WE ALL (SHOULD) LIVE IN AN AMBER SUBMARINE
Shouldn’t we? But we haven’t always, that’s for sure. I’m looking at a copy of an Abbey United letterhead here dating from 1926 and underneath the Hon. Treasurer entry (Mr H Bowman) it says, I quote, “Colours: Black and amber.” Good. So far.
Now I know the OED definition of “amber” is as follows; “Hard translucent fossilized resin originating from extinct coniferous trees of the Tertiary period, typically yellowish in colour. It has been used in jewellery since antiquity. An example, a yellow light used as a cautionary signal between green for ‘go’ and red for ‘stop’.” It necessarily uses the word ‘yellow’ in the definition but let that not be an excuse for the interpretation of ‘amber’ over the years which has befallen the uniform of the mighty U’s from time to time. After all, can you imagine West Ham or Aston Villa being resplendent in red and royal blue with the argument that claret and sky blue are merely derivatives of the main colours red and blue? No. Here is a distinctly non-nautical journey and potted history of kits, colours and things, with the emphasis on the past, where the Cambridge U-boat is concerned (poor, Ed).
I think we need to go back to the 1960s on this one. Pre-that decade, colour photography was hardly prolific and pre-1960 I don’t think I’ve ever seen a colour pic of CUFC in action - Pat Morgan will beg to differ if I’ve missed out - but if you go through all the line ups from the decades I think you can be sure we were playing in a pretty decent shade of amber. We’ve played in white quite a bit over the years (especially the shorts) which gives good context for the shade too. There may be one exception which is the 1962-63 all white kit with the diagonal sash. In pictures that looks suspiciously like a black and yellow sash but we have to afford the benefit of the amber doubt.
Bill Leivers had arrived by 1967 and his procession to the top of the Southern League Premier twice in consecutive years needs no referencing here. But by the time the 1970s dawned he had seemingly fallen out of love with black and amber. That’s part of the folklore anyway. Another is that the players viewed the all white with black and amber trim change strip lucky and so in February 1970, with three months of the season still left, adopted the kit as the primary uniform. That idea certainly started off well, the next game was at the Abbey against Crawley and they ran out 8-0 winners! I’ve never tested the perceived “luckiness” of that strip prior to February 1970 but who am I to argue with Robin Hardy and co?
If it was lucky then it certainly stayed lucky as the U’s romped on to win the Southern League title and everything else is history, as they say. Curiously they reverted to black and amber for the infamous Chelsea friendly in early May before reverting to type the following day for the title decider v Margate at the Abbey. Perhaps the 24 hours gap is the answer to that poser.
Into the Football League we go (ee aye, ee aye, ee aye oh) and the all white kit is retained for two seasons as the U’s establish a foothold in League football, albeit the first season ended up being a bit hairy as we finished in twentieth position, one above the “zone“. In fact black seems to disappear too from the change strip by the second season, see the all amber affair at Craven Cottage and Eastville in the respective Cup competitions before 1971 was out.
In late April 1972 at home v Gillingham was a “shock” tannoy announcement at half time (I remember it well); the U’s were going back to their roots. Black and amber were to return in August as the primary kit after an absence of nearly two and a half seasons. You can imagine how this little ‘nutsaboutamber’ was looking forward to seeing Darlo ‘quaking’ in their shoes at the prospect of facing the black and amber army on 12 August. Well little nuts didn’t legislate for two things, The U’s turned up actually in primrose-like yellow shirts with black shorts and Darlo stuffed us three nil! I must come back to Bill Leivers at this point. He had presided over the change in the early 1970s to all white and presumably must have had a say in this ghastly shade nearly two and a half years later.
One thing you cannot accuse ya bog standard yellow of being though is unsuccessful. What do we go and do at the end of that first season, we hunt those pesky Stags down in an exhilarating finale at the Abbey to clinch promotion to division three. The Walton minus the S took on a new meaning. I swear I still remember every minute of that game. “Barnwell” and “Roar” should feature again next autumn, I reckon in some tome or other….(keep ya nose out - Pat Morgan)
Despite a good start to life in the third tier and beating Rochdale and the power strike in one week day afternoon in early 1974, the U’s get relegated at the first time of asking. And the luck of Leivers and yellow runs out. A Herculean run in the FA Cup was followed by my hero being sold in the March (Brian Greenhouse, if you asked Gerry Harrison) and a huge waft of desperation billowed in with the signings of Nigel Cassidy and Bobby Shinton for a combined £55k. Quietly in the background mind, a certain B Batson came in from Arsenal for £5k. Whatever happened to him?
