Ben Philips is a 33-year-old Cambridge citizen. He has lived in the city his whole life, and his heart bleeds Cambridge through and through. As an active member in the CUST (Cambridge United Supporters Trust), he tries to unite Cambridge’s local football team with the communities living in the city. He is also the face behind thousands of pictures taken at Cambridge United, as he is the club’s photographer. Ben works at the University of Cambridge and looks after the students, families and visitors. He mobilizes and connects people in their local communities at work or as a CUST chairholder. His life motto is ‘active life, healthy mind’.
Passion for the local football team
Ben has been a fan of Cambridge United (currently playing In League One/third division) since he was seven years old. He fell in love with the passion and family atmosphere at the club. “People should support their hometown club regardless of the division.” He explains that the little ground and relationship between the club and the supporters are much better than the Premier League’s greed. The passion for the club is in his family’s blood. His uncle and both his parents were Cambridge United supporters too. Ben has already experienced highs and lows but will never stop loving the club. Cambridge United is his second home.
When Ben is intrigued by something, he wants to involve people around him. He already did this as a kid. Back in 2005, Cambridge United was almost declared bankrupt, and the club went into administration. Ben would shake buckets at every home game, asking people for donations to save the club. He always kept the faith, and a few years later, the club found new finances and survived. Of course, Ben’s initiative – called breach the gap – was not the main reason for the club to slowly revive again. Still, by bringing up such an initiative as a teenager (13), he already caught the attention of the Cambridge United Community.
Today, Ben is the vice-chairman of the CUST and the club’s main photographer. “Cambridge is a university town. There is no such connection with football like up north where the working class lives”, tells Ben. Ben gives football fans a voice, too, and tries to create a family vibe for all ages and demographics at Cambridge United. He wants to give something back to the people and in that way, he gains interest for Cambridge United which will increase matchday atmosphere and attendances (average about 5000 this season). “What goes around, comes around.”
Ben’s achievements at Cambridge United
One of Ben’s main achievements as a CUST member was a free ticket campaign for university students. The last season before the coronavirus, Ben managed to bring over 900 university students to the Cambridge United’s game against League Two side Grimsby. Some of the students who were invited became season ticket holders and generated more involvement and income for the club.
During each Ramadan, Ben and the other CUST members reach out to the Muslim community in Cambridge. They go to the local mosque and help them during their Ramadan. They also give the children footballs and invite them to watch a Cambridge United game. Ben succeeds in making Abbey Stadium (the ground of Cambridge United) a second home for hundreds of people, regardless of their age or religion.
But CUST’s biggest achievement has definitely been the creation of a new fan zone next to the North East Stand. Ben convinced the Cambridge United board to spend part of their budget renovating the stand and creating a fan zone with accommodation for youth, drinks, and food. “After campaigning more than five years, we finally got our new fan zone. Fans had been asking for it for ages. Thanks to my devotion, they get what they asked for.” The new fan zone will be introduced after the New Year break. Ben has already received many messages from supporters thanking him for his tireless efforts.
During the corona crisis and football season 2019–2020, Cambridge United got promoted to League One behind closed doors. Being the club’s photographer, Ben was one of the only people who was allowed to watch the game in real life. “I’m a fan, but because of my roles at the club, I can sit as close as I can to the action of my football team without playing. I have the best seat in the house after the manager and the players.” Ben sometimes took it for granted that he was allowed in the stadium, but he recalls the way he and his colleagues felt when they realized their favorite football team was about to get promoted. He is so glad to have enjoyed that moment. By taking photos of the players on match days, he somehow involved the supporters in the promotion season and gave them memories for life. “When we finally got promoted against Grimsby, thousands of supporters came to the stadium to celebrate. This was one of the most intense moments I have ever experienced. There are always bad times at a football club which makes it even sweeter when the good times come,” Ben says.
During the corona crisis, an organization had been set up to help the community in need. The initiative called ‘United forever’, proudly supported by Ben, prepared food and meals to people in need. “For the club, the promotion year was a huge success. The supporters appreciated that the club did not only care about the results on the pitch but also took care of the community. The pandemic made us all stronger.”
There’s always bad times at a football club which makes it even sweeter when the good times come.”Ben Philips
The importance of mental health
Cambridge United became Ben’s second (voluntary) job, but his full-time job is looking after students at Cambridge University. The university is one of the oldest and most prestigious in the world. Ben is a Cambridge University constabulary. He helps students and accompanies them at student protests. The university pays a lot of attention to the students’ well-being and administrative issues. Ben tries to make people open up about mental health and makes them aware of the dangers when they don’t talk about their struggles. “Only last year, I’ve seen six suicides at Cambridge University. Mental health is a sensitive topic, especially for people below the age of 30. I try to make people talk about their thoughts. My best advice is to stay active.” Ben believes that if you keep your mind active, it will affect your health in a good way.
He also talks about this topic at Cambridge United. Together with the Cambridge United Community Trust, the club organizes mental health sessions for anyone in need.
An ordinary man making the world a little better
In all aspects of his life, Ben tries to connect people. Every individual matters, and everyone in the community has the right to have their say. “By talking to people, I gained a lot of life experience. I never followed a photography class, but just by talking to photographers and asking questions, I became Cambridge United’s main photographer”, he says. As vice-chairman of CUST, Ben will continue to give the supporters a voice and will connect more communities. “I’m proud of what I’ve already achieved, and I will never stop spreading my passion and love for my local football team Cambridge United.”