Here we go. This is the moment everybody connected with Cambridge United has been waiting for. Not just since our election to the Football League back in May but ever since the club turned professional and made Football League status our goal”. These were the opening words in the programme for the first ever Football League match not only for Cambridge United but the first in Cambridge. Saturday 15th August 1970 was the date, Lincoln City the opponents. Manager Bill Leivers also had some profound words “this is the realisation of a dream. It will be a wonderful occasion and I am determined to sit back and enjoy it, and for once the result will be of secondary importance to me. We have had to crawl to get into the League, now we can walk and perhaps soon we will be able to run with the big boys”.
For the first time the club accepted match ball sponsors and received 18 applications within 72 hours of making the announcement. Chairman Jack Woolley and Mrs. Woolley sponsored the first match ball. United also advertised for ‘attractive girls’ to be dressed in uniforms of blouse and mini-skirt, to sell programmes. Surprising what you could get away with in the 1970’s! The board of directors had already calculated they would need attendances of over 5,000 to break even. So must have been delighted when 6,843 turned up.
United’s team for that history making match was, Roberts, Thompson, Meldrum, Slack, Eades, Hardy, Leggett, Cassidy, Lindsay, McKinven, Harris. Lining up in a ambitious 4-2-4 formation. Only two of the team, Terry Eades and Keith Lindsay, hadn’t played in the Football League before. It was also a League debut for the match referee Robert Perkins. For the record the Lincoln team lined up as Kennedy, Taylor G, Peden, Hubbard, Harford, Grummett, Hughes, Trevis, Freeman, Taylor W, Fletcher. Spot the future England manager?
The match its self was described as a “truly great occasion” by the Cambridge News Light Blue sports newspaper. A Drum & Pipe band was the live pre-match entertainment before United kicked-off towards the Corona End (NRE in today’s language). United took the game to their illustrious visitors and had the best of the early chances. But on eight minutes and with their first real attack the Imps took the lead when Fletcher crossed for captain Travis to beat Roberts from close range. The goal visibly shook United and they spent the rest of the half defending and had to make three goal line clearances.
Geed up by Bill Leivers half-time pep talk United did settle down and started to take the game to Lincoln. However, it wasn’t until the 78th minute they managed the equaliser and their first League goal, Colin Meldrum’s header thundered against the underside of the bar before spinning into the net. There then followed 15 minutes of nervy defending before United claimed their first Football League point to signal their arrival.
Football League status did bring an unwelcome factor. Earlier in the day Cambridgeshire police intercepted three coachloads of Lincoln “Skinheads” who had intended to cause trouble at the match. After confiscating various weapons at the Trinity Foot pub on the A604 (now A14) the coaches were escorted back to Lincoln.
For me this was a bitter/sweet moment. The annual family holiday, this year to Weston-Super-Mere had been booked long before the League fixtures were released and there was just no way I could get out of it.
In the days before the internet, mobile phones and Saturday afternoon score update TV programmes the only way of keeping up with events 150 miles away was national radio. They didn’t cover the fourth division much but, as we were the new boys, they did have a reporter at the Abbey who gave reports when goals were scored and at half/full time. I remember well trying to keep a crackly car radio in tune, which seemed to change everytime we turned a corner. I can still recite by heart the United line-up of that day, anorak or what? I was also becoming a bit of a programme collector and had made arrangements for a United supporting school mate to get me a programme, which he agreed to providing I paid him in advance. Everyday towards the end of the summer term I intended to pay him, but somehow it never happened. But what are mates for? First day back at the start of the new school year the programme was duly delivered. Nothing mentioned about payment and as I had spent the last of my paper round money on twenty No.6 I wasn’t going to say anything.
So, Tim Sewell if you can find me I am now quiet willing and able to pay you for the programme............2 shillings, 10p in today’s money