It’s a daunting task but a hugely rewarding one: since Andrew Bennett died last February, Coconutters have been wading through the vast amount of stuff he left us.
Words are not adequate to convey the size of our beloved club historian’s archive of writings, stats, reports, photographs … you name it, Andrew saved it.
It will take many a year to explore, sort, catalogue and communicate the contents of the entire hoard of treasure. The best we can do at the moment is to nibble away at the edges of the digital pile.
As we do so, we regularly unearth priceless examples of Bennettiana, and we’re happy to bring one to your attention today.
Around 2010, Andrew described his favourite U’s players from the 40-odd years that he’d been making his regular pilgrimages to the Abbey. He wrote:
My name is Andrew Bennett, I am 51 years of age and for the last 35 of those years I have been a resident of the village of Histon. I first nagged my Dad into taking me to the Abbey Stadium on 13 April 1970, for a 3-0 win over Gloucester City. It is well-nigh impossible to pick out just five players who have sported the black and amber over the last 40-plus years, but here goes …
winner at Aldershot, and to discover that he was a humble, well-spoken, thoroughly nice guy as well made it all the more bittersweet that he had to leave us so soon. But then, don’t they all …
Honourable mentions: Dion Dublin, David Crown, Ian Measham, Wayne Hatswell, Martin Butler, Lionel Perez, Tom Finney, Alan Biley, Willie Watson.
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
£21.98 for postal deliveries; £20.98 for CFU members
An edited version of this article appeared in the Cambridge United matchday programme for the game against Cheltenham Town on Saturday, 25 August 2018.
In February of this year, 100 Years of Coconuts lost its greatest asset: a one-man information storehouse and author extraordinaire in the person of Andrew Bennett.
It was a tragically heavy blow for Andrew’s family and for his legions of friends and admirers. And for a while, Coconuts people wondered how they could carry on researching and communicating the story of our club.
Moves are afoot to ensure his name and achievements endure: stand by for the unveiling of a memorial plaque in the Habbin, for news of the Andrew Bennett Award and for the autumn publication of the third volume of his peerless Celery & Coconuts history of the club.
But how could we hope to carry on Andrew’s work – his tireless ferreting out of information in libraries and archives, his compilation of stats, facts and info in dozens of databases, his cheerful and speedy answering of queries from football fans far and wide – in short, his work as Cambridge United’s club historian?
The short answer is that we couldn’t. But what we can do is have a bash at providing a second-best service – a sort of Andrew Bennett Lite, if you like.
Luckily for us and you, Andrew bequeathed to Coconuts his entire, vast archive of U’s-related stuff.
When I say ‘vast’, I mean ‘flipping ginormous’. If you chopped down all the forests in Scandinavia to provide enough paper, printed everything out and laid the sheets end to end, the result would stretch seven times around the world and then on as far as Godalming.
The size of the task of bringing order to the archive, and coming close to understanding it, is gut-grippingly terrifying. Merely opening a folder at random, to reveal thousands upon thousands of sub-folders and individual files, would be enough to induce panic in the most placid of Zen practitioners.
I was browsing idly the other day, clicking on files here and there, when I came across the photograph on this page.
Although not in the best of nick – Andrew downloaded it from a microfiche reader (always a hit-and-miss procedure) during one of his countless visits to the Cambridgeshire Collection – it does provide a priceless snapshot of a precious moment in the early days of Abbey United. And I hadn’t seen it before.
Can you make out the object in George Alsop’s hands? It’s the Cambridgeshire Challenge Cup, and the Abbey team that Alsop captained had just won it.
The date is 18 April 1925, the venue is Cambridge Town’s Milton Road ground and the day’s events – Abbey’s trouncing of Girton United by six goals to one – are being reported by the long-gone Cambridge Chronicle.
The bearded gent to Alsop’s right is Major Oliver Papworth, who presented the cup, and to his left is Cambs FA secretary Charles Dennant.
The Wasps had lined up: R ‘Percy’ Wilson; Joe Livermore, Bill Walker; Jim Self, Alsop, Bill ‘Pim’ Stearn; Fred Stevens, Frank Luff, Harvey Cornwell, Tom Langford, William ‘Fanny’ Freeman (kids: teams played in the 2-3-5 formation in those days). Cornwell had scored a hat-trick and the other goals had come from Walker, Langford and Freeman.
The Challenge Cup was just one of three trophies claimed by Abbey United that season – and they shared a fourth. Read Andrew's Newmarket Road Roughs for the full detail.
It was hardly surprising that United's record home attendance of 14,000 – a record that will probably never be beaten – was set that day. Every square inch of the ground was occupied as Chelsea paraded the Cup before kick-off.
Luckily, someone took a cine camera along to record the proceedings for posterity. We're immensely grateful to David Smith for providing the resultant film in video format. Click the button above to relive history.
Details of the events can be found in Risen from the Dust, the second volume of Andrew Bennett's Celery & Coconuts history of our club. Buy your copy at the CFU online shop or from the caravan on a match day.
Suffice it to say that, as the U's had a rather important fixture the following day – the home game against Margate that would bring them their second successive Southern League title – they wanted to take it easy, and a Chelsea reserve side took their place for the second half.
Moments from that Margate match are also preserved in David Smith's wonderful film. A George Harris penalty and a Bill Cassidy clincher effectively took United into the Football League.
Footage of the celebrations and of the Southern League championship shield being borne aloft in a sea of bodies brings it all back … precious memories of an amazing two days in Cambridge United history.
Their mother placed five of her kids in an orphanage, but they were soon on their way to Britain aboard the liner Habana. They settled well in Cambridge – and football played a big role in the process.
‘Football meant everything to us; it was the only thing we knew about,’ Antonio (known as Tony) told El Pais in 2012. ‘We got attached to Cambridge and made a lot of friends here through playing football.’
Goalkeeper Tony and winger José (Joe) signed for Town as teenagers. Tony moved to the Abbey in 1943 before rejoining Joe at Milton Road, spending time as a professional with Norwich and then returning to United in 1947.
Joe left Town for Brentford and went on to play for Southampton and Colchester, but came back to United in 1951.
The Gallegos stayed in Cambridge for the rest of their lives, Joe dying in 2006 at the age of 82 and 90-year-old Tony passing away in 2015. I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts rang out loud and proud at the funeral.
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.