A History Of Cambridge United 1912 - 2005
Article by Paul Hammond
Updated Wednesday, 27th July 2005
Written by Andy Stock, A United Fan
History of the Amber Army
Are you a new fan? are you an old fan that wants to relive history?, or are you just plain nosey? Yes? Then read on.
The Non-league days:
A club called “Cambridge United” were formed in 1909, and was one of the best football clubs in the area, however they were not reformed after the first world war, the current Cambridge United were known as Abbey United, the team know as “Cambridge United” have nothing to do with what we have now.
Abbey United were formed in 1912, and played there home games at various locations across Cambridge; including: Midsummer Common, Parkers Piece, and Stourbridge Common, where they played a selection of friendly fixtures with local clubs such as Chesterton Rovers, and Littleport F.C.. It was not until 1920-21 that they player there first competitive season of football, that was in division three of the Cambridgeshire Football League. United started to play their home games at Station Farm just off Newmarket Road, nicknamed the “Celery Trenches” due to the ruts in the playing surface. Then in 1931 Henry Clement Francis offered united two plots of land, one larger undeveloped area, the other was a smaller plot which included a wooden stand…. Where we are now, what a nice chap! A few years later they found them selves in the premier division. They remained here until 1947 (no matches during the war) when they were invited to apply to join the United Counties League, they did so and their application was accepted. They turned semi-professional in 1947 and became a limited company in 1949
In the 1951-52 season the name we all know and love was created to enable us to be know nationally, leaving behind the “Abbey United” and the jokes and beliefs that we were a team of monks. At this time the first full time manager was appointed he was Bill Whittaker. United were now in the Eastern Counties League which included ‘A' teams from Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, and West Ham. During this period greats such as the late Middlesbrough and England forward Wilf Mannion – one of the greatest forwards this country has ever produced, a maximum wage scheme of £12 per week allowed smaller clubs to match wages of the larger ones…. perhaps a similar scheme today would help the state of football.
Thanks to ground improvements, in 1958 Cambridge United's application to join the Southern League South East Section was accepted, enabling them to compete in the same league as then superior rivals Cambridge City, for the first time. The 1960's saw United reach the Southern League Premier division, one step away from league football and become a team of full-time professionals – early when you consider that many of today's conference clubs are still semi-professional.
In those days non-league clubs had to be elected into the football league by chairman of the clubs and after a number of tries, in 1970 Manager Bill Leavers turned United into a league club. It also saw a record attendance of 14,000 – still a record. The match was against Chelsea and literally a game of two halves, united playing the first and Chelsea reserves taking their place in the second, “united” running out 4-3 winners.
The League Era
United's first season saw them finish 20th in Division Four and by 1973-74 they were promoted to Division Three, but relegated again. Then, in 1974 Ron Atkinson took over from Bill Leavers.
On January 6th A milestone in English football was reached, and there was only one team that could pioneer it, United became the first League team in English football to host a match on Sunday. Oldham were the opponents in this F.A. cup match which kicked off at 11:30am there were a few other matches on this day all kicking off at the usual time of 3pm, allowing United to make history. They were unable to charge for tickets, due to Sunday trading rules, but charged 50p for a compulsory programme (30p for concessions). Clearly Sunday football was a success as in this day and age it appears to be the norm, especially for televised matches.
Big Ron first gained real success until 1977 when United were crowned champions of Division Four, runners up of Division Three in 1978, entering the second division (now the first). Unfortunately his success attracted the attentions of bigger clubs, in January 1978 United lost Big Ron to West Brom of the First Division. John Docherty and Paddy Sowden replaced him. United remained in this division until 1984, a poor season for united in which they went 32 games with out a win.
1989 saw, the start of what is arguably United's most successful and exiting stint since jointing the league. A team led by the controversial John Beck, including some of the greatest players ever took the club from the Fourth to Second division in successive seasons, only losing out in the play-offs to the newly formed Premiership, and then they only just missed out on an automatic promotion spot.
