In June 2013 Cambridge United were preparing for their nineth season in the Conference when Richard Money signed 23-year-old left back Greg Taylor from Luton. Greg had been part of the Luton team that had beaten Norwich at Carrow Road in the fourth round of the FA cup earlier that year, the first time ever a Premier League team had been beaten by a non-league side.
Greg had offers from League clubs, but was won over by United’s ambition and by the squad Richard Money and Jez George had assembled: Eight other new, young signings had arrived at the Abbey that summer. U’s fans were starting to get excited; was this the year United finally got back into the Football League? A few days after he joined, Jez looked to manage expectations: “When bringing in young players with potential,” he told the Cambridge News, “you hope everyone is going to turn out like Harrison Dunk, but the fact of the matter is they won’t all be like that.” Who could ever hope to emulate Harrison Dunk?!
Greg’s debut in black and amber was televised by BT Sport – how many U’s debuts have been on national TV? He starred as United opened their season with a 5-1 thrashing of Halifax Town at the Abbey. The touchpaper had been lit on one of the most momentous seasons in the club’s history. Not only did Cambridge United claw their way back into the Football League, they also won their first ever national knock-out cup, the FA Trophy. That both were achieved at Wembley was a bonus for Greg; he had twice before missed out on playing there; being cup-tied with Darlington and injured with Luton. Greg went on to play in all but one of the 61 first team games that season. Nobody played more. Not even Harrison Dunk!
Greg was first choice left back as United began life back in the ‘Big Time’, missing just seven of 54 games of the 2014-15 season that included those two celebrated games against Manchester United in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
Greg’s goals were like an eclipse of the sun: rare but well worth waiting for. Everyone inside the Abbey on Saturday 17th December 2016 will remember his goal against Crewe: He won the ball from a defender just outside the opposition box, took a touch to set himself and hammered an unstoppable left foot drive into the top corner at the Newmarket Road end. Fittingly it proved to be the winner. Greg scored another winner, the only goal in a genuine relegation six-pointer at Notts County in 2019.
When Jake Carroll was preferred at left back Shaun Derry tried Greg as a holding midfielder – other U’s managers were quite content to do the same over the years – and then as a centre back, and this is where he spent the second phase of his United career. In 2021-22 Greg captained United to a second promotion, to League One, under Mark Bonner. A bad ankle injury, sustained at Plymouth in only the third game of the following season, cruelly ruled him out for that whole campaign, denying him the chance to show off his talents in the higher division.
With added competition at centre back, Greg was restricted to only limited appearances as the club struggled in 2022-23, and an era drew to a close at the end of that season when he was released, and he moved on to Woking.
To mark 10 loyal and highly successful years at Cambridge United Greg was granted a testimonial. As a boyhood Hammers fan, it was entirely appropriate that West Ham should provide the opposition for his testimonial match, and that they should bring a near full strength team to the Abbey for the occasion.
In total, across all competitions, Greg made 373 first team appearances in black and amber, and scored six goals. Only ten players have made more appearances for Cambridge United. Over and above all this, putting the football aside, anyone who has had the pleasure of chatting to Greg over the years will know that he is one of the nicest guys you are ever likely to meet, and he will grace the United Hall of Fame..
Liz Pamplin moved to Cambridge in 2000 and played for the same team under various guises as they established themselves as the primary women’s football club in the city. Thus, in 2000 they were Pye Ladies, Cambridge City 2003-2008, Cambridge Women 2008-2015 and Cambridge United 2015-2022. She played continuously for the club for 22 seasons, clocking up some 500 games. Liz played in many different positions, including goalkeeper which is where she ended her playing career.
Whatever the name of the club, just like Abbey United and Cambridge United, there is no doubt that Liz has represented OUR club for 22 years as it became more and more integrated into Cambridge United.
Nowadays, since hanging up her boots, you’ll find Liz assisting with training and, on women’s match days, out with ‘balls, bibs and cones’! She has also served as club, Treasurer, welfare officer, kit manager, occasional physio and Covid officer. On men’s match days Liz will either be selling programmes or working a turnstile. She’s currently secretary of the United Women’s team, and a member of the Women’s board.
Liz is an amazing role model for younger, female footballers, having battled away to establish the women’s game in Cambridge. Liz was in the room when we made the first steps to calling the team ‘United’ in 2014-15.
