We played many times at Cambridge City’s lovely old Milton Road home, in its two incarnations. Other away venues included the Railway Social Club Ground (location described as ‘at the back of the cattle market’), Pye’s wonderful sports ground in Chesterton, Jesus Green, Lammas Land, Porson Road (probably the Perse preparatory school's sports field) and college grounds including Fitzwilliam House, King’s & Selwyn, Queen’s, Christ’s, Pembroke, Sidney Sussex, St Catherine’s and Clare.
United have performed on the sacred turf of Fenner’s cricket ground and, equally surprisingly, have turned out twice at the University’s rugby union headquarters in Grange Road.
The first occasion they ventured on to oval-ball territory was in December 1942, when the wartime Abbey United stuffed a local civil service team 10-2.
The next came on 20 March 1954, when the U’s took on their supposedly bigger and better rivals from over the Cam in a Cambs Invitation Cup semi-final.
The new-look cup was supposed to have featured eight clubs that season but holders Wisbech decided they had better things to do. That left United, City, Camden, Ely, Histon, March and Pegasus – a club composed of Cambridge and Oxford students – to fight it out.
Centre forward Albert George – father of former Abbey beat bobby Trevor – notched a hat-trick as the U’s thrashed March 6-1 in the first round and set up the Grange Road showdown.
United were expected to beat the City gents, who had finished a disappointing seventh in the Athenian League, and goals from inside left Jack Thomas duly made it 2-0 in front of an all-ticket crowd of 5,000.
The final, against Histon at Milton Road, started badly and quickly got worse.
Player-manager Bill Whittaker had to have painkilling injections before and during the match (partly excusing a late penalty miss, perhaps) and Thomas, victim of a leg muscle strain early on, hobbled through the game as a passenger. It finished goalless.
Chaos then ensued: no one had a clue what was supposed to happen next. Should extra time be played or not? Eventually, Cambs FA secretary Bill Ling stepped forward to decree that the match should continue.
A crowd of 5,645 watched, grumbling, as U’s and Stutes slugged it out. At the end of 120 strength- and patience-sapping minutes, it was still 0-0 as far as anyone could make out – night had descended by that stage.
The season was at an end and there was nothing else for it: a replay would have to be staged the following season.
United finished the job nearly six months later with a 3-1 win at Milton Road, Thomas (two) and Peter Dobson doing the goalscoring honours.
It was with sadness that 100 Years of Coconuts learned of the death, at the age of 81 on November 28, of former Cambridge United forward Eddie Robinson.
Eddie was a gifted winger or inside forward who joined United at the age of 22, for the club’s first season in the Southern League in 1958. He made 62 appearances, scored 23 goals and gained many admirers before departing for Cambridge City in late 1959.
Made chief accountant at Pye Engineering Services in 1962, he showed skill in highlighting errors in business plans and was appointed as a troubleshooter at Pye head office in 1968. He spent many years improving productivity at the company’s UK and international divisions.
In 1981 he set up a successful jewellery business, but a drop in the price of gold in 1984 forced a return to accountancy. He then worked for small companies around Cambridge until 1987, when he took up the role of credit controller for Marshall Aerospace and Specialised Vehicles. Following retirement in 2000, he focused on improving his golf game and on doting on his grandchildren: Lauren, Jack, Shelley, Elliot and Albert.
The funeral will take place at 12.45pm on Tuesday, December 13 at Cambridge Crematorium.
Coconuts was saddened to hear of the death on November 2, at the age of 72, of Peter Leggett, who starred for the U’s before and at the start of the club’s Football League adventure.
Peter was a hugely talented but mercurial winger who, with his flowing locks, was sometimes compared to the Beatles and in his Southern League days was nicknamed the George Best of non-League. Between 1969 and 1971 he played 69 times for United and scored seven goals. The number of goals he created is probably incalculable.
He is recalled fondly by supporters of both United and Chelmsford City, both of whom he helped to Southern League titles, and it is accepted that he could have played at a much higher level.
Peter was born in Newton-le-Willows on 16 December 1943 and started his career at Weymouth. Swindon paid £1,000 for him in 1962 and he started 15 League games for the Robins before transferring to Brighton in 1965. He made only three League appearances for the Seagulls before joining Chelmsford.
He was an integral part of the Essex side’s team as they won the Southern League championship in 1967/68. The following season, United manager Bill Leivers devastated the champions by signing four of their players: Tony Butcher, Bill Cassidy, Terry Eades and, in March 1969, Peter, for an undisclosed fee. He made his debut, on the right wing, in a 3-1 loss at Hillingdon on March 1. He played just once more in the Southern League that season, but United won the title and he was retained for the following term.
In September Leivers placed Leggett, Cassidy and John Saunders on the transfer list with a warning that they should buck their ideas up. Cassidy quickly re-established himself but Peter was in and out of the team, and in December he left for Lincoln City on a month’s trial. Lincoln wanted to keep him for a second month, but he preferred to return to the Abbey to fight for his place.
He returned to first-team action in February with a tremendous display in a Floodlit League match against King’s Lynn, tormenting the visitors’ defence and creating four goals in a 5-1 win. The following month he was outstanding in a 2-0 defeat of Chelmsford at the Abbey, tearing the opposing defence apart at his teasing, tormenting best. His performance was summed up by the first goal in which he nutmegged his full back by the corner flag, sped along the byline and pulled it back for George Harris, who struck the bar for Malcolm Lindsay to net with a diving header.
