Cambridge Utd v Man Utd: Things you did not know about the U's

By Chris OsborneBBC Sport
Cambridge United montage
Dion Dublin, Luke Chadwick and John Beck make up just part of the Cambridge United cast
FA Cup fourth round: Cambridge United v Manchester United
Venue: Abbey Stadium Date: Friday, 23 January Kick-off: 19:55 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC One, BBC One HD, Radio 5 live, online, mobile, the BBC Sport app and Connected TV

Cambridge United have waited a long time to return to the footballing spotlight.

Promotion from the Conference last season ended nine years of non-league obscurity and, on Friday, the U's host 11-time FA Cup winners Manchester United in the fourth round.

It comes more than 13 years since the sides last met in a two-legged League Cup fixture, which Manchester United won 4-1 on aggregate.

And while the history of the Old Trafford giants is well documented, there are a few facts you may not know about the U's. They involve cows, goats, coconuts and bacon butties.

1. Bizarre tactics almost took U's to top flight

Ice-cold buckets of water before games, letting the grass grow long, moving the away dugout further back and putting extra sugar in the opposition's tea.

They are just some of the quirky tactics reportedly used by former boss John Beck, who took the U's to the brink of playing in the inaugural season of the Premier League (then the FA Premier League).

Between 1990 and 1992 he guided the club from the Fourth Division to what is now the Championship, before losing a play-off semi-final against Leicester City.

Dion Dublin, Steve Claridge, Liam Daish and Alan Kimble all moved on to bigger things after flourishing under Beck.

John Taylor
John Taylor returned to play for Cambridge United between 1997 and 2004

It was a remarkable feat, but Beck's approach received criticism in the media and from other teams. The plan was simple: get the ball into the corner and then get in lots of crosses.

"He kept the grass in the corner long, put a bit of sand in the corners," recalls Cambridge's record goalscorer John "Shaggy" Taylor.

"We had the water thrown over us before the game to wake us up. He knew there was a reason for it.

"Some of the things were a bit quirky. But people couldn't handle the way we played."

2. Away fans mix with cows

Cows and Cambridge United
Beware the cows if you are an away fan at the Abbey

If you are an away fan visiting Cambridge United, you might have to make your way through a bovine gauntlet to get to your seat.

Entrance to the South Stand, which houses away supporters, is through Coldham's Common. Between April and November it is home to dozens of English Longhorn cows.

It is not unusual in Cambridge, where cattle owners can receive permission to graze their livestock on the public commons. The Commons Registration Act of 1965 states that Coldham's Common can hold "geldings, mares and cows to a total of 124 beasts".

"I've run through cows in pre-season," said Taylor. "It was OK as long as they stayed away from me. I was petrified of them. Cows are too big, aren't they?"

Chairman Dave Doggett, a lifelong U's fan, added: "They've always been there. Avoiding the pats and cleaning your boots has become an art form."

3. The pitch used to be cut by goats

You have to go back in time quite a bit for this one. The year is 1940 and Cambridge United are, at this time, known as Abbey United.

Supporter Peter Shipp, who is now 85, takes up the story: "There was a cup game on and I was there an hour-and-a-half before it started.

"We went on the pitch and there were a couple of goats there. One of them stuck his head down and started charging. As far as I was concerned they were there cutting the grass - until we disturbed them."

4. Cambridge goal is Dublin's greatest memory

Cambridge United hold a special place in the heart of former Manchester United and England striker Dion Dublin.

It was where he made his senior debut, where he became the first goalscorer in a Wembley play-off final (a 1-0 win over Chesterfield to win promotion from Division Four in 1990), where he scored 52 goals in 156 league games and where he won back-to-back promotions to the second tier. You can add to that an FA Cup quarter-final as well.

Sir Alex Ferguson paid £1m to take him to Old Trafford in 1992, and although a broken leg limited his influence at Old Trafford, he went on to have success with Coventry, Aston Villa and Norwich, as well as make four England appearances.

"Whenever I come through the gates and see the supporters' club at Cambridge, the memories come flooding back," he said.

"People ask me what's the overriding memory of my career? It's that goal against Chesterfield."