Liz is the recipient of the Andrew Bennett Award. Liz fully deserves to be inducted into the Hall of Fame for her work behind the scenes and as a supporter / volunteer, and when you include her contribution on the field, she truly is a Cambridge United legend.
Alan Kimble was a key component of John Beck’s glorious Cambridge United team that almost gate-crashed the inaugural Premier League in 1992. He was signed by Chris Turner, though, as were many of that side.
He arrived, with his identical twin brother Garry, at the start of the 1986-87 season. Turner, initially unable to tell them apart, christened them both ‘Twinny’ and that is how he is affectionately known by U’s fans to this day. In his first season Alan was part of the United side that beat Ipswich and lost to Spurs in the League Cup. The following year he had to see off the returning Jamie Murray but, after that, the left back slot was his own. The guard was changing and, although we didn’t know it at the time, the very first piece of Beck’s jigsaw was now in place. From then on, for the next five seasons, flick through the United line-ups and you will rarely see anyone but Alan Kimble third on the team sheet.
His trade was as a tough tackling, overlapping full back, but in December 1988, versus Rochdale, he added another - very handy - string to his bow by converting his first penalty for the U’s. He would go on to score 19 more from the spot in black and amber. United’s record from penalties ever since has been patchy, at best; how many times, after watching the U’s miss a spot kick, have we cried out ‘where’s Twinny when we need him’? He also possessed a very decent long throw which, of course, John Beck utilised to the full.
Cambridge United were relegated from the old second division in 1993. The third tier was no place for a player of his quality and Alan duly moved to Premier League Wimbledon for £185,000 where he spent the next nine seasons, helping them to FA and League Cup semi-finals in 1996-97.
Alan made 378 appearances for the U’s across all competitions and scored 25 goals. Only seven players have made more appearances for the club in United’s 111-year history. In over five and a half seasons, once he’d established himself in the side, Alan missed just eight first team games, and only one for suspension (sent off for two yellow cards). That’s consistency. That’s reliability. That’s class. He was voted United’s Player of the Year on no less than three occasions. In 2012 readers of the Cambridge News voted for Alan at left back in the U’s ‘Team of the Century’.
Dave Stringer had 499 appearances for Norwich under his belt when Ron Atkinson signed him for Cambridge United on a free transfer in September 1976. His arrival, crucially, allowed Brendon Batson to revert to his best position at right back. The Championship winning side of 1976-77 was now pretty much in place.
Big Ron felt that, at 31 years old, Dave could do for United what Bobby Moore was doing for Fulham at the time; praise indeed. He described him as a ‘model professional.’ Anyone who had the pleasure of seeing Dave play will know he used his strength and reading of the game to get on with the job of defending quietly, efficiently, without fuss.
Dave would go on to miss just two league games over the course of the next three seasons as United achieved back-to-back promotions and a place in the old Second Division for the first time in the club’s history. At his side throughout was Steve Fallon. All the best sides are built on defensive rocks like these two, United legends both.
Ahead of that momentous first season in the second tier Dave warned his United colleagues that the football would be faster even than in the first division. He knew, he’d played in both divisions. Been there, done that. He was duly voted supporter’s Player of the Year as United finished a creditable 12th.
A hamstring injury suffered against Charlton in February 1980 rudely interrupted Dave’s remarkable run in the side and, with Lindsay Smith preferred to partner Steve Fallon the following season, his time at the Abbey was coming to a close. In October 1980 he accepted an offer to coach Norwich City’s youth team and as team manager he guided the young Canaries to FA Youth Cup success in 1983. In 1987 Dave took over the senior side, leading them to promotion back to the old First Division and to an FA Cup semi-final in 1989. In 1988 he very kindly released Dion Dublin, allowing him to join Cambridge United. Cheers!
In total, across all competitions and over four seasons, Dave made 181 first team appearances in black and amber. He scored just one goal for United, and it would be greatly amiss not to say more about it as it was quite something. It came at Halifax in only his fourth game for the U’s. He took a free-kick fully 50 yards out – in his own half – and, with the aid of a stiff breeze, it sailed straight over the keeper’s head into the net. Eat your heart out David Beckham!!
