Recognise the moustachioed gent in the picture? Of course you do – it’s Mike Flanagan, goal poacher extraordinaire of Charlton, Crystal Palace and QPR, and all too briefly a Cambridge United player too.
But have you ever seen a stranger programme cover? While the two cheeky young Hoops fans are all smiles, and the one on the right has cunningly wrapped his carrier bag handle round a wrist to add interest to the photograph, it contains more unwelcome elements. The tableful of sprays, ointments and lotions is a humdrum intrusion, and Mike seems terribly ill at ease.
Clutching his programme protectively, he’s wedged between his admirers like a sheep in a dipping pen, and he’s focusing warily not on the photographer but on some off-camera distraction. A furious Terry Venables delivering a post-match rollicking, perhaps? A giant spider on the wall? The sudden appearance of Mike’s old Charlton teammate Derek ‘Killer’ Hales?
Flanagan and Hales usually got on like a house on fire at The Valley, forming a lethal strike partnership and scoring 257 league goals between them. But on 9 January 1979, during an FA Cup tie against Maidstone, their relationship was tested to the limit when Hales was caught offside from a Flanagan pass. Mike took a dim view of this passage of play, and cursed Hales roundly, referring as he did so to his partner’s supposed numerical shortfall in the underpants region. It was Killer’s turn to take umbrage, and the fists were soon flying. The ref insisted that the combatants take their dispute to the dressing room, and Charlton played out the rest of the 1-1 draw with nine men.
After spells at Palace and QPR, Mike returned to the Valiants in 1983 but was given a free transfer in 1986, and was coaxed to the Abbey by manager Chris Turner. The pair had played together for New England Teamen in the North American Soccer League eight years before. ‘I didn’t think it was cheeky of me to go after a player at a First Division club,’ said Turner, ‘because I don’t think of United as a Fourth Division club.’
Mike chipped in: ‘They [Charlton] wanted me to take a 50 per cent cut in my basic wage, and I wasn’t on that big a basic anyway. I wasn’t going to agree to that so when Chris asked about me I was happy to have a talk with him.’
He made his U’s debut from the bench in a 2-2 home draw with Exeter on September 13 and, after a further substitute appearance, won a starting place in midfield, supporting forwards Mark Cooper and David Crown. He scored his first United goal in a 1-1 draw at Scunthorpe on September 30, enjoying an outstanding game. United then hammered Stockport 5-0, with Mike scoring twice, but he only played six more times, his last game being a 1-0 League Cup giant-killing of Ipswich. Knee trouble forced him to retire from pro football in December, having scored three times in nine U’s appearances. Flanagan moved into non-League football, then managed Gillingham and several smaller clubs. His last appointment was at Brentwood Town, with whom he parted company in May. Anyone still in touch with him? Please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.