The first season as a Football League club was a particular one to savour for three members of the board of Directors, A E (Paddy) Harris, Geoff Proctor and Stand Starr were all members of the original board formed over twenty years earlier when United became a limited company. Even more remarkable was the fact that a club formed in 1912 and spent 25 years in the Cambs County Leagues had now reached the Football League.
United were the first club for 10 years to be elected into the league. It really was a effort on two fronts, the players proving they deserved the promotion by winning the Southern League for the previous two seasons and directors convincing the league delegates that off field administration and facilities were also worthy of a place. The achievement certainly changed the face of football in Cambridge. For years Cambridge City had provided the biggest local rivals and derby matches between the two clubs had been fiercely contested in front of large crowds. Bedford and Chelmsford had also provided East Anglian rivals. Now, all of sudden, the local derby’s would be against the likes of Peterborough, Northampton and Colchester. A big change for the fans was that instead of working, socialising and going to school with fans of your biggest rivals you only got to meet opposition fans when the teams played each other. This gave very little opportunity for “friendly” banter. The city of Cambridge is world famous mainly for the achievements of the university, Football League membership gave something for the people of the city to be proud of and put the city on the football map.
Over the summer the Abbey Stadium became a hive of activity as the club prepared for it’s arrival among England’s football elite. The ground was given a face lift, a new press box was constructed and metal goal posts were replaced by wooden ones to bring it in line with every other league club. Anglia Television erected a permanent camera platform under the roof of the Habbin Stand and a group of volunteers relaid the terracing at the Allotments End. Manager Bill Leivers original 3 year contract was up for renewal and just like three years earlier when he promised league membership within that time, he now promised promotion into Division 3 within the same time.
All of the previous season’s squad apart from Rodney Slack were retained. Slack’s omission came as shock to most people. He had been at the club for nearly ten years and had been Player of the Year on three occasions. To make matters worse, Rodney learnt of his release when he read it in the Cambridge Evening News. Just goes to show there is no room for sentimentality in football, not even in those days. Slack was replaced by Trevor Roberts from Southend.
The squad returned for pre-season training on 13th July. Training was always on Coldhams Common, which was also used for cattle grazing! A far cry from today’s pristine training ground at Clare College. All the players had been offered a weekly wage of £28 with bonus of up to £40. The club were also obliged to pay each player £250 for signing Football League contracts. Peter Leggett, the non-league George Best, was the only player not to accept the new terms, holding out until the last moment to sign.
For a fifteen year old football mad school boy in his last year at Comberton Village College these were exciting times. Gone were the days of friendly banter with Cambridge City supporting school mates. We had moved up and City fans had either converted to United or gone very quite.
I had been following Cambridge United for three years and about a year earlier reached the stage where my parents let me go to matches on my own. I either travelled by bus, number 115 from Trumpington to the city centre and then the 133(?) to the Abbey Stadium or I cycled. I can well remember hanging my amber and black scarf from my handle bar of my Rayleigh Bicycle and racing home at a rate of knots whilst singing celebration songs after United had won the Southern League in 1969 & 1970. In those days, as now, every self respecting football mad schoolboy had to follow a first division club, mine was Leeds United, don’t really know why. Probably because my best mate followed Liverpool and along with Leeds they were the best two teams in the country at the time. I have to admit that being a Norfolk boy my first football love was Norwich City, but they had yet to reach the top level of English football. I suppose in today’s terminology I would be known as a 3CW (you can work that one out yourselves). Anyway Cambridge United getting in the Football League changed all that and I ditched Leeds United and became a 2CW (got it yet?) The mighty U’s moving on to an equal standing in my affections with the Canaries of Norfolk.
With all this going on in the local football world and England defending their World Cup in Mexico, what chance was there for me to achieve high academic qualifications in my final school year, especially when you add the extra distraction of all those mini-skirted girls of the late sixties early seventies?