The Cambridge football family lost a dearly loved member with the death on Saturday, 6 August 2016 of Mel Slack, at the age of 72.
Mel started 124 times and made ten sub appearances for the U’s between 1969 and 1971, starring for Bill Leivers’ side as it gained election to, and established itself in, the Football League. A hard-tackling midfielder, he played for Cambridge City when his United career ended.
Born on 7 March 1944 in Bishop Auckland (County Durham), he was on Burnley’s books as a youth before signing for Sunderland in 1961. He played twice in four years and then joined Southend United, for whom he played 107 league matches.
He arrived in Cambridge in January 1969 after Southend gave United £5,000 plus Mel in return for full back Keith Lindsey. He made his debut on January 15 in a Southern League Cup game against Chelmsford, and competed with Dennis Walker for a midfield place for the rest of the season.
United became Southern League champions for the first time at the end of the season, and Mel also picked up a Southern League Cup winner’s medal, playing in the second leg of the final at Cheltenham as the U’s won 1-0 on aggregate.
He was a regular starter the following season, helping to anchor the midfield as United challenged for the title again. He missed the last away game, a 4-1 loss at Yeovil, with tonsillitis, but got out of his sickbed to play in a 3-0 defeat of Worcester five days later. The following evening he started in front of the Abbey Stadium’s record crowd of 14,000 in a friendly against Chelsea, but like the rest of the first team sat out the second half in anticipation of the title-deciding game against Margate the following afternoon. United won 2-0 and were champions again.
Following the club’s election to Football League Division Four, Mel remained a regular first-team choice, although his 1970/71 season was ended three games early by an ankle injury. United finished 20th in their first League season and, as Leivers revamped his squad, Mel signed for City.
He returned to the Abbey in November 1971 to play in the first leg of the Cambs Professional Cup final. Cautioned for bringing down Peter Phillips, he reacted by throwing a punch when the U’s striker returned the compliment, earning an instant dismissal.
He had explained why he was no stranger to the physical side of the game the previous season. ‘I was brought up in a hard school at Sunderland, where we were always instructed to put our opponents out of the game before starting to play the football. Great play was made of mental attitude as we prepared before each game to do battle, and I have always played hard, whether in training or a match.’
Nonetheless, Mel’s skill on the ball was considerable and, while he was not known for scoring – he netted just three times for United – he will long be remembered for one moment of brilliance. With the score at 1-1 with five minutes to go in the first away game of 1969/70, he dribbled through Gloucester’s attempted offside trap to score an outstanding winner.
He believed his best asset lay in another area, however: ‘I feel I am at my best when the boss says before the game that so and so have a particular danger man and I am given the job of playing him out of the game.’
Remaining in the Cambridge area after his retirement, Mel became widely known as the landlord of the Rose & Crown in Teversham.
The Seniors World Cup, that is.
The veterans’ tournament took place in Chiang Mai, Thailand earlier this month, with Gareth Ainsworth (five U’s appearances; 1992/93), Dean Barrick (91; 2003-2005) and Danny O’Shea (203; 1989-2005) playing vital roles in the
Three Lions’ triumph. Gareth was even voted the competition’s most valuable player.
The squad, looking pretty trim in most cases, hit the ground running with a 6-0 win over Taiwan before swatting the USA aside 2-0. A 2-1 defeat to reigning champions Iran did not stop England progressing to the semi-finals, where they overcame their Scottish rivals 3-0. Dean’s groin gave way in that match, but our lads made light of the loss and scored the only goal of the final against the host nation to lift the trophy.
A lot of the faces in the squad photo look familiar, if a little thicker set. Great work, lads.