About The Abbey Stadium A classic lower league ground if ever I saw one, with four separate stands each with its own character. The big main stand dates back to the start of time and has been pencilled in for redevelopment in the past. The North stand, also known as the Newmarket Road End is where the home fans congregate, with its social club in the corner. Opposite this is the new Marston’s Smooth Stand, built in 2002 it is an all seater affair and offers some excellent views but is given to the away fans. A selection of food and drinks is available at the tea bars inside the ground, including our award-winning bacon rolls. Next to the ground, the Supporters Club (owned and operated separately from the Football Club) is usually open to all supporters and serves a variety of hot and cold food and reasonably priced drinks. Entry to non-members is £1. ‘Mr Chippy’ on Newmarket Road is a few minutes walk in the direction of the city centre (turning left from the front of the ground). Ten minutes walk in the other direction is a McDonalds. The record attendance at the ground is 14,000 for a friendly versus Chelsea which is significantly more than can fit in the ground today. How to get to The Abbey Stadium If you are coming by car then head up the M11 until you reach junction 14. Take a turn onto the A14 East, passing the junction for Histon if you remember that one. Then exit the A14 at the fourth junction (situated east of Cambridge), up the slip road to the roundabout (signposted Stow-Cum-Quy). Turn riht onto the A1303, and return westwards towards Cambridge. Go straight over the first roundabout, passing Marshall Airport to the left. Go straight over two sets of traffic lights to a roundabout. The Ground’s floodlights can be seen from here and McDonald’s is on the right. Turn left onto the ring road. Turn right at the first roundabout (a large Sainsbury’s is on the left here), and go along Coldham’s Lane. After half a mile, immediately after the traffic lights (at the Greyhound Public House) turn right into Coldham’s Road before the railway bridge. There is no car parking at the ground and you will have to find a space in the nearby streets. Journey time from Lewes should be around 2hours, excluding the usual Saturday jams at the Dartford crossing. Don’t forget your £1.50 for the toll each way. There are regular services to and from Cambridge Railway Station, where taxis are available or the Citibus C3 service runs from the station every ten minutes during the day and at longer intervals in the evenings to the stop by the ground at Ditton Walk. To walk from the railway station to the ground could take 25-30 minutes. Walk away from the station along Station Road and take the first right, (Tenison Road). Take the first right again, (Devonshire Road), follow this round to the left, up to the next junction. Turn right – again – onto Mill Road. Walk over the railway bridge, then take the third left, (Sedgewick Street). Follow this road, pass a set of traffic calming barriers, and shops (at this point you are in Cromwell Road) to a T-junction, (Coldham’s Lane). Ahead of you should be a large field (Coldham’s Common). Go into this field and follow a path under the railway bridge to the away turnstiles. Trains run every 30 minutes from Kings Cross and take 45 minutes. Admission Ticket prices vary from £17 in the main stand to £14 in the South Stand as a visitor. Programmes are £3 and available inside the ground. Our last visit – February 2011 v Kidderminster Harriers We’ve all seen those American movies immortalising the road trip, that carefree adventure on the open road, punctuated by freedom, adventure and hilarious consequences normally involving accidentally driving into “no go” areas, visiting churches dressed as strippers (or strip joints dressed as Nuns) and setting fire to hotel rooms. Well occasionally we get the opportunity to go on a road trip of our own. Who needs strippers and alcohol fuelled conceptual pranks when you could go to Cambridge, Mansfield, Hyde and Gainsborough all in the space of five days. We are really living the dream here I can tell you. And who needs a convertible to cruise Route 66 when you can have a 6 year old Zafira with crappy air conditioning cruising up the A1? It was of course Half Term and thus that means time with the family and football. The two go hand in hand right? Well, they do in the TBIR book and so we were heading up north to spend time with the extended CMF family, meaning some jolly japes with Northern Steve. And he had lined up quite a feast of football fun for us. A Evostik Premier League double header with Glapwell versus Stamford followed by a trip to see Gainsborough Trinity versus Gloucester City with the Blue Square Bet North game sandwiched in the middle between local Manchester rivals Hyde United and Stalybridge Celtic? Jealous yet? Well how about if I tell you they would be book-ended by Cambridge United versus Kidderminster Harriers and Lewes versus Ebbsfleet United. An 800 mile road trip encompassing five games in five counties. Green with envy now? Non League football is important to me, and it should be to you dear readers too. Because if Non League football dies, then eventually so will the game at the highest level. I love nothing better these days than heading off for some new grass roots destination and feeling the history ooze through the pores of a ground with real history. Attendances in all levels of football are falling on the whole. Premier League, Championship, Football