Cambridge United: Reason to be cheerful

Mark Curtis 21 June 2009

New midfielder Jai Reason might make the difference for Cambridge United

It’s been a season littered with missed opportunities for Cambridge United. The club will remain for yet another year in the murky depths of “non-league football” (as most football fans know it) or the somewhat more impressive-sounding “Blue Square Premier” (as the marketing executives would prefer it be called).

The U’s had a chance to steal this year’s Blue Square title from eventual champions Burton Albion, who suffered defeat to Torquay on the last day of the season. However, United only managed a goalless draw at home to Altrincham and found itself once more in a promotion playoff. The result – a 2-0 loss to Torquay – means a second straight year of playoff heartbreak for Cambridge United. The performance was a huge disappointment to the 20,000 Cambridge fans that travelled to Wembley, as they witnessed a flat, lacklustre display from their team.

Shortly after their Wembley failure, the club found itself rocked by the potential departure of manager Gary Brabin after only one year in charge. Brabin, who was named as Blue Square Premiership manager of the year, entered into talks to take over the reins at Blackpool. Although the sea-siders’ managerial position was ultimately filled by Ian Holloway, the prospect of Brabin being lured to another club has done little to create the much-needed stability that Cambridge United sorely lacks at the moment. Certainly, opinion remains divided amongst fans about Brabin’s stewardship of the club, but yet another managerial change over the summer is the last thing the U’s need.

Just to compound the difficulties faced by Cambridge spending another season in the Blue Square Premier, press reports have appeared calling into question the financial stability of TV station Setanta, whose coverage of the league provide much needed income to all the clubs.

Cambridge’s share of this income is estimated at around £85,000 per season, with a further £13,000 for each live home game shown and £2,000 for each away game appearing on the station. In total, Cambridge brings in around £125,000 annually from the Setanta deal.

One football website, Rivals.net, recently reported that Setanta Sports defaulted on a payment of £3,000,000 to the Scottish Premier League. It was also reported that Setanta was having trouble financing an even bigger sum of £48,000,000 that is owed to the Premier League and the Football Association for television coverage of the Premier League and the FA Cup. On 17th June Public Relations Industry website, PR Week confirmed the report on the continuing financial troubles of the Irish TV station. Reports last week suggested Setanta was locked in talks with investors to sell a majority stake – the BBC named Russian-American billionaire Len Blavatnik as a probable contender. He is said to be investing £20m, with another £20m coming from other unknown investors. Setanta stopped taking new subscriptions last Thursday amid last-ditch hopes to secure its future, but has since started taking on new customers again.

This must be of huge concern to the fans, players and staff of Cambridge United, Cambridge is, of course, not a wealthy club, although U’s chairman George Rolls has attempted to re-assure fans last week that Cambridge will not be affected. Speaking on Sky News, Rolls stated “I’m sure this will affect some clubs, but fortunately for Cambridge United we got wind of this half way through last season, and we prudently decided that we wouldn’t be budgeting for the Setanta money this season, so luckily for us it won’t have an effect on us”.

Despite these assurances, the loss of revenue has clearly affected the club: players Courtney Pitt and Jon Challinor were transfer listed at the start of June, with manager Brabin quoted on the club website as saying, “Those two players are in the high earning bracket…so due to the budget cuts, they have been placed on the transfer list”.

However, on a more positive note, fans of the U’s have been buoyed by the signing of midfielder Jai Reason, who is scheduled to join the club on 1st July, when his current contract with Ipswich Town expires. Reason joined Cambridge United on loan earlier this season, scoring two goals in 18 appearances. He spoke to the press after being unveiled at the club: “I just can’t wait for the season to start again. I wouldn’t have signed if I didn’t feel the club was going in the right direction. Cambridge United deserve better, and to be in the League, and as long as I’m playing, that’s the direction I’ll be trying to help them go in.”

Mark Curtis