Some of the inaugural members of the Cambridge United Former Players' Association at the launch event in the Supporters' Club on Monday, July 4. From left: Tom Finney, Graham Daniels, Vic Phillips, Rodney Slack, Peter Bowstead, Peter Hobbs, Tom Youngs, Dan Gleeson, Steve Fallon, Peter Phillips, Jim White.
The first three inductees of the newly inaugurated Cambridge United Hall of Fame were honoured tonight by 100 Years of Coconuts.
At an award ceremony in the Supporters’ Club, presided over by United chairman Dave Doggett and fans’ elected director Dave Matthew-Jones, Russell Crane, Lil Harrison and Rodney Slack were inducted into the Hall of Fame.
The ceremony was watched by members of the Cambridge United Former Players’ Association, also launched tonight by Coconuts.
The Former Players’ Association has been set up with the aim of bringing the extended U’s family closer together, while the Hall of Fame recognises outstanding contributions to the development and history of the football club. Like Coconuts’ recently opened mini-museum, The Story of the U’s, the two initiatives have been made possible by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The Hall of Fame inductees were chosen by Coconuts and CFU trust board members. In future, Coconuts will look to involve the entire U’s supporter base in the voting process.
At first the Hall of Fame will take the form of a website, but Coconuts and Cambridge United are looking at the possibility of a physical display within the Abbey Stadium.
‘We were very clear when we set out to launch the Hall of Fame that we didn’t just want to honour players,’ said Coconuts chair Pat Morgan.
‘Fans are just as important to any football club as players, directors, financial supporters and staff, and the first three inductees are a good indication of that.
‘Russell Crane was just as much a U’s supporter as he was a player. Lil Harrison was involved with the club before the first world war and was still going to games in the 1990s. Rodney Slack has the U’s in his blood despite being born near the other place [Peterborough].
‘As Russell told us, the club is a family affair, and you couldn’t find three more committed family members than these first inductees.’
Russell Crane (1926-2016) grew up in a U’s-mad household in Ditton Walk, opposite the United ground. He broke many club records during an 18-year career with Abbey and Cambridge United, and was still attending games as a guest of Coconuts as recently as last year.
Rodney Slack was born in 1940. Voted player of the year three times in his first five years as a U’s player, he was idolised by the fans and continues to live within a stone’s throw of the Abbey. He is a 100 Years of Coconuts committee member and chairman of the Former Players’ Association.
Lil Harrison (1904-1996) first saw Abbey United play at the age of ten. She went on to become a stalwart of the Supporters’ Club committee, raised countless thousands of pounds as the club rose through the leagues and came to exemplify the family spirit of the club.
The inaugural membership of the Cambridge United Former Players’ Association is around 100 – a number that is expected to grow fast in the coming months.
They range from ‘Tickle’ Sanderson, who first played for Abbey United in 1939, to more recent players like Liam Hughes and Coconuts patron Luke Chadwick.
CUFPA, chaired by Rodney Slack, is setting up a website and will keep members in touch with a quarterly newsletter. Occasional small-scale social events will be arranged and members are encouraged to contact each other via a password-protected members’ area on the website.
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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