League and Non League. Some fans are being priced out, but in general we are now reaping the reward of the lost generation of fans, the teenagers and young adults who were priced out of attending games in the past decade. And the situation is just going to get worse. Unless clubs start to encourage Dads and Sons back onto the terraces/shiny plastic seats those seats will sit empty in ten years time. Non League clubs are doing their bit to grab this space. Many clubs at the Blue Square Bet level offer free admission for children, others charge a nominal pound or two. So I was going to do my own research as to how five different clubs were approaching the situation, starting with a Friday night visit to The Abbey Stadium to watch Cambridge United host Kidderminster Harriers in the Blue Square Bet Premier league. A few weeks before the game there was some doubt if there was actually be a game on at all. Despite a decade ago this game being a Football League clash, Kidderminster had come into the game in a whole world of financial trouble. On Sunday 6th February The Non League Paper had led with the headline of a potential move into administration for the club, the result of trying to chase the dream back of the Football League. Cambridge United themselves were hardly out of the financial woods. They too had invested in trying to get back in the league, and went into the Play Off Final in 2009 against Torquay United as favourites, only to see the Seagulls win 2-0 on the day. Manager Gary Brabin was announced as the Conference manager of the season and was then promptly sacked by the board for not getting them back into the lead. Nothing like a dose of realism from the men in charge. He was replaced by ex-Leyton Orient manager Martin Ling, who lasted just 8 days, resigning over “irrecoverable differences of opinion with owner George Rolls”. Rolls then left and a new board was appointed and guess who they chose as new manager? Martin Ling. Cambridge finished Ling’s first season in 10th place. This season, with the club sitting again in 10th place in early January the club’s owners put the club up for sale citing the need for new funds to take the club forward. Despite interest being expressed from a number of parties, no new owner has yet been found. The club’s landlords Grosvenor Group revealed the plans for a new community stadium, including potential new locations both within the city and outside it. As if this wasn’t enough for the long suffering fans, Martin Ling left the club and has been replaced for the time being by Jez George. Who needs stability in football eh? Our last trip to The Abbey Stadium had been in September 2009 in an eventful game for more than one reason. On that sunny day we had seen the home team take a 3-0 first half lead against ten-men Luton Town, only to end up losing 4-3 in a game that ended with riot police on the pitch. On that day we had been guests of Luton Town manager Mick Harford and after the game we sat down with him and discussed his tactical genius and what he said in the dressing room at half time. Harford was a hero to the Luton faithful and so hundreds, if not thousands of fans were amazed that just four days later he was sacked by the club as they sat in 5th place after just a handful of games into their first game since relegation from the Football League. And where did they finish eight months later? In 5th place of course. Football madness at its best. Cambridge United 1 Kidderminster Harriers 2 – The Abbey Stadium – Friday 18th February 2011 I simply cannot get my head around some of these ground names. Earlier today I read an excellent blog post on European Football Weekends about the Hamburg derby, which was being played at the Intech Arena. Where? Well apparently HSV’s Volksparkstadion had been renamed AGAIN this summer. AOL Arena, HSH Nordbank, Colorline, Mighty Mouse Arena – it’s all the same to me. So forgive me Cambridge fans for not saying I visited the R Costings Stadium for this game. It is the Abbey, and will always be the Abbey. Rant over. There was a time not long ago when Cambridge United won an award for the best League ground to visit(a scoring matrix from a book written by Jon Ladd) primarily due to their bacon rolls. Unfortunately the bacon was not as I always remembered it and so I headed for a drink instead. After a quick beer in the Green King portable pub in the car park (a portakabin done out with a bar inside) I headed Stand behind the south end goal at The Abbey and you can feel the history seeping its way from the old Main Stand or the covered terrace, in a time when John Beck played it long, and Dion Dublin well was simply long. On a cold February night with the TV cameras from Premier Sports in attendance the locals had come out to support their team. Ah Premier Sports. Now that is a strange deal. Picking up the pieces from the collapse of Setanta, Premier Sports are showing 30 games this season on a pay per view model. So far they have not released any subscription figures but I would not imagine many nationwide fans would have paid their £6.99 for this one. So it is unclear who is the winner in this deal. The game started with a flurry of open play with both teams on the front foot. Both keepers were called into action during the opening twenty minutes and a goal looked imminent, ruining my 8/1 on a goalless draw. Almost on the stroke of half time Kidderminster opened the scoring, perhaps against the run of play. A long cross from the right was missed by the