That day changed everything. Bill’s life took on a black and amber hue, and by the time he retired from full-time employment at the Abbey in (1998?) he’d played a massive part in the rise of the club from United Counties League part-timers to fixtures in the Football League.
As part of the commercial team that financed United’s rise to a place on the national stage, he showed peerless loyalty and ingenuity, and a seemingly unquenchable appetite for hard work.
By his own reckoning he handled more than £3 million in revenue during a (37-year?) career. Even when he was officially retired he couldn’t keep away and continued to grace the club with his presence two days a week.
He was also a constant presence at the Abbey on match days, selling Golden Gamble tickets or simply doing what needed to be done.
Cambridge United became Bill’s life, but it was only by chance. The Camden Town native had found himself in our county following his demob from the Army but, incredible as it may sound, got his first Cambridge football fixes at Milton Road, home of the club then known as Cambridge Town.
But once he had experienced a Newmarket Road afternoon, he knew where his allegiance lay. Invited by a mate to a U’s game, he was deeply affected by the enthusiasm, never-say-die loyalty and commitment shown by fans, players and officials alike.
His work as a British Railways signalman threatened to interfere with his Abbey habit, so he did what only a diehard U would do: he closed the small station on the Oxford line at just after two o’clock on a Saturday and hurried across town to the match. His stationmaster, who was also a United devotee, never said a word.
But Bill’s natural talent for selling found an outlet when he applied for a collector’s job with the Cambridge & District Sportsmen’s Guild, a Supporters’ Club offshoot.
Then along came Dudley Arliss, the architect of the pools operation that funded United’s ascent to the Football League. In 1962 he tempted Bill away from the railways with the offer of a full-time job with his pools team. What else could a dedicated supporter with a flair for sales do but accept?
So began a career that started with Bill motoring all over East Anglia to flog tickets and sign up new sales points, clocking up 500 miles and collecting around £3,000 a week – very big money in those days. His wife Joy and son Mark saw little of him in those days, but they understood that he had to make that sacrifice.
He became Dudley’s right-hand man, and they made a formidable team. No one who witnessed Bill’s devotion to the cause came away unimpressed.
It’s impossible to quantify his contribution to the history of our club. Suffice it to say that there would be no Cambridge United today if it wasn’t for the work of the likes of Bill Cawdery.