The Abbey / Cambridge United Football Club and Supporters’ Club 1947 to 1961 - Percy Neal Part 2
We are continuing with the story of Percy Neal and his association with Abbey United / Cambridge United between 1947 and 1961. Below is part 2. Part 1 if you have missed it can be found by clicking here or on the photo below
I gather in the pre-war years a Mr King – a builder – was much involved with the club and probably with this building. I met Mr King some 10 years later at a local Derby game, Cambridge City v Cambridge United. Mr King arrived at the Pay box announced himself as “I’m King of the Abbey”. The steward, not knowing who he was, replied “I don’t care if you’re the King of England, you will have to pay to come in here”.
In the early 1950’s a joint meeting was held between the Football Club Directors and Supporters Club Committee – object of the meeting was Ground Improvements, Geoff Proctor outlined their aims – such as a covered stand at the Newmarket Road end, replacement of the primitive dressing rooms, and enlargement of the small wood covered stand, and improvements of the terracing. Quite a tall order with the stretched resources available.
The Supporters Club Committee, under the continuous inspiration of Harry Habbin, decided to tackle the task of a covered stand at the Newmarket Road end. Approach was made to Messrs Jewson of Norwich, very experienced in covered accommodation structures. Jewson’s representative visited the ground to assess our needs and their Drawing Office submitted plans of a suitable stand for the site, for our approval. Jewson’s agreed that the footings, brickwork and terracing could be carried out by the supporters under their guidance, in order to reduce costs. Their quotation to supply and erection of the steel stanchions and roof supports, and roof covering amounted to £1,250.00 much in excess of our resources. Jewson’s were kind to us and agreed to carry out the work on payment of £250.00, with the balance being paid off at the rate of £50.00 per month. The work commenced and in just 18 months of sweat, toil and much fund-raising, the first of the Club’s dreams had materialised.
Way back in the 50’s the Cambridge Evening News gave good coverage to all sporting events in the County – Peter Fearne was a sports reporter at that time. The Cambridge News offices and printing presses were in St Andrews Street, now occupied by the modern AA offices. The company whom I worked for had offices in Regent Street. By habit, I have a coffee break at the SNAX coffee bar in Regent Street, where I first met Peter Fearne. This developed into a daily event, always greeting me – What’s new Percy? And any titbits of events taking place at the Supporters Club were often highlighted in the “Sports Column” the same evening.
The News eventually produced a sports edition called the “Light Blue” nicknamed the “Green-un”. The colour of the paper was pale blue, compiled and printed on Saturday afternoon and on sale by 6.00 pm. At this time a large queue formed outside the “Globe” public house near the football ground – the queue often stretching into Ditton Walk where this paper was sold – often before the print was dry. I have several old editions of the Cambridge News. The prices in the old days (in old pence): 1950 – 1 ½d, 1955 – 2d, 1958 – 2 ½d. Inflation kept fairly static in those days.
In the early 1950’s the football team who were semi-professionals played in the United Counties League. They were doing quite well and prospects for promotion to the Eastern Counties League was on the horizon. The football club therefore engaged the services of a player manager – Bill Whittaker. Bill achieved a marked impact on the style of play and under his guidance the team caught the public eye in notable FA Cup runs. The club gained promotion to the Eastern Counties League. Bill eventually left the club in March 1955.
At some stage in 1954 a deputation of the Club’s Directors and the Supporters Club Committee, with Harry Habbin still in control, met to discuss the future of the Football Club’s endeavours. Geoff Proctor illustrated their success in the Eastern Counties League, with entry to the Southern League in the not too distant future, which was the next step to 4th Division football.
Further Ground developments were necessary and in order to function in these higher leagues the club would require at least £1,000 a month income from the Supporters Club. A vast task that appeared impossible.
The Supporters Club discussed this at Committee, when it was decided to launch a “Football Pools”. A small handful of larger football clubs had started up these Pools to supplement gate receipts. Great Yarmouth Club had also recently launched their own Pool. We hit snags from the word go – The National Affiliation of Supporters Clubs would not allow gambling or Football Pools to be run in a supporters club and neither would the FA allow such events to take place within the football club’s boundaries.
