Jez Says - 21st April
A lot seems to have happened since the first game of the season at the R Costings Abbey Stadium against Norwich City on a balmy night in July when Adam Cunnington rifled in a screamer from 30 yards to set us on our way. Nine months later and we arrive at our last home league game of the season with plenty to reflect on with pride and the biggest challenge still ahead of us. I thought that I should highlight some of the achievements, both on and off the pitch, and how far the club has progressed in this time. Some of the work to underpin the obvious improvement on the pitch had begun long before this season and the analogy Richard and I have used this season about the first team being only the tip of the iceberg is true. The fact of the matter though is that most people only see the tip of the iceberg. Therefore that will always be how every club is judged.
On Easter Monday 2013, Richard and I were breathing a huge sigh of relief on gaining a point at Lincoln, which we both believed would keep us away from trouble. If anyone is under any illusion that a club has a devine right to stay in this league because of their history or fan base they should look at Stockport County. Over 100 years in the Football League, crowds last season averaging over 3000 and now in the bottom half of Conference North. On Saturday, Aldershot play Hereford and one of these ex-Football League clubs could join them.
When you consider last season, the performances and results achieved by the squad so far this campaign has been fantastic. The consistency to have amassed over 80 points, and to win a national cup competition for the first time in the clubs history, is testament to the hard work, professionalism, dedication and commitment of the players and staff. I was going to say since the beginning of July, but really the construction of this squad started last January. I think that anyone who has seen us play this season, would say that we are the personification of teamwork. That is the same off the pitch.
There have been so many records that have been broken by this group of players - consecutive home wins, unbeaten run, minutes without conceding a goal to name a few. There is another record that we are really proud of as well. That is our number of sendings off and bookings. The discipline on and off the pitch is part of the ethos of this club. These core values, of respect, humility and honesty pervade throughout the club and create a culture that can make us different. From our youngest player in a development centre to Luke Chadwick in the first team, the philosophy remains the same. To have a totally integrated football operation and a football structure that maximises our potential means that we will always produce results that are greater than the resources should allow. It also means that what we are doing is sustainable. Whatever happens in the play offs, it will not deter us from this path. Clubs that can create stability, with a football model that has longevity, have a far greater chance of success than those that constantly change course, overreact to results (especially bad ones!) and think only in the short term.
I spoke to Kevin Palmer for an article in the programme looking at the aspirations of the club for the next four years. Firstly, it's great to be asked that question rather than a prediction about the next four weeks. Secondly, it is possible to answer it. You can shape the medium to long term future by building the right structures and processes, through proper planning and having a clear vision. No-one can guarantee what will happen over a short period of time, over a two legged semi final or a one off final. That is why in pursuing short term aims, a sense of perspective must be maintained and the long term never jeopardised.
With that in mind, we should also reflect on the continued progress of our academy. Their fixture list this season has looked more akin to that of a category one premier league academy rather than a club in the Football Conference that operates with no funding. This season has also provided a watershed in that we have recruited the first group of scholars that have been through our system in its entirety, having been recruited either as an U9 academy player or having progressed through our development pyramid. This will now happen every season and with the talent in our U9-U16 programme, who now have the added advantage of playing against the top players in the country at their age in their games programme, that is a really exciting prospect.
It also brings me onto being able to congratulate Ryan Horne, James Akintunde and Matt Lowe on signing their first professional contracts. They have all progressed well this season and while they all know there is plenty of work ahead, they have all earned the opportunity to make the next, and biggest, step.
Finally, this time of year brings back memories of 2009, when I walked 420 miles around the country to raise money to keep the youth scheme going and last Easter, walking 100 miles to Lincoln over the Bank Holiday weekend. I should probably have thought about how I felt then a little more before thinking up this latest challenge! But the cause in such a good one, and so important for the vision of our club, that it is worth some pain. I will add just one caveat. It is worth the pain if it makes a difference. And to achieve that we need to raise a lot of money. The response of businesses has been staggering and they will help us to achieve half of our target. We need you to respond. We need a lot to give a little. If everyone was to give a little, just £6.76, we would reach our target. Please help. Spread the word. Follow on twitter. Encourage others to do the same. Then Cambridge United can be winners in 2014 on and off the pitch and be a source of pride to the whole city, not just the amber nation!