground, Burnden Park, Ewood Park and Roker Park. These grounds, and the big crowds that usually packed them, made these few years pretty memorable.
Hopefully what follows will give you a better understanding of Paul Barry the youngster, the student, the entrepreneur and business man, but, most of all, the Cambridge United supporter.
NP: So, where did you grow up, Paul?
PB: In Hauxton, my dad worked at Fisons. We moved to Cambridge, to Perne Road, in 1971, where my mother still lives.
NP: When did you start watching United?
PB: I must have been around 10 years old when I started going regularly, once we had moved into Cambridge. My dad was a Us fan so there was never any suggestion that any of us – me or my two brothers – were going to support anyone but United, and certainly not the team in white from north of the river. I did have a soft spot for Manchester United as a kid (most kids did, Man Utd, Liverpool or Leeds back then) but I didn’t allow myself to be distracted. We stood in the Habbin, but when I was big (or brave) enough I moved to the Corona End (the NRE). Most lads, I think, eventually made that switch. It was great fun. I was thrown out of the NRE once, by the notorious ToJo - aka Inspector George Jones! Not for anything I should be ashamed of, just high spirits. Luckily I knew a chap on the Habbin turnstiles, so I walked round the ground and he let me back in for free after I assured him I had already paid!
NP: The first game you remember?
PB: The friendly against Chelsea in May 1970, just after they had won the FA Cup and just before we won the Southern League and were voted into the Football League. Somehow we managed to pack 14,000 into the Abbey that night. I remember standing right behind Ian Hutchinson when he launched one of his famous long throws. I also remember that historic Sunday game against Oldham in the 3rd round of the FA Cup in 1974. It was during the three day week when the use of floodlights was banned. Because ours was a morning kick-off it was the first professional game in the UK ever to be played on a Sunday. Terry Eades scored a late equaliser that day, he was my first real United hero. We drew 2-2.
NP: Your first away game?
PB: I’d be lying if I told you I remember where or when it was, that sort of detail just didn’t stick. Ron Atkinson was in charge, I can tell you that much. His United team was great to watch. I used to travel on the, ahem, “unofficial” coach, run by a guy who would go on to become somewhat notorious around the Abbey – many older Us fans will know who I am talking about!! I was only 15 years old and did not get involved in any shenanigans, I’ll hasten to add. I remember great FA Cup trips to Leatherhead and Chesham. When I was 17 I got my first motorbike – a blue Honda CD175 – and that took me to many away games, followed up by a bigger Honda 400/4. One of my memorable trips was to Watford with my brother. The bike broke down on the A1 on the way back, the chain snapped. It was chucking it down, I still can’t believe my dad drove all the way out there with a replacement chain.
NP: Where did you go to school?
PB: I went to the Cambridge High School for Boys. I was in one of the last years there before Cambridgeshire went comprehensive and it turned into Hills Road Sixth Form College. It was a great school, with some great teachers.
NP: Then you went to university?
PB: Yes, although I did take a year off first. I went to Imperial College in South Kensington, London, to study chemical engineering.
NP: And you joined up with the Inter City Trickle?
PB: By this time John Docherty had succeeded Ron Atkinson and United were, remarkably, in the old second division. Living in London made it much easier to get to the long distance away games, and the ICT (if we had sufficient numbers) allowed us to get discounted group rail tickets. Otherwise I’d use my student railcard, or my bike would be called into action. As well as yourself the ICT usually included Radio Cambridgeshire’s Mark Johnson and his brother Paul, Dave Filce, Nick Prior, Steve Jillings, Steve Eckersley, Simon Turner and Mark Chaplin. Sorry to those I’ve forgotten. Living in college halls for a year made it very difficult to organise travel – this pre-dates mobile phones, of course. You or Dave would leave messages with whoever answered the pay phone in the stairwell – eg “be at Kings Cross for 0830”.
NP: What was it like as an away fan in the 80s?
PB: A challenge. Most of the time there was no segregation for small groups of away fans, like us, at the big grounds. At Sunderland once (2-0 win) we were shielded by a ring of coppers. We were taken back to the station by the police in a police van – that happened a few times! Most away games involved a battle of wits to avoid an overnight stay in hospital. After United’s first ever trip to Elland Road in 1982 I rescued Dave Filce from a gang of Leeds lads on the back of my motorbike.
