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.