United’s debut in the League Cup quickly brought the club down to earth with a 5-0 defeat at Colchester United. Colchester had been criticised for playing percentage football, of getting the ball into the box quickly which was very similar to the tactics employed by United under John Beck 20 years later. The first League away match also ended in defeat by 2 goals to 1 at Northampton Dennis Walker scoring United’s second League goal. The next two matches were at home and provide the U’s with their first two Football League wins. The first a 3-1 victory over Oldham Athletic, who were to win promotion at the end of the season, Peter Leggett, George Harris and Bill Cassidy the scorers in front of 5,435. Then a 1-0 victory under the Abbey Stadium lights over Brentford, Meldrum the scorer, began a run of six games without defeat, including the first League away win at Crewe Alexandra. A John McKinven penalty and an 83rd minute goal from Malcolm Lindsay giving the U’s a 2-1 win. The run included a 4-2 victory over Wimbledon (the original Wimbledon FC, that is.) in the Southern League Championship match, which was played annually between the previous season’s League Champions and the SL Cup winners. Two goals from Roly Horrey and one each from Bill Cassidy and Ron Howell gave United a comfortable win and their last Non-League trophy, for 40 years anyway! A attendance of only 1,768 showed the Cambridge public were more interested in League football than the past Non-League days.
Football League status was coming at a price though. Following on from the unwanted visit of “skinhead” hooligans from Lincoln for the opening match, more incidents followed this time initiated by so called United supporters. Visiting Oldham supporters had their coach windows smashed in and police with dogs had to intervene to prevent Oldham fans exacting revenge. Later on nine arrests were made on Newmarket Road. Manager Bill Leivers appealed to the trouble makers to stop saying “I am sure these people are not Cambridge United fans but hooligans using football as protection while they cause trouble”. He went on to say he sympathised with those who advocated the return of the birch ( a method of corporal punishment carried out with a birch rod) and would like to see the return of national service.
A bad knee injury to George Harris in the Oldham match was looking like it would cause him to be out until November. When Leivers found out much travelled striker Tony Hateley had been transfer listed by Birmingham City he made enquiries, thinking that at the age of 29 Hateley wouldn’t be carrying a six figure fee he had in the past. The £50,000 price tag was way outside United’s budget though and Hateley went to Notts County.
It wasn’t just on the pitch that United had to adjust to Football League status. There were complaints about matchday congestion on Newmarket Road and at the turnstiles. With regular attendances of 4-5,000 United appealed for fans to adjust their routines and try to arrive earlier. There were also PA announcements for fans to refrain from running on the pitch during and after matches and not to climb the walls and floodlight pylons (believed to be the tallest in the League, by the way).
Hard to believe these days but it wasn’t until the eighth match into the season that United received their first League booking (Yellow Card). Dennis Walker having the dubious honour in the 2-1 defeat at Chester on 23rd September. How times have changed.
For myself this was the beginning of a period of great change. My final year at school and lots of deliberations about choosing a career. After endless visits to career fairs I was beginning to think about a career in the police force. But to be honest careers and GCSE’s (O-Levels) were not exactly top of my priorities. Girls, youth club, music, playing snooker and football both badly and of course Cambridge United were taking up most of thoughts and time, not to mention the little money I was earning as a evening waiter at Selwyn College.
My daily routine was School, home for tea, then cycling to Selwyn to spill soup over students, then cycling to Comberton for the youth club or village disco. What time was there for home work. Someone once said “youth is wasted on the young!” Well they may be right.
This article was published in the venerable When Saturday Comes magazine issue 12 back in 1987. In those days WSC was every bit a type-cut-and-glue fanzine as the others that were knocking around at the time, except that it bore allegiance to the beautiful game as a whole, rather than to a single club. It was the inspiration for Cambridge United’s “Abbey Rabbit” and hundreds of other fanzines. WSC is still going strong today.
Godric Smith would have not long been out of university when he wrote this. To anyone who followed the U’s at the time, I think you’ll agree it nicely sums up that particular period at the Abbey, the dismal seasons between John Docherty’s and John Beck’s great teams. David Moyes was still playing in 1987, yet to embark upon the managerial career that made his name. Let’s hope Godric doesn’t bump into him anytime soon! Keith Branagan did, as Godric predicted, make it to the first division, playing for Millwall and then Bolton in the Premier League. Similarly, the “dawn of the new age” at Cambridge United did indeed come to pass, with knobs on!
Mark Cooper had already gone to Spurs for £80,000, Peter Butler would follow Crown to Southend for £75,000 and, to complete the set, young keeper Keith Branagan was sold to Millwall for £100,000. Our four best and/or most promising players out of the door inside 12 months.
