How could Dion Dublin fail to be a huge favourite with Cambridge United supporters after such an auspicious start? Coming on as substitute in a Sherpa Vans Trophy tie in November 1988, Dion marked his first-team debut with an injury-time equaliser. The identity of the opponents –Peterborough United – assured the young centre-back-turned-striker of the fans’ undying admiration.
A few weeks later he launched himself into the ranks of the legendary when, in only his second start as a number nine, he meted out the same dose to the arch-rivals – three times over. His sensational hat-trick in a 5-1 thrashing of Posh at London Road earned him an 18-month contract and the status of Abbey folk hero.
The goals flowed in a constant stream as Dion, a flagbearer for John Beck’s squadron of shock troops that battled its way to the summit of the old Division Two and into two successive FA Cup quarter-finals, established a formidable reputation. Forming lethal partnerships with the likes of John Taylor and Steve Claridge, he was on the end of innumerable deliveries into the box, diverting them home with head or either foot.
By the time Dion left for the bright lights of Old Trafford in 1992, he had notched 72 times in around 200 appearances. Among them were goals of every nature and importance, but two will stay forever sealed in every witness’s memory.
Thirteen minutes from the end of the 1990 Division Four play-off final at a sun-bathed Wembley, he rose highest to propel a Chris Leadbitter corner into Chesterfield’s net and confirm his club as a new power in the land. Ten months later, in front of the biggest travelling support Highbury had seen for years, he met a Michael Cheetham cross and lifted it up and over David Seaman. United lost that quarter-final to a formidable Arsenal team, but the memory of the moment is indelible.
Dion had announced himself as one of the country’s leading strikers – imposing, athletic, combative and possessed of great awareness, an exquisite touch and abundant skills both aerial and earthbound. He put them on display four times in an England shirt while making friends everywhere in a career that took him from Manchester United to Coventry City, Aston Villa, hometown club Leicester City, Celtic and Norwich City.
And making friends comes naturally to Dion. Just as striking as his football ability are his easy affability, his open, humble nature and his immense likeability. Small wonder that he has found success as a natural, relaxed TV pundit and presenter.
His enduring affection for the club that moulded him is often expressed, and it’s hugely appreciated by Cambridge United people.