Very Sporting Association
The Story of the City of Ely Sports 1893-1964
The following is extracted from the book “A Very Sporting Association” (The Story of the City of Ely Sports day 1893-1964) by Roy Stubbings. ISBN No: 0 903616 09 2. Extracts from the book have been made with kind permission from Roy Stubbings.
“Bank Holiday in this city, as a rule is a dismal affair. The shops are closed and a solemn silence reigns around”
With these words the Cambridge Independent Press of August 6th, 1881 bemoaned the sad lack of holiday entertainment in Ely on August Bank Holiday Monday each year.
Monday, August 7th, 1893 marks the beginning of Ely Sports as
they were to appear annually until 1964, with the exception of 1915-18 and
1940-43. They were organised by a body called the City of Ely Sports Committee
up to 1899, the City of Ely Sports Association up to 1921 and the City of Ely
Amateur Sports Association up to 1964. Sixty four sports days were held, plus
extra Coronation Sports in 1902, 1937 and 1953, an event to celebrate the return
of prisoners-of-war in 1944. In addition a Flower Show accompanied the Sports
from 1914 to 1947, boxing from 1930-1939 and 1951 and from 1947 programmes of
motorcycling, go-karting, gymkhanas and wrestling.
From 1893 the Sports became more and more popular and increasingly
prestigious. A crowd of between 3000 and 4000 attended in 1897, while 8,500 did
so in 1903. Until the Great War crowds fell from the 1903 peak due to competing
attractions in Cambridge and Waterbeach, as well as the harvest.
The success of the Sports was the result of fine organisation and the
athletes and cyclists were attracted from all over the country by a track which
was consistently praised as one of the best in Britain. During seventy-one years
there were only three secretaries, six presidents, seven vice-presidents and a
treasurer who served fifty-five years.
Whilst athletics and cycling, as well as many other traditional sports,
represented the serious focal point of the Sports, the flavour can only be
described as the more light-hearted ‘alternative sports’.
The Victorians set the precedent from the outset: Donkey Races in 1893
and 1894, a ‘Pail and Water Race’ in 1895 and a costume Donkey Race in 1896.
Approaching the turn of the century the events became more bizarre, with a
‘Boys’ Under-14 Boot Race’ in 1899 in which the boys’ boots were
removed, mixed up and then approached at speed by the competitors who, having
re-shod, proceeded to race each other in a more orthodox manner.
By 1969 there were few sports which had not been played and enjoyed on
Paradise and few local organisations which had not used it, for sporting reasons
or any other; in addition, few local people had not used it or visited it- a
testament to over 70 years work by less than 150 committee members and countless
other users. As the Secretary’s Report of February 24th 1965
stated: “The Association can claim to have saved paradise for Ely by taking on
the Lease from the former tenant farmer and making a first class playing field
To conclude, a record of those who made Paradise a success for so many years.
First ever programme cover and handbill- August 7th 1893
Names of Presidents, Vice-Presidents, Secretaries and Hon. Treasurers
Names of Committee Members
Photographs of Committee Members 1909, 1933 and 1953
Mr. W.S. Kemptons award for fifty years as Secretary
Information also included in the booklet includes the names of winners in athletics 1893-1961, winners of cycling 1893-1962, alternative sports winners 1895-1962 and flower show committee members.