Generations of Cambridge United supporters, staff and officials lost a much-loved friend and colleague with the death on January 23, at the age of 92, of Wally Rookes.
As a player, tireless volunteer worker, fundraiser and die-hard supporter, Wally enriched the lives of those with whom he came into contact around the Abbey Stadium for more than three quarters of a century.
In 1932, at the age of five, he was present with his father Walter when the ground was officially opened. At that time it was little more than a field and Abbey United were competing in the Cambridgeshire League.
He played in goal for the first Abbey United ‘A’ team of young footballers, from the 1950/51 season, and later appeared for the Reserves in the Peterborough League.
His last appearance between the sticks came in the mid-1990s, when he was nearly 70 years old. Team manager Tommy Taylor cajoled him into playing for a staff team against Leyton Orient employees at the Abbey; clad in the long shorts and cloth cap of a former era, Wally earned warm applause when he dived full length to tip an Orient penalty kick round the post.
Long before that, he had been valued as a dedicated worker for the CUFC cause. One of the first agents for fundraising schemes under Len Selmes and Jack Rayner,
he continued to sell programmes and lottery tickets for many years. At one time he ran the away travel club, and he was a long-term volunteer helper for the ground staff and maintenance team, recalled fondly by stadium manager Ian Darler in his memoir, Life’s a Pitch.
Ian remembers the time Wally used his contacts in the Royal Anglian Regiment – he was a veteran of the Cambridgeshire Regiment, a forerunner of the RAR – to equip the staff with work boots and protective clothing in the form of army-issue boots, camouflaged trousers and green jumpers.
Ian paid tribute to the rapport Wally built up with schoolchildren who came to the club for work experience – experiences that evoked many a letter of thanks.
Born in 1927, Wally grew up in United’s Barnwell heartland and later lived in Cherry Hinton. He married Betty Dickerson in 1948 and they had three children – Patrick, Wally and Jennifer – and three grandchildren: Maddy, Scott and Wayne.
The funeral will be in the West Chapel of Cambridge City Crematorium at 2pm on Tuesday, February 18. Family flowers only; donations may be made to EACH.