Cambridge defence and found its way to Sean Canham who drilled the ball home. Just two minutes later Cambridge were almost level when a free kick from the edge of the box was headed off the line by a Kidderminster defender. The main talking point in the half was the five yellow cards shown by the referee. Was there a bad tackle anywhere? No, but he fell into the trap of booking one player so early on that any similar tackle had to result in a booking. Shame really as it spoilt an attacking half. Oh, I forgot to mention that one the way I heard a cringeworthy advert on the radio on the way up. “A right old cockney knees up” can be had by all on Monday night at Upton Park for the game versus Burnley. For ONLY £49 you get a pie and mash supper, a pint, a programme, a padded seat and “much much more”…well based on the fact a ticket is £15, a programme £3.50, a pint the same and pie and mash is lets say a £5 it must be more than £23 worth of “much more”. Desperate measures from an increasingly desperate club. Back to the Blue Square Bet Premier… How’s your luck! Five minutes in, Cambridge break and Kidderminster full back Vaughan who has already been booked hacks down the Cambridge forward. The referee calls him over, and it appears he is going to get a second yellow. Harriers captain Briggs protests, the referee sees the linesman’s flag up for offside and so cannot book Vaughan for the tackle but books Briggs instead for his protest! The game ebbed and flowed after that. Both team had chances and with the last throw of the dice Cambridge used up their substitutes. With the first minute of injury time played Adam Marriott looked to have rescued a point for the home side as he scored from a free kick some 25 yards out. But when the luck isn’t with you, it really isn’t with you and two minutes later Kidderminster’s substitute Jamille Matt headed home the winner from Matty Blair’s excellent cross. The defeat meant that Cambridge had now gone eight games without a win and slid further down the table, whilst three points game the Harriers a vital boost upwards towards the playoffs. The roadtrip was well underway…next stop Glapwell, or so we thought! More pictures from the evening can be found at our Flickr stream here. Our last visit – September 2009 A change in format this weekend….A match report first, followed by an exclusive chat with Luton Town’s Mick Harford in his last ever public interview as the Hatters Manager, the newest fan of the Blog. And what a game it was. Seven goals, appalling refereeing, a sending off, the first appearance of the season of the riot police, Football Jo on her best behaviour for some reason and a reality TV star…not often you can say you see all of that in 90 minutes of Indian Summer. All that was missing was my EFW logo…Please forgive me Danny… Cambridge United 3 Luton Town 4 – The Abbey Stadium -Saturday 26th September 2009 Forty three minutes into this game Liam Hatch needlessly challenged late for the ball in no-mans land near the Cambridge by line and was shown a second yellow card. Luton were 2-0 down, playing against Cambridge and a referee who seemed to be blind to what had gone on before, and coming on the back of some important defeats on the road recently, had nearly two thousand away fans baying for blood. The game had started well for the Hatters. They passed the ball well, creating some early chances for Hatch and Gallen up front. But in the twentieth minute it was the home team who took the lead against the run of play as Courtney Pitt turned in the ball from close range after Mark Beesley had squared the ball. One became two thirteen minutes later when the referee saw a challenge in the box Anthony Tonkins that nobody else in the stadium saw and he awarded a penalty. Liam Hatch protested too much and was booked for his haranguing of the official. Holroyd made no mistake from the spot, and it looked all over for the visitors. After recent away defeats at Oxford and Wrexham many of the fans had come expecting a better performance, and despite the efforts of the players, they had been done up like a kipper by the officials. The away fans occupying the terrace along the side of the pitch let their feelings be known and some over zealous policing took a manageable situation to the brink of all out hostility. On the other side of the pitch in the Main Stand the non-playing Luton Town players had had enough of the abuse being levelled at them, and led by Kevin Nicholls they attempted to head to the South Stand, only to be blocked by the police who insisted they went down the tunnel instead. Harford looked in disbelief as Hatch picked up his second yellow and stayed behind on the edge of the tunnel to have “a word” with the referee, knowing that public opinion was definitely swinging against him. What was said at half time will remain a mystery (we did ask him afterwards) but whatever it was it deserves to be up their with Al Pacino’s speech in The Whole Nine Yards. Three minutes were on the clock when the veteran Kevin Gallen turned the ball in from close range after the keeper had made a great save. Luton went on the attack immediately afterwards, coming close to an equaliser before five second half minutes were on the clock. They did have to wait though until the 60th minute for that. Gallen picked up a loose ball outside the penalty area and squared it to Ross Jarvis who picked his spot and gave the Cambridge keeper no chance. The fans went wild, quite unsure as to what they were seeing on the pitch. The