Do you count them as fierce rivals? Aggy neighbours? Or are Cambridge United a team that you love to hate for no obvious reason? It’s fair to claim they’ve played almost as big a role in Boro’s recent past as any other side out there. And that’s for better and for worse. Are they really worth a mention in the same breath as Hitchin Town, however? Or as Barnet? Hmm – we’re not certain about that. It could just be that we were in the same place at the same time…
… and we both stood in each other’s way of what we were trying to achieve.
Who are Cambridge United Football Club?
The team we know today came to life in 1912 as Abbey United. At that time, there was already a Cambridge United in town. But that club didn’t outlast the First World War, and eventually gave the current club a free run at the name. It doesn’t seem like there is much to report in their early years either. After knocking around in local amateur leagues and the like, it wasn’t until turning pro in 1949 that things started happening.
The first of those ‘things’ was the change of name; ditching the Abbey and choosing Cambridge in 1951. By this time, they’d dabbled in the United Counties League – but then opted to join the Eastern Counties League. Inside six years, the Us had gained promotion to the Southern League and started to establish them as one of the better non-league sides in the land. Need proof? The two Southern League titles in the late 1960s will have to do.
The second of these crowns came in the 1969-70 season; their last as a non-league side. In 1970, they were admitted into the Football League through the election system. Bradford Park Avenue lost out.
Why do we know the Us?
Their path, by and large, was an upwards one in the years that followed. Up and down between Divisions Four and Three to start with, the Us reached Division Two in 1978. After tumbling back to Division Four after two straight relegations in the mid-1980s, they came back strong; making their way back to the second tier in 1991. It could’ve been even better a year later when they got to the playoffs. But they were hammered by Leicester City in the semis.
Had they won and then beaten Blackburn in the final, they’d have been in the first-ever Premier League line-up. Makes you think, don’t it?
And, with that failure in the playoffs, came the end of their golden era. Relegation the following season saw them back in the third tier, though there wasn’t a total collapse in standing. The Us did return to the fourth tier in 1995 – if only for four seasons. And it was during that period that we first came across them. After seeing our way past Carshalton Athletic in Round One, the FA Cup Round Two draw sent us to the Abbey Stadium.
What is our record against them?
A Gary Crawshaw goal ensured we brought the Us back to our place, despite Ryan Kirby finding himself sent off in our 1-1 draw. Boro’ then made home advantage count; Stuart Beevor and an own goal by future Stripes man Jamie Campbell earning us a 2-1 win.
But that was then that for some time. The Us were promoted to Division Two and Boro’ were no closer to their Football League goal. For them, however, the tide would turn shortly into the new century. Two relegations in four campaigns saw them fall out of the Football League for the first time in more than 30 years. Well, you gotta go there to come back – don’t you?
That meant we’d meet as equals for the first time too. And, at first, it was a bit tit-for-tat. Neither of us would drop points at home. That carried on for three campaigns; the third of which saw us win 4-1 at Broadhall Way. But then it changed. The Us got good. And they upset the applecart by beating us 2-1 at our place in September 2007 – ending our eight-match clean sheet run too.
We went winless in three against them as the Us ended both the 2007-8 and 2008-9 seasons on 86 points in second place. Of course, that lean streak did end just in time for us to grab our own place in the 2008-9 playoffs; a 2-1 win at the Lamex marred by Robbo seeing red in April 2009.
Playoff misery and title-chasing revenge
That leads us onto the inevitable chat about our 2009 playoff semi-final adventure. Boro’ came away from the first leg at home with a 3-1 advantage. And we can tell you now – Darren Murphy getting a red card in that tie was a joke. It all unravelled at the Abbey in the second leg, though. Scott Laird this time was the man dismissed as the Us got the 3-0 win they required – after extra time – to make the final.
After losing the final, the Us were forced to go again with us in the Blue Square Premier the next year. And how we made ’em pay. A 3-1 win at theirs on Boxing Day was followed by a 4-1 victory at ours on New Year’s Day. They’d won the battle earlier that year. But we went into 2010 on the path to winning the war. Our promotion to League Two parted our company…
Cambridge United: Boro’s Record
Our head-to-head: P 28 — W 12 — D 5 — L 11 — F 39 — A 31— Pts 34 — WR 43%
Our last tango: Cambridge United 0-1 Stevenage, 24 April 2021
What happened to them?
Eventually, the Us escaped the Football League for a second time; this time not needing votes to go up. That time came in 2014; coincidentally the year that we came down from League One. On 28 December 2014, we picked up where we left off with a 3-2 home win. But things, for us, would go very badly wrong after that. One win in 10 meetings was all we could manage; a run that also included five straight games in which we didn’t even score.
Weirdly, our godawful 2019-20 season was the catalyst for change once more. After a 1-1 draw at home, we pretty much shocked the world by thrashing the Us by four goals in January 2020. This gave us renewed confidence in our long-running saga. Now, we know that Cambridge United are up in League One. But they didn’t get there without dropping six points to us in their promotion-winning 2020-1 campaign. And we look forward to the next time we meet for yet more points…
• WANT TO KNOW MORE? – Cambridge United club profile