‘What! The oldest League club in the world against a home side boasting hot-shot £300,000 property Alan Biley, in whom Spurs are trying vainly to suppress an interest?’ It was a spectatorial must, said Davies.
‘Cambridge United is still a small club in resources and outlook, and on a day like Saturday it seems to get smaller. A Fenland wind, rotten with damped-off celery stalks, came bowling straight down the ground from the Allotments End, where there is no stand – just a shallow open terrace, caged off for visiting supporters (on this occasion no more than a couple of hundred or so).
‘Every so often, an insulting spit of rain put a fine wet edge on one’s discomfort. “The club shop is open,” barked the tannoy, “for the sale of mugs, rattles, scarves, badges … “ “… And players,” remarked a police sergeant authoritatively.’
Biley had failed a fitness test behind the main stand, Davies learned, and Tom Finney and Derrick Christie were going to play up front. As it turned out, they were joined for a time in attack by Mick Leach.
He continued: ‘It proved, actually, to be a game rich in dwindling veterans. Cambridge had the ex-Norwich defender Dave Stringer, who looks less mothballed than most, and the far from wieldy Bill Garner as substitute, while Notts County trotted out the most aptly named of all centre backs, Jeff Blockley, and relied heavily in midfield on Arthur Mann, ex-Manchester City, and on one of the most widely deplored of the World Cup Scots, Don Masson.’
Davies remembered being astonished by Masson’s distribution when he was at QPR, ‘when for a brief time that unfulfilled team seemed almost potty with talent. Here he was player-coach, and possibly too much the latter; but on such a kick-and-rush day, anyone hitting the ball with less than full power tended to look fussy.
'It was plain almost at once that Cambridge was a side used to getting good results from traditional crosses curled away from the keeper but that nobody this time was going to get much joy from these.
‘Someone in midfield was heartless enough to knock the stuffing out of Cambridge’s tiny Steve Spriggs, the only player in any Division, I believe, over whom Brian Flynn of Leeds towers majestically. It had been a hasty, raw, red-eared half, not much appreciated by 5,157 shivering souls.
“‘Tell you wot,’ volunteered one bloodshot observer of the play, ‘I wish I had some o’ this to put on moi garden.’” But even though the pop-song chosen to enliven half-time was Elvis Costello’s Oliver’s Army (refrain: “And I would rather be anywhere else but here too-day …”), there was as yet no real sign that this was going to be a really classic misery day for home supporters.
‘It all started about five minutes after the interval, when a header by Finney beat the keeper and was handled by a back on its way, so it seemed, over the line. The referee first signalled a goal, then consulted a linesman, then commuted the sentence to a penalty; and we all watched, not very thunderstruck as Finney muffed, scuffed, bumbled and trundled the kick vaguely towards the left-hand post.
‘Goalkeeper McManus could not have flopped on it more gratefully if he’d been his namesake Mick, applying the deciding shoulder-press to the Wild Man of Borneo.’
The misery continued, wrote Davies, with Christie being stretchered off and Stringer being booked ‘for the most innocuous trip since the Owl and the Pussycat went to sea.'
Ninety minutes passed without a goal. But in injury time, a wind-assisted clearance from McManus put Mann through and he ‘torpedoed’ Malcolm Webster with ease.
United had been unlucky on the day, Davies reported, and had had ill fortune all season, injury to newly signed striker Gordon Sweetzer being a typical misfortune.
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.
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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.