CUFPA members line up in the Abbey Stadium centre circle, 22 September 2018. From left: Omer Riza, Derrick Christie, Tom Youngs, Soner Zumrutel, Ray Freeman, Roly Horrey, Peter Phillips, Peter Bowstead, Graham Felton, Terry Eades, John Hiner, Brian Grant (with Roly Horrey's grandson, Louis Brown), Willy Watson, Derek Haylock, Steve Fallon, Wes Maughan, Gerry Baker, Rodney Slack, Brian Greenhalgh, Tony Willson, Tom Higgins, Paul Wanless, Sam Harris, Andy Duncan, Colin Bate. All photos: Ben Phillips & Principal Studios.
An edited version of this article appeared in the Cambridge United match day programme for the game against Mansfield Town on Saturday, 22 September 2018.
Not many people associated with United have been appointed OBE. It’s interesting that the two most prominent examples used to line up alongside each other in the U’s defence.
Coconuts has written much over the years about Brendon Batson, and quite rightly too: great player, great man. On the other hand, you have to ferret around on the internet to find proper tributes to another bloke who has done as much as anyone for the game.
Put your natural modesty aside and step forward, Vic Akers.
Loud were the lamentations (and, it must be said, celebrations in some quarters) when Arsène Wenger ended his hundred-year Arsenal reign in May. Hardly anyone noticed Vic’s simultaneous departure from the Emirates.
Yet this is a man who, as kit manager, intimate confidant and bench buddy, was Wenger’s most trusted and influential lieutenant over the decades. This is a man who formed, moulded and managed his beloved Arsenal Ladies team to the surely unbeatable total of 32 major trophies.
This is a man who was Dennis Bergkamp’s best pal during the Dutch maestro’s time at Highbury. This is a man who knows how football works.
Here at Coconuts, we’re naturally most interested in what Vic contributed to the United cause. And that’s a considerable amount.
He was 24 when, in July 1971, Bill Leivers signed the left back from Bexley United for £500 (not the £5K quoted elsewhere). He made his bow – and scored – in a 1-1 Division Four draw at Chester on August 14 of that year, and his last game in amber, before departing for Watford, was in another 1-1 draw, at home to Newport on 15 November 1974.
He had clocked up 129 appearances and, playing mostly in defence but sometimes in an attacking role, had knocked in five goals.
Wholehearted, energetic and possessed of no little talent, he had found friends among the Abbey faithful. The relationship had got off to a good start in that debut at Chester when Vic, playing in midfield, profited from a collision between Terry Eades and the home keeper by lobbing the ball calmly over a packed penalty area and into the empty net.
Not everyone always appreciated his efforts. We can laugh about it now, but few found it funny on Boxing Day 1971 when the Abbey PA announcer, departing from the official script, made uncomplimentary remarks about Vic’s and keeper Trevor Roberts’ performance against Grimsby. The numbskull quickly found his services no longer required and United won a thrilling game 3-1.
It’s telling that both photographs on this page show Vic in attacking mode. When Leivers played him as a striker in that Plymouth match, he obliged with two goals and explained: ‘I sometimes play up front in practice sessions, but no one ever takes me seriously.’
The end came when Ron Atkinson took over the managerial duties, and Vic was granted a free transfer in recognition of his loyal service. But his career was just beginning.
Initial orders are being taken through the CFU online store and at the CFU caravan on a match day. Email 100 Years of Coconuts if you have any questions.
Champagne & Corona: The Story of Cambridge United Football Club 1970-1980
Paperback; 360 pages
£18.99 if collected from the CFU outlet; £17.99 for CFU members
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But by the 1960s, a few pre-season friendlies were the norm.
The Summer of Love was in full swing as Bill Leivers set about assembling his squad for a tilt at the 1967/68 Southern League championship. Ignoring calls to stick flowers in his short back and sides and leave for San Francisco, he got to work on a reshuffle of his resources.
Leivers could never be accused of lack of ambition. He told the late, lamented East Anglian football magazine Shoot!: ‘We want to win everything, the Southern League Championship, the FA Cup, the European Cup. We don’t say we shall win these things but to succeed we must be ambitious.’
He brought in defender Pat Quartermain from Oxford, winger Billy Wall from Cambridge City and full back Keith Lindsey from Doncaster. But his biggest summer signing was that of Harry ‘Bud’ Houghton.
Bud was a 31-year-old, India-born centre forward who had scored heavily for Chelmsford for several seasons after a good League career with Bradford Park Avenue, Birmingham, Southend, Oxford and Lincoln. He was imposing in the air, had a cracking shot and knew where the goal was.
As a glamorous-looking home friendly against Norwich approached, United got used to wearing new black shorts with their plain amber shirts and took in the changes that had taken place at the Abbey Stadium: the main stand was almost complete, reaching just past the halfway line; there was a new car park at the Newmarket Road entrance; and the Habbin terrace's roof had been extended.
Playing 4-2-4 against the Canaries, the U’s looked to have gained a draw through a Dai Ward goal, but Hugh Curran scored his team’s second two minutes from time to snatch the win.
Leivers was more interested in giving his side stiff tests away to clubs at their own level, so other friendlies were arranged at Corby, where United lost 4-3 to a last-minute goal, and at Cheshire County League champions Altrincham, where they slumped to an embarrassing 7-1 drubbing.
