So let us be clear: without the money-making genius of Dudley Arliss, Cambridge United would not have been elected to the Football League in 1970.
Dudley’s fundraising schemes, administered by an army of staff and volunteer agents, brought money flooding into the club’s coffers – money that helped to make the Abbey Stadium the envy of many a League outfit; money that helped to assemble the management, team and backroom staff that won the Southern League twice; money that ensured the message of United’s suitability for elevated status was heard in the right places.
At its height, Dudley’s pools operation covered every corner of East Anglia and beyond. By far the biggest outside the League, it was also coveted by many within it. At its heart was a man of ideas, supreme organisational skill, limitless energy and great charisma who encouraged his co-workers and agents to think big – and then think bigger.
It’s estimated that, by the time he left United after 25 years, he had raised more than £5 million for the club.
Yet it started modestly. The Grimsby native, having recently left the RAF, first attended a U’s match in 1953 but had his first encounter with Abbey fundraising efforts when he wandered into a Supporters’ Club whist drive. It raised the head-spinning total of eleven pence – about 5p in today’s terms.
United could do a bit better than that, mused Dudley, and he suggested that bingo be introduced on Tuesday nights. Sure enough, the sessions proved popular among mums who had just collected their child allowance, and he was soon serving on the Supporters’ Club committee.
He then calculated that, by dangling a £100 first prize carrot in the faces of Barnwell people, he could sell 8,000 draw tickets at a shilling a throw every week. He was bang on the money.
By mid-1961 he had given up his upholstery business and joined United full-time to work on his pools schemes. A lucky number was drawn every weekday in the Supporters’ Club; on Saturdays the draw was made on the pitch at half-time. As time went on, the size of cash prizes grew to reach £1,000.
Dudley’ s network of more than 200 agents grew to cover the entire region. In time, the club took on a second full-time promoter and then, with 26,000 tickets being sold every week, a third. By 1969, when United were knocking hard at the League’s door, weekly sales had hit 45,000 and the club was benefiting to the tune of £1,000 a week – an enormous sum at the time.
Over the 25 years of Dudley’s employment as assistant secretary and commercial manager, working with the likes of Bill Cawdery, Len Saward, Brian Caine, Shirley Leivers and many others, he became one of the best-loved and most respected personalities in United’s history. No Dudley Arliss, no League football.