local police took the jubilation for some sort of mass violence and went into the crowd to try and remove a few of the most “boisterous” fans. A minute later it was 3-2 to Luton as Kevin Gallen found himself one on one with the keeper, and despite his effort being saved, Jake Howells was on had to complete a remarkable recovering. In the ensuing celebrations Howells hurt his leg and another twist to this amazing game took place as he could take no further part. So three goals in eighteen second half minutes had left the home teams and fans stunned. Martin Ling made a tactical change, and for the first time in the half Cambridge launched an attack against the ten men. Two minutes after Luton had taken the lead it was 3-3 as the impressive Tyler in the Luton goal made a great save from Hatswell’s header only for Holroyd to smash the ball home form the equaliser. Five minutes later Cambridge almost took the lead as another Tyler save rolled along the goal line just needing a touch from anyone. The crowd were then treated to ten minutes to relative calm until the referee decided to take centre stage, awarding a penalty to Luton after some pushing and shoving in the area by Brian Saah, who in fairness had actually been booked for a similar offence a few minutes before. Harsh, but equalling up the decision from the first half. Up stepped Gallen and it was 4-3 to Luton. Five minutes of injury time proved too much for many fans who could not watch, but the final whistle was greeted by jubilation from the 1,700 away fans (including Cerys Matthews from Catatonia), although the scenes of Riot Police on the field, police dogs outside the gates and a police helicopter flying overhead was hardly what you expect from Blue Square football. Game of the season so far and a win that took Luton shooting back up the table. The team here at The Ball is Round pride ourselves on our contacts within the game. After a year of working with Danny Last and his magnificent Logo gallery with all of the good and famous in Non-League football, I though it was time I delivered a big fish of my own. After all it’s not what you know but what you know about someone else that you can use to your advantage that matters. Now I am not revealing any of my sources, but when I approached Mick Harford, current manager of Luton Town and generally all round nice guy, he agreed to a chat within seconds after the game versus Cambridge United with Football Jo, Lolly and myself. Harford build a reputation through his career as a no-nonsense type of centre forward. Blessed with height and more than a match for most centre backs, he played for ten clubs over a career that spanned over 20 years, 600 matches and nearly 200 goals. A goal every 3 games is a decent return in anyone’s book and coming in a time when the Premier League was at an embryonic stage and the foreign invasion had not yet started you can only wonder was he would have achieved in the modern game where training regimes would have strengthened his game, and the quality of the ball into the box would have been so much better for him to get on the end of. He was also known as someone not to mess with. Legend goes that when he joined Wimbledon in 1994 he was spared the usual new signing initiation ritual for the other squad members fear of reprisal – and this included a squad including shrinking violets such as Vinnie Jones, Robbie Earle and Marcus Gayle. He stayed on at Wimbledon after his playing career ended at the grand old age of 38 and picked up his coaching badges, and working with Joe Kinnear. When Kinnear went onto Luton a few years later Mick went with him and masterminded their promotion season in 2001/02. Spells at Nottingham Forest, Colchester United, Rotherham United and Queens Park Rangers followed before the opportunity arose to return to Luton Town in February 2008. He joined a club in turmoil from the previous management and coaching staff, a club destined for relegation and being investigated by the Football League for all sorts of “irregularities” he inherited. Try as he could the club could not avoid Administration and the ten point penalty that went with it effectively ended all hope long before the final ball was kicked. Worse was to follow in the summer when the club were hit with a massive 30 point penalty for various reasons by the Football League, including exiting Administration – which for some reason the footballing authorities deemed twice the sin as entering it in the first place. Harford vowed the club would try to survive against all the odds, and pulled off a remarkable achievement in guiding the club to the Johnstones Paint Trophy Final at Wembley, and then beating Championship bound Scunthorpe United in extra time. Without that penalty the club would have finished in 15th place in the division – justice? I don’t think so. At what point last season did you realise all of your hard effort was in vain? When I was told that we had been relegated after the match at home with Chesterfield in April. Whilst we came away with a 0-0 draw from that game Grimsby Town’s 2-0 defeat of Notts County meant it was mathematically impossible with just four games left. What did you say to the team when relegation was confirmed in the dressing room? There wasn’t alot of talking going on but after a while when the players had realised the situation I said “Look at the clock and remember this time and date. This is the new beginning of Luton Town FC. Thanks for all your efforts and I’m sorry it was all in