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When Cambridge United won the first Wembley play-offs final 30 years ago

Cambridge had never played at Wembley before, making it a ‘totally bewilderingly extraordinary moment’ for one young fan

By Richard Foster for the Guardian Sport Network

Thirty years ago, Andy Williamson had an idea that would reshape the Football League play-offs. Instead of clubs contesting play-off finals over two legs at their own grounds – as they had done for the three seasons since the new format had been introduced in 1987 – they would meet for one-off finals at Wembley. Williamson, who worked for the Football League for 45 years in all, saw the potential of holding the three showpiece finals at the national stadium over a bank holiday weekend. Time has proven him right.

The first Wembley play-off final took place on Saturday 26 May 1990, with Cambridge United taking on Chesterfield for promotion to the third tier. Cambridge had been doing alright under Chris Turner in the 1989-90 season but, once John Beck took over as manager in January, the club were very much on the up. Beck’s unconventional coaching methods – which earned him the nickname “Dracula” as he was supposedly sucking the life out of football – included turning up the heating in the away dressing rooms at the Abbey Stadium to unsettle the opposition, allowing the grass to grow long to hamper opponents’ passing, and even chucking sand in the corners to hold up the ball.

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