NP: Yes, thanks, the rest of us had to run the gauntlet back to Leeds station! One particular game stands out in my memory for a variety of reasons, Carlisle away in May 1983. We didn’t know it at the time but it was a major watershed moment, for both you and for United.
PB: It was a Tuesday night, a 2-2 draw. After the game you and me were chased down the high street by a dozen locals and ducked into a pub. They didn’t come in after us, though, and eventually disappeared. We caught the 1-30am milk train back to Euston.
NP: That year we ended safely in mid table but the following season we finished bottom. The rot had set in that would quickly see the Us back in the old 4th Division.
PB: That was an early sign of the greed in football that we see at the top level today. The Football League decided to stop away teams taking a share of the home gate, that cost United thousands of pounds and all of a sudden the team just wasn’t competitive.
NP: The other reason I remember that trip, though, is that you told us, and I can pretty much quote you: “This is the last time you will see me for a while. I’m going to the USA to get married, to get my Green Card and to make my fortune”.
PB: Ha, that was my plan. In fact I got my Green Card first, before I got married. Despite not having done a great deal of academic work for three years I got my degree and immediately moved to the States. I had a three month work visa and got a job working for British Rail in their New York City office. The visa ran out but there was no way I was coming home. I then got a job with a travel agency. The owner was Iranian, a great chap. He pointed me towards a lawyer who, he said, would get me a Green Card (which would allow me to stay in the USA and work legally). And he did! He convinced the Immigration Service that my first hand knowledge of Europe was essential and unique to this specialised travel agency. It’s not as straightforward as that nowadays.
Above Terry Eades
NP: How did you end up 3,000 miles away, in Seattle?
PB: I eventually set up my own travel business, and it grew and grew. I needed to relocate to new premises but NYC was so expensive. After a lot of research I decided to move the business lock, stock and barrel to Seattle where office space was much cheaper (again, not the case any longer). My business was one of the very first to use search engines and to allow online travel booking. I still live in Seattle, although my main business is now based down the coast in Portland.
NP: How did you keep up with events at the Abbey back then?
PB: With difficulty. Clubcall [a dial-up premium telephone service] was useful when it arrived in the mid-80s. Moosenet, though, was the big breakthrough for me (and other ex-pat Us fans). I did come back to the UK fairly often, to see my family and to watch the Us. In the early 90s (when United were flying under John Beck) every now and again I would fly back to the UK just for the weekend.
NP: You’re a big England fan too, you’ve followed them all over the world.
PB: I went to Italia 90, partly because it was a business opportunity - hotels that I regularly worked with were empty due to FIFA bungling their room blocks. I stayed for free in Rome and Florence for two weeks. I went to all the England games, up to the quarter final against Cameroon. Getting match tickets was pretty easy, any game you could just turn up. The next World Cup was at home in the US, of course, but sadly without England. Thanks, Graham Taylor. I went to the final in the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles, Italy v Brazil. Rome 97 was eventful, the final World Cup qualifier for France 98 - I was caught up in the tear-gassing of England fans, with you and Godric Smith. I was then lucky enough to get to the WC tournaments in France, Japan / Korea 02 and Germany 06. It’s rarely a joy watching England at World Cups, though, and my patience ran out in South Africa in 2010 – I was actually in the air, flying home, when we were losing 4-1 to Germany in Bloemfontein. I passed on Brazil 2014 (even though my wife grew up in Brazil) and Russia. I’m now officially retired from England duty!
NP: Do you watch your local football team, Seattle Sounders?
PB: They are my second team. I’m a season ticket holder and minor owner. I’ve been a friend of Adrian Hanaur, the Sounders’ owner, for many years. Adrian has also been a major shareholder at Cambridge United. I help the Sounders out with travel arrangements, if asked*. I’ve watched the Sounders all over the USA, usually as part of a business trip, and also across Central America in the CONCACAF Champions League. Honduras is probably the scariest place I’ve ever watched football, every Sounders fan had their own personal armed bodyguard!
*To emphasise this point, during the journey home Paul had to book an agent and his player wanting urgent flights from Rio to Seattle!
NP: How did you get involved with United at board level?
PB: By the late 90s my business was doing well and I was in the great position to have the funds to invest in the club. I wrote to Reg Smart, offering money to help market the club. Reg had recently had his fingers burnt publicly by a bogus potential investor, so he was very suspicious of me – an unknown guy from the States claiming to be a long term Us fan. To test my bona fides he quizzed me about United when we met eg; “who was our right back in the early 80s”? “Dave Donaldson”, I told him. “Or Chris Turner if he was injured”. I convinced him I was genuine and, just as importantly, that the club needed to be marketed properly. One of my first jobs was to ask Andrea Thrussell to design and run the club’s first official website, which she did in 1999 (she had previously set up the unofficial United website). What a great job she did. I joined the Board of Directors in April 2000, a very proud moment.
