One love leads to another for Cambridge Fans United chairman Robert Osbourn
It's all about U's
When Robert Osbourn walked through the turnstiles at the Abbey Stadium on Saturday, January 13, 1979, little did he know that a special relationship was about to be formed.
One bond was already developing, and that connection led to an introduction to Cambridge United that has only grown stronger and stronger down the years.
Osbourn is now chairman of supporters’ group Cambridge Fans United, but it was through his wife Val that he was first introduced to football.
“My wife, who wasn’t at that time my wife, had a season ticket with her dad and it was when we were playing in Division Two and it was a game where we beat Cardiff 5-0,” said Osbourn.
“The likes of of Lindsay Smith knocking the ball down the left-hand side and Alan Biley in the middle. It was a good game to come to - that was before we had seats in the main stand here, we were all sat on green benches.
“I wasn’t really a football fan because I had been brought up on rugby. I used to go with my grandmother to Grange Road to watch the university in rugby and always went to the Varsity Match.”
Osbourn spent many years in the North End, but at his “advanced age” he is now happy to take a seat in the main stand.
But that age has not stopped him taking on extra responsibility with CFU, an organisation that he first became a committee member of 12 years ago.
“CFU really is a relatively new thing in the life of the club, even though it’s done quite a lot over the last 14 years,” said Osbourn.
“I was asked by Dave Matthew-Jones if I would consider joining the CFU committee in, I think, 2004.
“I said ‘I don’t have a lot of time really’, but you get hooked into doing things and actually CFU as well as being the voice of the fans is also an organisation that does all sorts of things around the club.
“Lots of fans and CFU members have taken on voluntary roles over the years doing this, that and the other thing, even the menial tasks - some of our guys who don’t want to be named spend their time after the match sweeping out the stands and cleaning the litter.
“Nobody really thinks about the role that CFU takes on, but that’s our area really.”
When Dave Matthew-Jones replaced Colin Proctor as the fans’ elected director on the board, he suggested to vice-chairman Osbourn that he run to become chairman of the supporters’ group.
“Dave was a brilliant chairman because everybody knew what he was about,” said Osbourn. “He would encourage people to do things - if Dave asked somebody to do something they didn’t like to say no and hooray for that.
“As vice-chairman, you don’t do a lot other than nod and smile and fill in the gaps behind. I think I’m still in that role really as chairman.
“People say, you’re leading CFU, well I don’t see it like that really. You co-ordinate a bit of things and you do some jobs but actually nobody can do everything themselves, even though Dave is pretty good at that and people have a great deal of respect for him.
“It’s really helping him carry on what he’s doing and no more.”
Although there was no great trigger for Osbourn to initially join CFU, he feels that supporters’ trust can provide invaluable assistance to clubs.
And United saw that when they went into administration in 2005, CFU galvanised to do whatever they could.
“Obviously, the club’s gone through some rough times at different stages and I think that tends to be when CFU gains its momentum because there’s a perception that somehow if we join CFU and that makes us stronger then we can turn things around,” said Osbourn.
“There was an awful lot of work done by people who were CFU members and on the CFU board at that time [when United were in administration] - people like Nick Pommery and Gary Atyes, without which the club really would have struggled.
“A couple of CFU members stepped in and went on the board, Nick was one of them and Justyn Medd and it’s that sort of support and at times of crisis everybody seems to expect supporters’ clubs to give.
“I think it’s in times of better fortune that people forget to join or renew their membership because they think it’s all going okay anyway and they’re not needed and nothing could be further from the truth.
“You need more people to help and do things when you’re doing well because there’s so much more to be done.”
No more is that success evident in Osbourn’s eyes than the work that United have done in the community and rebuilding up the junior ranks at the club.
“The way in which Cambridge United have managed to regroup its youth policy and actually get back to a situation where its engaged with so many youngsters who are going to come forward and be the lifeblood of the future is fantastic,” he said.
And that work has been aided by the return to the Football League, with Osbourn remembering those trips to Wembley in 2014 fondly – after the failed attempts against Torquay and Exeter.
“It was a good successful game so you can look back on that and remember bits and pieces from it,” said Osbourn.
“As you get older you forget some of these things and you have to hang on to them.
“Those matches at Wembley where we were successful were really good.
“The build-up to those games were loads of us sitting in the club offices allocating people to coaches and sorting out tickets for people and doing all those backroom things the club at that stage didn’t have the staff to do.”
Those are the types of where CFU have assisted the club in the past, and a reason that fans’ trusts have had a growing influence.
“I think they’re becoming even more important,” said Osbourn. “A lot of clubs are going to fans organised and fans run clubs.
“We haven’t run that here, but that’s largely because we’ve got people who do a good job.”