CEO JEZ GEORGE PAYS TRIBUTE TO THE CONTRIBUTION OF THE DEPARTING JAMES CUTTING
I will start today with a question. What is so significant about 14th November 2007? No, nothing to do with Bird Flu. Or Wigan Athletic offering £3 million to poach Steve Bruce from Birmingham City. Or French workers getting to work on rollerblades to avoid 200 miles of traffic jams on roads leading to Paris because of the Train and Bus strike that paralysed the capital and other cities. No, it was something much closer to home.
Tom Pell and I met James Cutting for the first time. Today it is his last day working for Cambridge United before he leaves us to embark on his next challenge in a new career with the National Trust. In the 9 years, 5 months and 15 days that have elapsed in between, he has done as much as anyone (bar none) to change the fortunes of this Football Club. He has been immense. He has worked ridiculously hard. He has set ludicrously high standards. He has been class. And he is irreplaceable. We will move forward with a different structure, and the Club will continue to flourish, but there is no point in trying to replace him because he is unique.
When we first met him, it really was only because he kept emailing us from the USA, where he was coaching in New York, wanting a job. His email address, "Captain-Canary" showed his footballing allegiances and to be honest, we both assumed from it that he was a bit of a numpty! How wrong we were! James' persistence earned him a meeting. He just wouldn't accept "no". His desire to earn himself a job then gave him the opportunity of one night's coaching, at our Kings Lynn Development Centre, where he lived. £15/hour. Then he offered to fill a coaching space at Baldock which we needed to fill. 140-mile round trip. £15/hour. £45 for his three hours coaching. No petrol allowance. No expenses. No complaints.
Then James, noticing that numbers were not full to capacity at either venue, asked if he could recruit players. He did that at weekends by watching games and contacting local managers. No payment. In his own time and at his own expense. The centres became full. Then he asked if he could recruit for other centres and coach more evenings. I will get to the end of the first part of this story; he became a full-time employee (starting on rubbish money!), running the programme and set about transforming it to the Youth Development Scheme that, ten years later, is so well established, so well respected and has produced so many players for our Academy.
We now have 15 centres, with 1000 players. We have a Shadow Academy programme, with two regional centres and 200 players. This year we have grown our Goalkeeper's programme to over 100 participants and our Futsal programme has 250 players. All overseen by James. Now passed on to Jonny Martin, Jake Hammond, Ben Watson and Dario Seminerio, who have all benefited from James' ideas, drive, energy and vision to now lead the individual programmes.
During this time, James was also overseeing the creation and subsequent growth of our Primary School Sport programme and leaves us with 80 schools, many of which he met to sign contracts with us last year. One of his final meetings this week was to accompany Henry Comfort to a meeting with a School's Trust that could see us add up to 26 Primary Schools, all located within "The Fens", to our ever-expanding portfolio.
James was thinking about what came next for him three years ago, and typically wrote me an email expressing his thoughts, frustrations and ambitions on Christmas Day! He didn't even stop working on the 365th day of the year, that is usually assumed as the one that everyone takes off! Knowing what I thought made him tick, I challenged him… Create another tier in our Youth Development Pyramid. Create an Open Access programme to rival our Youth Development and Primary School Sport programmes. The outcome was inevitable. Soccer Schools, Soccer Centres and Soccer Tots were born. So too, subsequently, have Olympic Schools, with Cricket Schools and Rugby Schools to follow soon! We now have literally hundreds of kids, of all ages & abilities, every school holiday, participating in activities organised by CUFC that were the brainchild of James Cutting. Responsibility for the future success of this programme has now been bestowed on Ben Shepperson, appointed last month, with James having combined this role with the additional responsibility of contributing across the entire Business Operation, since Henry Comfort's appointment in September last year. Henry would be the first to concur that his integration into the business and the implementation of so many new initiatives over this period has been helped immeasurably by James' co-operation, ideas and selfless attitude.
And if you see the number of young faces in the stadium on match-days, making the place unrecognisable from three years ago, you can bet that it was probably an initiative invented by James. His final contribution in this respect has been helping us to create and launch the Free 20 Game Ticket for children at Primary Schools.
So, to the present. James, who once saw his future as an Academy coach and set out believing he wanted a coaching career, has reached a point where we can do no more to satisfy his ambitions and it's right that he moves on with our blessing. His journey should be an inspiration to everyone. He has earned everything through sheer desire, tenacity, hard work, determination and commitment. Oh and sheer talent. In fact, for each of those categories, he has set almost impossible standards. It also proves some of my theories correct. Select on Conviction, Character & Competency. James has these three in abundance. Then, when you have identified someone with these qualities, get them "on the bus". Worry about "which seat" later. James has moved seats on several occasions, but always for the good of the Club not himself, and always performing with distinction to hugely contribute to the overall success of the Club.
I cannot speak highly enough of him. He is an entrepreneur. But he's also a team player. He is respected by everyone. He epitomises our identikit of staff at our Club – intelligent, open-minded & innovative; respectful, honest & humble; whilst possessing all the other qualities I have highlighted above.
I cannot thank him enough for everything he has done in supporting me and to benefit the Club, as well as literally thousands of youngsters and scores of coaches, since 14 November 2007. What a (lucky) decision to meet him! And he's now 100% a CUFC fan; Norwich City have long fallen off his radar! It was James, Tom Pell and Nigel Hurrell (a fantastic man, an Academy coach for 10+ years and a huge CUFC fan) that I went to embrace immediately after the final whistle at Wembley in 2014. They may not have been on the pitch, and didn't get on the pitch or in any photos, but their contribution was as great as any.
James will not want to appear on the pitch today, but please applaud him when we give him some well-deserved recognition this afternoon. He's been class for CUFC. He's a class act. He will always be welcome at CUFC, and like Matt Walker, Marc Tracy & Ben Strang, you never know, the lure of Cambridge United may drag him back at some point in the future.
Every Football Club has a stadium, pitch, offices and training ground. But it's the people who define a Football Club's culture and philosophy. We have some great people who understand what the Club means and what it stands for. We want to be different. We want to be unique. We want to be class. We want to be successful. And we want to do it in the right way – with honesty, integrity, humility, pride and respect. That is James Cutting. And others who I could write similar articles about. They are not in the public eye, but they know who they are, and they are the cornerstones of the Club and any potential future success.
And finally, thank you for your fantastic, loyal support this season. You are also class.