Onward through the 20s
The 1925/26 season saw Abbey United start in excellent form. In fact, it wasn't until after Christmas that they experienced their first defeat in any competition and February 20 before a 4-2 home defeat by Gamlingay ended their unbeaten run in the League. This game was notable for the wrong reason: the Gamlingay goalkeeper, Hall, came to blows with a spectator who was reported to have encroached onto the pitch. Hall addressed him with an insulting remark and struck him. The man returned the blow and a free fight ensued until the referee intervened. The combatants were escorted off the ground and, followed by a large crowd, settled their differences elsewhere.
The League season went down to the last match with United facing nearest rivals Girton United at the Celery Trenches in a winner-takes-all encounter. Captain Harvey Cornwell scored a hat-trick as Abbey ran out 5-1 winners and clinched their first Cambridgeshire League Division One championship. United had scored more than 100 goals for the first time, finishing on an impressive 103 goals for with only 26 conceded. They reached two cup finals that season, with RAF Duxford the opponents in both. The finals were played on consecutive Saturdays at Cambridge Town's Milton Road ground, Duxford first winning the Cambs Challenge Cup 3-1 and then Abbey taking the Creake Charity Shield 4-1.
In 1926/27, United entered the FA Amateur Cup for the first time and were drawn at home against Norwich YMCA; despite taking the lead, they lost 3-2. Abbey made another strong challenge for the league championship but this time Girton got the better of them and won the league with 38 points, leaving United as runners-up on 31. The only silverware that season came via a half-share of the Cambs Challenge Cup: the final against Newmarket Town finished 1-1 after extra time and the replay saw an amazing 6-6 draw after extra time.
After finishing third in the League in 1927/28, the Wasps, as they were now being nicknamed, had to turn to cup competitions for glory. They lost 2-0 to Cambridge Town Reserves in the Creake Charity Shield final at Milton Road but did manage to win the Chatteris Engineering Cup, beating Romsey Town 3-0 in the final. This was the first season in which Abbey United entered the FA Cup, losing 3-1 in an Extra Preliminary Round at Great Yarmouth Town.
The following season, 1928/29, proved to be the most successful in the club's history, with the first team winning five trophies and the reserves claiming one. The Cambs League Division One was split into two sections and Abbey United competed in Section A (southern), which they won by the comfortable margin of four points ahead of Cambridge Swifts. The title was secured with a 3-2 win over Cambridge Town Reserves in front of one of the largest crowds ever seen at the Celery Trenches. Section B was won by Chatteris Town and in the deciding championship match at Milton Road, Abbey ran out 5-4 winners after extra time.
Chatteris were also the opposition in the final of the Chatteris Nursing Cup, which United won 3-2. Chatteris Engineers were the opposition in the Cambs Challenge Cup final, this time at the March GER ground, with the Wasps winning 4-3. The Abbey retained the Creake Charity Shield when Harvey Cornwell, Harold 'Darley' Watson and Sid Hulyer scored in a 3-0 win over Cambridge Town at Milton Road. Abbey United thus became the first club to win the triple crown of Cambridgeshire football: the Cambs League, Cambs Challenge Cup and Creake Charity Shield.
By comparison with the previous seasons, 1929/30 was mediocre, the only success being the retention of the Creake Charity Shield with a 4-0
Abbey United 1, Soham Rangers 0; Saturday, 22 September 1928, FA Amateur Cup Preliminary Round. Wing-half R Ding scores Abbey's winning goal with a 20-yard shot in the 65th minute at the Celery Trenches. The Abbey beat Thetford Town 2-1 at home in the next round before losing 2-1 at King's Lynn in the Second Round.
Abbey United First Team, 1928/29. Back row: H Bowman (Treasurer), Jack Rayner, Bill Walker, Fred 'Erstie' Clements, Harold 'Darley' Watson, G Chapman (Secretary), Tom Bilton (Trainer). Middle row: Cyril Haylock, Richard 'Dick' Harris, George Alsop (Captain), HC Francis (President), Harvey Cornwell, Bob Patman. Front row: Sid Hulyer, Tommy James. Trophies: Bury & District Cup, Cambs Challenge Cup, Creake Charity Shield, Cambs League Division One Championship, Chatteris Nursing Cup.
When young Harvey Cornwell (born 12 August 1896) wasn't at school, he worked with his father, picking mushrooms and selling them on Cambridge market. The young mushroom-picker would later be known as the Grand Old Master of Cambridge Football.
Hooked on football from an early age, Harvey played for his school teams, St Georges and New Street, and on Thursdays for New Chesterton Institute. Leaving school at 14, he attracted the attention of Aston Villa, who were about to win the Football League, but his father insisted that Harvey stay in the family business, and he was given Saturday and Thursday afternoons off to play local football.
Harvey, who could be working anywhere in the wilds of Cambridgeshire, had to make his own way back to Cambridge for games; the Cornwells didn't have a horse, let alone a car. One day he asked the driver of a passing cart for a lift but was turned down. Knowing the cart was going to Cambridge, he decided to run behind it all the way into town – and got to the game on time.
Harvey, 19 at the start of the Great War, joined the Navy and ended up in Canada, where he decided to switch to the Army. A keen boxer, he often made a few shillings by challenging the resident boxing champions at the fairground booths in Cambridge. No surprise, then, that he should finish runner-up in the Canadian Forces featherweight championship.
Harvey returned to Cambridge after the war to play for Thursday Wanderers, and in 1922 he joined Abbey United, who had just won the Cambs League Division 3 title in their first season. By 1925 he was a regular first-team player and was leading goalscorer for four consecutive seasons. He also managed a remarkable nine hat-tricks in four years.
Harvey's short, lightweight frame often deceived opposing players, and he took great pride in outjumping six-foot defenders, seemingly defying gravity by hanging in the air.
During his time with Abbey United, Harvey started his own business, buying and selling second-hand furniture. In World War II he served in the Home Guard, allowing him to keep an eye on events at his beloved football club. This was just as well as Abbey nearly went broke, but with financial help from Harvey and a Mill Road ice cream salesman, Lew Sylvester, the club was saved. Harvey did leave Abbey to play for United Cantabs, Chesterton Victoria and Cambridge Town for brief spells, but he always returned.
He played more than 350 games over 25 years for Abbey United, scoring more than 185 goals. He remained fit as the years went on and, even in his 50s, played for Thursday Wanderers alongside his three sons. One can only wonder what would have happened to Harvey, and Abbey United for that matter, had Mr Cornwell Senior been a football man.
victory over Soham Rangers in the Final. This gave the club three wins in the four years of the competition and ensured that United had won at least one trophy a year since entering the Cambs League in 1921.
An eighth-place finish in Cambs League Division One was hardly inspiring and, for the first time ever in competitive football, the club recorded a negative goal difference, scoring 38 and conceding 46.
The season was notable for one reason, however: the club gained its first – and indeed its second – win in the FA Cup.
The opening match of the season was an Extra Preliminary Round tie against Newmarket Town, in which Wally Wilson and Harvey Cornwell were the scorers in a 2-1 win. This was followed by an impressive 4-0 win at much-fancied Wisbech Town. Crittall's Athletic from Braintree were the opponents for the First Qualifying Round tie at the Celery Trenches. What was described as 'an enthusiastic crowd of 1,200' turned up to see the Essex team win easily by 5-0.