Ely City, nicknamed the Robins after their red 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 Circa 1885. For over ninety years the Club played at
the Paradise Ground in the centre of the City, before moving to their present Downham
Road location in 1986.
Having initially only played friendlies and entered local cup competitions, Ely joined
the Cambridgeshire League in 1901. They withdrew prior to the 1902–03 season after a
dispute over fees but re-entered the following season. Having merged with local junior side
Ely Albion in 1908, City won their first silverware with back-to-back Cambs Senior League
titles in 1910-11 and 1911-12.
At the end of World War I, City joined the Isle of Ely Junior League, winning the title in 1920-
21 and 1921-22. City returned to the Cambs League in 1922-23, finishing Division 1 runners-
up and also claiming the Cambs Challenge Cup with a 2 – 0 win over strong favourites
Newmarket Town. In what was a successful period, the Challenge Cup was retained in
1923-24 and another 2 nd place achieved in 1924-25. The Cambs league was restructured in
1928-29 with Ely placed in Division One A, where they finished bottom and were relegated to
Division One B. Further league restructuring occurred in 1931, which saw Ely promoted to
the newly formed Premier Division. The 1930’s was a period of struggle and culminated in
relegation to Division 1 (Section B) in 1936-37, where they remained until the outbreak of
World War II.
At the end of hostilities, City joined and won the 1945/46 Cambs League (Northern Division)
title. Now back in the Premier Division, Ely secured a unique double in 1947-48 by winning
both the Cambridgeshire Senior Cup competitions – Creake Shield and Cambs Challenge
Cup – in the space of a week. Special trains were organised to take around 1,000
supporters from Ely to the two finals played in March and Histon respectively. In 1949-50,
City were Runners-up in the Premier Division and again reached the final of the Creake
Shield, losing out in both competitions to then dominant local side, Camden United.
In 1951-52, Ely joined the Peterborough and District League Premier Division and in their
first season reached the league cup final which was lost to Cambridge United Reserves.
Under newly appointed player-manager and ex-professional George King, Ely won the
Premier Division in 1955-56 and reached the First Round Proper of the Amateur Cup, a
considerable achievement for a club of Ely’s size at that time. However, the crowning glory
was achieved the following season when having disposed of higher status teams Histon,
Cambridge United, Cambridge City, March Town and Sudbury Town, they reached the first
Round Proper of the FA Cup, losing 6 – 2 to Division Three (South) high-flyers Torquay
United in front of a record crowd of 4,223. In a truly remarkable season, City also finished
2 nd in the league and again reached the first round of the Amateur Cup. Another 2 nd place
finish was achieved in 1957-58, following which the Club took the decision to turn
professional and joined the newly formed Central Alliance League (Division One South). Ely
finished 8 th and 5 th in their two seasons and were losing finalists in the 1959-60 league cup.
Having made a number of previous attempts, Ely were elected to the Eastern Counties
League in 1960-61. The Club initially struggled to find its feet at this level, and it was not until
the appointment of former Northern Irish international Hughie Barr as player-manager in
1967, that the tide turned. Having secured the Club’s highest ever league position of 4 th in
1968/69, City were runners-up in 1969/70 and 3 rd in 1970/71. That season, City also won the Cambs Invitation Cup (CIC) for the first time and were league cup finalists, losing out to
Wisbech Town over two-legs. Barr was replaced by ex-Wisbech Town Player-Manager Mel
Harnwell in 1971/72 as Ely secured 5 th place and also reached the 4 th Qualifying Round of
the FA Cup, losing to a Kettering Town side led by fledgling manager Ron Atkinson. Other
than finishing bottom in 1975-76 and having to seek re-election, City remained a
predominantly mid-table team for the remainder of the seventies.
Ely’s next season of note came in 1979/80 when the Club won the League Cup for the first
and so far, only time, defeating Lowestoft Town over two legs. Despite securing 4 th place
and scoring a century of goals in 1980/81, the remainder of the 80’s was a period of
perpetual struggle in which numerous managers came and went and which finally ended in
relegation to the recently formed ECL First Division in 1988/89. At the end of 1985/86, Ely
had moved from Paradise to the present Downham Road location on the outskirts of the
City. Improvements to the ground have continued to be made over the years and the Club
now boasts some of the best facilities in the league.
