When young Harvey Cornwell (born 12 August 1896) wasn't at school, he worked with his father, picking mushrooms and selling them on Cambridge market. The young mushroom-picker would later be known as the Grand Old Master of Cambridge Football.

Hooked on football from an early age, Harvey played for his school teams, St Georges and New Street, and on Thursdays for New Chesterton Institute. Leaving school at 14, he attracted the attention of Aston Villa, who were about to win the Football League, but his father insisted that Harvey stay in the family business, and he was given Saturday and Thursday afternoons off to play local football.

Harvey, who could be working anywhere in the wilds of Cambridgeshire, had to make his own way back to Cambridge for games; the Cornwells didn't have a horse, let alone a car. One day he asked the driver of a passing cart for a lift but was turned down. Knowing the cart was going to Cambridge, he decided to run behind it all the way into town – and got to the game on time.

Harvey, 19 at the start of the Great War, joined the Navy and ended up in Canada, where he decided to switch to the Army. A keen boxer, he often made a few shillings by challenging the resident boxing champions at the fairground booths in Cambridge. No surprise, then, that he should finish runner-up in the Canadian Forces featherweight championship.

Harvey returned to Cambridge after the war to play for Thursday Wanderers, and in 1922 he joined Abbey United, who had just won the Cambs League Division 3 title in their first season. By 1925 he was a regular first-team player and was leading goalscorer for four consecutive seasons. He also managed a remarkable nine hat-tricks in four years.

Harvey's short, lightweight frame often deceived opposing players, and he took great pride in outjumping six-foot defenders, seemingly defying gravity by hanging in the air.

During his time with Abbey United, Harvey started his own business, buying and selling second-hand furniture. In World War II he served in the Home Guard, allowing him to keep an eye on events at his beloved football club. This was just as well as Abbey nearly went broke, but with financial help from Harvey and a Mill Road ice cream salesman, Lew Sylvester, the club was saved. Harvey did leave Abbey to play for United Cantabs, Chesterton Victoria and Cambridge Town for brief spells, but he always returned.

He played more than 350 games over 25 years for Abbey United, scoring more than 185 goals. He remained fit as the years went on and, even in his 50s, played for Thursday Wanderers alongside his three sons. One can only wonder what would have happened to Harvey, and Abbey United for that matter, had Mr Cornwell Senior been a football man.

 

 

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