The scores had been level at half-time, but sub keeper Keith Barker conceded half a dozen after the break as his team tired after a six-hour coach journey.
There had been talk of tough pre-season training sessions with hours of running, but the squad had only left Coldhams Common twice: once for a run and once for a spot of golf at Newmarket.
‘Skill comes before brawn, and we have been training to play football, not to become long distance runners,’ observed Leivers. ‘After all, if you want to practise the piano you don’t start by running round and round it.’ Wise words, Bill.
We'll skim over the rest of the findings to reach the bit that says, historically, United are the seventh most exciting club in the land. Stands to reason, dunnit?
And the bit that says: 'Cambridge United's division three winning 1990/91 season was found to be the most exciting on record. Their second of three consecutive promotions saw them win 54 per cent of their league games and reach the quarter finals of the FA Cup.'
No great surprise to us, but thanks, Daily Telegraph for pointing it out to the world.
And no huge surprise about the identity, according to the research, of the Football League's least exciting club: Halifax Town.
We’ve had own goal stars in amber, of course. Top of the og scorers’ table is Steve Fallon, who notched five during his Abbey career, claimed three in 1984/85 and even managed two in one match that season, at York.
Fal played a total of 446 games for the U’s, so his average actually isn’t as bad as it looks at first glance.
We have to get a bit more up to date to find the fastest own goal ever scored by a U. It came when Exeter visited for a Division Three game on 12 April 2003 and the guilty party was Izzy Iriekpen, who glanced a header deftly past Shaun Marshall from James Coppinger’s cross a mere 22 seconds into proceedings.
There were few recriminations afterwards: John Turner’s last-minute goal gave the U’s a 2-1 win.
But Izzy’s praiseworthy effort looks insignificant when you compare it to Torquay defender Pat Kruse’s amazing feat on 3 January 1977.
The quickest own goal in Football League history came when, from the kick-off, United’s Dave Stringer lofted a high ball into the Gulls’ penalty area and Kruse headed it past his keeper, Terry Lee. It had taken him just six seconds to claim his place in the record books.
The story behind Kruse’s cock-up is almost as funny as the accomplishment.
The Plainmoor pitch that day, with ice in one goalmouth and a mud lake in the other, was tricky. United keeper Malcolm Webster, not knowing which end he would be defending first, took the field wearing one boot suitable for mud and one for a harder surface, donning a second studded boot when he found himself at the muddy end.
Trainer John Simpson (pictured, bobble-hatted, on an earlier occasion with Ron Atkinson and Ray Freeman) scurried off to the dressing room with the rejected footwear.
Lee should have followed Webby’s example. He had chosen the wrong boots for the ice-bound end and, when Kruse thoughtfully tried to give him an early touch, he skidded away, out of control, while the ball trundled gently past.
Shortly afterwards, Simpson emerged from the dressing room. Unaware that the U’s were ahead, he assumed the hosts were kicking the game off when in fact they were restarting it.
He remained in that state of ignorance until after the final whistle. Thinking his brave boys had lost, he was unconvinced when the players claimed they had gained a point with a 2-2 draw.
And they had done so without scoring: United’s second goal came from a Phil Sandercock og in the 44th minute.
Ramel’s other hits included ‘Why must the boat to Curaçao sway like this?’ and ‘Whoopee, what a bustle in the nesting box last Saturday’, so he’s well worth checking out on YouTube.
Back to the links between Sweden and the U’s, Jonas Axeldal and Demba Traoré among them. They are pictured on this page thanks to ace caricaturist Colin Proctor.
They both arrived at the Abbey in the early days of the millennium but striker Axeldal stayed for less than a year, scoring twice in 19 games before returning home and making his mark as a coach at Falkenbergs.
Defender Traoré played 12 times in black and amber before departing for Enfield, then Greece, the Netherlands and Norway, where he plays for Asker.
But United’s first connection with Sweden came in 1992, when John Beck’s barnstormers undertook a pre-season tour of the Stockholm area and points south.
The club had been invited to visit following the Swedish TV screening of the famous 2-1 win at Ipswich in November 1991 that took the U’s to the top of Division Two.
The squad, depleted by Steve Claridge’s exit to Luton, Colin Bailie’s refusal to return to training and Richard Wilkins’ preference for staying at home to discuss other contract options, certainly made a mark on its host country.
Midfielder John Fowler made his debut in the opening match against Eskilstuna, but it was Chris Leadbitter and Dion Dublin who attracted attention by picking up two yellow cards apiece. Down to nine men after 50 minutes, the U’s lost 1-0, incurring another five bookings along the way.
Beck was convinced the ref had misinterpreted United’s commitment. ‘The Swedes were jumping and squealing but it was just good, hard English tackling,’ he observed.
Michael Norbury (knee) and Tony Dennis (Achilles) were ruled out of a game against Mjölby Södra, but Dublin scored a couple in a 5-0 win. The next match, at Täby, was called off when a storm flooded the pitch, but when it was staged the following day United used 19 players in a 2-0 victory.
The last game was a 9-0 stroll over Trosa with the Manchester United-bound Dublin netting five and Devon White (two), Lee Philpott and Michael Cheetham chipping in.
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I'm the living embodiment of the spirit of the U's, and I'll be blogging whenever I've got news for you, as long as I don't miss my tea.