The Man Who Beat The Beast: When most of us were tucked up in bed, with the heating blasting and dreaming about what we were going to do with our football-free Saturday, Cambridge United stadium manager Ian Darler had other ideas.
In depths of the night, the stadium manager travelled to the Abbey, flicked on one floodlight and got to work.
It was 4 a.m.
Heading towards his 40-year anniversary with the club, when we caught up with him just before kick off he seemed unfazed by not only the 3 am start that morning but also even getting the game on, despite it being only one of 10 to beat the ‘Beast from the East.’
“It would have been very easy to turn a blind eye and the game would have been off,” he said.
“But I just think you just do your duty. It’s your professional pride at the end of the day.”
Indeed, Darler and his team – made up of a dozen or so volunteers from CFU and his fishing friends – had a long-term plan to ensure the game went ahead.
The pitches had been covered for nine days but the freezing conditions were still proving too much for them to deal with as temperatures dropped to as low as minus-11 with windchil.
And a bit of ingenuity – from using a customised plough to getting the snow to act as an incubator – meant there was very little danger of the game being called off in the end.
“To be honest getting the game on wasn’t the challenge,” he said.
“We’ve have had had pitch covers on for nine days as I always work to a 10-14 day programme.
“Apparently I came in for a bit of criticism on social media because I took the sheets of yesterday but I could see quite clearly the actual pitch was frozen and the covers were insulating the frost on the ground.
“We saw snow was coming and that it was likely to climb to zero. Obviously zero from minus six, minus seven is a massive thaw so the troops came in yesterday for me, we got all the sheets off and blew the layers of snow off and I was praying for the snow last night as I’ve used the snow as a incubator previously.
“Got up this morning about 3.30 am and went outside and saw it was 0.5 degrees and thought, ‘happy days!”
“I got in here, put one floodlight on, cracked on and by time the safety officer turned up all I had was about 25% of one corner to do.”
His efforts were recognised and he was, along with the other volunteers, named the man of the match during the U’s 1-1 draw with Luton Town.
And as Darler said, it would have been easy to let this game slip away like a majority of those in the Football League did.
And that’s is what is most impressive about this all. It took a lot of hard work, a lot of heart and shows how much people really do care about the club, and Darler, who has a book coming out about his 40 years working in football, was quick to thank all those involved.
“I have got the most amazing team of ground staff, which is made up by stewards who have worked for me for over 30 years,” he said
“They just appear like the borrowers and then a load of fishing mates come out the woodwork to bail me out.
“Because they’ve worked with me for so long I don’t have to tell them, they know what the process is.
“12, 14 people showed up in the end and six, seven were from CFU and seven or eight are my friends.
“I’m a fisherman, I’m used to going out a three o’clock in the morning!
“It’s a nice end. I’ve been quite fortunate had a publisher come forward and I’m having a book out about forty years working within the football world.
He added: “These days are great. It just gives you the opportunity to I’m just as keen now as I was 40 years ago. It’s always a challenge.
“I just love the challenge.”
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