Bill Leivers signed Brian Greenhalgh as a 24-year-old from Huddersfield in the summer of 1971. After a tough first season in the Football League, Leivers knew that expectations at The Abbey Stadium were growing. The signing of a young striker from a first division club was a statement that the time had come for Cambridge United to step it up a gear.
Brian was a lean, rangy striker, not a big centre forward, and usually wore the No.8 shirt. It was the 1970s, so think Mick Channon rather than Malcolm MacDonald. His hair was fashionably long(ish), his legs were ‘telescopic’, (according to one match report). Bill Leivers compared him to a thoroughbred racehorse.
Quickly striking up an effective strike partnership with David Lill, it didn’t take Brian long to endear himself to United fans; he scored four goals in the 6-0 thrashing of Darlington just seven games into his Abbey career. This scoring feat has been bettered only once, by Steve Butler, across more than 2,000 Cambridge United League games. He finished his first campaign as United’s top scorer, by a mile, with 19 goals, all in the League.
In his second season Brian’s goals – 18 in total – helped fire the U’s to promotion to the old Third Division and he was voted Player of the Year. He didn’t score in the promotion decider against Mansfield at The Abbey in April 1973, but his run down the right wing, and perfectly placed ball into the box, set up Ronnie Walton for the U’s winner. See for yourself, the goals from the game are on YouTube [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=noM3MT5FyLg]
Scoring goals is one way to win over the hearts of Cambridge United fans, but to do it against Peterborough makes you a true hero! Brian managed four in four games against ‘that lot up the A1’. He also had the distinction of scoring the club’s first ever goal in the League Cup, at Aldershot in August 1973.
United struggled in the higher division and, needing funds to help re-build the team, Bill Leivers sold him to Bournemouth for £40,000 in February 1974. This was in the middle of the miners’ strike and daily power cuts; news about the departure of their star striker was the last thing U’s fans wanted to hear. His final goal in black and amber deserved a bigger audience than the 588 that were reported to have been at Rochdale that Tuesday afternoon during the ‘three-day-week’. Despite his departure Brian was still, and for the third season in a row, United’s top scorer with 11 goals.
Brian hung up his boots in 1976 at the age of only 29 and later enjoyed a highly successful career as a scout; he was Chief Scout at Everton and Watford in the 1990s. As a player, though, Brian will be best – and very fondly – remembered as the cultured striker than helped Cambridge United establish themselves as a Football League club to be reckoned with.
Brian’s record of 48 goals (none were penalties) in 128 appearances across two-and-a-half seasons stands up very well against those of the Abbey’s all-time finest strikers, of which there have been many.
Roy McFarland snapped up Martin Butler from Wallsall for a meagre £22,500 in the summer of 1997, surely one of the best bits of business Cambridge United has ever done. Maybe two crates of beer should be added to that fee as they, according to McFarland, sealed the deal when he invited his prospective new signing to his home for a chat!
Martin was content to drop a division to get regular football, and in his preferred position: He described himself as being ‘all over the place’ at Wallsall where he had been played on the wing, in midfield and even at left back.
Martin made his United debut on a hot August afternoon in Scarborough, and U’s fans immediately knew he was no ordinary striker. His darting runs across the back line ran the defenders ragged, and he was quite comfortable dropping deep to find space and to bring others into the game. He was a very modern striker.
His first goal in black and amber was at The Hawthorns in the Coca-Cola cup which took the U’s to within four minutes of knocking out West Brom. Despite missing three months of his first season through injury, Martin topped the United scoring charts in a mediocre campaign with 13 goals.
The following season Martin’s partnership with Trevor Benjamin flourished and they fired United to promotion to the third tier. He again finished as leading scorer with 20 goals, the first U’s player to hit that mark since his namesake Steve five years earlier. Martin’s goal at second-tier Watford sealed a Worthington Cup upset for the U’s and, a few weeks later, his trusty left foot scored the second in that most memorable of United comebacks at Premier League Nottingham Forest. With United top of the league, he bagged a hat-trick when the U’s thrashed Mansfield 7-2, and was, to nobody’s surprise, voted Player of the Year.
He took the step up a division in his stride and had scored 18 goals in 33 games in Division 3 before United could no longer hold off a string of suitors, and in February 2000 Martin moved to Reading for three-quarters of a million pounds.
Reading won a play-off place in his first full season with the Royals, and Martin collected 28 goals and another Player of the Year award along the way. Reading were promoted in second place the following season, but he suffered a badly broken leg which, if he had continued his rich vein of form, may well have denied him a move to a Premier League club.