Paul was Chairman of Cambridge United between 2009 and 2013. He became the majority shareholder in 2018 before, in September 2019, he bought 100% control of the football club. In September 2020 Paul subsequently sold a 20% shareholding to two new minority US investors.
It was a fascinating trip, not least spending time with Paul at such a difficult time for the club. After the game, and following discussions with Graham Daniels and the other directors who were at Morecambe, Paul agreed that the team’s second half performance, and recovery from a goal down, showed sufficient fighting spirit to suggest Colin could still turn the season around. It was clear, however, that any further lapse over the next few games would spell the end for the Head Coach, and this came to pass the following Tuesday against Salford.
Click below to watch the 1970 Chelsea film
Click on the Carlisle Programme to see a report and photos of the match in May 1983
To watch the video see the link below ????
The detail of United’s election in 1970, and the preceding dramas, is drawn from Risen From The Dust, one of a series of books on Cambridge United’s history (Celery & Coconuts) by Andrew Bennett, published by 100 Years of Coconuts, the heritage arm of the Cambridge United Supporters Trust.
Jimmy Thompson 1943-2020
The Cambridge United family was saddened to hear of the death, on October 28 at the age of 77, of former full back Jimmy Thompson, whose career in black and amber straddled two eras of the club’s history.
Joining Bill Leivers’ Southern League side in 1969, as the U’s strove for the league and cup double and election to the Football League, Jimmy was one of the famous eleven who played in the club’s first ever League game in August 1970. Over five seasons he made nearly 250 appearances in all competitions.
A rapid, highly dependable right back, he mixed solid defensive attributes with the ability to start and continue attacks, and on one occasion supplied the finishing touch.
Jimmy arrived at the Abbey Stadium in January 1969, via an unusual route. Born in the former coal-mining community of Felling, Tyne and Wear in 1943, he had played as an amateur for Preston North End before signing a professional contract with Grimsby Town in 1961. He became a popular fixture at Blundell Park, playing more than 150 times before, in 1967, asking for a transfer. Leivers was keen to sign him at that point but the Mariners hoisted a £10,000 price tag – a hefty fee for a defender at the time. He was eventually released from his contract provided he didn’t sign for an English League club, and moved to Port Elizabeth.
Jimmy swapped South African sunshine for wintry Newmarket Road in January 1969. He made his debut (along with fellow new signing Mel Slack) in a Southern League Cup quarter-final against Chelmsford City at the Abbey, which ended in a 0-0 draw but provided a stepping stone for a triumphant end to the season in which United captured both the cup and the league title.
As at Grimsby, Jimmy became a well-liked regular in the U’s side over the following four seasons. In 1969/70 he racked up the remarkable total of 68 full appearances and two substitutions, and he was there on 15 August 1970 when Lincoln City visited the Abbey for United’s debut in the Football League.
A knee cartilage operation in 1973 brought his career to a halt and it was a sad blow when, later that year, he was advised to quit professional football. He had played 239 full games for United, made five substitute appearances and scored one goal – in the club’s last ever Eastern Professional Floodlit League, a 3-2 win at Romford in May 1971.
United paid up Jimmy’s contract, giving him £1,000, but his insurance company would only contribute a partial payment of £375 because his knee had degenerated before the injury that finished his career. A disgusted Leivers said: ‘There isn’t a footballer playing today who hasn’t got ankle, knee or groin troubles after a few years in the game.’ United kept Jimmy in employment as field manager in the commercial department.
The club also put on a testimonial match for the popular player, although he had to wait until May 1975. Supporters showed their admiration for Jimmy by turning out in large numbers – 7,257, to be precise – to see his All Stars XI, which included Ian Hutchinson, Geordie Armstrong, Willie Carr, Terry Mancini and Dave and Bob Worthington, lose 4-2 to a strong Norwich City team.
Legendary U’s goalkeeper Rodney Slack remembers his teammate as ‘a nice, quietly spoken lad who was great in the dressing room. He knew what he was talking about when it came to football, and he never tried to shift the blame for his mistakes. He always put his hand up.’
