Whatever the occasion, whatever the opposition, whatever the conditions and whatever the hairstyle, Alan Biley could normally be relied on for a goal or two. Cambridge United’s leading scorer for three consecutive seasons in the 1970s and League-era record-holder until 1999, he was a defender’s nightmare.
The familiar figure – hands clutching sleeves Denis Law-style, barnet groomed in rock star fashion – would be on to any half-chance in a flash. And it didn’t matter how the strike was executed, the end result was pretty much always the same – ball billowing net.
Yet according to this modest, immensely likeable Bedfordshire man, there was no great mystery, no magic formula behind his goal-poaching prowess. ‘I just whack ’em,’ he once told a reporter. ‘I just get goals when they come up. I do it by movement, motivation and anticipation.’
It didn’t matter if chances came to left foot, right foot or carefully coiffured head, Alan whacked ’em. And such was his influence at the Abbey Stadium that, when he left for Derby County in 1980, the main stand extension part-financed by his transfer fee was rapidly dubbed the Biley Stand.
His record of 82 goals in 178 full United appearances, across three divisions, was unsurpassed until a certain John Taylor came along. His last score came when he returned to Newmarket Road on trial in late 1986. His first came within minutes of his first appearance in amber and black, as a sub in the first game of the 1975/76 season against Doncaster.
An apprentice at Luton Town, playing mainly as a winger, he had followed coach Paddy Sowden in joining Ron Atkinson’s barnstorming squad as they attempted promotion from the old Division Four. Eighteen years old at the time, he impressed immediately with his pace, confidence and willingness to have a go.
He broke a leg in his fourth game but used the enforced lay-off to improve his left foot and practise his aerial skills. It was time well spent: on his comeback he came off the bench to head an equaliser. From then on he played as an out-and-out striker.
The goals continued into 1976/77, when United claimed the title, and multiplied the following year, when he formed a fearsome front three with Sammy Morgan and Tom Finney that drove the U’s to a second consecutive promotion.
United, by now plying their trade in Division Two, were protective of the young star who couldn’t help scoring, but Division One clubs were forming a queue for his services. It was inevitable that Alan would be showcasing his ability at the top level sooner rather than later, and so it turned out.
Thereafter he followed a peripatetic career path that included a spell at Portsmouth. He was just as popular at Fratton Park as he was, and remains, at the Abbey.