Result: Cambridge United 2-1 Crawley Town (EFL League 2)
Venue: Abbey Stadium (Saturday 2nd November 2019, 3pm)
For the first time this season, I would finally be adding to my total of the EFL’s ’92’ with a trip down to one of the ground’s I’d most wanted to get to for quite some time – never mind the city itself being a place I’d always fancied paying a visit. Thankfully, the previous week’s issues with flooding and overall rainfall had subsided somewhat, and this meant my trip down to Cambridge was pretty smooth sailing. Catching the train from Manchester to London, I listened to those far more rugby-inclined than I, reacting to England’s seemingly dismal final performance against the South African Springboks, before arriving into the capital at around 11am and walking through the drizzle to King’s Cross. From here, a train through to Cambridge was direct, and though high winds seemed to be a factor elsewhere, these hadn’t quite reached their peak in this part of the country. Thank God!
I arrived into Cambridge just before 12.30pm and, as anyone who has been this way will know, the station is annoyingly placed within touching distance of the city centre, but also outside of comfortable distance. Missing the bus from outside made my mind up to save a little money for the time being (more on that later) and so I embarked on the half-hour-or-so walk through the initial parts of Cambridge, bypassing the Wetherspoons offering for the time being (I intended, though never got round to returning) prior to making my way towards the maze of thin streets weaving their way through numerous churches and sprawling colleges of the universities. Eventually, I arrived in the historic centre, and was immediately faced with a pair of pubs named the Eagle and the Bath House – a few doors separated from each other. The rather uninspiring Brewdog stood opposite, somewhat juxtaposed against its surroundings.
The Bath House would be my first stop of the day and it was here that I’d come across my first experience of Cambridge’s rather strange monotony of available beers (it seemed, anyway), especially when it came to Amstel; not that I was complaining in that regard. Quite honestly, this made it easier to make up some time around the city’s drinking holes, as no less than my first four pints would all be the Dutch lager that does have a bit of a hold on me from their advertising of the Champions’ League growing up! Thinking about it, perhaps I should have seen these drinking habits coming all along….
First Amstel done (£4.30), I continued the said few doors down to the Eagle which is, apparently, the oldest pub still standing in the city. Also, rather fittingly considering the time of year, it is complete with an ‘RAF bar’ which, despite its name, is more of as USAAF bar, with graffiti from many a thirsty airman decorating its ceiling – and it really is superb to see this kept in situ, whilst being added to over the years by other visitors continuing the brave legacies of these fine aviators from many a-country (and ground crew, I suppose). Anyhow, surrounded by loads of stickers bearing the logo of numerous squadrons, I again polished off an Amstel (£4.75) before continuing away from the ground towards the river. However, there would be another stop before I got there!
I had a choice of two watering holes, in fact, with both the Mitre and interestingly named Baron of Beef. However, the more historic pub won out and the Mitre it was and, lo and behold, an Amstel (£4.60) was again the drink of choice in this rather popular pub, before I headed over the River Cam itself, via a bridge no less(!) and to the much-lauded Pickerel. This was another of the older, traditional pubs which I’d been seeking out on this trip and, after watching out for a rather small doorway near the bar area on a couple of occasions that I assume has seen a few inebriated heads meet it’s beams over the years, a final Amstel – for the moment at least – was had (£4.70), prior to me finally making my way back towards the Abbey Stadium.
Cambridge is a university city within (unsurprisingly) Cambridgeshire, of which it is the county town, and is a non-metropolitan borough. Evidence of settlements dating back to prehistoric times have been uncovered around the area, whilst an Iron Age settlement was discovered upon Castle Hill, dating back to the possible arrival of the cultural differences brought in by the Belgae peoples around the 1st century BC. A small, Roman-era fort named Duroliponte also stands on Castle Hill and is located nearer to the original village populated by the early British people, whilst further Roman farmsteads and the like have been discovered around the wider area. The withdrawal of the Romans in 410 AD saw the site likely become Cair Grauthe, one of the Britons’ 28 cities, and the Anglo-Saxons would see its importance later in the century, also seeing value in populating it. Their settlement, in and around the same Castle Hill area, would become known as Grantbryscge (Granta-bridge) and, by the Middle Ages, it, alongside the larger surrounding area, was known as Cambridge.
