I’m a big fan of Friday evening games. There’s nothing quite like kicking off the weekend with some football. This week a ‘no brainer’ presented itself to me. I’ve been looking at ticking off Cambridge United's Abbey Stadium for a while, and they had a Friday fixture against Lincoln City. I hopped on a train at Tottenham, saw some of the delights of another city I’d never been to before, and got myself into the 30s for league grounds visited.
Competition: League Two
Refreshments: £6 (chicken burger and tea)
Star man: David Amoo
Who are ya, Cambridge United?
The U’s, as they are known, were formed in 1912 as Abbey United. They played in amateur leagues in their early years. In 1949 they turned professional, and the club began to rise through the divisions. They became Cambridge United in 1951 and by the end of the 1950s the U’s had reached the Premier Division of the Southern League.
United were elected into the Football League in 1970. Ron Atkinson was appointed as manager and the club achieved successive promotions to reach the Second Division in 1978. The U’s, however, went into freefall in the 1980s and had to apply for re-election into the Football League in 1986, having finished 22nd in the Fourth Division.
The 1990s saw an upturn in fortunes for Cambridge and the most successful period in their history. They reached the FA Cup Quarter Final twice in successive years in 1990 and 1991. Two quick promotions also saw them back in the second tier. The U’s reached the Second Division play-offs in 1992 but ultimately failed to make it into the inaugural season of the Premier League.
United’s fifth place in the Second Division in 1992 was their highest ever placing and another downturn soon followed. By 2005 the U’s were relegated out of the Football League. United went into administration after relegation into the non-league football, but a deal to keep the club afloat was struck. United spent nine years outside of the Football League, but they eventually returned in 2014.
- In the 1983-84 season Cambridge United went 31 games without a win, a record for the Football League at the time. It has since been eclipsed by Derby County in 2008.
- While in the National League Cambridge reached three Wembley promotion play-off finals. They lost in 2008 and 2009 before eventually winning promotion in 2014.
- The U’s were originally known as Abbey United as there was another Cambridge United in the town. They changed their name after the original club ceased to exist.
United had been in poor form of late. Two 0-0 draws had been followed by successive defeats to Forest Green, Coventry and Yeovil. The U’s were fifteenth in the table and had an 11 point cushion between themselves and the relegation zone, despite their recent form. The previous meeting between the two sides at Sincil Bank had been a 0-0 draw in October.
Lincoln had just earned themselves a trip to Wembley for the final of the Checkatrade Trophy. They were in ninth position in the league. The Imps had drawn three and won one of their league games since they lost to league leaders Luton on New Year’s Day.
The Cambridge United experience
Train: Trains from London go to Cambridge and Cambridge North Stations. Both stations are quite far from the ground. The C3 bus runs from Cambridge Station to the Abbey Stadium.
Car: There is no parking available at the ground, but some may be found on the surrounding streets. Exit the A14 at the fourth exit, turn right onto the A1303 and continue past the airport. You’ll soon be able to see the ground.
My visit to the Abbey Stadium coincided with a considerable reshuffle behind the scenes at the club. Paul Barry, former chairman and long-time investor, had just been announced as the U’s new owner. Jez George, who had served the club as Manager, Head of Youth and Director of Football, had also just stepped down as Chief Executive. A final change came after the final whistle blew as Shaun Derry left his position as Manager by mutual consent. All three featured in the matchday programme.
Boardroom jostling tends to take a back seat on matchday for fans, and it couldn’t have been further from my mind as I hopped on a C3 bus at Cambridge Station. A frustrating mystery tour of the city ensued, complete with helmetless, swerving cyclists, endless traffic lights and students dredging pockets for change to pay the driver. Finally, I arrived at the Abbey Stadium and picked up my ticket.
The Stadium continued the overall mystery tour theme of the evening as I quickly weighed up my two options for entry. Did I take the cramped, confined alley down one side or the green field on the other. I picked the field route. It proved to be the right call. I was soon making my way into the Habbin North Stand. Inside there was a large picnic area equipped with drinks and a productive burger van.
I headed into the stadium and found a spot on the terrace. The Habbin Stand side of the ground is split into two sections. Home fans in the North section and away fans in the South, separated by an old fashioned cage. For this particular fixture Lincoln’s impressive following was also occupying the seated South Stand. The Main Stand was opposite with a terraced end for the U’s most passionate supporters to my left. Abbey Stadium was mostly full and looked great with its mix of new and old, and its traditional floodlights that can be seen from some distance.
As expected with a good crowd the atmosphere was good for the majority of the game. The Lincoln fans in both of their sections made plenty of noise and the home fans in the North Terrace responded in kind with a drum beat to keep them in rhythm. My side of the Habbin Stand was a little quieter, with occasional bursts of incredulity at some of the refereeing decisions.
Stalemate at the Abbey Stadium
The game was perhaps the only let down of the evening. It followed the pattern of several of the League One and Two games I've seen this season where two teams try and play good football but lack a little bit of quality to unlock each other’s defences. Brown and Waters looked lively for United but failed to test Allsop in the Lincoln goal. Anderson had a couple of chances for the visitors and a goal disallowed for offside.
After the break the home side looked to change things a little as Lincoln had begun to take the initiative. After a few mins of settling back into the game Cambridge brought on David Amoo. His direct running down the right flank nearly brought about instant results as his cross created a good chance for Corr. Unfortunately the striker couldn’t finish.
Amoo and Corr were involved again a few minutes later as as Corr’s header was brilliantly saved by Allsop. Corr also had a goal disallowed, by the same linesman as Anderson, as his header was ruled offside. Brown had an opportunity towards the end of the game, but Cambridge were unfortunately unable to convert their second half improvement into a winning goal.
Cambridge ticked many boxes for a Football League visit. The stadium is great and ticket, food and drink prices are very reasonable. The game was a little bit of a let down in the end and Abbey Stadium is a little tricky to get to via public transport. I did manage to walk back to Cambridge Station in 25 minutes, but that involved several bouts of jogging followed by spells of intense coughing in the cold night air. The C3 bus route connects the station and the ground, but on this particular Friday evening it was slowed by traffic, the city’s many cyclists and a few student revellers.