Get your heads round this, younger readers: United managers and coaches haven’t always been able to call on benches full of substitutes in their efforts to influence games.
The replacement of players was practised in public school matches as early as the mid-19th century, although only when those selected for a match didn’t turn up, probably because their nannies hadn’t woken them up in time.
And there was consternation at an 1889 Wales-Scotland fixture when home goalie Jim Trainer was absent without explanation. Surprised local amateur Alf Pugh was drafted in until the cavalry arrived in the form of the more experienced Sam Gillam.
So it was essential to United manager Alan Moore that the eleven men he chose to play at Hereford in November 1962 were fighting fit. This fact seems to have been lost on wing half Mike Bottoms, who had been signed from QPR not long before.
We haven’t got a photograph of Bottoms, so the picture on this page depicts a recent Coconuts committee meeting discussing possible inductions to the Cambridge United Hall of Fame.
An old injury had recurred the previous week but Bottoms told anyone who would listen that he was raring to go, 110 per cent on top of his game, couldn’t wait.
The Hereford game was only a couple of minutes old when, as you have doubtless guessed, he broke down and thereafter had as much effect on the game as would Long John Silver without his crutch. His fellow U’s fought bravely but came away 2-1 losers.
Moore, not a big man but one capable of instilling fear in a fighting-drunk honey badger, was amused neither by Bottoms’ name nor by his deception.
‘I would have suspended him for a month but for the fact he has a nice family and I can’t see them go without any wages,’ he raged. ‘As it is, I have told him that he will never kick another ball for my first team.’
It transpired that U’s trainer Roy Kirk had passed on players’ fears that Bottoms might not last the 90 minutes, so Moore had called him in.
'I prodded all round the injury and there was not a peep out of the player,’ fumed the manager, ‘but within three minutes of the kick-off this old injury recurred and the team was let down.’
Bottoms’ United career was over after just 11 appearances – some of them quite short – and his contract was cancelled soon after.