This is an edited version of an article that appeared in the Cambridge United matchday programme for the game against Port Vale on 5 May 2018.
I would like to take this opportunity to quote some Half Man Half Biscuit lyrics at you.
‘Even men with steel hearts love to see a dog on the pitch,’ warbled the Wirral band’s world-weary singer, Nigel Blackwell, in 1995. ‘It generates a warmth around the ground that augurs well for mankind.’
As ever, the Birkenhead Bard is spot on. Nothing warms the cockles of the average football punter's heart quite so much as a brief interlude starring a playful pooch.
In this age of wall-to-wall TV coverage, every doggy incursion is replayed a zillion times on YouTube, but there was a time when these friendly invasions were so commonplace that they scarcely warranted discussion in the pub after the game.
In the olden days, turnstile operators would turn a blind eye to dogs accompanying spectators, and it was accepted that the canine companions might wander on to the pitch at some point.
I remember one old bloke, long gone now, who was a regular fixture in the Corona End along with his mate – some kind of spaniel, if memory serves.
Back in the day, we half-expected an appearance by a ball-seeking dog – I used to feel quite cheated if none turned up. Occasionally, one of these panting intruders would show impressive ball control, visionary awareness and mazy dribbling skills, and the cheers would rattle the Habbin’s rafters
We have precious little information about the dog’s subsequent life, but I don’t suppose the incident did much for his career, either.
Dogs are by no means the animal kingdom’s only pitch invaders, of course. The Anfield cat is a descendant of the mog that inspired the Kop to adapt its ‘Attack! Attack! Attack, attack, attack!’ chant to ‘A cat! A cat! A cat, a cat, a cat!’ Or so legend has it.
The Parkhead fox family has a long, proud history; squirrels have made their mark on pitches from London to Latin America; eagle owls, chickens and even a marabou stork have disrupted games. A pine marten won fame when it bit a player in Switzerland, but the Millwall giraffe is a figment of my imagination.
Here at the Abbey – even if we leave aside Ian and Mick’s clay-busting supermoles reported on April 1 this year – we’ve had our fair share of animals. And I’m not just talking about Roy McDonough.
There’s our own dear Marvin, of course, and the Barnwell barn owl is a frequent visitor. And then there’s the sheep.
In the 1930s, lacking mechanical means for keeping the pitch in trim, the committee encouraged Arthur Fison, farmer of Fen Ditton, to graze his sheep at the Abbey on a Friday. It was the committee members’ Saturday morning job to clear the pitch of the flock’s leavings.