My Team & I: Cambridge United


By Alistair Hunter

Twitter: @AliHunter1


Why Cambridge?

I’ve asked myself the same question for 19 years. The answer? Location, location, location. Having grown up a devout Rangers fan thanks to my Dad, living some 306 miles from Ibrox was rather an inconvenience to my craving for football. But when I was taken to a Cambridge game for the very first time in the mid-to-late 90s, something just clicked. Whilst the team failed miserably on the pitch at the turn of the millennium, (and my Dad decided he’d had enough of taking me to the matches) I remained entranced by culture of the club and thus, I started going without him. Ever since, my love for the U’s has never wavered, which is quite extraordinary considering the relegations I witnessed in 2002 and 2005- and the administration of the same year- all atop the fact I was a rarity amongst my ‘glory-hunting’ ‘Premier League supporting’ mates.

Favourite Player?

The disadvantage of being a toddler at the time of Cambridge’s glory years mean I can’t in all good conscience pick any of Dion Dublin, Liam Daish, Danny O’Shea, Mick Cheetham, Chris Leadbitter, Steve Claridge, John ‘Shaggy’ Taylor or Lee Philpott as my favourite ever player- simply because I never saw them play. And although I look back fondly at a time when Cambridge were scaring Arsenal in F.A Cup Quarter Finals and Sir Alex Ferguson was wrestling our prize assets from our grasp, I now feel a little silly for writing this piece in lieu of a more qualified Cambridge fan, who had witnessed such legends first-hand. In light of this, I’ve gone for what most ‘weathered’ Newmarket Road Enders would call a modern-day icon. Dave Kitson was my favorite player of the failing ‘Noughties’ Cambridge; the tall, brooding and often clumsy sharpshooter scored more goals than I’ve had hot-dinners. A particular highlight of watching Kitson was an audacious over-head kick against Bristol Rovers that rattled the crossbar; I’d never seen anyone amongst our ranks attempt such a daring move, possibly through lack of skill.

A mention, however, to a goalkeeper who was voted the second biggest club cult-icon in a Football Focus poll; Lionel Perez. There was something exciting about Perez; he brought an exotic style to the Abbey, he was our Heurelho Gomes; a goalkeeper who could go from the sublime to the obscene in a record-breaking time. In his final ever game for the U’s he was afforded the luxury of taking a penalty, which was subsequently saved.

Favourite Game?

The ball squirmed loose of the keeper’s grip, like a bar of soap desperate to escape the clutches of his gloves. For what seemed like an eternity, it wandered around the six-yard box, advertising itself to anyone who wanted it. And there was Rendell. It’s far too often I wonder how strikers just pop up in the right place at the right time but this was not one of them; as Rendell flung a toe at the ball to poke it into the Stevenage net, the Abbey just erupted. Comeback complete, Wembley in sight, dreams kept alive. It seemed at last I, and the other 2,000 or so loyal United fans, were being rewarded for years of toil. The disappointment of the final was a reality that’d have to wait, as for then, there was a pitch to invade. Cambridge’s 3-0 extra-time defeat of Stevenage in (deep breath) 2009’s Blue Square Premier Play-Off Semi Final Second Leg is a straightforward personal choice for favourite ever game. 3-1 down after the first leg, it would have been easy to have given up hope of a second consecutive Wembley trip, but uncharacteristically, Cambridge fought back to dump our local rivals in extra-time.

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Bottom of the league Cambridge beating top of the league Brentford 2-1 in the dying seconds of a freezing Boxing Day wasn’t bad either- and as a fellow supporter pointed out to me on Twitter the other day, it was just about all the winning goal-scorer, Daniel Chillingworth, ever did for the club.

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Favourite Strip?

Finally, a category where I can, without guilt, pick something before my time. It’s a close-knit affair between the ’91-’93 and ’96-’98 kits. The latter probably getting the nod for the pure chequeredness.

Worst Thing About Being A Cambridge Fan?

Play-offs. Although Cambridge were successful in reaching the Blue Square Premier Play-off Final twice in two years (in ’08 and ’09) the U’s lost twice. Not only have I had to suffer through the agony of 1-0 and 2-0 defeats to Exeter and Torquay respectively, I’ve also had to put up with the torment of seeing said teams reach new heights in the Football League. Added to this, the teams the U’s beat en route to the Finals of those years have also flourished, following promotions of their own, with Burton and Stevenage both climbing the ladder of English football. Watching Stevenage beat Torquay to a place in next season’s Npower League 1 on the TV, I’d almost expected Jim Bowen to flash onto the screen and say, “Let’s have a look at what you could of won.”

And it’s not even recent Play-off anguish that’s crippled Cambridge fans. Failure to cut the mustard in the 1992 Division 2 Play-offs against Leicester meant United narrowly missed out on a place in the inaugural Premier League. Where Cambridge would be now, having profited from the Murdoch millions of the day, is something that churns my stomach every time I consider it.

Funniest Moment?

After years and years of getting thumped left, right and centre, it was nice to see our neighbours and fierce rivals Peterborough lose near-enough every week in the 2009/10 season. Just a shame they were promoted back to the Championship this season (they clearly know how to ruin our fun).

Watching club-captain Paul Carden thump the ball at Crawley boss Steve Evans long after the final whistle in a recent match was a moment not to forget either, Evans had been a loud-mouthed nuisance on the touchline throughout the game and has never really endeared himself to the Cambridge faithful or, come to think of it, anyone in the sport.

Favourite Moment?

A rather insignificant League 2 match against Wycombe in March of 2005. The game was irrelevant; it was more about the off-the-pitch gestures Cambridge received from fellow clubs. It was the ‘save our club’ match that Plymouth fans have come to know all to well, with Cambridge asking anyone and everyone to dig into their pockets and help the U’s escape liquidation. Fans from all over the country paraded the pitch, with hundreds of fans from all over the country, notably from as far off as Sunderland, Newcastle and Scotland. United actually won on the day as well, 2-1, thanks to goals from Tes Bramble and Iwan Roberts- a result to round off the ‘perfect day’ for the club.

Cambridge eventually came out of administration in July of 2005, no thanks to the eleventh hour intervention from Sports Minister Richard Carbon of whom many a Cambridge fan is (or should be) eternally grateful.

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