Rodney recalled fondly the night the Corona soft drinks depot next to the Abbey Stadium caught fire. ‘It was two o’clock in the morning and the houses nearby were being evacuated,’ he said. ‘Jimmy, who lived next door to the depot, came running across the road to our house with his pride and joy, his two Doberman Pinscher dogs. No sign of his wife or daughters.
‘We feared the worst. “Where are they?” we asked.
‘“I’m just going back for them now,” Jimmy said.’
Jimmy subsequently returned to the Grimsby area. He was afflicted by dementia in his later years but retained some memories of his Mariners and U’s careers.
He leaves a widow, Wendy, children and grandchildren. The funeral will be private.
For the event, Will Barrett and Gabriella Giannachi from the ECFC Museum & Grecian Archive will be joined by Roger Titford (The Great Save, Supporters Trust At Reading, and writer for When Saturday Comes), Alex Alexandrou (The Football & War Network and Solihull Moors FC), Tim Bland (National Lottery Heritage Fund) and Richard Irving (The FSA).
The event begins at 10am on Wednesday, November 4, and can be joined at the below link:
• Meeting ID: 960 6921 7248
• Password: 510675
Should you wish to confirm attendance for the event in advance, or have any thoughts or questions, then please do contact the event coordinator via email@example.com
Please note, the three initial presentations will all be recorded via Zoom for documentation, research, and sharing, so please do let the hosts know if you would like them to ensure that you are excluded from any of the disseminated footage.
100yearsofcoconuts have purchased a flag to celebrate the clubs 50th anniversary since being elected into the Football League.
Having won the Southern League in 1970 the club were voted into the league replacing Bradford Park Avenue.
The flag was paid for from the profits following the launch of the Anniversary T'shirt
The T'shirts are still available to order by clicking on the buttons below.
Malcolm Webster was a dependable, brave, athletic, efficient and occasionally awe-inspiring goal keeper for Cambridge United, He played in 286 games for the U’s as they rose from the Fourth Division to the Second and stayed there for six seasons.
He kept 90 clean sheets during that time, 22 of them coming in his debut season of 1976/77, when he was ever present as United won the Fourth Division title.
Malcolm is a native of Doncaster, where he was born on 12 November 1950, but it was in north London that he made his first impression on football. He was 18 when he made his League debut for Arsenal, being thrown in at the deep end against Tottenham at Highbury when Bob Wilson broke an arm. The Gunners lost 4-3 but Malcolm kept his place until he was floored for 12 weeks by glandular fever and the club signed a replacement in Geoff Barnett.
He played around 100 times for both Fulham and Southend but fell out of favour at Roots Hall and was released in 1976. Disillusioned with football, he was working in a friend’s furniture store when he was given a month’s trial by U’s boss Ron Atkinson. His first appearance came in a behind-closed-doors pre-season friendly against Mansfield at the Abbey, won 3-1 by the visitors.
Malcolm’s United career really kicked off in the first leg of the League Cup at Oxford on 14 August 1976, when he was outstanding in a 1-0 defeat. A string of impressive performances and a couple of penalty saves earned him a permanent contract, which he signed following a 4-0 September win over promotion favourites Watford.
Quickly establishing himself as a lively presence in the dressing room, a reliable shot-stopper and – despite a previous reputation as vulnerable to crosses – commanding in the air, Malcolm made the number one spot his own and was voted player of the year by Supporters’ Club members.
That season was the start of a happy and fruitful stay at Newmarket Road that saw the club establish itself in Division Two under John Docherty. Malcolm’s last game as a U came in a 0-0 draw at Oldham on 4 February 1984, but he was back in 1986 as Chris Turner began the process of turning United’s fortunes around.
After a break from football starting in 1988, he began a coaching career that was remarkable for its longevity and successes. Malcolm was in great demand as a coach, both at club and at the goalkeeping school he ran.
Below is Malcolm's best ever eleven -
Brendon Batson. Chis Turner. Steve Fallon. Jamie Murray.
Steve Spriggs. Tom Finney. Floyd Street Willie Watson.
Alan Biley. George Reilly
Best Manager.John Docherty
Best Physio.Pete Melville.
Malcolm Webster’s All Time Best XI
Keith Brannagan- Goalkeeper. Born in Fulham and joined United straight from school. Made his debut at seventeen years old. Was an ever present in the 1986/87 season and played a total of 138 first team games for the U’s, before joining ex manager John Docherty at Millwall for £100,000.
