Jez Says - 11th March
I would like to start by introducing you to my guests for tonight's game. Whilst we were getting back to winning ways at the R Costings Abbey Stadium last Saturday, the following players were victorious in two matches against Oxford University. So congratulations to John Harrison, Martin Minkowski, Preye Koroye-Crooks, Raffi Salama, Dan Brown, Jonny Crease, Will Goddard-Pantic, Ben Mack, Martin Letrilliart, Marcus Neilson, James Eales, Marcus McPhillips, Rafe Fletcher & John Carroll who were part of the Kestrels team to triumph 2-1 whilst Henry Warne, Chris Fountain, Donald Bogle, Rich Wolstenhulme, Jonny Dungay, Martin Sedlak, Joe Painter, Boris Grubic, AJ Rawson, Nikos Yerolemou, Max Burley, Ricky Versteeg, Jack Johnson, Dave Walker & Alex Howorth formed the Falcons squad that turned around a two goal deficit to win 3-2 against their Oxford counterparts. These matches are an annual event for the second and third teams and precedes the Blues Varsity Match. The remaining players who will represent our city on Sunday 6th April at Craven Cottage, on the day of another famous Cambridge v Oxford fixture, the Boat Race, are:
Fergus Kent, Simon Court, Sol Elliott, Mike Smith, James Day, Anthony Childs, James May, Zac Baynham-Herd, Haith Sherif, Chris Hutton, Rory Griffiths, Daniel Forde & John Gorringe.
We will be introducing the Falcons and Blues squads to you at half time today, so please give the players a really good reception.
This relationship, initiated by our Community Trust Chairman, Graham Daniels, has seen us coach the Blues this season. That includes taking weekly training sessions, managing the team in their league and cup fixtures and coaching them at their training camp in La Manga. You may have read about their exploits or followed them on twitter but as I have said before, it has been an absolute pleasure for me and our other coaches to have been able to have helped them since September. Despite the huge demands of their academic studies, they are so committed to their football and represent the university with real pride. There attitude is very humbling. I have got to know them quite well over the last 6 months and I think a few of the squad are slowly becoming proper Cambridge United fans! They are certainly becoming regulars at the R Costings Abbey Stadium and will be supporting us at Wembley as part of their build up for their own big day in London two weeks later. I really hope that we can reciprocate by taking some of the Amber Army to Craven Cottage (especially the drummer!) to get behind the Light Blues in the Varsity Match.
The vision of our club, which is implemented through the work of our trust, is to interact with all cross sections of our community and make a real contribution through sport, especially football. There is no larger community in Cambridge than the university and certainly no more historic or instantly recognisable brand throughout the world. Anywhere you travel, whether it be Australia, America, Asia, Africa or the Middle East, everyone has heard of Cambridge because of the university. Whereby in the past the club has sought to gain quick wins with little long term commitment, we are now motivated by developing partnerships that are mutually beneficial and sustainable for the long term. Therefore, it is not about selling a few tickets for a few games each season, it is about forging a real, meaningful relationship. It is a privilege to be associated with such an iconic institution but it has also been a privilege to work with such honest, keen, intelligent and talented individuals.
The conversations are sometimes a little different. I haven't had too many discussions on the way back from a CUFC game about a book titled "the utopia of communism on Mars!". I have rarely debated the relative conductivity qualities of polystyrene cups with CUFC players whilst sipping my coffee and I have never had a player apologise when they were substituted for their performance! I have also heard the best out down line ever. We lost to Chichester and whilst we were discussing Greek theology and Chinese philosophy in our cool down, one of our players said "you can even get in there with an A Level in Business Studies!". Brilliant! Through everything, the traditions, the keenness of the players and their gratitude for our input is really evident.
We also have the players of Pembroke College here tonight. They lost a thrilling Cuppers final 4-3 against Jesus College last Friday in a game that constantly ebbed and flowed. The dress code and selections of songs from the stands were not quite what we would see in the NRE (I've not seen too many supporters wearing bow ties and blazers in the R Costings Abbey Stadium!) but the endeavour from these players on the pitch was reminiscent of the work ethic from our own team. My mate, Trevor Munns, is Pembroke groundsman turned manager and they certainly did him and themselves proud with their performance.
