It’s not fair that such a shining example of healthy, young humanity should be afflicted by an awful disease like MS, but Tom is not one to sit at home and bemoan his condition. Self-pity is not his style. He’d rather be making use of his abilities and the skills he picked up while studying for his journalism degree, and doing something positive.
The result is What dreams are (not quite) made of: No fame, no fortune just football … and Multiple Sclerosis, Tom’s newly published account of his life in and after football. Naturally, it majors on his time at the Abbey, where he was welcomed at the age of ten having shone in his hometown of Mildenhall. But it will also interest readers in places like Northampton, Leytonstone and Bury (Lancs, not St Edmunds), where he ground out the rest of a career that – thanks to ill fortune, poor management and too many spells on the physio’s table – never achieved what it had promised.
It’s engagingly written – no ghostwriter needed here – and pleasingly frank. If he thinks a training schedule was badly planned and executed, he’ll tell us, and he’ll name the guilty party. And we’re treated to a cutting assessment of the homophobia, sexism, racism and childishness of football dressing room culture of his time – a culture in which Tom never felt comfortable. Let’s hope more enlightened views prevail today.
He’s unflinching in addressing the MS issue and the ramifications for his family. Tom, his wife Chelle and their daughters do not know what the future holds, but it’s certain that, whatever happens, they’ll face it head on and in a positive frame of mind. This most articulate of men has done those who research, work with and live with MS a great service – and given the rest of us, football fans or not, a cracking read.
What Dreams are (Not Quite) Made of: No Fame, No Fortune, Just Football ... and Multiple Sclerosis is published by Vertical Editions (Skipton) at £14.99 (hardback).
One of Cambridge United’s most popular players returned to the Abbey on Saturday, August 6 to tell of the challenges he faced in football and those he is dealing with now.
Tom Youngs, who joined the U’s as a ten-year-old in 1989 and appeared 180 times for the first team between 1997 and 2003, launched his book What Dreams Are (Not Quite) Made Of at a 100 Years of Coconuts Q&A session after the home game against Barnet.
Tom told a packed audience about his multiple sclerosis diagnosis in 2014, and gave an insight into what the future might hold for him. By way of contrast, he delighted his listeners with tales of his career at United, picking out some of his highlights and favourite teammates.
He finished by proclaiming United supporters to be the best he had ever encountered, and assured the audience that playing at the Abbey was an uplifting experience – except for visitors. The crowd could be incredibly loud, he said, and their support gave players an advantage over their opponents. Scoring at the Corona End (he scored 43 times for the U’s) was an incredible experience, he added.
After the Q&A Tom signed copies of his book for a queue that took nearly an hour to die down. Already benefiting from appreciative reviews, the hardcover book retails at £14.99 – watch out for a Coconuts review, coming soon, It can be bought through the usual channels, online and on the high street.
As can be gathered from its subtitle (No Fame, No Fortune, Just Football ... and Multiple Sclerosis), Tom deals with the experience of living with MS as well as the highs and lows of a life in football ("the best job in the world").
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.
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.