An edited version of this article appeared in the Cambridge United matchday programme for the game against Cheltenham Town on Saturday, 25 August 2018.
In February of this year, 100 Years of Coconuts lost its greatest asset: a one-man information storehouse and author extraordinaire in the person of Andrew Bennett.
It was a tragically heavy blow for Andrew’s family and for his legions of friends and admirers. And for a while, Coconuts people wondered how they could carry on researching and communicating the story of our club.
Moves are afoot to ensure his name and achievements endure: stand by for the unveiling of a memorial plaque in the Habbin, for news of the Andrew Bennett Award and for the autumn publication of the third volume of his peerless Celery & Coconuts history of the club.
But how could we hope to carry on Andrew’s work – his tireless ferreting out of information in libraries and archives, his compilation of stats, facts and info in dozens of databases, his cheerful and speedy answering of queries from football fans far and wide – in short, his work as Cambridge United’s club historian?
The short answer is that we couldn’t. But what we can do is have a bash at providing a second-best service – a sort of Andrew Bennett Lite, if you like.
Luckily for us and you, Andrew bequeathed to Coconuts his entire, vast archive of U’s-related stuff.
When I say ‘vast’, I mean ‘flipping ginormous’. If you chopped down all the forests in Scandinavia to provide enough paper, printed everything out and laid the sheets end to end, the result would stretch seven times around the world and then on as far as Godalming.
The size of the task of bringing order to the archive, and coming close to understanding it, is gut-grippingly terrifying. Merely opening a folder at random, to reveal thousands upon thousands of sub-folders and individual files, would be enough to induce panic in the most placid of Zen practitioners.
I was browsing idly the other day, clicking on files here and there, when I came across the photograph on this page.
Although not in the best of nick – Andrew downloaded it from a microfiche reader (always a hit-and-miss procedure) during one of his countless visits to the Cambridgeshire Collection – it does provide a priceless snapshot of a precious moment in the early days of Abbey United. And I hadn’t seen it before.
Can you make out the object in George Alsop’s hands? It’s the Cambridgeshire Challenge Cup, and the Abbey team that Alsop captained had just won it.
The date is 18 April 1925, the venue is Cambridge Town’s Milton Road ground and the day’s events – Abbey’s trouncing of Girton United by six goals to one – are being reported by the long-gone Cambridge Chronicle.
The bearded gent to Alsop’s right is Major Oliver Papworth, who presented the cup, and to his left is Cambs FA secretary Charles Dennant.
The Wasps had lined up: R ‘Percy’ Wilson; Joe Livermore, Bill Walker; Jim Self, Alsop, Bill ‘Pim’ Stearn; Fred Stevens, Frank Luff, Harvey Cornwell, Tom Langford, William ‘Fanny’ Freeman (kids: teams played in the 2-3-5 formation in those days). Cornwell had scored a hat-trick and the other goals had come from Walker, Langford and Freeman.
The Challenge Cup was just one of three trophies claimed by Abbey United that season – and they shared a fourth. Read Andrew's Newmarket Road Roughs for the full detail.
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