FA Cup fourth round tie tonight
23 January ~ Crowds at Cambridge United have topped 6,000 for the last three games, the first time that has happened since 1993 when the U’s were in what is now the Championship. A fourth big attendance in a row will be recorded this evening, when the League Two side take on Manchester United in a sold-out FA Cup fourth round tie.
With the Abbey’s capacity now hovering at around the 8,100 mark, demand for tickets for the fixture, which will see the smallest team left in the competition face one of the biggest, has far outstripped supply. Faced with striking a balance between cashing in on a potentially lucrative fixture and rewarding the supporters who stuck by the club during nine painful seasons in what is often referred to by the media as the "non-League wilderness", the U’s board came up with a strategy that they hope has stopped too many tickets falling into the hands of touts or day-trippers.
“It’s really important that the 1,800 who stood here and froze against Alfreton two years ago are in the ground,” said U’s chief executive Jez George, who has been instrumental in the club’s upturn in fortunes. So members of supporters’ trust Cambridge Fans United (CFU) were given first priority to book a place to see Wayne Rooney and co in action, along with season ticket holders and members of United’s away travel club. CFU have played a big part in United’s rejuvenation, providing financial support in hard times as well as an array of volunteers who help on matchdays, so it was good to see the role of the trust recognised.
On the pitch, things are going well for the U’s, with tonight’s game coming on the back of last season’s double triumph at Wembley, which saw them secure the FA Trophy before winning promotion via the Conference play-offs. The club will be hoping the increased interest generated by the team’s success in the last year will aid their bid to get the Abbey Stadium redeveloped. United were looking to move to a new community stadium and sporting village at Trumpington Meadows but, in the face of opposition from residents and local authorities, they announced this week that the plan is now to stay at an upgraded Abbey. The sporting village, which will provide a range of facilities and a home for United’s community trust, will go ahead without the stadium element.
While a new purpose-built ground would have been preferable for commercial reasons, the news that the club will stay at the site that has been their home since 1932 has been welcomed by supporters, and the sporting village plans should be more palatable to Trumpington’s residents without the prospect of a few thousand football fans turning up every couple of weeks. Perhaps next time the U’s host Premier League opposition, it will be in modernised surroundings. Matthew Gooding