This season has been tough for the Blues but it has been punctuated by some fantastic highlights and ultimately the aim to stay in the Premier Division of the BUCS league has been achieved. The players deserve all the plaudits. We have tried to add some professionalism, some organisation, some tactical knowledge and discipline, some team shape and some pattern of play to help them compete at the highest level of university football throughout the British Isles. And let me tell you, it's a decent standard. Great credit, as always, should also go to those who have gone before. Che Wilson coached the team to unprecedented success, culminating in two promotions, before going to Loughborough University himself to peruse his own studies. There are also too many players to mention from those triumphs, many of whom stay in touch with the team, and are now forging their careers throughout the world. I have recognised the unbelievable team spirit, togetherness and respect that is shown not only between this squad but also to the "old boys" so instrumental in getting the team to this level.
One such player is Danny Kerrigan, who assisted Blues skipper Anthony Childs with coaching the Kestrels and Falcons last week and will also be in the dug out as part of the management team for the Varsity match. Danny is a bit of legend amongst the lads, not just for his undoubted ability as a player but also his contribution over five years to university football at Cambridge, which remains undimmed despite graduating two years ago! I have great respect for him and I am delighted that he has also joined us tonight.
To put things into perspective, Graham Daniels recently visited Exeter University through his job and explained to me how their football team met twice weekly for gym sessions before breakfast on campus, three supervised training sessions and their weekly fixtures. I could not believe the size of the campus when we visited Loughborough and the quality of their facilities. Literally world class across a plethora of sports. These sporting heavyweights, along with the likes of Bath, Cardiff and Hartpury, recruit students because of their sporting prowess as much as their academic excellence. Cambridge University Blues team don't even have their own pitch, relying on the goodwill of college groundsman, and are all in Cambridge primarily because of their academic, not footballing, ability. To have competed in such company, even beating Champions Hartpury, and retaining their status alongside the elite is incredible and testament to the hard work and willingness to learn of the players.
Football is a simple game. If you are better than the opposition, you can just go out and play. You will monopolise possession and you can dictate the game. If you know that the opposition is going to be better, you have to work out a way to compete. You need to be good without the ball, which is much easier to achieve than being good with the ball. You can make life very difficult for any opposition if you are organised. You can be hard to break down, difficult to play though, tough to score against. You also stay in the game. Then you need to find a threat to score a goal. Whether that is being dangerous from set plays, effective on the counter attack or through an outstanding individual capable of creating and scoring goals, it is simply a matter of setting up the team to give them the best chance of competing. It has been déjà vous for me in some ways from February to April 2011! The players have bought into it and have improved their game understanding immeasurably. The Varsity match will bring a different challenge, possession is likely to be more 50/50 than any of our league games, so preparation is vital. There is also the challenge of handling the occasion. After all, these lads are students, not professional footballers so adopting the right mentality does not always come naturally. Process goals are always more useful than result goals. If the process is right, then the performance will be right and invariably the result will follow. That's our aim.
In terms of potential long term benefits of developing this relationship, it makes the mind boggle. I have learnt loads about the culture of Cambridge University and the vagaries of it's organisational structure. I think that it is best explained by comparing it to the United States, which has a constitution to govern the country as one but the constituent states all have a certain independence and a degree of autonomy. At Cambridge University, all the colleges are a separate entity, all charities with their own organisational structures and hierarchy, whilst the actual Cambridge University is the umbrella under which they all operate. Therefore, we must aim to develop links with every individual college in addition to our continued work through football. To say that Cambridge students are not interested in football is a misnomer. There are college leagues with almost 1000 players. There will be synergy between the aims of our own charity, the trust, and these individual colleges. Then there is the Judge Business School, who we are already working with towards the creation of an Enterprise Academy for local secondary schools centred around the club. The list is endless but extremely exciting for Cambridge United.
And this link with Cambridge University is the first of many initiatives currently being explored by the trust, to implement the club's vision of being at the centre of our community. Watch this space...
Tonight, the size of the club we are facing is reflected by the number (and I am sure the noise) of their away support. They could probably have sold out our entire stadium. We really need you to make sure we feel like the home team and then recreate what I am sure will be an electric atmosphere in equally important fixtures against Dartford and Welling.
Enjoy the game.