It became a fairly important place for trade links to hard-to-travel fenlands, though did fall into disrepair – according to an account by Bede – who noted it was a “little ruined city”, that contained the burial place of Etheldreda. It stood upon the borders of the old kingdoms of East and Middle Anglia respectively, and grew up on both sides of the river after which it derives its name. The arrival of the Vikings in the 800’s AD also saw Danelaw applied and they grew the city up around their trading links, which the Saxons prospered from, following their reclamation of Cambridge following the Danes’ departure. Two years after his conquest, William The Conqueror built the namechecked castle upon the hill and thus Cambridge fell under the rule of the Normans. The 1100’s saw Cambridge gifted its first town charter by Henry I, recognising the town’s monopoly of waterborne traffic and hithe tolls, whilst also recognising the borough court there. Indeed, the city’s Round Church dates from this period, the University being founded in 1209, by students escaping hostile Oxfordian locals!
After almost having its population wiped from the map during the 1349 Black Death, a suggestion was made that two parishes should merge together due to a lack of parishioners and further colleges were founded to train clergy. A revised town charter was given to the town to show its loss of privileges due to Cambridge’s participation in the Peasant’s Revolt, though these were then gifted to the university anyway, so didn’t move all that far! The city’s famed King’s College Chapel began being built in 1446 and its construction lasted almost 70 years, overseen by numerous monarchs through the years of the Wars of the Roses and being completed during the reign of the Lancastrian Tudor king, Henry VIII. The area went on to be a wartime stronghold, becoming an Eastern Counties Association HQ for the East Anglian army, which would go on to become a mainstay for the Parliamentarian forces, prior to the formation of the New Model Army. Control of Cambridge was given to Parliament by Oliver Cromwell (who’d been educated there), though despite coming close, the Royalists never tested the town’s defences.
In more modern times, Cambridge expanded rapidly due to improvements in agriculture and supplies to the markets it held, whilst Inclosure acts saw its boundaries increased to take in more land to expand onto, whilst the arrival of the Great Eastern Railway only increased this, the link to the capital meaning building industries also grew in the town. During World War II, Cambridge was an important part of the Eastern defences of Great Britain, and became a military centre and RAF training camp. Indeed the town’s largely escaping of bombing raids allowed for a secret meeting of the Allied military leaders, in which the foundations of the 1944 invasion of Europe would be laid. It was granted a city charter in 1951 on account of its historical and administrative importance, though does not have the historic requirement of a cathedral – though isn’t exactly short of steeples. It maintains strong rail, bus and road links, whilst also being host to its own airport – not far from the Abbey Stadium. Indeed, the Cambridge Rules that played a part in the influence of ‘association football’ rules came about on the grassy fields of Parker’s Piece’ – both being played there first (apparently). It was also used for first-class cricket during the 1800’s, though Cambridgeshire is now a minor counties side, whilst the university team does compete in regular pre-season games against the major sides.
Of course, Cambridge has been home to many a famed name, the likes of the late Richard Attenborough, Grease actress Olivia Newton-John, St. Trinian’s creator Ronald Searle, and singers Charli XCX and Muse frontman Matt Bellamy – amongst a sizeable list of people I’m not schooled enough to recognise! Sporting-wise, footballers Luke Chadwick and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, Touring Car driver Tom Blomqvist, Tommy Pryce, winner of the first post-war Speedway World Cup, Paralympic sprint star Jonnie Peacock, Winter Olympic Gold Medallist Amy Williams and cricketing great Jack Hobbs all have hailed from the city. Of course, many great minds have schooled in Cambridge too, such as Stephen Hawking, Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, Alan Turing, Sir Francis Bacon and DNA biologists Crick and Watson. Also, literati figures Christopher Marlowe, Shakespeare collaborator John Fletcher, Lord Byron and Samuel Pepys all studies there, as well as actors/presenters like Stephen Fry, Ian McKellen, Sacha Baron-Cohen and David Attenborough, and numerous royals, politicians and historical figures – including the (largely recognised) first British PM, Robert Walpole and signees of the US Declaration of Independence.
