An edited version of this article first appeared in the 24-30 May 2017 issue of the Cambridge Independent.
Andrew Bennett’s definitive history of Cambridge United, Risen from the Dust (available from the CFU store) picks up where the first volume, Newmarket Road Roughs, left off in 1951, and ends with United being elected to the Football League in 1970.
It’s memory-stirring stuff for us old codgers for many reasons, but perhaps the most evocative passages are those that cover the old U’s-City rivalry.
Younger readers will probably struggle with this: back then, the battle for football supremacy in Cambridge meant just as much to supporters as those in Liverpool or Manchester. We lived in a divided city.
Eagerly awaited derbies drew massive crowds, and as a fan you were either a U or a Lilywhite. But there have always been players who were happy to be either.
It started in 1921, when Abbey United loaned top scorer Wally Wilson to Cambridge Town for a big FA Cup tie against Kettering. As United began to rise up the Cambs League, their players started to attract regular attention from the bigger, wealthier Town.
During the 1920s, Bert Langford, Bill ‘Pim’ Stearn, Tom Caldecote, Frank Luff, Cyril Morley, ‘Erstie’ Clements and Harold ‘Darley’ Watson were all tempted to cross the river; at a time of rising unemployment, Town could offer the players off-pitch jobs.
In 1936, striker Harry Mann scored hat-tricks in his first two games for United, whereupon Town snapped him up. The exodus continued before and after World War II as Reg Kimberley, Joe Richardson and Den Smith moved north of the Cam but, once the U’s turned semi-pro in 1947, the flow slowed to a trickle.
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