Leivers was moved to comment: ‘It was hard to reason why he was not playing for a First Division side. This boy has everything – pace, ball skill and an eye for the opening, but most of all in the last year he has become disciplined, with a wholly professional outlook.’
Leggett missed the last five games of the season with injury, but he had played his part as United became Southern League champions for the second time and were elected to the Football League.
United’s first League win, a 3-1 defeat of Oldham, was inspired by Peter’s twinkling toes; on 49 he jinked past three defenders as if they were not there and rolled the ball past the keeper to put his side level, and five minutes later he won a 30-yard dash for the ball and crossed for Harris to score with a diving header. Cassidy then made it 3-1 from another Leggett assist.
Gifted but still sometimes frustrating, Peter lost his place to Roly Horrey in November and was transfer-listed at his own request. No offers were received. He was also hit by a recurring muscle injury, and after United finished the season in an underwhelming 20th place, he was one of six players declared surplus to requirements. Talks with Cambridge City broke down when he suffered a recurrence of a groin injury, and his professional career was over.
In 2013 Leivers revealed that, after one game in which Peter had run his full back ragged, he told the player that, if he continued to play like that, he could command a transfer fee of £50,000. ‘Don’t talk daft,’ replied the winger.
Peter later worked as a manager for the Britvic soft drinks company in Chelmsford, the city where he remained for the rest of his life. He left a widow, Margaret, and three children.
He was a regular starter the following season, helping to anchor the midfield as United challenged for the title again. He missed the last away game, a 4-1 loss at Yeovil, with tonsillitis, but got out of his sickbed to play in a 3-0 defeat of Worcester five days later. The following evening he started in front of the Abbey Stadium’s record crowd of 14,000 in a friendly against Chelsea, but like the rest of the first team sat out the second half in anticipation of the title-deciding game against Margate the following afternoon. United won 2-0 and were champions again.
Following the club’s election to Football League Division Four, Mel remained a regular first-team choice, although his 1970/71 season was ended three games early by an ankle injury. United finished 20th in their first League season and, as Leivers revamped his squad, Mel signed for City.
He returned to the Abbey in November 1971 to play in the first leg of the Cambs Professional Cup final. Cautioned for bringing down Peter Phillips, he reacted by throwing a punch when the U’s striker returned the compliment, earning an instant dismissal.
He had explained why he was no stranger to the physical side of the game the previous season. ‘I was brought up in a hard school at Sunderland, where we were always instructed to put our opponents out of the game before starting to play the football. Great play was made of mental attitude as we prepared before each game to do battle, and I have always played hard, whether in training or a match.’
Nonetheless, Mel’s skill on the ball was considerable and, while he was not known for scoring – he netted just three times for United – he will long be remembered for one moment of brilliance. With the score at 1-1 with five minutes to go in the first away game of 1969/70, he dribbled through Gloucester’s attempted offside trap to score an outstanding winner.
He believed his best asset lay in another area, however: ‘I feel I am at my best when the boss says before the game that so and so have a particular danger man and I am given the job of playing him out of the game.’
Remaining in the Cambridge area after his retirement, Mel became widely known as the landlord of the Rose & Crown in Teversham and later lived in Fulbourn. He leaves widow Joan, daughter Keely and two granddaughters.
Gerry proved just as popular in amber and black as he had been at King’s Lynn. The imposing, no-nonsense defender went on to make 259 full appearances and score 16 goals for the U’s, and teammate Tony Butcher was in no doubt of his importance to the team, especially in the Southern League and Cup Double year of 1968/69.
‘The fellow who really won United the Southern League was big centre back Gerry Baker,’ he wrote in his memoirs. ‘In the last ten games or so he was fantastic. He propped us up match after match and never put a foot wrong. We were struggling to win those matches, but the big fellow saw us through and I think they should have struck a special medal just for him!’
Born in South Hendley, West Yorkshire on 22 April 1939, Gerry began his football career on the Sheffield Wednesday ground staff, moving to Bradford Park Avenue in 1955 and turning professional two years later. He played in 16 Football League games before joining King’s Lynn in 1961, where he was made captain. He made the move from full back to centre half at the start of the 1964/65 season.
Roy Kirk was the United manager who provoked such puzzlement in King’s Lynn. Gerry was immediately appointed captain at the Abbey and formed a formidable centre-half combination with Jackie Scurr as Kirk experimented with a 4-2-4 formation. In the 1966/67 season, now under Bill Leivers’ management, he played in a club record 73 matches in the Southern League, the Eastern Professional Floodlit League and various cups.
Leivers felt his team should have won the league in 1967/68 (they finished third) but praised the progress of his players, especially ‘the transformation in the play of Gerry Baker’. The supporters agreed and made him their player of the year.
New signing Terry Eades began to ease Gerry out of the side and in October 1969 he was sold to Cambridge City. He captained the Lilywhites to promotion to the Southern League Premier in 1970 and the runners-up position the following season, before moving to Stevenage. Thereafter he took up the managerial reins at Great Shelford – where he still lives – and was instrumental in the club’s Cambs Invitation Cup win in 1980/81 and its 70s-to-90s domination of the Cambs League.
It's good to have you back, Gerry.
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