This season marks the 50th anniversary of Cambridge United’s last season in the Southern League which concluded in being elected into the Football League. Week by week we will look back on events of that memorable season and also 30 years ago, a season which saw the U’s win the first ever play off final at Wembley.
United’s title aspirations were dealt a blow when Tony Butcher was harshly suspended for five weeks for picking up three bookings, two of which were against his previous club Chelmsford. The first Southern League Premier match of December saw Romford visit the Abbey and amateur trialist Charlie Robinson age 22 was tried out at centre forward to see if he could fill the gap left by Butchers ban, having been spotted by manager Bill Leivers playing in a charity match at Milton. Roly Horrey (pictured) gave United an early lead but they had to settle for a draw after a Romford equaliser early in the second half.
Next up was another home match this time against Hillingdon Borough who until recently had been top of the table, but were trashed 7-0 at Hereford in midweek. Robinson was not retained but, with the injury situation becoming “ridiculous” as Leivers put it, he signed John McKinven a Scottish left winger from Southend. No fee was involved and McKinven made his debut in a fast, exciting but goalless match in which both sides had narrow escapes. Leivers had missed the match, bedridden with Asian Flu. United were now sitting in seventh position with 20 points from 16 matches, but 4 points behind leaders Wimbledon on 24points with Weymouth and Hereford also on 24 points.
Saturday 9th December 1989 was FA Cup 2nd round day and non league Woking visited the Abbey. The match was refereed by German Singh who had previously been quite controversial with his decisions in United matches. No worries this time though as the U’s cruised to a 3-1 win with goals from Michael Cheetham, Chris Leadbitter and John Taylor. Leadbitter’s goal being described as an all time great goal, a left foot shot from 30 yards into the top corner.
The following Saturday Peterborough United were the visitors to the Abbey for a Football League Division 4 match. With United in 11th place and our county rivals sitting 9th both teams were on the fringes of the play off places, which added to make it a bit more than a local derby. Watch by nearly 5,000 fans two John Taylor goals gave the U’s a 2-0 half time lead. Just after the hour mark Peterborough pulled a goal back through Steve Osborne, but within four minutes Taylor completed his hat-trick with a brilliant goal created by Lee Philpott and Dion Dublin. On the stroke of fulltime Mick Halsall made it 3-2 and caused a few nervous moments for the United defence but they hung to record only one defeat in the last ten matches.