The Abbey / Cambridge United Football Club and Supporters’ Club 1947 to 1961
In the United’s programme February 1992 John Beck enquired if any of the older supporters knew of the history of the Habbin Stand.
I visited Andrew Pincher, the programme manager, and explained to him of my involvement with the club from 1947 to 1961. He asked me if I would write an article for the programme or portray a story of the main events as they took place during my years of office.
I’ve been pondering since where to start on events that happened four and a half decades ago – so I’ve decided to start at the beginning.
I’m Percy Neal, I served in the Royal Air Force during World War II for six and half years, serving four years in India, Assam and Burma. I returned to Cambridge, my home town, late 1945 to await
The highlight of the week was the Dance held at Fen Ditton village hall, where I met, fell in love, and married Edna Crane – sister of Russell Crane – who was then one of our star players at the Abbey. He was often described in the Cambridge News as the “Human Dynamo”.
Herbert Crane, Russell’s father, served on the committee of a social club in Fen Ditton, which functioned in the Old School Rooms, a war-time club run by volunteers of the local Civil Defence and Home Guard. I agreed to become Secretary of the club. With the war now in the past, membership dwindled and within a year the Committee decided the club should be wound-up, and voted that the furniture, fittings and funds (approx. £200), should be handed over to the Abbey Football Club. The handover duly performed and through this I first met Geoff Proctor, Chairman of the Directors of the Abbey Football Club. He was delighted to receive this windfall.
A few days later Geoff Proctor invited me to meet him and his colleagues at the Supporters’ Club for the first time. There was a large gathering, within a few minutes Geoff spotted me, led me to a quieter place and over a drink explained his motive in inviting me into the club. It was the Supporters’ Club Annual General Meeting, and that I had been proposed and seconded as the Club Secretary. By 9 O’clock a somewhat bewildered Percy started a 13 year stint at the Supporters’ Club. I was warmly welcomed by Harry Habbin, the Club’s Chairman.
The week following the AGM, we had our first Committee Meeting in my role as Secretary, with Harry Habbin in the Chair. I met many supporters who had been involved before my time, also the team of lady supporters led by Lil Harrison.
I soon learned the objectives of the Supporters’ Club and also that Harry Habbin was pioneer of the Supporters’ Club and its formation commenced at the pub in Newmarket Road “The Corner House”, of which Harry and his wife were landlords.
Providing central heating in the club and having the bar refurbished were the two main objectives at that time. The central heating was eventually installed after a big drive on fund raising, extending to whist drives, Saturday night dances and various social events.
In a supporters club it was amazing how many willing tradesmen there were willing offer their services voluntarily. And in a few months the club was centrally heated, replacing the large cast iron stove with a long chimney to the ceiling, with many chairs in a circle around the stove to enable the supporters to benefit from the warmth.
Refurbishing the bar was the next task, after several discussions at committee, we invited the representative of Green’s Brewery, Luton, where the club purchased their beers, wines and spirits. We outlined our proposals and the representative reported back to his directors. We then received an invitation for a small deputation to visit the brewery to discuss this at director level. We were well entertained and visited Luton Football Supporters’ Club where the brewery had recently installed a new bar. Within a few months a similar bar was installed in our club at the expense of the brewery.
At this stage I will endeavour to outline the layout of the football pitch and the out-buildings. At the allotment end was a small step-up terrace constructed mainly of railway sleepers. Where the main stand and dressing rooms are at the present time, was a small wood structure covered stand with seated accommodation – wooden forms stretching from one end to the other, seating about 300 people.
The Brook-side (where the Habbin Stand was constructed in later years) step-up terracing existed, again built with railway sleepers.
Along the same site was the players primitive dressing rooms. At the Newmarket Road end, the Supporters’ Club and refreshments bar providing teas etc to the football areas and those in the Supporters’ Club.
Where the car park and administration offices are at this present time was the Corona Minerals Water Factory and near this was a large rambling Victorian house and gardens. The football club, in their better-off days, were able to purchase this property with planning permission to demolish and develop a car park. The Corona factory eventually moved to better premises and their old factory dismantled.
The entrance to the ground before this all happened was a narrow passage along the boundary fence of the Corona Works. Turnstiles were unheard of in old days – we had a wooden hut with 3 pigeon holes. Another entrance to the ground was a further 50 or 60 yards along Newmarket Road, an un-adopted gravel lane known as Cut-Throat Lane.
Whilst compiling these notes, my brother-in-law Russell Crane, kindly sketched the exterior and interior of the primitive dressing rooms. I understand these were built about 1940, or earlier; Russell’s sketch below.
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