5. Hidden scoreboard bought from Rangers

Cambridge scoreboard
The Rangers scoreboard, gathering rust, is hidden behind an advertising hoarding at the Abbey

Clubs are used to the odd duff signing. But Cambridge United's acquisition of a scoreboard from Rangers in the mid-90s was up there among the duffest.

It replaced a much-loved clock in the corner between the Habbin Stand and Newmarket Road End, and worked for less than two seasons.

It is still there, gathering rust, hidden behind an advertisement hoarding.

"It just suddenly appeared," said Dave Matthew-Jones, chair of the supporters' group Cambridge Fans United. "It didn't work very long."

Taylor's memory of the scoreboard is more succinct: "Pretty much like Rangers at the moment, it doesn't work."

6. I've Got A Lovely Bunch of Coconuts

It's the song every Cambridge fan longs to hear.

If I've Got A Lovely Bunch of Coconutsexternal-link is booming out of the PA system at the Abbey at 4.50pm on a Saturday, you know the U's have picked up three points.

But why is the novelty tune, originally written in 1944, such a cult classic at the U's?

Robin Mansfield, 68, started watching Cambridge when he was eight: "It's quite simple. Our neighbour, Jack Morgan, did the announcements in those days.

"He said: 'I had a pile of records in front of me, and that was the one on the top'.

"There was a break for a season or two when they played Perry Como's Magic Moments."

Cambridge United v Manchester United
Cambridge UnitedManchester United
HonoursDivision Three (1991), Division Four (1977), Division Four play-off winners (1990), Conference play-off winners (2014), FA Trophy (2014), best football food in 1998.Three European Cups, 20 English titles, 11 FA Cups, four League Cups, among others
Turnover 2013-14£1.6m£433m
Ground capacity8,00075,000
Wage billAround £1mAround £200m
Most expensive season ticket£450£900

7. 'There's only one Richard Caborn MP'

Richard Caborn, the former minister for sport, is credited with playing a large part in saving Cambridge United from extinction.

On 24 June 2005 the U's, with a £500,000 tax bill hanging over them, were expected to be out of business by the Monday.

At the final hour, Caborn managed to mediate a deal that kept the club alive.

"We love Richard Caborn because he saved the football club," said Matthew-Jones.

"The taxman was after us, and he resolved the issues and told them to hold off. If it wasn't for him, I don't think there would be a club there today."

Speaking in 2012, Caborn said:external-link "I remember the Newmarket Road End started chanting 'there's only one Richard Caborn' and I think it's the first time that's ever happened to a politician on a football pitch!"

8. Bacon butties - a 'spectacular high spot'

Well, that was the case in 1998 anyway.

A competition comparing football ground food in that year found that the U's had the best grub in the country.

The assessors said the bacon sandwiches were a "spectacular high spot".

Catering manager at the time, Carla Frediani, gave the butties the most ringing of endorsements: "If you cook bacon, the smell just gets to everyone. I'm a vegetarian but even I get tempted."

9. Chief executive has walked nearly 1,500 miles

Jez George should be remarkable enough for being the only man to have held the position of manager, head of youth, director of football and chief executive at differing times at the Abbey.

But his four separate charity walks, which have totted up 1,461 miles between them, have made him an admired figure in the city.

They include 265 miles from Torquay to Cambridge, 420 miles from Wrexham to Wembley, 100 miles in three days from Cambridge to Lincoln and 676 miles - 26 miles every day for 26 daysexternal-link - around the country last year.

"The worst of the lot was the 100 miles to Lincoln. I don't know how I did it. It took me days to recover. I was literally on crutches. The last day I just hobbled," he said.

10. And finally... Playing for Cambridge is better than Man Utd

Ryan Giggs and Luke Chadwick
Luke Chadwick played with Manchester United legends like Ryan Giggs but dreamed of turning out for Cambridge

That's according to Luke Chadwick.

The Cambridge-born midfielder started his career at Old Trafford and has a Premier League winner's medal in his collection.

He signed for his home-town club last season and, speaking before the successful Conference play-off final in May, he said: "When I went out on the Abbey pitch, it was emotional. I've never felt like that on a pitch. It was like being a kid again."

Chadwick is touch and go to face his former club on Friday, because of a knee injury. But it's the kind of story the FA Cup has built its reputation on.

"I've never played against them. It will be a fantastic day for everyone at the club," he said. "To get this draw was unbelievable."