Passing through the Christ’s Pieces green area of the city, I came upon a few pubs nestled out of way all close around each other. Unfortunately, with time at a premium, I had to choose just one and the Free Press, on account of its overall rather strange history (having produced one paper for , came out on top – although both the Cricketers and Elm Tree looked fine options too and will be on the list come another visit at some point in the future, all being well. What the Free Press did do – apart from another having an apparent ban on phones – was to allow me to escape from this Amstel purgatory I’d found myself in, though Beck’s (£4.90) wasn’t quite as far removed as some might have been! Anyhow, I polished this off and gave myself good time to get to the bus stop to catch the bus along Newmarket Road and to the ground itself in time for the remembrance ceremonies that the U’s had planned out. Well, we’ll see how well that went right now….!
I made my way back to Christ’s Pieces and after spending around a minute at the stop, I felt something wasn’t quite right. As is the norm with me – IT WASN’T THE RIGHT ONE!!! “Ok, no panic, the other stop is just there, around the corner”, I thought to myself, “I have time to get there”. I was correct too, though the problem was I was five seconds too late and I turned the corner just as the bus was pulling out and heading off into the distance. Cue profanities emanating from my lips, but I soon came to peace that I had a mission ahead of me. A mile in twenty-five minutes, plus needing a ticket and all that comes with these pages…let’s do this!
I arrived at the Abbey’s gates as the minute’s silence was ongoing and had a ticket in hand from the office outside, as the Last Post sounded out over the sullen ground as it has done around the country and battlefields many a-time before. The usual kick-off roar came around soon enough to break the silence and the game was on. Luckily, everyone was already in the ground pretty much by this time, and so I could head straight in with no issue, my decently priced £18 ticket gaining me entry and it was soon joined by a programme (£3) from one of the sellers alongside the terrace behind the goal, where I’d opted to settle for.
The ground itself was well-attended, the grand, traditional-looking main stand adds the character that is much needed in many new builds all over the country. That’s not to say the newer areas of the Abbey aren’t decent too, and its newer bits, as with Tamworth’s Lamb Ground the previous week, certainly add nicely to the ground’s overall image. An all-seater stand is located behind the far goal and today housed the band of travelling Crawley fans, whilst an older covered terrace runs the length of the other side of the pitch to the all-seater Main Stand. The terrace I was in is a more-modern construction compared to its neighbours, but the old floodlights which tower over all may just trump the stands themselves…lovely stuff – a real throwback that is sadly becoming more and more threadbare as the years pass. Such is progress, I suppose. Anyhow, with the game in progress, here’s the story of the U’s of Cambridge….
The current club was founded in 1912 as Abbey United, derived from the district of Cambridge in which the club is located. There had been a short-lived Cambridge United (from 1909) side prior to the current club’s forming, with Abbey taking on the mantle in 1951. Before that, however, Abbey began life in local amateur leagues and took up residence at numerous grounds during their more formative years, prior to settling in at the Abbey Stadium in 1932. After the end of WWII, Abbey joined the United Counties League and turned professional in 1949 and upon their re-naming to Cambridge United, they joined the Eastern Counties Football League and remained there through to 1958, when a runners-up placing saw them promoted to the Southern League’s South Eastern zone. After a further three seasons there, they then secured promotion to the Premier Division as runners-up and remained there through to their Football League election in 1970, winning the league title in both of their last two seasons there, whilst also lifting the 1969 Southern League Cup to secure a double, alongside their first title success.
Replacing Bradford (Park Avenue) in the league ranks, Cambridge took a spot in Division 4 and quickly justified this by being promoted in 1973 – although they would be relegated back after just the sole campaign in Division 3. However, they soon rose up again as, under Ron Atkinson (and John Docherty completing the job), the U’s won successive promotions to reach the Second Division for 1978, but unfortunately for Cambridge, things would take a turn for the worse a few years later. After being relegated in 1984 and setting a record for most successive league games without a win (which wasn’t surpassed until Derby County’s ill-fated 2008 Premier League sojourn) in the process, the next year saw the U’s drop back in the Fourth Division, a season which saw them setting another unwanted record in the process; this time equalling the then record for most defeats in a league season, and then had to apply for re-election after a third consecutive poor season – finances also taking an understandable hit.
