Max Rushden: If You Only Knew

On the 20th September 1985, Cambridge United drew 1-1 with Exeter City at the Abbey Stadium in the 4th Division. On the 13th September 1986, Cambridge United drew 2-2 with Exeter City at the Abbey Stadium in the 4th Division.

One of those games was the first game I ever saw. The smart money is on 1986. I seem to remember Steve Spriggs scoring twice. But it might only have been once. So it might have been 1985. But let’s say it was 1986. I was 7 years old. My Dad took me. I would have been sat in the Main Stand. My career began there as a junior U until around 14 or 15, when I migrated to the North Terrace or the 'Newmarket Road End'. A little in front of the ‘Ultras’, if you can call them that. I suspect I’m not alone in the football itself not really being a huge part of my first memories of going to football. It was cold. Very cold. My attention span was even shorter than it is now, so I suspect by half time I’d had enough - perhaps that’s part of the reason I still don’t really like half time. My main memories are two things I’d never really experienced before. The smell of cigarettes. And the swearing. I grew up in a smoke free and relatively non-potty mouthed household (nothing more agricultural than ‘bloody hell’ in my house). An afternoon at the football really opened my eyes to that. But I can’t tell you what actually happened. My rose-tinted spectacles tell me it was a glorious time of players smoking and having a beer at half time. Fat players, tiny players, players who couldn’t kick it. Chances are they were all pretty good, but I won’t let that change my memories. It probably took me a couple of seasons to really know what was going on. I knew I loved football - I played it all day, then I played football games on my Amstrad all evening and covered my bedroom with Shoot posters. I loved it no matter the team. But my love for the U’s was set in stone just before the meteoric rise of the early 90s. I don’t go that much now because I’ve played Saturday football for the same team in London (Polytechnic FC) for the last 15 years. If I’m honest that’s the club that I care about the most now. Normally we’re in the bar at 4 on a Saturday afternoon after our game, and I’m the sole voice swearing at the telly when Jeff Stelling announces that Cambridge have conceded another. I still lost my voice at Wembley when we beat Gateshead to get back into the league, and my Dad and I loved the 0-0 draw at home to Manchester United a couple of years ago. So far this season I’ve been to Exeter and Colchester, so I haven’t seen us score a goal yet, but I always have hope.


Written by Max Rushden in 2018 for STILES Issue 1. Illustrations by Sam Harris.