In the replay two days later, City grabbed an early goal but King Cass replied and then set up Roly Horrey before half-time. In a rare escape from a second-half Chelmsford onslaught, John ‘Scobie’ Saunders broke away to settle matters ten minutes from time.
Semi-final time: Leivers had just 13 players including two goalkeepers at his disposal when Ashford came to town, but they proved adequate to the task and Cassidy, John Gregson and Horrey notched in a 3-2 win.
United’s depleted team took the game to Cheltenham in the first leg of the final, played at the Abbey on Easter Saturday. The Robins’ penalty area was busier than Mitcham’s Corner, noted the CEN, but Gerry Baker’s strike on the hour was the only score.
Second leg man of the match, the heroic Rodney Slack, was knocked unconscious near the end but found himself submerged by joyous teammates at the final whistle of a 0-0 draw that ensured the trophy’s return to Newmarket Road. The cup was United’s for the third time in eight years.
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.
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