The Football League Paper - - LEAGUE ONE - By Chris Dunlavy

FOR a few fleet­ing sec­onds, as Tom El­liott bore down on David De Gea, the im­pos­si­ble dream was on. Cam­bridge United, the small­est team in the FA Cup, were go­ing 1-0 up at Old Traf­ford. Then El­liott slipped, left foot col­laps­ing as he drew back his right. His mis­cued shot clipped the post, and with that clank­ing im­pact went the U’s only chance.

“It was agony,” said Cam­bridge de­fender Ian Miller, watch­ing from the dugout. “It’s the sort of thing that you think about for the rest of your ca­reer. Tom’s big enough and ugly enough to brush it off but if that had gone in… you never know.” Cam­bridge’s play­ers are en­ti­tled to deal in if onlys. And af­ter watch­ing Louis van Gaal’s su­per­stars re­cover to grind out a rou­tine 3-0 win, so are the 6,600 trav­el­ling fans.

But in the board­room, those days are gone. No longer do the men in the Abbey’s cor­ri­dors of power deal in for­tune and hap­pen­stance.

Jez Ge­orge has been at the club since 2006, first as head of youth, then as manager, now as chief ex­ec­u­tive. De­scribed as “the heart and soul” of the club by U’s leg­end Dion Dublin, Ge­orge ar­rived shortly af­ter rel­e­ga­tion to the Con­fer­ence and saw a suc­ces­sion of chair­men throw money at pro­mo­tion only to find them­selves back at square one.

Whilst other fallen gi­ants like Ex­eter, Ox­ford and Mans­field climbed back into the league, the U’s re­mained rooted, twice los­ing play-off fi­nals. In 2011, they al­most went bust.


“I think the club was al­most in de­nial about be­ing in the Con­fer­ence,” says Ge­orge.“The club would spend a lot of money on wages, ei­ther be suc­cess­ful or not,sack the manager,lose all the staff, then start all over again.There was no scout­ing net­work. A re­liance on agents. It is the same at a lot of clubs, but not the well-run ones. You need to have some­thing sus­tain­able.”

It was then that Ge­orge im­ple­mented his vi­sion;no longer would the U’s be a cash cow for agents and mer­ce­nar­ies. They would grow their own play­ers and put them on the park, come hell or high wa­ter. Now, four years on, they are back in League Two with an es­ti­mated £1m in the bank from that run to Old Traf­ford.

“I’m sure a lot of peo­ple laughed when we set up in the Con­fer­ence with

a head coach and direc­tor of foot­ball,” adds Ge­orge. “I think we were ex­pected to fall flat on our faces.

“But we be­lieved in bring­ing through our play­ers, in hav­ing a solid scout­ing net­work. It took a fan­tas­tic head coach to ac­cel­er­ate the process but we feel it’s been val­i­dated.”

That coach is Richard Money, the for­mer Lu­ton and Wal­sall boss af­fec­tion­ately nick­named Dickie Dosh by the Bescott faith­ful. A Euro­pean Cup win­ner with Liver­pool, the 59-year-old got the loud­est cheer of the night when he re­sponded to the trav­el­ling fans’ re­quest for wave and af­ter­wards spoke of his pride at how far the club had come.

“When you’ve been out the Foot­ball League for nine years, there isn’t much left,” he said. “For the last two or three years, this club been run by vol­un­teers with a hand­ful of full-time staff. That’s the re­al­ity. We’ve done bril­liantly to get this far and we aren’t go­ing to start do any­thing dif­fer­ently just be­cause we’ve come to Old Traf­ford.

“We need a new sta­dium, more fa­cil­i­ties. We’re a club that needs to grow and what the money means is that we can prob­a­bly grow a lit­tle bit quicker than we thought.”

For the U’s fans, too, this was a chance to revel in a re­turn to the big stage. Those old enough to sur­vive with­out the in­ter­net still re­mem­ber the days when John Beck’s bruis­ers chal­lenged for a place in the in­au­gu­ral Pre­mier League.

Since then they have been, if not to hell and back, then cer­tainly to Hyde and back.So many made the jour­ney to Old Traf­ford that roads were blocked and kick-off de­layed.


Once set­tled, they never stopped singing, brand­ing Wayne Rooney ‘f***ing use­less’ and rev­el­ling in telling £60m winger An­gel Di Maria he was a waste of money. Even af­ter Mar­cus Rojo, Juan Mata and James Wil­son had wrapped things up, the shouts of ‘Richard Money’s Am­ber Army’ never slack­ened.

“They were awe­some,” said Miller. “We took 6,600 fans and they out-sang 68,000 Man United fans all night long. Those peo­ple took time off work and made four-five hour round trips just to see us. That tells you which way the club is go­ing.”

In some ways, Miller was the story of the night. Hav­ing rup­tured knee lig­a­ments dur­ing the U’s play-off victory over Gateshead at Wem­b­ley, the 31year-old club cap­tain re­turned only in Novem­ber and still lacks match fit­ness.

But Money – who called him­self a big softy in the post-match press con­fer­ence – al­ways planned to give the de­fender a run and his num­ber was fi­nally held aloft in the 85th minute.

“I said to my wife be­fore the game ‘I want to be able to tell my two lit­tle boys that their dad has played against Man United at Old Traf­ford’,” said Miller, who has spent the last six years in Non-League. “A lot of peo­ple can play for 20 years and never get the chance to play at a place like that in front of 74,000 peo­ple. It was a re­ally nice ges­ture from Richard and my only re­gret was that my dad couldn’t get time off work to be there. He watched it on TV and I’m sure he was jump­ing round the room when I got on.

“It was a fan­tas­tic ex­pe­ri­ence, not just for me put for ev­ery­one at Cam­bridge. So much hard work has gone into get­ting this club back in shape and I think Tues­day night was a re­ward for all of them.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

BANG ON THE MONEY: Richard Money was rightly proud of his play­ers for their ef­forts at Old Traf­ford NIGHT TO RE­MEM­BER: Cam­bridge United ap­plaud their fans at full time, while Tom El­liott misses a rare early chance, right

SAY CHEESE! Josh Coul­son and Ian Miller take a selfie

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