Coconuts and Cambridge United Former Players’ Association send their best wishes for a long and enjoyable retirement to Malcolm Webster, who ruled supreme between the Abbey goalposts for eight years between 1976 and 1984 and then served as manager Chris Turner’s assistant.
Malcolm, a highly respected goalkeeping coach who worked at Ipswich in two spells, retired from the game after a 2-2 draw with Middlesbrough last week. He told the Tractor Boys’ website: ‘I have had a great time over the 50 years and I’m happy with what I have achieved.’
The latter part of his career may have been spent teaching keepers the tricks of the trade – at Norwich, Colchester, Hearts, Southampton and Crystal Palace among other clubs – but it’s as a player that Malcolm is remembered at the Abbey. Dependable, brave, athletic, efficient and occasionally awe-inspiring, he played in 286 games for the U’s as they rose from the Fourth Division to the Second and stayed there for six seasons.
He kept 90 clean sheets during that time, 22 of them coming in his debut season of 1976/77, when he was ever present as United won the Fourth Division title.
Malcolm is a native of Doncaster, where he was born on 12 November 1950, but it was in north London that he made his first impression on football. He was 18 when he made his League debut for Arsenal, being thrown in at the deep end against Tottenham at Highbury when Bob Wilson broke an arm. The Gunners lost 4-3 but Malcolm kept his place until he was floored for 12 weeks by glandular fever and the club signed a replacement in Geoff Barnett.
He played around 100 times for both Fulham and Southend but fell out of favour at Roots Hall and was released in 1976. Disillusioned with football, he was working in a friend’s furniture store when he was given a month’s trial by U’s boss Ron Atkinson. His first appearance came in a behind-closed-doors pre-season friendly against Mansfield at the Abbey, won 3-1 by the visitors.
Malcolm’s United career really kicked off in the first leg of the League Cup at Oxford on 14 August 1976, when he was outstanding in a 1-0 defeat. A string of impressive performances and a couple of penalty saves earned him a permanent contract, which he signed following a 4-0 September win over promotion favourites Watford.
Quickly establishing himself as a lively presence in the dressing room, a reliable shot-stopper and – despite a previous reputation as vulnerable to crosses – commanding in the air, Malcolm made the number one spot his own and was voted player of the year by Supporters’ Club members.
That season was the start of a happy and fruitful stay at Newmarket Road that saw the club establish itself in Division Two under John Docherty. Malcolm’s last game as a U came in a 0-0 draw at Oldham on 4 February 1984, but he was back in 1986 as Chris Turner began the process of turning United’s fortunes around.
After a break from football starting in 1988, he began a coaching career that was remarkable for its longevity and successes. Malcolm was in great demand as a coach, both at club and at the goalkeeping school he ran with Fred Barber. Malcolm Webster, we salute you. Keep ’em out, Webby!
Clockwise, from top: Malcolm Webster in action for Cambridge United in a 2-1 Division Two defeat at Crystal Palace on 29 August 1981 (photograph: Cambridge Evening News); Webster in the late 1970s; saving the day in a 2-0 Division Four win at Scunthorpe on 26 March 1977; comparing hands with a youthful Keith Branagan (photo: Cambridge Evening News); with manager Chris Turner on 9 May 1986; as goalkeeping coach at Ipswich Town, 2017.
Recognise the moustachioed gent in the picture? Of course you do – it’s Mike Flanagan, goal poacher extraordinaire of Charlton, Crystal Palace and QPR, and all too briefly a Cambridge United player too.
But have you ever seen a stranger programme cover? While the two cheeky young Hoops fans are all smiles, and the one on the right has cunningly wrapped his carrier bag handle round a wrist to add interest to the photograph, it contains more unwelcome elements. The tableful of sprays, ointments and lotions is a humdrum intrusion, and Mike seems terribly ill at ease.
Clutching his programme protectively, he’s wedged between his admirers like a sheep in a dipping pen, and he’s focusing warily not on the photographer but on some off-camera distraction. A furious Terry Venables delivering a post-match rollicking, perhaps? A giant spider on the wall? The sudden appearance of Mike’s old Charlton teammate Derek ‘Killer’ Hales?
Flanagan and Hales usually got on like a house on fire at The Valley, forming a lethal strike partnership and scoring 257 league goals between them. But on 9 January 1979, during an FA Cup tie against Maidstone, their relationship was tested to the limit when Hales was caught offside from a Flanagan pass. Mike took a dim view of this passage of play, and cursed Hales roundly, referring as he did so to his partner’s supposed numerical shortfall in the underpants region. It was Killer’s turn to take umbrage, and the fists were soon flying. The ref insisted that the combatants take their dispute to the dressing room, and Charlton played out the rest of the 1-1 draw with nine men.
After spells at Palace and QPR, Mike returned to the Valiants in 1983 but was given a free transfer in 1986, and was coaxed to the Abbey by manager Chris Turner. The pair had played together for New England Teamen in the North American Soccer League eight years before. ‘I didn’t think it was cheeky of me to go after a player at a First Division club,’ said Turner, ‘because I don’t think of United as a Fourth Division club.’
Mike chipped in: ‘They [Charlton] wanted me to take a 50 per cent cut in my basic wage, and I wasn’t on that big a basic anyway. I wasn’t going to agree to that so when Chris asked about me I was happy to have a talk with him.’
He made his U’s debut from the bench in a 2-2 home draw with Exeter on September 13 and, after a further substitute appearance, won a starting place in midfield, supporting forwards Mark Cooper and David Crown. He scored his first United goal in a 1-1 draw at Scunthorpe on September 30, enjoying an outstanding game. United then hammered Stockport 5-0, with Mike scoring twice, but he only played six more times, his last game being a 1-0 League Cup giant-killing of Ipswich. Knee trouble forced him to retire from pro football in December, having scored three times in nine U’s appearances. Flanagan moved into non-League football, then managed Gillingham and several smaller clubs. His last appointment was at Brentwood Town, with whom he parted company in May. Anyone still in touch with him? Please let us know at email@example.com.