Following Midsummer Common, Stourbridge Common, Parker's Piece and the Celery Trenches, Abbey United settled on their current site in the 1930s. With a revamp of the Abbey Stadium on the horizon, Andrew Bennett here provides a blow-by-blow account of his beloved Wembley of the Fens, home of the U's.
Cambridge United were formed as Abbey United in 1912 and played their first friendlies on Midsummer Common in the centre of the city. After the World War I they reformed and made their home on Stourbridge Common, home to the largest fair in Europe in the Middle Ages, which inspired the Vanity Fair described by John Bunyan in The Pilgrim’s Progress.
United joined the Cambridgeshire League in 1921 and two years later obtained the first ground of their own at Station Farm, off Newmarket Road in Barnwell. It swiftly became known as the Celery Trenches because of the furrows along the pitch that filled with water when it rained and, with a distinct slope from end to end, the surface gave United a marked advantage over visiting teams. In time, though, the facilities became just too shabby and in 1930 the team moved to Parker’s Piece, where the original ‘Cambridge Rules’ of modern football had been posted in 1848.
In the summer of 1931, club president Henry Clement Francis acquired some land very close to the Celery Trenches known as Sindall’s Field and offered the club two choices: they could accept the whole site, undeveloped, or take a smaller parcel of land on which he would erect a fence and a grandstand for spectators. They accepted the latter option.
The pitch did not directly abut Newmarket Road but lay behind a large house known as the Old Gardens, which had possessed a tea garden with a summerhouse that people would visit at weekends (see History: early days). The ground was accessed via a path between the Gardens and Sindall’s Works (which later became a Corona factory) next door. Directly to the east was Marshall’s Aerodrome, which the company vacated in 1938 to move further down Newmarket Road, and the Whitehill Estate was built on the site.
It took a year for the pitch and ground to take shape, during which the club temporarily moved back to the Celery Trenches. Abbey United’s new home was officially opened with a friendly against Cambridge University Press on 31 August 1932.
Facilities at the new ground were at first basic to say the least. The changing room was a green-painted wooden hut near the halfway line on the site of what is now the Habbin Stand, with a household bath heated by a wood fire; towards the end of a match smoke would begin to emanate from its chimney to indicate that the ‘facilities’ were being prepared for the players. The hut had been put up by a couple of players, the Taverner brothers.
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