50 years as a Football League Club for Cambridge United

  • Watch Donovan Blake's report on Cambridge United's election to the Football League 50 years ago


When Cambridge United unveiled a limited edition all-white replica strip for their SkyBet League Two match against Newport in October, it got supporters thinking of the club's first forays playing in the Football League fifty years earlier.

Back in 1970, United finally succeeded in being elected as a league club after many failed attempts.

Cambridge Evening News reports on United's election to the Football League Credit: '100 Years of Coconuts'

It's fair to say back then, winning a league place was more of a case of who you knew, rather than what you were good at. 

Prior to 1987, clubs who finished in the bottom four of English Football's fourth tier had to seek re-election to keep their place.

Ambitious sides plying their trades in the Southern League and Northern Premier League often applied to be elected but success in being voted in by right was very rare.

Bill Leivers was manager of Cambridge United when they were elected to the Football League in May 1970 Credit: ITV Anglia

Winning three Southern League under manager Bill Leivers, however, made it difficult for the establishment to ignore United.

For former players Brian Grant and Roly Horrey, the memories of being elevated from non league obscurity to Football League prominence are still fresh.

Former Cambridge United player Brian Grant Credit: ITV Anglia

We took the place of Bradford Park Avenue. But they were quite a big club then, and we were just a little old Cambridge club. So it was amazing getting into the league. The board of directors and Bill Leivers worked hard to do it.

He went round all the clubs getting votes and things like that. But we were in Germany when it happened, so when we got back from there... knowing Bill Leivers, he would have us in training straight away ready for the new season

Brian Grant, Cambridge United player 1967-71

Every time a team was playing at Ipswich or Norwich, they would invite the directors as they were passing to come in, have a look at the ground, and obviously a cup of tea or whatever they wanted.

And it paid dividends in the end. Because it was unheard of in those days for a team to get in the league, unless one dropped out. For a team to be voted out was unheard of.

Roly Horrey, Cambridge United player 1968-72

Former Cambridge United player Roly Horrey Credit: ITV Anglia

And a City famed for its academia was suddenly attracting interest from the wider sporting public.

Lifelong Cambridge United fan Nigel Browne Credit: ITV Anglia

Lifelong supporter Nigel Browne is a contributor to an online museum dedicated to Cambridge United called '100 Years of Coconuts'

United getting into the Football League gave us, as town people, an identity that wasn't associated with the university. And it made us up there with the elite.

And it was really thanks to what Bill Leivers and the players did that gave us that. It was a realy good feeling all round

Nigel Browne, Lifelong Cambridge United fan