You would think that with a captive audience of 19,000 students, most of them young, that football in Cambridge would be well patronized. Not so, for the city of Cambridge’s transient population is rather ambivalent about United and City.
For an academic centre that is among the wealthiest areas in Britain – you can drive for miles before you exhaust the university’s real estate portfolio – the two football clubs are fairly anonymous.
What’s more, the casual onlooker could come to the conclusion that the city of Cambridge doesn’t really want a single senior football club, let alone two. There are plans to build a community stadium in Cambridge, one that is supposed to be the home of both clubs. The drawings look fairly well impressive, but there may be a few hurdles – Cambridge is full of nimbys – before the stadium materializes.
United’s Abbey Stadium, which has always been a little bit remote from the town, situated as it is on the road to Newmarket, was set to be demolished to make way for houses. There was talk of a new stadium on the site, but local allotment holders shook their spades in anger, claiming that the ground would take up too much land. The alternative site for the community stadium is in Trumpington, but this too has been met with opposition, largely because nature-lovers fear that the nearby Granchester Meadows will be used as a thoroughfare by supporters en route to the stadium.
Cambridge City’s future is also cloudy due to their relocation from Milton Road, where they have played since 1922. City are poised to groundshare at Newmarket Town from 2013-14. Their ground was sold by the previous regime at the club and, supposedly, City were to receive 50% of the profits of any future development of the site. To add further confusion, recent press reports suggest that City are on their way to Sawston.
Football in Cambridge has clearly seen better days. United were playing at the second tier of the game as recently as 1993. But now they are into their eighth season in non-league football. And despite a good FA Cup run which brought in much-needed cash, City’s campaign has been in danger of getting out of control.
There is of course one other – more radical – solution to the problem – a merger between the two clubs. Cambridge has a population of 122, 000 – it’s a relatively small town with around 20% of its population constantly changing. It’s not a footballing hotbed – the sound of leather on willow (as heard at Fenner’s) is arguably more welcome than the roar of the football crowd. The future is likely to be challenging for both Cambridge United and City.