Like most people, footballers tend to be practical rather than romantic when it comes to their career choices. Wayne Rooney – “once a blue, always a blue” – left Everton for Manchester United, Frank Lampard’s goals for Manchester City could deny Chelsea the title.
Luke Chadwick is an exception, and for that reason alone he deserved to have his dreams answered when the FA Cup fourth-round draw was made on Monday night.
In the wake of Cambridge United’s third-round win over Luton Town, Chadwick – the only U’s player most fans outside of League Two have ever heard of – was asked if he would like to return to his former team, Manchester United, in the next round. “No,” he replied, “I’d prefer to have them in the Abbey [Stadium].”
Chadwick’s team-mates, who unlike him have not played at the Theatre of Dreams, and the club chairman, who could have banked £750,000-plus in gate receipts from that match alone, would probably have preferred to go to Old Trafford, but it was Chadwick whose dream was answered. The U’s, who are just back in the League this season after eight years in non-League wilderness, and the lowest-ranked surviving team in the hat, landed the biggest draw of all.
Cambridge, who were on the brink of liquidation in 2005, have already earned £200,000-plus in receipts and prize money from their Cup run. With live television coverage a certainty, that figure will be more than doubled by the time Louis van Gaal and his millionaire players pitch up amid the dreaming spires. With Cambridge finally solvent, the cash can be invested back into the club.
Chadwick, now 34, made 25 appearances for United and won a Premier League winners’ medal in 2000-01. A youth-team graduate in the wave that followed David Beckham, Paul Scholes and the Nevilles, he was never quite strong or consistent enough to establish himself and he slowly drifted down the leagues, never settling anywhere until he reached MK Dons in League One.
At 33, with more than a year to run on his contract, he decided to fulfil a lifetime ambition and play for his hometown club, then still in the Conference.
“It is a unique situation,” said director of football Jez George at the time. “The transfer was instigated by Luke and his desire to play for Cambridge.
“Luke sat in front of me and said: ‘I want to play for Cambridge United. I don’t want to be paid more than anyone else. I don’t want to be a burden on the club. I just want to help the club get promoted.’ I had to pinch myself.”
Chadwick helped the U’s return to the league via the Conference play-offs in May and will be passing on his experience to Richard Money’s team ahead of the tie against United. Money himself said: “It’s the game you dream about. You never really think it’s going to happen, and when it’s pulled out, it’s just surreal. It’s a strange feeling.”
The only other time the teams met was in the League Cup in 1991 when Cambridge were experiencing a heady two-season spell in the second tier under John Beck.
In a two-legged second-round tie United won 4-1 on aggregate but were held at the Abbey Stadium with U’s scorer Dion Dublin securing a £1m move to Old Trafford 10 months later.Reuse content