CAMBRIDGE UNITED POTTED HISTORY
Although a Club known as Cambridge United were formed in the City in 1909, their playing days were brought to an end by the First World War, and they were not reformed after the 1918 armistice. This 'early' Cambridge United had no connection with the present Club, which was founded in 1912 as Abbey United. The Club turned professional in 1949 and, in 1951, changed its name to Cambridge United.
After spells in the Cambs. F.A., United Counties League, Eastern Counties League and the Southern League, the Club was elected to the Football League in 1970, taking the place of Bradford Park Avenue.
By the 1978/79 season, the U's were playing their football in the 'old' League Division Two, where they remained until the end of 1983/84. A lean spell saw the Club briefly return to Division Four, but they didn't have long to wait for further success. In 1989/90, Cambridge United shocked English football by reaching the last eight of the F.A. Cup before being narrowly defeated by eventual finalists, Crystal Palace. No Club from the League's basement Division has ever progressed further in the modern day F.A. Cup.
Dion Dublin (left) in 1989
Success was not just limited to the Cup. Just one month later, Cambridge United created more footballing history by stepping out on the hallowed Wembley turf in the first League Promotion Play-off final to be played in the shadow of the twin towers. A Dion Dublin goal was enough to claim victory against Chesterfield and confirm the Club's promotion to Division Three.
Season 1990/91 saw The U's continue to make history when, for the second successive year, the Club reached the last eight of the F.A. Cup despatching three top Second Division Clubs, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday, en route. The tremendous run was only brought to an end when they lost 2-1 to the eventual League Champions, Arsenal at Highbury, in front of 43,000 supporters - Arsenal's highest attendance of the season.
Despite the hectic F.A. Cup schedule, Cambridge United achieved a Club record of seventeen consecutive games without a defeat, including a phenomenal run of eleven consecutive wins. By March 16th 1991, despite having played five fewer games that other Clubs in the Third Division, The U's were lying in sixth place in the table. In the run in to the end of the season, the fixture backlog caused by the success in the Cup, forced us to play 18 games in 57 days, ten of which were played in April.
On Saturday, May 11th, the final day of a gruelling season, Cambridge United beat Swansea City 2-0 to clinch the Third Division Championship, just pipping Southend United who had topped the table for most of the season. It was a remarkable achievement, considering that the players had to play a game almost every three days for eight weeks.
In the 1991/92 season, in the Second Division, The U's reached the Play-offs, but were beaten by Leicester City who ended the possibility of Cambridge United becoming the first team to be promoted from the Fourth to the First Division in consecutive seasons. Despite the disappointment of missing out on promotion, it was another remarkable season in the Club's history, as they never fell below seventh place in the table, and even topped the League for several weeks in the latter part of 1991.
August 1992 saw the departure of our strike force. Dion Dublin was sold to Manchester United for a then Club record fee of £1,000,000 and Steve Claridge left for Luton Town. The crippling injury list didn't help as we struggled from the start of the season. John Beck, the manager whose controversial approach had guided us from the Fourth Division, was sacked in October 1992, with Gary Johnson taking temporary charge.
Ian Atkins was appointed in December 1992, but he failed to help the Club avoid the drop into the Second Division. A controversial appointment at the time, Atkins was sacked at the end of a traumatic season and the fans' choice; Gary Johnson was appointed Manager. In his first season in charge, a late run almost saw the Club reach the play-offs as Johnson introduced his own style of play and his own players.
The end of season flourish saw the records tumble as the U's chalked up a remarkable series of away wins including a 5-0 victory at Exeter, with Steve Butler netting all five, and a 7-2 drubbing of Cardiff at Ninian Park.
This was to prove a false dawn for the Club, however, as a crippling injury list helped to ensure that the following season never really got off the ground. Although Tommy Taylor replaced Johnson in April 1995, United could finish no better than 5th from bottom. Unfortunately, this coincided with a readjustment in the size of the divisions, so the U's found themselves back in the League basement.
