By Russell Greaves
Football fans frequently believe the club they support owes them something – a refund for a season ticket they wish they’d never purchased, an apology for a particularly limp display, or just some gratitude for their loyalty.
I can empathise. I have felt the pain of looking at a season ticket and recognising that each of its pages represents another ruined Saturday afternoon, a wasted journey, a precious few hours spent doing something not conducive to the attainment of happiness. But however much time, money and emotional capital I have expended in my two decades supporting Cambridge United, this club does not owe me a thing. In fact, it is largely thanks to the club that I have the privilege of writing this piece from the World Cup in Russia.
It was through United that I was able to take my first tentative steps into sports journalism. Admittedly, my early efforts were about as polished as Danny Webb’s finishing, but the experience was invaluable. At first, I was given the opportunity to write for the old unofficial website, when webmaster Andrea Thrussell invited contributions from forum users. One of my first articles bemoaned the lack of singing from the Habbin. Some things never change.
Over time I was afforded even greater privileges that were, to a lad still in his teenage years, immeasurably exciting. I got to interview the peerless Roy McFarland and the formidable John Beck. Will Jones kindly entrusted me with those responsibilities and I had, in my schoolboy mind, started my career as a sports writer.
The club’s willingness to indulge my passion didn’t stop there. Soon I was writing for the excellent matchday programme, a role that came with a staff pass (a FREE season ticket!). I had definitely made it; paid employment. Through the programme and later the official website came player interviews – I spoke to ‘the next Tony Cottee’ (Jack Jeffery, who in fairness has won only seven fewer England caps than Cottee did); to a goalkeeper keen to model himself on David Seaman (Laurie Walker, who might at least have grown a moustache by now); and to Daryl ‘Dancefloor’ Clare (an interview that produced a 2,244-word piece that was excellent, apart from being at least 2,244 words too long).
All of this stood me in good stead for what was to come in 2011, when the idea to write a book for the club’s centenary year first emerged. With the help of CFU and others at the club, that vision became a reality a little over a year later. Many of the biggest names from the club’s proud past were interviewed in the process of producing that book, people that many Cambridge fans idolised – Dion Dublin, Dave Kitson, Lionel Perez, Trevor Benjamin, Steve Spriggs, Brendon Batson, Paul Wanless. All of them reaffirmed what a great club this is.
Again the U’s were at the centre of a personal and professional high point of my life, with the book arriving at CFU headquarters (Dave Matthew-Jones’ garage) from the printers when I was at the London 2012 Olympics working for the Press Association – those long chats with the likes of Daryl Clare had really enhanced my CV. Since then, even in light of having miraculously forged a career in the industry, I have continued to benefit from an association with Cambridge. The honour of covering both of the FA Cup matches against Manchester United (filing from the packed away end a report for the official website that was written on my iPhone) will prove hard to beat.
Now, as I soak up the experience of plying my trade at a World Cup, I want to say thank you to Cambridge United. You made this possible.
This article was featured in Issue #1 of the UTAS fanzine. Issue #2 is available to pre order here: https://undertheabbeystand.com/shop/
You can still purchase ‘Cambridge United: 100 Years, 50 Memorable Matches’ from anywhere in CB5 that claims to be a half-decent bookshop. Okay, it’s just the club shop, but go get it there, it’s class.