After relegation steady progress was made during the early nineties under the initial
management of ex-Cambridge United man Tom Finney and then Steve Clark. Management
duo David Pinkowski and Tony Lyes were appointed in 1994/95, and they secured City’s first
piece of silverware since 1980 by winning the Hinchingbrooke Cup in 1995/96. City then
romped to the 1996/97 First Division title by a margin of 15 points over closest challengers
Histon. The following season, Ely defied all expectations by finishing second in the Premier
Division, just two points behind Wroxham – who effectively won the title following a winner-
takes-all match-up in the penultimate game of the season. This however proved to be a
brief period of success for Ely as Pinkowski and Lyes – and nearly all the squad – left at the
end of the season. Ex-professional Alan Biley stepped into the breach at late notice but City
almost inevitably finished in bottom-place and were relegated.
Under Steve Taylor, Ely secured an immediate return to the Premier and also won the First
Division KO Cup in 1999/00. Having re-established themselves in the top-tier City, now
managed by Kevin Pritchard, went on to win the Cambs Invitation Cup for a second time
against higher grade Histon in 2001/02. Following the departure of Pritchard, the Club were
again relegated at the end of a disastrous 2002/03 campaign. The Club would have to wait
until 2007/08 before securing another promotion, this time under the astute management of
Dennis Lightning. In the interim, the Club won the First Division KO Cup a further two times
in 2004/05 and again in 2007/08. Alan Alsop took-up the managerial reins in 2010 and in
only his second season (2011/12) led unfancied City to runners-up spot, once again behind
Wroxham. The CIC was also won that season against local rivals Soham Town Rangers and
retained the following year (2012/13) with a 3 – 0 win over Southern Premier League side
Cambridge City. That season City also reached the 4 th Round of the FA Vase.
Following Alsop’s departure in January 2014, senior players Brady Stone and Ben Lawrence
took charge for the remainder of the season and somewhat against the odds steered the
team away the relegation zone. With a severely reduced budget, Stone, now assisted by
Martin Grey was unable to repeat the trick in 2014/15, and Ely were unsurprisingly relegated.
However, the seeds of a young and talented squad had been sown, and City secured
promotion at the first attempt as runners-up in 2015/16 in a campaign that included a club
record run of 14 consecutive league wins.
Back in the Premier for 2016/17, City secured a creditable 13 th place and reached the fifth
round of the FA Vase, a best ever performance in the competition, finally bowing out to
Midlands side Sporting Khalsa in front of a crowd of 646 – a record attendance for the
ground. City were also runners up in the CIC, losing to Cambridge City in the final. In
2017/18 the Club finished 14 th and won the CIC for a fifth time, defeating Cambridge United
Development with a stoppage-time winner at the Abbey Stadium. Although City struggled for
much of 2018/19, they staved off relegation in exciting fashion in the penultimate game of
the season by scoring twice in injury time to defeat 3rd placed Godmanchester Rovers.
Remarkably, City also reached the CIC final for a third year in a row, this time defeating ECL
Champions, Histon 2 – 1 to retain the trophy.
Brady Stone and Martin Grey stood down in December 2020, to end a successful six-year
tenure. The new joint management team of Luke McAvoy and Ben Farmer were embroiled in
another relegation battle when the season was declared null and void in March 2020 as a
result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The 2020/21 season will provide the new management team with the opportunity to put their
own stamp on the team to and write their own chapter in Ely’s long history.
The Club currently run a Reserve side, A Team and Under 18 side. In May 2020, City
formally merged with local junior side Ely Crusaders to form a new Club Ely City Crusaders.
The vision of the merger being to create a clear pathway into senior football for local
youngers in the City and surrounding area.
The Club is affiliated with the Cambridgeshire FA and is an Associated Member of the FA.