The 1990’s saw a change for the better once more for the U’s, as promotion from Division 4 was secured in their first professional appearance at Wembley Stadium, via a play-off final triumph over Chesterfield, Dion Dublin netting the only goal of the game to see Cambridge get promoted for the first time in a dozen years. That year, and the one following, both saw United make fine cup runs to the FA Cup’s quarter-final stage, whilst the latter campaign also saw them achieve promotion to Division 2 once again, this time as Third Division champions. They then continued their strong run with a 5th placed finish, although defeat in the play-offs would mean Cambridge missed out on being a founding member of the Premier League. That 5th placed finish technically remains the U’s best to date, although they did spend a year in the newly-designated First Division, this seeing United’s form desert them as they were relegated to Division 2, now the third-tier, despite a run to the Football League Cup quarter-finals.
Two seasons later, Cambridge found themselves dropping into the Third Division ranks once again, and although they would return to the Second Division in 1998 as runners-up, they would again suffer the dreaded drop in 2002 – despite a run to the Football League Trophy Final at the Millennium Stadium, which ended in a convincing 4-1 reverse at the hands of Blackpool. If this wasn’t bad enough, 2005 saw disaster at the Abbey, with Cambridge relegated from the League for the first time since their admission 35 years earlier. Now in the Football Conference, the Amber-clad side would have to fight off administration and a threat of the drop in 2007, before finishing up 2nd in 2008 and making it to the play-off final at Wembley where, after seeing off Burton Albion in the semis, the club would miss out on a relatively quick return to League football, losing 1-0 under the arch to Exeter City. They then repeated this unfortunate trick the next year, another runners-up spot and semi victory – this time over Stevenage Borough – led them to Wembley Way once more, but again they would come unstuck, at the hands of Torquay United, on this occasion.
A bit of upheaval both on and off the field led to Cambridge again flirting with the drop zone in 2011, but things soon settled with the U’s again making the play-offs as Conference runners-up in 2014, but this time they would be successful in their quest to return to the Football League – defeating FC Halifax Town and Gateshead respectively in the process – a case of third time lucky for Cambridge! Ending their nine-year absence, they soon celebrated this fact even further upon their Wembley return, seeing off Gosport Borough 4-0 to lift that year’s FA Trophy. Their return to FA Cup action as a League club saw Cambridge force Manchester United into a replay after a goalless draw at the Abbey, although the U’s would eventually succumb 3-0 at Old Trafford, whilst Cambridge have since largely cemented themselves as a rather solid mid-table outfit, finishing 9th in 2016, although they did have to fight off the threat of relegation to the National League last season, finishing up 21st come the season’s end.
The game got underway as I entered the Abbey Stadium’s turnstiles, though there was very little true action early in proceedings. Most of the danger came via Crawley’s outlet on the wing, Panutche Camara. His pace threatened the Cambridge defence on a few occasions, with him setting up Nathan Ferguson to fire wide, shortly after Bez Lubala had also missed the target for the Red Devils. Cambridge would respond with Marc Richards’ shot evading the upright on its way the wrong side of the woodwork from a U’s persuasion, before Crawley forced the first save of note in the game out of United stopper Dimitar Mitov, Reece Grego-Cox’s low effort being kept out in fairly routine fashion.
Mitov was also tested by Ashley Nathaniel-George shortly afterwards, before the game again settled into something of a bitty contest, with neither side overly troubling the other. I missed little during my trip to the food truck behind the stand for some chips and curry (£2.50), before I returned in time to see Camara go close this time, his drive flying over the bar. That would be largely that in terms of first-half action, and I was already in some fear that my 0-0-less run was in danger of ending. The break was taken up by a pair of former United players embarking on a kind of lap of honour, before the present day players entered the field once again for the second period.
