Football: Strange Abbey habits - Fans' Eye View / No. 2 Cambridge United

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The author is editor of 'The Abbey Rabbit', the Cambridge fanzine

IN A quiet corner of Cambridge where the only students are lost students, lies the compact Abbey Stadium. Most people agree that a new ground is required, preferably one with a car park, but in the city of the tow-away scheme this looks about as likely as a compliment on The U's style of play from a national newspaper.

I'm sure I don't need to remind you that Cambridge United's Abbey Stadium is the latest home of 'The Long-Ball Game'. I'm also sure that you'll not need telling that this tactic has not won critical acclaim from all quarters of the football world. Cambridge United are now treated as 'The Barbarians at the Gates of Civilisation'. Even some of our players have walked out rather than play for us this season - though whether this would have happened if we had won promotion last season is, of course, open to question.

However, for Cambridge United fans, there is the small matter of consecutive promotions from the Fourth Division to the verge of the Premier League and reaching the quarter-finals of the FA Cup in those promotion seasons

Do we care that we are now the pariahs of football? Do we hell] There are still enough of us who remember our glorious slide from the Second to the Fourth, our feet barely touching the ground during the nightmare years of John Ryan and Ken Shellito, who managed eight wins between them in two seasons. Those were the days when we could afford to travel to away matches by train while the lads set the record for the most consecutive away matches without a win (31, I think).

To try to break the sequence we tried all kinds of superstitions. There was 'Spotting the Lucky Seagull' (if it decorated the train window it was even luckier) and then there was 'Oakham Station'. Returning from one particularly pathetic performance in the North, we decided, as the train pulled into Oakham station, that if we got off the train, ran along the platform to the front, got back on, ran back to our seats and found they weren't taken, we would stay up. We did, they weren't and we didn't.

Having bad times makes you appreciate the good ones even more. Therefore the feeling of 'It's us against the world' amongst United's supporters is easily buried under the weight of recent success. The old Millwall chant 'No one likes us, we don't care' is now sung with real feeling at The Abbey. A siege mentality has set in.

There are other problems following the U's. One is that with Cambridge stuck on the edge of the Fens, and no other clubs for a good 30 miles, there is a distinct lack of local rivalry. However, we do manage to take a dislike to a great many clubs (anyone in East Anglia or whose players have written disparaging comments about us), and Peterboring come in for special attention.

Another is that as relative newcomers to the League, only a small number of players have won a place in the fans' hearts. Alan Biley, David Crown, Tom Finney (the Tom Finney of Luton and Sunderland fame - not the one who played for Preston), Sammy Morgan (who could put a goalkeeper into his own net from anywhere on the pitch), Lindsay Smith (who could do the same to a centre-forward) and Dion Dublin are all remembered with affection.

Ian Benjamin and Robbie Cooke will also be long recalled, but for a very different reason. Prolific goalscorers for other teams, they developed the ploy of getting the ball into the corners of the pitch during their spells with us. Unfortunately, this happened when they were shooting at goal.

John Beck has neither the time nor the players to change the style too much this season, and judging by the first few matches he hasn't got the players to play with any style. Although this will doubtless infuriate the so-called football purists, if it means continued success, you'll not hear many complaints from The Abbey.