Looking to send ground off in style
31 October ~ Cambridge City's progress to the FA Cup first round has been rewarded with a home tie against League One opposition. Historically one of the biggest names in non-League football and winners of the Southern League in 1963, this is only the third time in 40 years that the Lilywhites have gone further in the competition than neighbouring Cambridge United. One other instance was in 2004 when they reached the second round for the only time, going out to the same opponents that they face on Friday, MK Dons.
They are once again a Southern League side after demotion from the Conference South in 2008. This division typically sees the sides who can build strength in depth earn promotion, as demonstrated in recent years by the likes of Salisbury and Brackley. City have finished in the top six for each of the last four seasons but any hopes of a title challenge have suffered from having a small squad unable to cope with the pressures of the traditional post-winter fixture pile up.
Manager Gary Roberts, who played over 200 times for Brentford and has been in charge at Milton Road for almost nine years, has managed to assemble a squad that blends experience with new prospects who have been central to this Cup run.
Thirty-eight-year-old captain Adie Cambridge and fellow midfielder Robbie Nightingale are both veterans of Histon's rise through the pyramid, while teenagers James Brighton and Luke Allen are both on six-month loans from Conference-level United and have played in virtually every game since arriving. Zac Barrett is one of the best regarded goalkeepers below Conference level, while Craig Hammond scored 66 goals in the last two seasons and was named Step Three Player of the Year 2011. His record of 17 goals in 16 games this season is even more remarkable given the club's poor start to the league campaign, that has seen just four wins from their opening ten games.
Milton Road, the club's home since 1922, may be hosting football for the last time this season. After being sold by a previous board in 2004 and the club being handed notice to move out, a High Court ruling later decreed that the club had been “induced to make it [the sale] by a fraudulent misrepresentation” and ensured that City claim 50 per cent of the future profit made from developing the site.
Due to the difficulties with the property market the eviction date has been moved back numerous times but the January 2011 announcement of a further two year extension looks set to be the last. Barring further announcements this will be the last season at the ground, with a share at Eastern Counties First Division club Newmarket Town due to begin in the summer. Club president Len Satchell recently bought a 35 acre site north of Sawston, nearly ten miles away, with the intention of building the club a new home there.
The match has been moved to Friday evening to be featured on ESPN, making the club a valuable £63,800 in addition to the prize money for getting this far. The television channel will be in search of a giant killing with predictable contrasts between historic Cambridge and Milton Keynes, City's proud 104 year heritage and the Dons' dubious infancy. With the Lilywhites 16th in the Southern League and Karl Robinson's team eighth in League One all logic points towards an away victory but perhaps the FA Cup can produce one last Milton Road memory for City's fans. Matt Ramsay