Brendon Batson- Right Back. Born in Grenada, West Indies in 1953. Signed for Cambridge United from Arsenal in 1974 for the bargain price of £5,000 after manager Bill Leivers had been quoted £50,000 a few months earlier. The first black player to appear in the Gunners first team and featured ten times before his move. Was captain and an integral part of Ron Atkinson’s Forth Division Championship team. Overall played 180 first team matches for the U’s before joining up with Atkinson at West Bromwich Albion.
Chris Turner-Centre Back. The only player to feature in as an all time favourite for both Cambridge United and Peterborough United. A true legend at the Abbey and London Road. Played 100 matches for the U’s and later became manager, turning fortunes around after the disastrous regimes of John Ryan and Ken Shellito and setting up the foundation of John Beck’s double promotion team.
Steve Fallon- Centre Back. If it wasn’t for a knee injury at 29 years old it’s almost certain Steve would of been the record appearance holder for United. As it is, he is only bettered by Steve Spriggs. Within a month becoming United manager Ron Atkinson went back to former club Kettering to snatch Steve from under the noses of Peterborough. Played a total of 447 first team games and was awarded Cambridge Evening News Player of the Year award a record three times.
Jamie Murray- Left Back. Possibly the best full back to play for United. Scottish by birth but moved with his family to Aylesbury when he was 5 years old. Joined United in 1975 from Rivet Sports along with team mate Floyd Street. A total of 269 appearances for the U’s, including 147 consecutive matches from November 1980 to January 1984. Also played for Sunderland and Brentford.
Steve Spriggs- Midfield. Cambridge United’s record appearance holder and a mainstay of the double promotion winning team of the seventies. Short in stature but big on endeavour, effort and dedication. Hard tackling and with a ferocious shot, Steve was the heart and soul of United for 12 years and played under six different managers. Total of 448 appearances and 60 goals.
Tom Finney-Midfield. The idol of the Habbin Stand regulars in the 1970’s. The Northern Ireland international joined United from Sunderland in 1976 and became the first current international at Cambridge, winning seven more caps while at the Abbey, including going to the 1982 World Cup in Spain. Brave to the extent of foolhardiness, Tom never pulled out of a tackle and won a reputation with referees that dogged him throughout his career. A total of 352 appearances and 65 goals.
Floyd Streete- Midfield. Turned professional with United at 16 years old after coming off a factory production line an playing part-time for Rivet Sports in Luton. Floyd was a powerful midfield with the build of a heavyweight boxer who could also fill in at centre back and even up front. A total of 142 appearances and 20 goals.
Graham “Willie” Watson- Midfield. A true Cambridge United legend. A fans favourite for most of the 1970’s. Willie’s enthusiasm, spirit and dedication combined with great vision made him the first name on the team sheet for almost a decade under three different managers. The £5,000 United paid for him is described as the best money they ever spent. After six years he was sold to Lincoln for £15,000 then came back on a free transfer. Total of 233 appearances and 30 goals.
Alan Biley- Forward. Speedy left winger turned into a striker by United’s assistant manager Paddy Sowden when he was snapped up from Sowden’s previous club Luton Town. A skilful, fast goal scorer with lots of flair and an eye for the spectacular. Became something of a cult hero with United fans with his Rod Stewart hair cut and George Best habit of clutching the inside of his shirt cuffs which tended to rip the stitching from the shoulder. Total of 187 appearances and 88 goals.
George Reilly-Forward. United paid a club record £140,000 for George when he moved from Northampton in 1979. He soon struck up a partnership with Alan Biley. The pair knocking in 13 goals in 10 games before Biley left to join Derby County. Reilly left United for Watford in 1983 and played in the 1984 FA Cup Final, He went on to play for Newcastle and West Bromwich Albion before Chris Turner brought him back the U’s in 1988. Total of 178 appearances and 50 goals.
100yearsofcoconuts have be able to upload the Cambridge News Light Blue paper for the season 1970/71.
This is the first season following the clubs election into the Football League
Read the papers by clicking on the link here
You can read the papers from previous seasons by clicking on the links below
Cambridge News Pre-1964can be seen by clicking here
Cambridge News Sports Review 1964/65 can be seen by clicking here
Cambridge News Sports Review 1965/66 can be seen by clicking here
Cambridge News Sports Review 1966/67 can be seen by clicking here
Cambridge News Post 1969/70 can be seen by clicking here
Cambridge News Post 1970/71 can be seen by clicking here
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.