Former Celtic forward Jim, who arrived at the Abbey in 1962, was a ball player and joker par excellence. Seldom to be seen without his bowler hat and rolled-up umbrella – sometimes even on the pitch – he enjoyed a good wind-up as much as the next man.
Frank Dersley, who tended to injured players with his magic sponge in the 60s and 70s, remembered the time when Sharkey went down in the far corner of an Abbey pitch that had been saturated by days of torrential rain.
It was still pelting down, Frank recalled. ‘I ran across and was covered in mud and soaked to the skin by the time I arrived at Sharkey, and as I got there he looked up at me, winked and said: “Give us a kiss.” He had only feigned injury to get me soaked.’
One of Sharkey’s successors as clown prince was signed by Bill Leivers in 1974. Going by the name of Kevin ‘Call me Twinkletoes’ Tully, he was a gifted left winger and a dedicated japester who just didn’t know when to stop.
Some of Tully’s antics are recorded in Champagne & Corona, volume three of Celery & Coconuts, which is on sale via the CFU online store and at the caravan on match days..
He had once sat on the Blackpool bench fully clothed under his tracksuit, praying he wouldn’t be needed. A habitual thumb-sucker, he probably wasn’t too surprised when the players hung a huge baby’s dummy on his peg.
During a 4-1 win at Exeter at the end of 1974/75, Tully enjoyed top billing as United showed off a bit. At one point he knelt on the ball, daring the Grecians to try to take it off him, and later celebrated a goal by prancing around with his shorts at half-mast around his knees.
Ron Atkinson, Leivers’ successor as manager, eventually tired of the Tully capers. In his autobiography he noted that fines made not the slightest impression on the errant entertainer’s behaviour.
‘One day I’d had enough,’ recalled Big Ron. ‘I called him into the dressing room, locked all the doors, and clocked him.’
But Atkinson was fond of a joke too: ‘Even though I was always having to discipline him, some of his antics were so funny that there were occasions when I laughed at him instead of frowning.’
Our email enquiry to the PFA about the current status of the award met with a response from no less a personage than the union’s chief executive. ‘Yes,’ wrote Golden Gordon, ‘the award still exists, with prize money of £15,000 for community work and players and management.’
Established in 1988, it was of course named after a man who exemplified the spirit of fair play and was also one of the game’s greatest practitioners. Bobby Moore was, according to Franz Beckenbauer, ‘the best defender in the history of the game’, and Jock Stein observed: ‘There should be a law against him. He knows what's happening 20 minutes before everyone else.’
United’s connections with Moore don’t end with the capture of the 1997/98 trophy. As Andrew Bennett revealed in Risen from the Dust, the U’s provided the opposition to an all-star XI in Chelmsford manager Peter Harburn’s testimonial on 10 May 1966, and Moore and Geoff Hurst were among the guest players.
Hurst nabbed three goals in a 4-3 win for the stars. I wonder when his next hat-trick was.
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.