Andrew Stephen, editor of the CFU fanzine Amber News, gives his impressions of volume two of Celery & Coconuts, Andrew Bennett's history of Abbey/Cambridge United.
I find it almost impossible to like books about sport in general and about football in particular. Most writers who know about their sport find it difficult to convey the sense of excitement generated by a live event. Being there, when something that matters to you is happening, is a deeply personal thing. Football writers increasingly kill off their subjects with a kind of trainspotter’s approach to statistics, or, in the case of the tabloid ‘journalists’, a desire to dwell on celebrity and gossip rather than the nuances of the game.
Of course, Andrew Bennett has been writing match reports, with flair, insight and no little humour, for years. And he is a man who can be trusted with the history of the world’s greatest football team.
I was nearly seven when the fifties came to an end but this book brings that vital decade vividly to life, explaining how Abbey United were gradually transformed into a much more professional outfit ready to dominate the Southern League. Those watching games in that era will tell you that Wilf Mannion, even at 38 years old, was the greatest player ever to play for Cambridge United. Volunteers continued to develop and sometimes build parts of the ground, players of pedigree came and went and the club’s directors became ever more ambitious.
For me, the acid test for this book covered the games between 1967 and our election to the Football League, my first three years as a fan.
Leaving aside scores and their significance, I was taken back to paying 1/6d at the turnstiles as a Junior, the smell of sweet pipe tobacco at the Newmarket Road End, buying pies from the Supporters’ Club on the terrace which is now the Disabled Enclosure and the expectation of winning every game.
As the pages turned, I could see once again Ian Hutchinson’s booming long throws, the bravery of Rodney Slack, the elegance of Robin Hardy and the class of George Harris. Life was simpler then; cash on the gate, only one manager, no ‘simulation’, no corporate pressures or obsession with image – but I digress.
And there were the downsides, like the fateful Easter when we lost twice to our big rivals Chelmsford City. The following season, having bought their four best players, we were ready to storm into the Football League. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Andrew is a fine writer and a real fan. If you like football, nostalgia and the story of a little club which became great because of its people, you’ll love this.
Risen from the Dust: The story of Cambridge United Football Club; 1951-1970 by Andrew Bennett. Published by Lovely Bunch. £19.99 (£1 discount for CFU members). Available online at cambridgefansunited.org/store/c4/Books.html and from the CFU caravan on a match day.