An edited version of this article appeared in the Cambridge United matchday programme for the game against Stevenage on 25 November 2017.
As you know, the patron saint of footballers is Luigi Scrosoppi, a 19th century Italian priest whose achievements included the foundation of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Cajetan of Thiene.
Austrian fan Manfred Pesek, feeling that footballers deserved a patron saint as much as dieticians (St Martha) and ice skaters (St Lidwina), pressed the case for Fr Luigi’s nomination, and was delighted when he was recognised by the Bishop of Gurk in Klagenfurt in 2010. I’m now looking for likely patron saints for fourth officials and turnstile operators.
Luigi is said to embody the qualities of fairness, perseverance, diligence and determination. These are values for which Cambridge United have long been recognised, but for our own patron saint we should look no further than St Andrew.
This lowly fisherman, you will recall, became an apostle and a ‘fisher of men’. Andrew is said to have been crucified on an x-shaped cross – hence the form of the Scottish saltire. In Cambridge, he is remembered at the little church on Newmarket Road that is dedicated to him. It's known to local people as the Abbey Church, and it’s from one of its Sunday school classes that our club is said to have sprung.
While few of them could be described as saintly, plenty of Andrews and Andys have preserved this heritage by playing for United. I could mention our ever-elegant secretary, Mr Beattie, whose career flourished in the 1980s and even now turns out in local veterans' football.
I could mention Messrs Duncan, Fensome, Higginbottom, Hollis, Jeffrey, Lee, Lomas, Parkinson, Polston, Polycarpou, Pugh or Sayer. But if we’re looking for an Andrew who embodies St Luigi’s virtues as much as anyone, we should turn to Sinton of that ilk.
The mid-80s were a desperate time at the Abbey, but Andy shrugged off everything that dread era could throw at him and went on to become the first United youth system graduate to win a full England cap; he had 12 of them when he retired. This is a man who set a U’s record on 2 November 1982 when, 136 days before his 17th birthday, he made his first-team debut in a 2-1 home Division Two win over Wolves.
Andy Sinton in action against Chelsea in a League Division Two fixture on 11 February 1984. New Chelsea signing Mickey Thomas is also pictured. Chelsea won 1-0; attendance 10,602. Photo: Cambridge News.
No one who had seen Sinton score four times in a 19-0 FA Youth Cup demolition of Oxford City four days before was surprised to see him make the step up. Neither was anyone who had looked at the league table; manager John Docherty was seeking solutions to a crisis that had seen United sink to the bottom, with one win in the season’s first 12 games.
The win over Wolves kick-started a resurgence that saw the U’s claim a respectable 12th place at the season’s end. But the following few years were ruinous and, by the time Sinton left for Brentford in December 1985, United had plummeted two divisions. They would soon be forced to apply for re-election to the League.
But after 101 U’s appearances and 15 goals, Andy was off and running. A hit at Brentford, he was coaxed to QPR in 1989, made his national debut in 1991 and moved on to Sheffield Wednesday in 1993. Spells at Tottenham and Wolves followed before he moved into non-League playing and management.
It was great to see Andy once again in amber and black – OK, black and green – in the recent Mick George match in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support.