Cambridge FC’s growth and recent success has inspired memories of days when the club depended on a few hard-working families – and a length of garden hose – to provide facilities for its players.
Tony Welten, a member of the club from 1956 till 1981, has provided an account of the club’s progress as it moved from the Cambridge Town Square to Leamington and finally to its current home in Vogel Street.
The Welten family made a significant contribution to the club’s development and provided their own piece of club history when Tony and son Michael became the first father and son combination to turn out for the club’s first team together.
Michael Welten also became the winner of the club’s Jim Barry Memorial Trophy for the Player of the Year, awarded to him in 1991. He also captained the 1993 Reds team that went unbeaten throughout an entire season.
Tony Welten said he began playing for the club in 1956 as a 15-year-old when games were played on the Town Square in Victoria Street.
“We used the old small cricket pavilion as a changing room,” he recalled.
Players from that era included Paddy Bingham, Eric Sugden, Jack Howarth, Allan Bust, Peter Salter, Alan Gordon, Brian Falloon, Herman Rakels, Tony Dikmans, Jos Toonen, John Melgers, Huub van Doorne, Pierre Claasens, Aim Goosens, and a while later, John Slone, John Rakels, Harry Bekkers, Peter Loomans, Peter Croonen, Tony Hofman and Jerry Shields.
“The president was Vic Butler, who was a photographer and had a shop in Empire Street,” he said.
The patron was Mr Sugden, father of team captain Eric Sugden, and their family farmed at Karapiro.
“I think Herman Rakels was club secretary.”
The club shifted to the Leamington Domain in 1957.
A small clubhouse was built by Burt and Huub van Doorne with help from other volunteers. The clubhouse was built so it could be relocated, if needed.
“It was situated just next to the tennis pavilion, which was also used when we had extra teams visiting.
“The annual soccer tournament which was well known throughout the Waikato and Bay of Plenty was established in Leamington.
“In later years, the tournament grew to 32 team entry, and lasted two days.
“Back in Leamington, we had no showers, just one garden tap by the clubhouse to wash your knees after the game.
“When we had the annual tournament, John Slone and myself rigged up a horse type of tie rail with five second-hand taps to get those knees and legs clean.”
John Slone, who is still a regular spectator at John Kerkhof Park when the Reds are playing at home, said players had only one floodlight under which to train at Leamington.
“It was under the trees, in the corner by Tennyson Street, so we trained in the shadows,” he said.
In 1964, the club was granted land on the greenbelt in Vogel Street.
Tony Welten: “Soccer continued to grow, especially the juniors, and we owe thanks to John Kerkhof who had three sons playing in the junior grades which he was fostering with great enthusiasm and determination. He never stopped working to put Cambridge soccer on the map till the day he died.”
(Cambridge FC’s grounds are now named after John Kerkhof. Click here for more information.)
As the club made the shift to Vogel Street, many families made key contributions to getting the grounds in shape and new clubrooms built.
“Charlie Clelland (I think) was president at the time for a short period, after which John Kerkhof was president for many years.
“The land obtained was just undulating grass paddocks and many people have helped to where the club is today.
“Some of those people that come to mind include Jim Davis (cartage contracting), who had a son playing, for the massive job of levelling the grounds, and Gordon Mead put in many hours as well, with ground preparation and mowing.”
John Slone was working for the local power board at the time and was given permission to use a trenching machine to lay cables (bought from the power board) for floodlighting. Poles were donated by the power board.
“Later I was given permission to use a crane to erect the steel girders for the roof – all this was carried out by the members,” he said.
The current main clubrooms were built in 1965, made entirely from concrete blocks.
Tony Welten: “Guess who did most of the work? The Van Doorne Bros were again there with many other helpers like sons Henk and Tony van Doorne, also Henk Kerkhof (Hoppy) plus all of us.”
John Slone said fundraising consisted mainly of raffles, including prizes of two dozen eggs and a chicken, with tickets sold in Cambridge’s three pubs (the Nation, Central and the Masonic).
“At the time, pubs closed at 6pm. Most of the raffles were sold by Hank Kerkhof Junior.”
Meanwhile, in the mid-sixties, football was not played in the schools. Pupils had to play rugby or hockey and they could not easily get access to footballs.
John Slone: “Eventually, John Kerkhof imported six balls from Holland and gave them to the high school. Junior teams were run by John Kerkhof, Eric Sugden and Jack Haworth (all now deceased). Jack also provided and planted all the trees around the park.”
Tony Welten: “In 1975, the pavilion was extended with the addition of a hall and bar that have served the club well during my playing days.
“I hope the club does not lose sight of all these early members and people too many to mention who have put so much work in the early years to get Cambridge soccer where it is today.”
Main photo: The Cambridge first team 1962. Back row (from left): Tom Bekkers, P.Welton, L.Harvey, Hank Kerkhof. From row: Tony Welten, John Sloane, Hans Rakels, Herman Rakels, L.Morgan, Hank Kerkhof Snr, Hank van Doorne.
Cambridge FC thanks Tony Welten for taking the time to help us record our club history, and John Slone for helping with our search for information about our heritage.