Season 1995/96 was a forgettable one as, after rising to third place in early October, the season collapsed as United went 11 matches without a win, but 1996/97 started with far more promise. United were sitting in 2nd place at the start of November, but a contract disagreement saw Tommy Taylor depart to Leyton Orient. Former English international defender and Derby manager Roy McFarland (right) was appointed his successor, but was unable to maintain the momentum in difficult circumstances.
However, season 1998/99 was a truly memorable one for United. Impressive away form saw them in and around the play-off zone all season, whilst the Worthington Cup cast them in the role of giant-killers.
After knocking out First Division Watford over two legs, the U's were drawn against Premiership Sheffield Wednesday. A Trevor Benjamin goal saw United take a deserved victory at Hillsborough and, thanks to a 1-1 draw at the Abbey, United progressed to the third round and a tie at Nottingham Forest.
3-0 down just after the half-time interval, another upset looked well out of reach, but goals from Trevor Benjamin, Alex Russell and a John Taylor penalty, in the space of 20 minutes, saw the U's force extra time. With no further scoring in the match, the tie was eventually decided on penalties with United finally bowing out 4-3.
In December 1998, to celebrate the centenary of the Football League, the fans voted player/coach John Taylor as 'King of The Abbey' to join the list of local heroes submitted by all Clubs to commemorate the season.
This coincided with Taylor scoring a goal against Darlington that brought him level with Alan Biley as the all-time top goalscorer for Cambridge United. Taylor subsequently broke that record, against Plymouth on December 12th and, against Halifax on April 10th 1999, scored his 75th League goal to take him past Biley's total in this category.
The season ended in double success, with the U's gaining promotion to Division Two and Roy McFarland named Manager of the Year.
However season 1999/2000 was one of struggle as they strove to adapt to life in Division Two. Although they were rarely beaten by more than the odd goal, United slumped to rock bottom in mid-January, with only an FA Cup run, controversially ending in Fifth Round defeat by Bolton Wanderers, a rare bright spot in a difficult season.
The Cup exit saw leading marksman Martin Butler's final game for the Club before being sold to Reading in January (left).
At this stage even the most committed United fan must have had their doubts about survival, but Trevor Benjamin rose to the challenge of leading the line. His form, a return to the side of the veteran John Taylor, and the astute loan signing of goalkeeper Lionel Perez saw United hit promotion form.
The key moment came on April 15th at fellow strugglers Cardiff, when the U's ran out 4-0 winners thanks to a hat trick from The Legend John Taylor. With impeccable timing, Taylor's goals included his 100th for the Club - naturally in front of the travelling supporters! United clinched survival with two games to spare, when they defeated champions Preston 2-0 at The Abbey Stadium.
The summer of 2000 once again saw Cambridge United having to sell a key player, when Trevor Benjamin moved to Leicester City for a Club record fee in the region of £1.5 million. But despite the sale, United started the season in superb form, surging to second in the division. But they struggled to pull out from an autumn slump, and in February Roy McFarland paid the price and was relieved of his first team duties to be replaced by controversial former boss John Beck.
Beck's appointment had an immediate effect, and thanks to a run of 5 wins from 13 games United kept their second division status. A wholesale rebuilding process of the team was undertaken during the summer of 2001, but the despite plenty of promise shown by the new faces, results at the start of the season did not go to plan. A 2-0 home defeat by Wrexham in mid-November was the final straw for a large vocal section of the crowd who called for the manager's head. They got their wish just two days later.
After a six week spell as caretaker boss, Abbey legend John Taylor was appointed to succeed Beck in January 2002 and although he was able to lead the U's to the LDV Vans Final he was unable to reverse the League form and the Club were relegated.
U's fans at the 2002 LDV Vans Trophy Final at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. United lost 4-1 to Blackpool.
The collapse of the Football's League's commercial deals with ITV Digital (TV rights) and NTL (internet rights) plunged many lower division clubs into financial peril. Cambridge United was similarly affected and one of Taylor's major tasks was to trim the wages bill and reduce the size of the squad, which resulted in two seasons of consolidation on a very reduced budget.
In March 2004, three months after leading scorer Dave Kitson was sold to first division Reading and two days after the tenth home League game of the season saw United drop to 20th in the division, John Taylor was relieved of his managerial duties. Vice-chairman Roger Hunt stated that in his opinion the Board of Directors must must share in this responsibility "when we have had to sell our best players at crucial times".