vain.” For the final four games when you knew you were going to be playing in the Blue Square Premier, how did you motivate yourself and the team? Motivation to go out on the field and play our best was never an issue because we are professionals and we had a responsibility to the fans and the other teams in the league who still had something to play for. Turning the attention to this season, what will you class “success” in May? Promotion. Simple as that. Getting Luton Town back into the Football League. Tuesday 11th August 2009. First home game at this level in front of an impressive 7,000+ crowd at Kenilworth Road. Eighteen minutes on the clock and Mansfield take the lead. What went through your mind? Here we go again! But the plan worked over the ninety minutes and a 4-1 victory was a fair reflection on the chances we created. How much homework have you done on the division as a whole? A lot and it’s an ongoing process. There are quite a few teams we have never come up against and so homework is vital – Watching games, speaking to other managers and players. We only have one objective this season – Promotion. That is what I will use as the yardstick for success. In the first few weeks of the season it is obvious from the teams we have played (such as Forest Green, Gateshead, Kettering Town, etc) that they raise their game against us. We are a big scalp for them, and for many it is their Cup Final. The one game I am looking forward to is the one that wins us promotion. After your success in winning the JPT at Wembley Stadium last year, what about a nice cup run? Of course I wouldn’t say know but the league is the priority. If I had a hand in the draw I’d love to get Watford or Millwall – that would be quite an atmosphere! So was that final the highpoint of your career in football? As a manager definitely. Not many managers these days can say they have won a cup at Wembley. I have been very fortunate to win one both as a player and a manager but the win last season was special as being a manager means you are responsible for so much more. My highpoint as a player was my second cap for England against Denmark at Wembley in 1989. One of the lowpoints was the moment I realised that I couldn’t carry on playing. After Wimbledon played Aston Villa in 1998 I damaged by Achilles again and realised that I would need an operation. At the age of 38 1/2 I felt that was a step too far. So you played for England under the late Sir Bobby Robson. How did you find out you had been called up into the squad? At the time I was playing at Luton Town, and we were on a great run (it was the year that we went on to beat Arsenal at Wembley in the League Cup Final). England had a friendly coming up away to Israel in Tel Aviv. I found out I had been selected for the squad after the FA sent a letter to the Club, and the manager Ray Harford (no relation I should add!) called me into his office and told me. I made my debut in the second half when I came on for Clive Allen. The game ended up 0-0. So some of the best moments of your career have come at Luton Yes. Both as a player and a manager. And that is why it was so disappointing to be relegated last season because even with the 30 penalty point I thought we could get out of it. I had a great time with the club as a player and settled in the area. My son was born in Luton, I have so many friends in the area and have built a strong affiliation with the people at the club. Who inspired you as a player, and as a manager? I was a Sunderland fan from boyhood and was greatly inspired to become a player by Bob Stokoes team that beat the great Leeds United team in the 1973 FA Cup Final. Brian Clough stands out as a great inspiration as a manager – he wanted his team to play good football and never wavered or compromised. Looking back on your career which I believe covered nearly 600 games for 10 different clubs, what stadiums stand out? As a player I thoroughly enjoyed playing at Wembley obviously, as well as Old Trafford. As a manager I remember going to West Ham’s Upton Park at Christmas in 2004 when I was at Nottingham Forest and that was one of the most hostile places I had been – no Christmas cheer for us there! Best player you played with? Chris Waddle without a doubt! I was a strong, abrasive and technical player, and he was cultured and skillful. What a combination! So lets turn our attention to the game today. What do you think about the events at Manchester City and Real Madrid in the past few months? Good luck to them! But in the longer term it will push English players further down the ladder at Manchester City and could weaken our national side. In terms of the whole Ronaldo saga I am not sure whether they wanted the player or the brand. Either way £80million is a hell of a lot of money to spend on one person. Talk us through some of your matchday preparations I have a Lucky Suit that has seen me through some good times. After the game I will sit down and watch the video of the game, look at the components of the team and individuals and plan some ways to improve and ways to eliminate the mistakes. I then translate these into plans for training. Alas my knee is too sore for me to take part myself! I do make a habit of never listening to the football phone ins! So there we have it. Mick has promised to give us more during the season, and we wish them well and officially appoint Luton Town our “Football Friend” of the Blue Square Premier League this season, and Mick an honorary member into the TBIR Hall of Fame.