On to the 1974/75 season and by November Big Bill had gone to be replaced by another Big one, surname of Atkinson. Had a brother known to some of us too. HOWEVER arguably the main event of the season had already occurred. Let me quote from the Cambridge United Official Handbook Season 1974-75 (priced 15p), page 20:
“To make the new look ‘United’ complete we are also changing the playing strip to black and amber vertical 4in. stripes, black shorts and black socks with amber turnover.” WOW!
Somebody somewhere didn’t quite read the script there because the socks were actually the other way round, just for a season mind but hey. There are people I know to this day (hi, Ed) who hold this strip closest to their hearts and who couldn’t fall in love with the iconic book of learning and ball badge adorned plum in the middle of the chest. Looked a lot better than ‘Beaumont Metals‘, eh? The following season saw a kit maker’s emblem appear for the first time, not the worst by sight (Admiral) but it meant the badge was moved over from the centre to the left and the amber socks were replaced by black with an amber turnover intertwined, some might say curiously (I say superbly) with a white ring. Same kit again in 1976-77 but with a very nuanced change of the white ring at the top of the sock so that it sat at the bottom of the amber turnover. I fear only an anorakamotologist such as me would have ever noticed that. Did I mention that for me that was the best kit I ever saw us play in (in 43 games home and away - note away shirt sponsor fuddy duddies) - and it coincided funnily enough with the best CUFC team I’ve ever seen to this day. Forty six years and counting.
The stripes lasted until the end of the 1978-79 season which saw a change and a twist in the format as Umbro produced an amber/amber/black combo which then lasted for four seasons and along with the opening season in the second division arguably the pinnacle in the U’s’ history, under the Doc. From 1983-84, to coincide with some very dark days indeed, the kit went lighter and lighter and, incongruously a third of the way through the 1985-86 season it changed although we still ended up with a putrid yellow and black stripes affair.
The yellow submarine was in full pelt from 1986-87 and all through the Beck inspired halcyon days. The y’army chant had to start somewhere, didn’t it? 1991-93 saw Influence have a bit of a crack at amber with orange and yellow splodges. This Fujitsu combo remains an icon to this day but I can’t help feeling it’s by glory days’ association rather than the style council membership which makes it hold so much sway.
That still feels like a lot of yellow, doesn’t it? I totted it all up one night in my sleep going back to 1970 and the outcome was interesting. I’ve given Puma the benefit of the doubt with their first three kits from 2013-14 although if I’m honest I was underwhelmed with the amber UNTIL this season which saw a major step up in the quality of the shade. It’s so good that people have been complaining it’s almost orange which for me is manna from heaven! So, this is what happened to the sheep I counted:
1983 - 1991 yellow
1991 - 93 pass!
1993-1998 yellow (includes a great effort with the quartered shirts but decimated by lemon)
1998 - 2005 AMBER
2009-10 yellow (the sash, oh dear)
If we strike out 1991-93 as neither being one or the other and 1970-72 is neutral that means amber wins handsomely by 28 seasons to 16. Sounds ok (although I’ve been generous for parts of 2013-17) but going back to my Villa/West Ham analogy earlier, can you imagine them wearing say red shirts with navy blue sleeves every now again and even Hearts not wearing maroon EVERY season since year dot? NO!
I cannot help but feel the custodians of our club are guilty of a lack of sense of identity sometimes. I wrote in a previous piece that Cambridge United didn’t wear a badge for 23 seasons(TWENTY THREE seasons!) and I felt this issue was magnified again recently when the under 16-s played a prestigious tie against Chelsea in front of a great crowd at The Abbey. And what did they wear? Black shirts with hi-vis trim and hi-vis shorts. I was offered two potential excuses, problems with the laundry and/or the boys prefer playing in that kit. For somebody who still refers to it as the Corona End ………
Andy Fox aka Nutsaboutamber
Tradition is most important to fans who’ve seen a lot of it…..
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