We did however find a solution – and this is how we overcame the problem. The Supporters Club purchased from a disused Army base in Quy a wooden hut measuring some 40 feet in length and 18 feet in width. The Army authorities wanted £40 for the hut, providing we dismantled and transported it from their site. This was done in record time by gangs of supporters. Foundations were laid and the hut was re-assembled at the football ground. The illustration shows how this was done; by building the Pools Office outside the Club’s boundary we satisfied the various authorities and additionally provided a Directors Office and modern dressing rooms for the players.
Whilst this hut was being erected a Committee was formed, independent of the Supporters Club, comprising of Percy Neal (Sec), Jack Rayner, Herbert Crane, Len Selmes, Ernie Ward and Ron Clifford, to operate the Football Pool and this was the bulk of the Cambridge & District Sportsmen’s Guild.
Jack Rayner, in the printing business, soon had available 10,000 membership cards, which had to be stamped twice (members’ portion and office portion) with a combination of 3 numbers. Again, we hit a snag; the suppliers of the stamp printing machine required approx. 12 weeks before these could be delivered.
We approached the Great Yarmouth Club, asked to borrow their machine. They agreed, but only if we used them on their premises. Our committee travelled to Yarmouth on two consecutive Sundays and stamped enough cards to get the Pool launched.
To operate this Pool, certain laws had to be complied with; one of the laws was that Agents were not permitted to visit the Pools Office – we had to deal with them through the post. This is how we did it;
On Monday Evenings the Committee assembled at the Pools Office, Jack Rayner bringing the Pools Coupons from the printers. These were packed and addressed to the Agents with the Agents’ record book and stake return forms. Each package contained a SAE for the return to us. These packages were taken in 2 or 3 suitcases by the Committee on bicycles to the post sorting office on Mill Road the same evening, where we had special arrangements for sorting and distribution.
On Friday Evenings the Committee unpacked the Agents postal returns, Friday p.m being the deadline, checked Agents’ books and stake returns and completing a ledger for an audit check, filing membership costs in sequence and sorting the cash received, packed into night safe bags for deposit in the Night Safe at our bankers – Nat West in Trinity Street on the same night.
On Saturday Mornings one of the Committee (we did this in turns) conveyed in a suitcase the Agents Books, Ledger and Agents Returns to our accountants – M/s J Chater & Sons, where an audit was carried out and also the value of dividends to be paid, and also the amount of Pools Duty to be paid to the Inland Revenue. The books were collected from the Accountant at midday; another member of the Committee visited the bank to retrieve the Night Safe pouches and credit the cash to the Guilds Account. This running about, in all weather, was done on bicycle – a family car was not known to us at that time.
On Saturday afternoons At the Pools Office we awaited the football results, compiled the list of dividend winners, prepared their cheques in readiness for posting the Agents on Monday.
This routine went on for two seasons, resulting in a successful growth in the Pool. Any members of the public could participate in the Pool providing they dealt through our Agents. The stake money was 1s 0d per week each member.
In October 1957 at our third AGM we were proud to report a membership of 21,000 members and a network of 120 Agents, in towns and villages reaching out to Horseheath, Saffron Walden and Bishops Stortford.
The story continues below the photograph.
CFU is a supporters organistion that has help shaped Cambridge United
The Directors were delighted with this regular weekly income from the Guilds, boosted from time to time with donations from the Supporters Club.
We eventually extended the Pool to operate in the summer months by the use of Australian Football, thus improving the income.
As time passed Football Pools were developed by Clubs up and down the country, new Government legislation introduced, which enhanced the amount of Pools Duty paid in the past and in the future. It developed into a Legal Jungle.
We, as a Committee, had our plate full running our Pool, our solicitors (M/s Wild & Hewitson) and accountants (J Chater & Son) dealt with the legal problems that arose. Mr Hewitson eventually advised us that the Sportsmen’s Guild may be entitled to a rebate from the Inland Revenue on Pools duty paid in the pat. The outcome was most pleasing – a cheque from the Inland Revenue dropped through our letter box – a refund of over £9,000.
How should we spend this windfall – A joint meeting of the Club’s Directors, Supporters, Club Committee and the Sportsman’s Guild decided its fate. It was agreed that the cash should be spent on installing the flood lights as you see them today. This indeed was a great asset to the club.
PART 3 WILL FOLLOW SHORTLY -
LISTEN TO FRANK PETTIT'S STORY BY CLICKING HERE
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