Click on the photograph to order the books
I have spent most of the past few days (23rdrd December) digesting Andrew Bennett's book Newmarket Road Roughs. (1912-1951). It only took less than 3 days to get to me, which is swift going for the pre-festive week. It answered a question which has been nagging me all my life. When I was little, I am sure, I was at a football match on Christmas morning at the Abbey. I thought maybe I had dreamed it. But Andrew tells me that Christmas Day games were common after the Second World War and only petered out in the late 1950's. I have never met the author but I have seen a character sitting up the corner on two occasions taking copious notes...
I have no doubt the book was researched from, among other sources, the archives of the then “Cambridge Daily News” in the Central Library. I have used such bound sources and they are a joy to behold. And they smell nice. Many old newspapers are now on micro film or disc and are not half as much fun as the original paper ones. There are no proper newspapers here in Milton Keynes, but there used to be some weeklies that existed up to the 1980's. Cambridge will not have a proper news paper in a few years time. News will have to be gleaned from the unregulated dross that is called “social media” now and will be of no use to researchers in 50 or 60 years time. So books such as these will be especially valuable.
Even Andrew cannot work out when the U's were formed, or even what they were called then. The worrying thing though is that I seem to recognise some names from the forties, Gallego, Crane, Cornwell, although players often went onto their forties then, so perhaps I am not that old in real terms?
It's the little things that grab my interest in life. On page 233 is a picture of a programme, c1950, that includes an advert for the “Rocket” on Mill Road. This was a shoe repairer’s shop owned by my uncle Jack. No doubt he had to work Saturdays and could not get to games. Uncle Jack used to keep pigs up the allotment off Coldham’s Lane during the war and used to take the odd one home and slaughter it in the bath. This was very naughty during the war. Uncle Jack died when he was in his 50's. There was still a shoe repair shop on the site the last time I was in Cambridge.
And never sympathise with players who get worn out today, having to play two games in a week. I won't spoil it for you but United, in those days, had to play two games in a day once. And in the winter, games would be abandoned as it got dark early. They were also expected to cycle to Histon. I did not quite understand how some players got paid while they were still classed as amateurs though.
I am looking forward to the 1951-1970 volume (more my era!)
WHAT DREAMS ARE (NOT QUITE) MADE OF; this is the Tom Youngs' autobiography. A great title and, a very rare occurrence for a footy book, he wrote it himself. I think it is the only book I have read in one day. I then re- read it from the end and went back to the beginning.
Now most of us will remember Tom. He was unique as a professional in that the other players thought he was a bit aloof because he did not want to join in with the “changing room” humour and culture, and had “A” levels. He was first signed when he was about 3 years old, and got in the first team when he looked about seven. Things have changed though; he looks 15 on the cover of the book. I bet the ref once said to him, “Time mascots got off now Sonny; we are going to kick off in a minute or two”.
Unfortunately injuries followed Tom around like a stray dog looking for a dinner. And then when he got fitness back they could not quite decide where he should play. He is also honest about his pay. Now £400 pounds a week may not have been a small sum, but it is when you may not be offered a new contract in a few years time, not much chance of a pension in your 30's, and struggling with a mortgage. Tom also saw fellow team mates like Benjamin, Abbey (Zema, not the stadium) and Kitson who no doubt saw their wages at least tripled overnight when they moved on.
Tom was offloaded to Northampton, who were keen on him because he had a good scoring record against the Cobblers. He never set Sixfields alight and his career is summed up by himself. He went shopping in town one day and saw a youngster with a team shirt, with “Youngs” on the back; he felt he had let him down. He also became somewhat disillusioned in later years to discover the only well known sportsman called Tom Youngs was the England rugby player.
He then moved on to non league football and realised one day the journey was costing more than he got paid and perhaps it was time to move on to a proper job. The subtitle on the book cover reads “No Fame, no Fortune, Just Football...and Multiple Sclerosis”. You could not have wished for a better servant for the club.
And talking of club servants, I am convinced Dion Dublin thinks he still plays for United, but had to go on to other clubs for all the usual reasons, where perhaps he had not been as happy. He now appears on the BBC Saturday afternoon FA cup programmes. He was viewing the second round one day on the monitors when he suddenly exclaimed and pointed. “A goal at Cambridge!” And then when asked on the next programme what he thought about all the empty seats at grounds and if the FA cup was not so important as it used to be, (was it Leeds first team we played by the way?) I think Dion agreed then said, “I had some great cup games at Cambridge.” I was there at the most memorable one, even though we lost.
When we read of the “characters” who get awards in the Queen’s New Years' Honours List, can Dion be there? Nothing too grand of course. “Earl of Barnwell” will do.
Come on you U’s!