Cambridge United Former Players’ Association lost its oldest member on Wednesday, August 9 with the death of Herbert ‘Tickle’ Sanderson at the age of 97. The sad event severs Cambridge United’s last-known link with the pre-World War II Abbey United.
Tickle, whose unusual nickname arose from his youthful inability to pronounce his middle name, Cecil, played for the Abbey between 1939 and 1943. A speedy right winger during his time at United (although he could play in other positions), he made 69 appearances and scored 23 goals in a career disrupted by the war.
Having played for the Cambridge Instrument Company – where he worked for more than 50 years – he made his Abbey debut on 8 October 1938 in a 5-1 FA Amateur Cup defeat to Histon Institute. He first played in the Cambridgeshire League in November of that year, scoring the game’s only goal at home to Linton Granta in his second appearance.
At the end of that season, with Tickle forming a strong forward line alongside Freddie Mansfield, Herbie ‘Curly’ Smart, Jim Langford and Ernie Caston, United were left needing to win their last two home games – both played on the same day – to have a chance of becoming champions. In matches played at 3.30pm and 6.45pm, United beat Soham Town 4-0 and Haddenham 8-1, with Tickle scoring twice in the latter game. He later remembered that the only liquid he drank between the two games was a soft drink of the Corona or Tizer type.
United’s efforts were in vain, and the title went to Linton. But Tickle picked up a winner’s medal five days later after the final of the Creake Charity Shield against Histon at Cambridge Town’s Milton Road ground.
He was an ever-present in the hastily-arranged Cambs Emergency League of 1940/41, in which United came fifth out of eight in Section A. They played only friendlies during the following two seasons, but after a year’s absence Tickle returned to play in the East Anglian League of 1942/43, making his last appearance in a 3-0 home defeat by Town.
He subsequently played for Town and Histon before resuming his career as an avid United fan – he had walked or cycled to Newmarket Road from Chesterton to watch games following the 1932 opening of the ground. He told 100 Years of Coconuts in 2016 that his favourite players from his years of watching the club were Dave Stringer and Brendon Batson.
Tickle was born in Chesterton in 1920 and grew up with two brothers and two sisters. His father was a farm labourer who collected food orders from his horse and cart, and also made a little on the side as a bookie’s runner. He went to St Andrew’s school in Chesterton, and then to the Brunswick School, where the teacher Roy Burrell played an influential role in Tickle’s careers in football, boxing and athletics.
Burrell tried to get Tickle into the team at Town – at that time the biggest club in Cambridge – but opportunities for the young man were limited due to the fact that the club captain occupied the right-wing slot.
Above, Tickle Sanderson pictured third from right in the back row of the Crease Charity Shield-winning Abbey United team in 1938/39. Below, Tickle at the launch of Cambridge United Former Players' Association in February 2016.
Leaving school at the age of 14, Tickle went to work at the Instrument Company, starting in nickel-, silver- and gold-plating at twopence-halfpenny an hour. By the time he had worked his way up to making galvanometers, he was playing for the Abbey.
Staying with the Instrument Company for the rest of his working life, he continued to live north of the Cam until his death, which occurred in a Cottenham care home.
He married Joyce in 1942 and their son, Trevor, grew up to be an equally fervent U’s supporter. Living close to the ground, Trevor is a director of Cambridge United Supporters’ Club Ltd.
Cambridge Fans United, 100 Years of Coconuts and Cambridge United Former Players’ Association extend their condolences to the Sanderson family.