This article first appeared in UTAS Issue 1 which is now sold out, but you might find a copy on eBay for twenty quid if you’re lucky.
Football is littered with One-Club Men, from Ryan Giggs & Francesco Totti
to Matt Le Tissier & Ledley King as well as countless others who’ve
dedicated their careers to the clubs they grew up supporting.
To play for the club you love is every footballers dream, but what if things
don’t work out like that? For every Maldini there’s a player let go as a youth
that goes on to have a stellar career elsewhere.
It’s unusual for a player to return to their hometown club as a seasoned pro- let alone a player dropping two divisions, and out of the league completely to fulfil a boyhood fantasy before retirement. It is for this reason our very own Luke Chadwick will go down as a bona-fide Cambridge legend, despite only making forty appearances in the black and amber shirt.
“Coming here, all those years watching them, seeing that Newmarket Road End, so to score there [against Southport] was special. I’ve never felt like that on the field before. It felt so surreal. It felt more emotional than anything I did at [Manchester] United”
Chadwick started his career in United’s youth team, but was let go before he was a teenager. A season with Arsenal youth attracted the attention of Manchester United when he was 13. Breaking through at Man Utd was difficult, but after some time on loan in Belgium Chadwick made it to the first team alongside the likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes and Dwight Yorke. Over the next four seasons Chadwick would make 25 Premier League appearances, and almost forty overall, playing in the Champions League Quarter-Finals and picking up a Premiership winners medal along the way.
After leaving Man United, Luke played for West Ham, Stoke and Norwich in the Championship before ending up at MK Dons where he stayed for five and a half seasons.
During the 2013-14 season Luke realised his career was coming to an end, and despite playing in some of the greatest football stadia in the country, there was still one ‘theater of dreams’ that had eluded him: The Abbey Stadium.
After Christmas 2013 Luke spoke to Karl Robinson, his boss at MK Dons and asked if he could go on loan to Cambridge, explaining his dream to play for the Mighty U’s before retirement. Luke then went to meet United Director of Football Jez George who was somewhat gobsmacked that a player of Chadwick’s calibre wanted to drop down to a team in the Conference. A deal was struck and Chadwick donned the number 22 shirt for his first game for United, a 2-1 win at the Abbey against Welling United.
A few weeks later, Luke scored his first goal, in a 3-1 win against Southport, before adding a second the next week away at Woking.
The end of the season saw United make the playoff final (eternal thanks, Delano), Gateshead the opponent for a place in the Football League. After 65 minutes Chadwick came on for Luke Berry, fulfilling a childhood dream to play for his team at Wembley. Six minutes later, Ryan Donaldson fired in a free kick to put us 2-0 ahead and send the fans into raptures.
My abiding memory of Luke during this game was the moment the free kick went in, the entire team ran to the touchline to celebrate with Donaldson. Not Luke, he ran in the opposite direction, fists clenched, around the back of the goal and in front of the fans. Nine years of hurt, of Conference football, of nearly being relegated, of nearly going out of business, of two playoff final defeats- this was all history now, and we, and him knew it. Despite a nervy finish to the game and what felt like forty-five minutes of injury time (I think it was nine) we held on and Chadwick had accomplished his mission. United were back in the Football League.
The next season saw Luke make a further twenty-odd appearances as United consolidated their place in the ninety-two, his fitness was suffering but he was still able to exert a calming influence on games. His contract wasn’t renewed at the end of the season and retirement beckoned, having a career that had taken in Premier League victory, Champions League appearances and, most importantly – a Skrill Premier Playoff Medal.
Forty appearances – that was all it took for Luke Chadwick to become a Cambridge United legend.