Ely City Football Club – History

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Ely City – A Brief History


Ely City (nickname, “The Robins” after the red in their shirts) are the oldest senior club in Cambridgeshire. They were formed from the original members of a team called Ely St.Etheldreda Football and Cricket Club in about 1885 (St.Etheldreda was the foundress of a religious community in 673 in Ely where the great Cathedral now stands). For over ninety years the club played at the Paradise Ground but had to move in 1986 to one on the outskirts of Ely.

Ely City 1896/97

The club survived two world wars. After being revived in 1945 the club had some success in County competitions (then held in greater esteem than is generally the case now) and in 1948 they had what was at that time, and still is, a unique double, winning the then two Cambridgeshire Senior Cup competitions in one week. For both finals special trains were organised taking 1,000 followers each time and these were the only occasions this has happened in the history of the county.



In 1951 the club left the Cambridgeshire League for the Peterborough League and in their first season were runners-up in the League Cup, creating a record for the competition in reaching the final on the first time of entering. In 1954/55 the club reached the First Round Proper of the then FA Amateur Cup. In the following season, Ely had great success in the FA Cup, putting in outstanding performances for an amateur side. In the competition in 1956 they won 5-2 at Histon and by the same score at Cambridge United (in the Eastern Counties League at that time) before a crowd of 5,000. In the next round they won 1-0 at Cambridge City, the gate being 6,993. March Town were then drawn at Ely who won 2-0 (gate 3,132) and this was followed up by a visit from Sudbury, Ely winning 1-0 before 2,663 spectators. Ely went through to the first round proper and met Torquay United (then in division three south) at Ely. The visitors won 6-2 and 4,223 crammed into Ely’s ground for a great day.

In 1958 the club were elected to the Central Alliance. In 1960 the club were, after a number of previously unsuccessful applications, elected to the Eastern Counties League and on one of their first matches, Ely beat Yarmouth 9-5. The club struggled in their early years and it was not until 1965/66 that they started to find their feet, finishing ninth. In 1967 Hugh Barr, the former Irish international, was appointed player-manager (and remained in that post for five years) and two seasons later Ely finished run nners-up in both League and League Cup. In 1970, Ely were third and were again losing semi-finalists in the League Cup but won the Cambs Invitation Cup for the first time. Subsequently the club’s only real success was the winning of the League Cup in 1979-80, beating Lowestoft. Ely winning the first leg 2-0 away with the second leg a 2-2 draw.

A number of people have had very long associations with the club. The club’s home is named “The Unwin Ground” after the late Doug Unwin. He was first involved with the club in 1924 and subsequently held many positions; including President, the position he held when he sadly passed away in 1999. His father, Harry, was also associated with the club for over 60 years until his death in 1957.  

Doug Unwin

Doug Unwin

Extensive redevelopment of the ground took place during 1994, with the building of a new stand seating 200 people, with four dressing rooms underneath and this was named after a long serving member of the club. Former Chairman Roger Pauley who completetd 30 years service as player/Manager/Club Secretary and is so named “The Roger Pauley Stand”. Also included in the redevelopment was a new car park and a reception room, which has been named “The Cranwell Room” after long-serving Vice-President and Vice-Chairman, Doug Cranwell, who has been with the club for over 40 years.

The club now boasts some of the best facilities in the league , which hopefully will be adequate for the next hundred years, the last Centenary being celebrated in 1985, when Bobby Robson was the chief guest at a Centenary Dinner held at the Ely Maltings. The club are also proud that the First Division trophy is named after another long-serving member of the club, the late Bill Lawrence who completed 33 years service with the club. The trophy is called the “Rudd/Lawrence” Trophy”, which also commemorates his two periods as President of the League together with former League Secretary of 37 years, Arthur Rudd.

Following the work to the new Unwin Ground (just off the Northern Bypass of the City) relegation unfortunately followed from the Jewson League Premier Division at the end of season 1988/89. The club were anxious to regain promotion to the Premier Division, to achieve that objective, new joint managers David Pinkowski and Tony Lyes were appointed in July 1994. David and Tony are well known in Jewson League circles and joined us following a successful spell at Newmarket Town. The managers gained the success their hard work deserved in 1996/97 when winning Division One by 15 points and the following season finished second in the Premier. In June 1998 David and Tony decided to take a rest from senior football and the club appointed Mr.Alan Biley, the former Cambridge United striker as manager in July 1998. Biley stepped down at the end of season 98/99 after The Robins had been relegated from the Premier Division.

Following the departure of Biley the club appointed Steve Taylor as manager from Chatteris Town. Once settled in he quickly assembled a strong squad. A patchy start to the season was followed by an exceptional run of form after Christmas which saw City win the First Division Knock Out Cup against Downham Town and also finish the season as runners up in the League, five points behind Champions Tiptree United. The first season back in the Premier Division (2000/01) saw the Robins finish seventeenth.

In September 2001, Taylor resigned and was replaced by Kevin Pritchard, a City player. ‘Pritch’ had a successful first season in charge as The Robins claimed the Cambridgeshire Invitation Cup by beating Histon 1-0 at the Abbey Stadium in April. During the close season he invited Rob Swain to the Unwin Ground to be his assistant.

After only a few weeks of 2002/03 Kevin took the decision to leave the Unwin Ground and moved to take over at local rivals, Soham Town Rangers. The committee moved quickly and appointed Rob Swain as joint manager with Jerry Hutton who had previously enjoyed great success together at Cottenham.

Unfortunately after only a few weeks, Jerry had to resign due to personal reasons which left Rob as sole manager. Martin ‘Whammo’ Pammenter was then appointed as player/assistant manager. Then (are you following this?) Rob decided that he could take the club no further and he resigned. Pammenter acted as caretaker manager for a few games and did enough to convince the committee that he should be appointed as the permanent manager. Unfortunately, there was nothing Pammenter could do to prevent The Robins from being relegated to the Ridgeons League First Division.

Martin began season 2003/04 in sole charge of the first team but soon invited Steve Taylor back to the Unwin to be his assistant and shortly after that they were appointed as joint managers. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out and early into the New Year Pammenter was released with Steve Taylor being retained as sole manager. At the start of 2004/05 which saw the Robins win the Ridgeon’s League 1st Division Knock-Out Cup, Steve brought in Dennis Lightning as his assistant and at the end of season they decided continue as joint managers.

Dennis Lightning

In the Spring of 2006 the committee approached Dennis Lightning and asked him to become sole manager, to take effect from the start of the 2006/07 season. The Robins gained promotion in the 07/08 season after finishing as runners-up in the First Division. City also won the First Division Knock-Out Cup, beating Halstead on penalties. We look forward to our return to the Premier League. 

As well as the First Team, the club also run a Reserve side and an ‘A’ team in the Cambridgeshire FA League. The club’s vibrant youth policy has several Colts teams playing in the Cambridge and District Colts League. The club is affiliated with the Cambridgeshire FA and is an Associated Member of the Football Association.



By Sam Lawrence (Post ’98 updates made by J.Glover)



Article date: 31 May 2005

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