Success included: Division Four Play-off winners in the fist ever Wembley play-off final (United yet again making history), and Third Division Champions saw them enter the second division for the second time in there history, arguably where we belong! During this era United also reached the F.A. cup in two successive seasons (again another historic moment in English football, with United being the only lower league team to achieve this), losing to Crystal Palace in the first season and Arsenal in the second, that was in front of under 43,000 (Arsenal have not had a bigger attendance since to this date), 15,000 of which made the trip down the M11. Unfortunately, in 1993 the club were relegated from Division One. The mighty team included amongst others: Dion Dublin, Steve Claridge, Liam Daish, John Filan, Gary Rowett, and Alan Kimble all of which became premiership player. Dion Dublin was sold to Manchester United for a record £1 million and John Taylor was swapped for Devon White, the later probably the reason for not joining the top flight.
In 1996 United fell back in to the basement. Former Derby and England Defender Roy McFarland took over from the departed Tommy Taylor and in 1999 took the team to the Second division narrowly missing out on the championship, in a decider match on the final day of the season. He brought John Taylor back to the Abbey, and a poll conducted at all clubs was named King of the Abbey by Fans in 2000. Big Mac signed one of the best players seen at the Abbey – Former Sunderland and Newcastle's French ‘keeper Lionel Perez on loan to help a goal keeping crisis, be become a permanent sighing the following season. A poor few seasons saw Roy McFarland sacked and in 2001 John Beck re-appointed against the wish of most fans. He was forced out later that year and replaced by a man supported by 99.5% of fans, the one and only John “Shaggy” Taylor.
Shaggy's first season saw relegation. It was not all bad news, however, as in 2002 united appeared in a national cup final for the first time ever at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, a great day out for the fans and the players, but losing 4-1 to Blackpool ruined It a bit. The end of the season saw the completion of new 1,500 all-seater stand at the South end, a state of the art medical centre and control room were built. These are said to be something most Premiership clubs would envy.
Financial crisis hit the Abbey Stadium as it has most other clubs after the ITV digital fiasco, but United have survived serious crises on two occasions, one the close season after ITV and the second in December 2003 where United had to find £500k, increasing the need to redevelop the rest of the Abbey. Plans have been submitted to built a new North stand identical to the one at the south end, and double the size of facilities I the Main Stand. The plans also include a 120 bedroom hotel, 14 luxury apartments, a restaurant, a gym and other money making schemes, which should allow the club to break even without selling all its stars.
United remain in the third division and are currently battling against a drop in to non-league football. Sadly the club were forced to sack the legend that is John “King of the Abbey” Taylor, in March 2004 much to the disgrace of many fans. Though it was very sad to see him go and he was a legend, he simply had to go if united were to have any chance of getting out of trouble.
A new management duo have been appointed, many fans wondering who the hell would be an adequate replacement. The a week after Shaggy's sacking an announcement the shook the world (yes literally the world) of football, Claude Le Roy, the former Cameroon, Senegal, and PSG manager was to “oversee” things until the end of the season and possibly become full time manager once he finishes his contract at French TV station Canal+. He appointed Herve Renard, who has played along side players such as Zinadine Zidane, as assistant with Dale Brooks taking the role as “first team coach”. If only Le Roy (dubbed as “Le Big Ron” because he is thought of as the French Ron Atkinson) will stay United could see very exciting times ahead, indeed Le Roy has set a target of five years to become a First Division side.
The Season 2004/2005 promised much and delivered very little. The new Director of Football, Claude Le Roy , disappeared off to become coach of Congo, leaving Herve Renard in charge. A mish mash of foreign imports came to the club and as we slowly slid deeper and deeper, the head of Dale Brooks was the first to go, eventually followed by Renard himself. The role then passed to Steve Thompson, a 'specialist' at getting teams out of the mire. Unfortunately it was really too late to save us, and a ten game run until Thompsons first win sealed our fate.
Just as things couldnt get any worse, after relegation was confirmed, we went into administration, allowing us to have the 10 point penalty deduction taken from us before we joined the conference. After many battles involving the taxman, MP's (particularly the mighty Richard Caborn) and the might of the U's fans, we narrowly avoided going bust and as we speak are waiting to exit administration. Rob Newman is currently our Caretaker manager, but with 4 signed pro's and unable to sign anyone until we are out of administartion, it could be a long season ahead!