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Page last updated at 08:02 GMT, Thursday, 14 May 2009 09:02 UK

Can Brabin reclaim Cambridge pride?

Scott Rendell
Scott Rendell missed out on Wembley last year after moving to Peterborough

By Chris Osborne
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

After four years of floundering is it time for Gary Brabin to lead Cambridge United out of non-league football when they face Torquay in the Blue Square Premier play-off final?

Ask any Cambridge United fan what league their team should be in and they will not say the Blue Square Premier.

But then again ask that to an Oxford, Wrexham, Kidderminster or Torquay supporter and they will tell you the same thing.

U's fans have been watching their side play non-league football for four years now which, as far as they are concerned, is four years too long.

Especially when you consider that the Amber Army were only one game away from the top flight of English football less than 20 years ago.

Dion Dublin
Dublin scored 52 league goals for Cambridge

A side that included Dion Dublin and Steve Claridge were beaten in the old Second Division play-off semi-finals in 1992. That summer Dublin went to Old Trafford and Claridge headed to Luton.

Thirteen years later Cambridge were clinging on to Football League memories with one hand and using the other to cover their eyes as the nightmare of Conference football became a reality.

A series of high-profile managers have overseen the rise and fall of the U's.

John Beck was the most controversial but the most successful, in his first stint at least. Roy McFarland and Gary Johnson were well liked at the Abbey and have garnered respect in the game while John Taylor, Ian Atkins and Tommy Taylor had mixed fortunes.

But the last two bosses have given the club it's most recent hope. Jimmy Quinn not only saved the club from an unthinkable relegation from the Conference National in 2007, but then went on to lead his side out in the play-off final a year later.


The result triggered a domino effect. The U's lost 1-0. Exeter went up. Quinn released a hoard of players and then left by mutual consent.

Quinn was accused of not spending enough time on the training pitch and refusing to move to Cambridgeshire from his Cheshire home. Pushed or jumped? Does it matter?

The upshot was the appearance of rookie boss Gary Brabin. The Liverpudlian led Southport to the Blue Square North play-offs in 2008 and took over at the Abbey in the summer of that year.

Wholesale changes were made, not only to the playing staff but to the attitude of the club.

Brabin's style could not be more different from the hands-off approach of his predecessor. Highly regarded by Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez for his sports science knowledge, Brabin made it clear that golf and early finishes at training were a thing of the past.

Gary Brabin
Brabin joined the U's from Southport over the summer

In the build-up to this weekend's play-off final with Torquay, Brabin has banned the media from coming anywhere near the players.

Assistant boss Paul Carden played in last year's Wembley defeat and described the build-up as a circus.

This year the manager has taken a very different approach. He has turned down an opportunity to let his players train with Liverpool, which must have been a tough decision to make for the proud Scouser.

On top of that the BBC's cameras from Football Focus have had their request to feature the U's turned down. Football is the only focus for Brabin and his team.

Cambridge's door back to the Football League is currently wide open. For Brabin to take them back through it in his first full season in charge would be nothing short of remarkable.

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