In a total of 127 games across all competitions for the U’s Martin scored a magnificent 52 goals over just two-and-a-half seasons. This makes him a United legend and fully justifies his induction into the Cambridge United Hall of Fame. Two crates of beer have never been such value for money!
Watch Martin in action for the U's below
Cambridge United fans’ lasting image of Steve Claridge will be the same: Head down, shirt untucked, socks around his ankles, the ball glued to his right foot, taking the most direct route to goal. Not since Alan Biley had the Abbey had such an instantly recognisable figure. By all accounts, if you looked inside, his car was unmistakeable too!
United have had plenty of great players down the years, but all too rarely have we had one who, when he got on the ball, you opened your mouth, inched forward on the terrace or moved to the edge of your seat. As fans we couldn’t wait for Saturday afternoon, or Tuesday evening, to roll on so that you can enjoy their talent one more time. Steve was one of those players. And we had him twice!
Ironically, given their fiery relationship, Steve was John Beck’s first signing as Cambridge United’s manager in 1990. He was late on his first day; his car ran out of petrol on the M11! He would become the square peg in Beck’s revolutionary – controversial - round hole team, the sole element of unpredictability in a regimentally rigid system. The one player who could keep the opposition guessing. Steve was never a nailed-on starter in Beck’s side, but he scored crucial goals, not least the winner at Portman Road that, famously, took United to the top of the old second division, and the two at Sunderland that clinched a play-off place. Many consider Steve’s loss for three months with an ankle injury either side of Christmas 1991 to be the fatal blow to United’s automatic promotion hopes – United won just two league games during his absence.
It is no secret that this hadn’t been the happiest period of Steve’s career and, with his contract expired, he duly left for Luton Town in the close season.
Just five months later, though, with Beck gone, Gary Johnson re-signed him for £195,000. That is still Cambridge United’s highest transfer fee paid. With the shackles lifted U’s fans saw Steve flourish and develop into the hardworking, skilful, fearless striker that would go on to grace the Premier League with Leicester City. The day he finally departed the Abbey Stadium, to Birmingham City for £350,000, such was the United fans’ outrage that club secretary Steve Greenall said he dreaded opening the mail for a week. Some supporters pledged never to return; others demanded the board’s resignation. That’s what Steve Claridge meant to U’s fans.
In all competitions, over his two spells, Steve made 162 appearances in black and amber, and scored 53 goals. This includes 31 appearances off the bench … all under John Beck! Of course, they were.
John Docherty is most the successful and longest serving manager in Cambridge United’s Football League history. Taking charge when Ron Atkinson jumped ship, John guided United into the second tier of English football for the first time and, against all the odds, kept them there for six successive seasons.
John had left Brentford and was kicking his heels when, in September 1976, his old friend Ron Atkinson asked him to help out with some coaching at Cambridge United. It wasn’t until a year later, though, at the start of the 1977-78 season, that he was formally appointed to the United coaching staff.
United were riding high in the old Third Division in January 1978 when Big Ron departed for West Brom. John was initially appointed ‘team manager’, with Paddy Sowden as ‘general manager’.
John had been brought up on street football in Glasgow and was the polar opposite of his flamboyant predecessor. He was a pragmatist, to Ron’s idealist, and this quickly became apparent when he started to move away from Ron’s favoured 4-3-3 to a tighter 4-4-2 system, especially away from home. United were conceding too often, he said. It worked a treat, and United stormed to promotion in second place, conceding only 15 goals in his 19 games in charge.
John was confirmed as manager, in sole charge, at the start of the 1978-79 season, aged just 38. Chairman David Ruston was 100% behind him: “His tactics got us up into the second division”, he said. United finished their first ever season in the second tier in 12th place, above the likes of Burnley, Leicester, Luton, Sheffield United and Blackburn.
The following season United finished eighth, one place behind West Ham and one above Newcastle. Every season United were favourites for relegation; every season John Docherty proved the doubters wrong. Under his charge United never finished below 14th place in the Second Division and, thus, never had to play in the first round of the League Cup the following season. His team recorded famous league victories over heavyweights like Stoke City, West Ham, Newcastle, Birmingham, Sunderland, QPR, Chelsea, Leicester and Derby.
