The image of Cambridge United’s first goal in the Football League, at the Abbey Stadium on Saturday, 15 October 1970, is etched on the memories of all U’s fans who were there. That tie with the past was loosened a little with the death early last month of Colin Meldrum, whose powerful header from John McKinven's left-wing corner sealed a 1-1 draw and gave United their first Division Four point.
The classy, hard-tackling Scottish defender left the Abbey at the end of that 1970/71 season, after 94 full games and three sub appearances in all competitions, his unique place in United history assured.
But he had already earned the affection and admiration of the U’s faithful with a starring role in the 1969/70 season that had brought the Southern League title to Newmarket Road for a second season running and ended in election to the Football League at the expense of Bradford Park Avenue.
Manager Bill Leivers broke the club’s transfer record when he signed Meldrum, along with fellow Reading player George Harris, for £4,500 on 17 October 1969. The signings were an indicator of Leivers’ determination to bring League football to Cambridge, and the fee was repaid many times over as winger/striker Harris scored goals by the hatful and Meldrum slotted seamlessly into an already-stern defence.
Playing at left back, centre back, sweeper or even in midfield, Meldrum seldom failed to impress with his calmness, authority, determination and outstanding skills. That goal against Lincoln was just one of 12 he contributed to the amber cause.
His teammates demonstrated their faith in him by electing him captain ahead of the Division Four campaign. Like the club, Meldrum was new to Fourth Division football. ‘I won’t say that I will be brilliant every week,’ he told the Cambridge Evening News, ‘but I will give my best whenever I wear a United shirt and I will try to make sure all the other players do the same.’
Having duly played his part in establishing the U’s in the League, he joined Hillingdon Borough as player-manager. He then followed a long career as coach and manager at York, Workington, Scarborough, Barnet, Swansea and Wealdstone. He also took Stafford Rangers to the FA Trophy final in 1972, coached in Saudi Arabia and worked as chief scout for Hull City. His last job was as a sports development officer in Blackpool.
Colin Meldrum, born in Glasgow on 26 November 1941, played with the young Alex Ferguson in the city’s schoolboy team, and there he was spotted by a scout with links to Arsenal. He joined the Gunners in 1958, played in the youth team and graduated to the reserves but made his Football League debut only after moving to Watford in 1960. Two years later he moved on to Reading, where he was named player of the season twice and made more than 300 first-team appearances, more often than not as captain. He remains one of the club’s most fondly remembered players.
He died in Fleetwood on 4 October 2019, at the age of 77, leaving daughter Nicola and sons Stuart and Andrew.
Top, Colin Meldrum rises above Malcolm Lindsay to head the equaliser in Cambridge United's first ever Football League match, at home to Lincoln City on 15 August 1970. Above and below, Colin Meldrum: hard-tackling but classy