Del Franklin - Cambridge United Fan

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Del Franklin

Cambridge United Fan

The seven minutes of injury time felt like seven hours! But we held on and took our place back amongst the elite after almost ten years away.
— Del Franklin

FATC: What made you first fall in love with football? 

DF: Being allowed to stay up late and watch Match Of The Day highlights on a Saturday night in the 1970's got me hooked.  In those days, there was very little live football on the telly and the highlights package aroused my interest in watching football.  Also, back then MOTD showed highlights from all four divisions so it wasn't all about the big teams of the day although I don't recall them ever showing Cambridge but considering we were promoted from the fourth division in the 1976/77 season, I'm sure they must have been on!  I think its why it's still my favourite football programme today.

FATC: How did you come to support Cambridge United? 

DF: They're my local team simple as that. You can see the stadium floodlights from the house I grew up in.

FATC: What are your earliest football memories? 

DF: When United clinched promotion to the old second division in 1978, beating Wrexham 1-0. The ground was so packed that us kids were on the advertising side of the billboards so we were literally on the side of the pitch. When United scored, there was a massive pitch invasion. That sort of thing would never be allowed now, so it's great to hold such a special memory.  I'd been before but this is the first match I have vivid memories of.  I was nine years old.

FATC: What is the hardest thing about being a Cambridge United fan? 

DF: Much dedication is required and much pain will be endured. Sticking it out can be very difficult and extremely taxing.  Under Shaun Derry last season, the football was so ridiculously woeful that many regulars, even those with season tickets, decided that shopping with the wife was a more interesting prospect.  It is an eternal merry-go-round of struggle. Constant budget cuts, under-performing players, bad results and terrible signings all contribute to the eternal roller coaster ride of dedication. Also, the nine seasons we recently spent in non-league were difficult to stomach especially making the play-off final twice only to fall at the final hurdle in successive seasons.

FATC:  What is the best thing about being a Cambridge United fan? 

DF: Success on the pitch. I am lucky that Cambridge have even managed to win a few trophies, cause the odd cup upset and endured a few promotions in my time supporting the club.  We certainly have had a bit more success than many lower league clubs. But even one-off results can fill you with joy like when you go away in a league match fully expecting to get a draw at best and the team bags all three points.

FATC: What is your favourite football memory? 

DF: Gaining promotion back to the football league via the play-off final at Wembley against Gateshead in 2014.  It was typical of United as well. Cruising 2-0 up with 10 minutes to go, they nicked one back, seconds later the team is reduced to ten men due to injury and having made all three substitutions.  Gateshead threw everything they had including the kitchen sink and the defence held so strong.  Had Gateshead equalized, I think we may well have ended up losing the match as the players gave everything.

The seven minutes of injury time felt like seven hours!  But we held on and took our place back amongst the elite after almost ten years away. When the referee finally blew his whistle, there was just a feeling of euphoria and sheer relief.  The team had been in contention for the title most the season only to be thwarted by arch-rivals Luton Town.  Had we lost this one there was a feeling we would never get back to the promised land of league football.

I really feel for any ex-league club who drop into non-league and am genuinely happy for them when they get back in the football league with the possible exceptions of rivals such as Luton and Peterborough!!!

FATC:  What is your worst football memory? 

DF: Getting relegated to the conference in 2005.  It was an awful season right from the word go. I was supporting from afar and only made a couple of matches that season which in hindsight was a good thing but it is just as painful listening via the radio on the internet. Total disarray off the pitch as well as on.  Selling The Abbey Stadium in a very bad deal, administration and an inch away from going out of business. Really dark times.

FATC: Who is your favourite Cambridge United player of all time? 

DF: Courtney Pitt. A tricky little left-winger, he was on the books at Chelsea and at one time was apparently being scouted by Barcelona. He really could have made it big time in the game but fell through the net and ended up playing for United for five years making over 150 appearances. A real cult hero at The Abbey Stadium.  Like many wasted talents who end up in the lower leagues, more often than not he would be anonymous on the pitch for long spells. However, when he played well and was flying down the left wing, he was joyous to savour. Ironically, post-football he ended up doing the same job as me - a postman!

FATC: Who is your favourite non-Cambridge United player of all time? 

DF: That would have to be the late, great George Best.  I never got to see him play live but there is something truly magical about watching footage of him playing in his prime.  Another wasted talent, his life outside of football was interesting and colourful but laced with sadness and tragedy.  His final years were very painful to watch.

FATC: Alan Biley or Steve Spriggs? 

DF: AAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!!!! Oh what a tough one!  I will go for Steve Spriggs as he was at Cambridge for 12 years and stuck with the club during our awful, barren spell during the mid-80's. And like Courtney Pitt, was a small, tricky little player with a lot of pace who could terrorize defences. 

J.S. Leatherbarrow