News of Taylor's replacement attracted national and international interest as Claude Le Roy became the most experienced manager ever to take charge of a Cambridge United side. He spent 15 years as a professional footballer in France before starting his managerial career in 1980, since when he has managed Grenoble, Paris Saint Germain, Strasbourg and Shanghai as well as the national sides of Cameroon, Senegal, Emirates and Malaysia.
He took charge of the team on a caretaker basis until the end of the season, combining the role with his job as TV pundit for Canal+ in France, while his assistant Herve Renard moved to Cambridge to coach the team on a full-time basis. The U's went on a run of four wins and three draws in the last eight games of the season, finishing strongly to rise to 13th in the table, and Renard accepted the post of manager at the end of the season while Le Roy agreed to become the club's first Director of Football.
Optimism was high at the start of the 2004-05 season, but unfortunately Renard was unable to reproduce the form of the end of the previous season. In December, after just three league wins and with the club second from bottom after three consecutive defeats, the Frenchman was relieved of his duties with Youth Team Coach Ricky Duncan named Caretaker Manager.
The search for a new manager ended just before the turn of the year with former Lincoln, Southend and Sheffield United boss Steve Thompson named as Renard's successor. Thompson did not officially take up his duties in time for the final League match of 2004, but was in the stands to watch his new side lose 5-3 at home to Yeovil; a result that dropped them to 92nd in the League for the first time in the Club's history.
Thompson had performed rescue acts with Lincoln and Southend in the early-mid 90s before taking Notts County (as assistant manager) and Southend United to divisional play-offs, and the Blades to a FA Cup semi-final in 1998.
However, charged with keeping United in the League Thompson faced the biggest challenge of his career and unfortunately it was to prove fruitless as United's 35 years in the Football League came to an end with relegation to the Conference.
Increasing financial difficulties had already seen the controversial sale-and-leaseback of the ground for £1.9m in November 2004 to director John Howard, and when relegation was confirmed the club entered administration. Thompson was released, along with all bar four of the first team squad, and a summer of cost cutting and fund-raising saw United survive by the skin of their teeth.
The club exited administration on the eve of the new season and caretaker boss Rob Newman - Thompson's former number two - was confirmed as the new manager. He brought in a string of trialists and United kicked off the new season with a new-look side formed mainly from young free transfers and graduates from the youth system.
Throughout the season Newman added a selection of more experienced players and a respectable mid-table finish was achieved as the side finished strongly, and during the summer a board restructure saw former Norwich City striker and now successful businessman Lee Power appointed as Chairman.
The core of the football team was maintained for 2006-07 with some key additions, but hopes of beginning a climb back to the Football League were dashed by just one point from the opening six games and Newman paid the price with his job.
After three games in which then-Chairman Lee Power and former manager Chris Turner took charge of the team, former Northern Ireland international striker Jimmy Quinn was named as the new manager on 15th September 2006. With the highest possible coaching qualifications and previous managerial experience at Reading (leading them to the play-offs for the Premiership), Swindon, Northwich Victoria and Shrewsbury (leading them out of the Conference and back to the Football League), Quinn was selected as the man capable of bringing success back to United and was awarded a two year contract.
The U's flirted with the relegation zone for much of the rest of the 2006-07 season but finished safe in 17th place and Quinn made several key changes to his squad in the summer, the club subsequently enjoying the best start to a season in many years. Never out of the top five all season, United clinched second place on goal difference on the final day of the season behind champions Aldershot, progressed past Burton Albion into the Play-off Final but were beaten 1-0 at Wembley.
At the end of the season the Club agreed a five-year sponsorship deal that saw the Abbey Stadium re-named as the Trade Recruitment Stadium, Quinn and the club parted company on 15th June 2008, with Quinn's reluctance to relocate to the Cambridge area cited as a prime reason. Southport manager Gary Brabin was appointed the new manager on 23rd June and he brought in Paul Carden as his no.2, the midfielder a popular choice following his successful loan spell with United for the second half of the previous season.
Last updated 8th July 2008