As in the first half, it was the visitors who came out of the blocks the stronger, with the direct play of Grego-Cox and Camara proving fruitful once again. The former cleared the cross-bar from the edge of the area moments after the whistle, whilst a Tom Dallison header from a set-piece was denied by Mitov between the Cambridge sticks. Speaking of the sticks, it would actually be Cambridge who would go the closest to breaking the deadlock in the 70th minute – Sam Smith meeting a low ball in and directing the ball goalwards – only for the ball to be deflected onto the woodwork. A close call and, for me, some hope that a goal was on its way!
George Maris then really should have done better when released by a fine back-heeled ball into his path, but he wastefully drove a shot straight at Crawley ‘keeper Glenn Morris in what was his first real test of the game, and after Grego-Cox had again gone close down the other end, the game suddenly burst into life in the final ten minutes, pretty much out of the blue (or red, I suppose). A ball into Lubala allowed him to advance into the box, whereupon he smashed the ball beyond Mitov at his near post, to send the Crawley fans behind the goal into raptures. The home fans didn’t have to suffer being behind for all that long though – just the three minutes in fact, as the previously unfortunate Smith was gifted a second chance by Elliot Ward’s fine ball across to him. Smith showed a good touch to make space for the shot, which fizzed along the ground and just beyond the outstretched hand of Morris on its way into the far corner.
1-1 from out of nowhere and, if that wasn’t crazy enough, what would prove to be the winner was quite fitting for the overall game as a whole, when it came to the attacking third. Cambridge cleared long from a Crawley corner, with the ball ending up half-way between the box and the touchline out on the left-side. Morris rushed out to meet it, but arrived at the same time as the gambling Paul Lewis, and his persistence was awarded when the attempted clearance cannoned off him and flew agonisingly (at both ends of the spectrum) into the unguarded net – nestling centimetres inside the post. 2-1 to the hosts and Crawley’s players, officials and supporters could be afforded their shock.
The U’s safely saw out the remainder of the match to secure the points that, to be honest, no-one really deserved on the day. Anyway, post-match, I swiftly made my exit and headed back city-wards, though found the nearest pub to the ground that I saw, the Wrestlers, between opening times and going about re-opening as I got there. I didn’t have time to spare and so continued on back towards the city itself and to the Corner House instead, a place I’d planned on getting in anyway, as I had no idea the Wrestlers existed before I’d actually seen it with my own eyes. The Corner House was a decent little boozer too and got me back on the Amstel path (£4.20), before I headed off station-wards, but not before paying a visit to an old centre of Cambridge’s transportation past. This was the Tram Depot, so named because it used to be the depot for Cambridge’s old tram network, back in t’day. I know, shocking that isn’t it?!
Aaaaanyway, after finally gaining entry, I popped over to the bar for a Peroni (£5.10) before returning back to the station for the train back into the capital which, delays notwithstanding, would deliver me back into London nicely in time for my train back up North. Indeed, this went like clockwork and after walking between the two termini, I boarded the Virgin service to Manchester a few minutes before its departure, the journey passing nice and quickly thanks to a bit of nodding off on the way. However, the toileting facilities weren’t exactly working like clockwork, with two or three being completely out of order and the one I found open, I soon discovered, had its flush operator broken. Fantastic scenes that obviously forced me into a drink in the Piccadilly Tap upon arrival in Manchester, before I caught the bus back home, an hour’s wait one I couldn’t be arsed with.
So ends off the day and finally my 64th ground of the ’92’ is done. Cambridge didn’t disappoint – it is a bloody lovely place – and the ground, too, was characterful, especially under the lights. The pubs were great, the Amstel dominance helping me in gaining back lost time through the day and the programme and food on offer back at the Abbey were of good quality too. Transport was easy and allowed me to practice out other trips I’d have to do at some point, as I’d never been to Cambridgeshire (as far as I know) before and so was stepping on new ground, as it were. Anyway, I’m rambling and it’s back on the FA Cup trail next week as I search for a cupset. A solid Wall of all would be useful to secure or deny this….
Value For Money: 7