In 1980, in the League Cup, the U’s knocked out holders Wolves, winning both legs, and then Aston Villa, who were destined to win the First Division championship that season … and the European Cup the next. Don’t forget, in those days teams would field their strongest line up in domestic cup competitions. John’s decision to play Steve Fallon as a sweeper at Molineux was a tactical masterstroke and caught the attention of England manager Ron Greenwood who wondered whether it might work for the national team! It was a truly golden age to be a Cambridge United fan.
John departed the Abbey after a poor start to the 1983-84 season, with United’s finances strained by a new rule that deprived away teams a share of the home gate.
In May 1989 ‘The Doc’ was appointed as George Graham’s successor at Millwall, and the following year he steered the Lions to promotion to the first division for the first – and only – time. John Docherty was a history maker at the Den. John Docherty was a history maker at the Abbey, and he now takes his rightful place in the Cambridge United Hall of Fame.
It’s sad that the name Frank Pettit will probably mean little to most Cambridge United fans. Frank was Treasurer of Abbey United from 1930 until 1950, served as Chairman during the war years and held numerous other roles at the club. He even turned out for the reserves now and again. But that doesn’t tell half of Frank’s story, and all he did for the club.
Frank worked at Watson’s Timber Yard in Newmarket Road which, crucially, was a war time ‘reserved occupation’ and meant that he didn’t have to join the armed forces at the outbreak of war. During this time Frank kept the football club going pretty much single handed. Without Frank the club would almost certainly have folded and the ground would have been lost.
The story is a fascinating one:
The land for what is now the Abbey Stadium was bought by the club’s then President, Henry C Francis, in 1931. He fenced off the ground and even built a small stand, accommodating around 400 spectators. When Francis died, in 1939, Frank Pettit and other officers of the club were summoned to meet his solicitor. They were told that Francis had left the ground in trust to the Mayor of Cambridge, the Vicar of Fen Ditton and the District Nursing Association, to be used for football … and grazing. That’s how the grass was cut in those days!
However, the lease stipulated that if the land was ever to no longer be used for football, then it should be sold and the proceeds given to the Evelyn Nursing Home. During the war, if the ground had been unused there was also a good chance it would have been requisitioned for military use.
It was crucial, therefore, if the club was to survive the war, that football should continue to be played on Newmarket Road. The club was, essentially, in Frank’s hands. With most of United’s players and staff having been called up, Frank invited all and sundry to the ground for trials. He set about arranging friendly matches, with the United sides comprised of local youths, players and ex-players home on leave, and locally-posted servicemen. The opposition were, in the main, local army and RAF sides. Frank wrote match reports for the local press, but he was forbidden to name the opponents so as not to alert the Germans that so many armed forces personnel were based around Cambridge! Other sides were also allowed to play on the ground, with Frank sometimes refereeing.
Thanks to Frank’s tireless work the club and the ground survived the war and, come 1945, was able to rejoin the Cambs League and begin its inexorable rise up the English football ladder.
In a wonderful interview for Radio Coconuts Frank tells the story of his part in Abbey United joining the United Counties League in 1948. A lorry driver at Watson’s Yard mentioned to Frank that the UCL was looking for new members and asked him if United would be interesting in joining. Frank raised it with the Committee, United duly applied and were accepted, stepping up into a semi-professional league for the first time.
He also tells of the role he played in United’s election to the Football League in 1970. The United chairman at the time, Jack Wooley, never used to wear a tie, so he would always borrow Frank’s on his visits to League clubs as he toured the country to state United’s case. As we know, those visits played a huge role in persuading League chairmen that the U’s were a highly professional club and ready for League football.
Thanks to Paul Daw’s research it's now widely accepted that Abbey United was formed in 1912, but Frank had a key role in establishing this. Frank was able to authenticate for Paul a receipt made out on Abbey United headed paper that states ‘Founded 1912’. Frank recognised, and confirmed the names of, the club officials named on the document. Once again, United fans owed a huge debt of thanks to Frank Pettit.
Frank passed away in 1993. Hopefully now many more U’s fans will be aware of Frank Pettit and appreciate all he did for Cambridge United FC.
Listen to Frank’s interview with Radio coconuts here: https://www.100yearsofcoconuts.co.uk/radio-coconuts.html
Happy Harry's blog
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.