We didn’t know it at the time, of course, but the £285,000 transfer bounty allowed the club to clear its debts, reset and relaunch. Under Chris Turner’s management the ground was being prepared for John Beck and a new, young, highly ambitious set of players to … well, you know the rest!
In his final season at the Abbey David Crown scored nine league goals, 12 in all competitions. I still think he was worth far more than thirty grand. He should have gone to QPR, he’d have been the new Stan Bowles.
During his time with United, Crown scored a total of 45 league goals in 106 league games, 55 in 121 games in all competitions. I have checked and cross-referenced each goal. “The Moose That Roared” has him on a total of 46 league goals, I wonder if Andrew also thought Crown scored 25 league goals in 1985-86.
Crown kept on scoring after he left United; at Southend he bagged 61 in 113 games and at Gillingham, 40 in 87 games. No wonder, as he told “The Abbey Rabbit”, his TV Teletext page was constantly paused on the leading goal scorer’s page! (Teletext? Ask your dad!).
When we spoke, David was in no doubt as to how many league goals he scored in his record-breaking reason – 24. He has his own accountancy firm now, so numbers are important to him! He pointed out that he still finished as United’s top scorer in 1987-88, even though he left after just 17 league games. He did the same the season he left Southend for Gillingham, he added! He admitted to me he didn’t know about the very poor state of the club when he joined United, but he said he was happy to leave Reading as he had been getting some stick from fans there. Unbelievable, Jeff. He said he wasn’t aware of any interest from 2nd division clubs when he left United, and that, as far as he was aware, Southend paid £50,000 for his services. Still not nearly enough.
He currently works as a match day host at Southend United (covid permitting) but he has fond memories of Cambridge and his time at the Abbey – his daughter was born in the city. He does have one gripe, though: he says he did his left knee in at United. The injury wasn’t deemed worthy of an operation by the club; there were no same-day scans to check injuries out in those days, he lamented. A nasty skiing accident has since done for his right knee. Ouch. David kindly sent me a couple of (annotated) photos from his scrapbook, reproduced here. One shows him getting the better of Richard Money!
He has been back to the Abbey, quite recently in fact, to watch the U’s beat Gillingham 2-0 in the Papa Don’t Preach Trophy. He was impressed with what he saw, particularly the player who could well break his 35-year-old goalscoring record. He saw much more in him than just a goal scorer. He liked Harvey Knibbs, too, and the team’s shape and organisation. He thinks we are a good bet to go up.
Well, there you go. David Crown. What a goal scorer. What a top fella.
You can read The Abbey Rabbit interview with David Crown (and Peter Butler) in full here The article includes one of my photos from the Mansfield game.
We are collecting the memories of supporters for adding to the Coconuts web site. If you would like to answer the following we will add to site
Time supporting Cambridge United?
First Match and who did you go with?
Favourite away ground?
All time best eleven?
Best moment supporting Cambridge United?
If you would like to complete the questions and send along with a photo of yourself to email@example.com we will add to the website over the coming days.
Send your replies to firstname.lastname@example.org
Brian Whitmore 1946-2021
The Cambridge United family lost a much-loved member to the Covid-19 virus with the death on January 2, at the age of 74, of Brian Whitmore.
Local boy Brian, a compact striker/inside forward of skill and commitment, was an example of the success of United’s fruitful late-1950s and1960s youth development system. He played as a youth with the likes of Alan Payne, Peter Robinson and Graham Felton, all of whom made their way into the U’s first team.
Brian, who attended Netherhall School and was chosen for Cambridge City Schoolboys – where he played alongside future Chelsea striker Roger Wosahlo and fellow U’s Paul Lucas and Richard Ison – made 15 first-team appearances between 1963 and 1965, scoring three times.
His debut came on 7 October 1963, in a 3-0 home win over Histon in the East Anglian Cup; his last game in amber was just over two years later, when United drew 3-3 with Wellington Town in the Midland Floodlit League.
His football career also took him to Cambridgeshire clubs including Soham Town Rangers, Histon and Chatteris Town.
Born on 18 September 1946, Brian followed a career in engineering with a Pye company, later to be taken over by Phillips. He moved to South Yorkshire in about 1985 and later ran a fashion jewellery outlet in Sheffield’s Meadowhall shopping centre. He was a keen squash player and swimmer, keeping up the latter activity until last year.
Brian’s last years were marred by a struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, but 100 Years of Coconuts and Cambridge United Former Players’ Association were delighted to welcome him, his devoted wife Maureen and friends Fred and Sandra Marshall to the home game against Leyton Orient on 8 April 2017. He met his old youth team manager, Peter Reeve, and former teammate Rodney Slack, and showed great interest in exhibits in The Story of the U’s, Coconuts’ mini-museum in the Supporters’ Club.
The funeral, which will be restricted to 30 people, will take place at Rotherham Crematorium at 10.30am on January 14.
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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.