The Cambridgeshire Cats are an American football team competing in Southern Football Conference 1, East Division of the BAFA National Leagues, with their home games played at the Abbey Leisure Complex, Coldhams Common, in Cambridge.
The Cats was first formed in 1984, entered senior competition in 1985 and won two divisional titles in the 1990’s as well appearing in the playoffs a further six times before folding in 1998. They reformed once again in 2002 and re-entered senior competition, gaining promotion in 2003 only to be relegated two seasons later. Most recently, they won the South East Conference of Division One before losing to the Solent Thrashers in the playoff semi-final.
The club was first formed in December 1984 as the Cambridge County Cats following trials conducted in the city by the RAF Wyton Eagles, one of the first American football teams to be founded in the UK. They joined the British American Football Federation for the 1985 season, where they competed in the A1 Division and finished top with a perfect 8–0 regular season record in front of crowds often in excess of 600, before losing to the Croydon Coyotes in the semi-final.
The following year, they switched to the newly formed Budweiser League, where they were elected straight into the top division. They finished with a 6–4 record and qualified for the playoffs where they lost in the first round away to the Wrekin Giants. They were unable to repeat this success the following year—they finished bottom of their group with a 0–9–1 record and so were relegated. They returned to winning ways in the lower division, recording eight consecutive wins on their way to finishing second in their group before losing 24–34 away to the Scottish champions, the Glasgow Diamonds.
1989 was a year of change for the Cats. After securing a sponsorship deal with the Washington State Apple Commission, a Seattle-based apple export firm, they were renamed the Cambridge Crunchers. They also left the Budweiser League to join the newly formed Combined Gridiron League where they were admitted into the top division, competing in the Central Conference of the Crown National Division. They finished second in the group behind the Colchester Gladiators, and qualified once again for the playoffs. Unfortunately, they were unable to progress, losing 3–27 at home to the Heathrow Jets.
The following year saw a degree of turmoil for the club, beginning when their sponsors suddenly decided to withdraw their support forcing the club to change its name once again, becoming the Cambridge Wildcats. They moved over to the NCMMA following the demise of the CGL and despite suffering from low team numbers, the team recorded a 6–3–1 season record and so qualified for the playoffs. However, it was revealed that they hadn’t paid the required league fees and so they were excluded from the post-season. During the close season, they entered into merger negotiations with another local team, the Newmarket Hornets. However, it emerged that it was actually a take-over attempt by Newmarket, and the club chose to fold rather than lose its identity.
After two years of inactivity, the club was reformed as the Cambridge Cats with a squad of over 40 players, half of whom came from the 1990 Wildcats team. They joined the British National Gridiron League in 1993, where they played in the East Midlands conference of Division One. They reached the playoffs at the first attempt after finishing second in a campaign which saw them score more than 40 points in six of their ten games. They were drawn away to the Derbyshire Braves in the wild-card round, who they beat to set up a tie against the Redditch Arrows. In a high-scoring game, they won by 54 points to 40 before losing their semi-final against the Lincoln Saints.
They joined the British American Football Association in 1994, marking the start of the club’s most successful spell. They entered the Midlands conference of Division Three and finished top, winning eight of their ten games. As in the previous season, they faced the Redditch Arrows, who they shut out whilst scoring 42 points. The semi-final saw them win away to the Chester Romans to set up their first play-off final. They secured their first divisional title by defeating the Crawley Raiders 25–14.
As a result of their playoff win, the Cats were promoted to Division Two, where they competed in the North / Midlands conference and finished second with an 8–2 record. After beating the Chiefs in the playoff quarter-finals, they were drawn at home to the Lancashire Wolverines, who had been responsible for the Cats’ only two defeats earlier in the season including 35-point shutout. There was no repeat of that heavy defeat this time as the Cats won 42–23 to set up a final against the Plymouth Admirals. After falling 13 points behind, they eventually won 28–13 to secure their second consecutive divisional championship and promotion.
They struggled in their first season at this higher level, the top flight of the newly renamed British Senior League (BSL), after many the top players decided to retire before the season started. To make matters worse, the head coach and several players walked out after only a couple of games. Cambridge’s dismal season ended abruptly when they could not afford to play their final two home games. After winning just two of their ten games, they finished fourth out of the five teams which made up the North Conference. They once again finished second from bottom the following year, (ahead of the Northants Storm who folded after just three games), and once again in 1998. The Cats finally folded prior to the start of the 1999 season.
Three years later, the club was reformed under their present name of the Cambridgeshire Cats by Chris Wallis, and they entered the Division Two South of the BSL, where they qualified for the playoffs at the first attempt by finishing third out of nine teams, before losing to the Plymouth Admirals in the quarter-final. 2003 saw them perform even better, recording a perfect 10–0 regular season record and finishing top of the South East Conference. They were drawn at home to the Southern Sundevils in their quarter-final, and needed two periods of overtime before eventually beating them 9–6. However, they lost their semi-final at home to the Bristol Aztecs
Despite this disappointment, they were awarded promotion to the new Division 1A, where they finished third in their group and earned a wild-card playoff slot only to lose once again to the Aztecs, this time by a single point. 2005 saw them struggle with player moves and two changes at head coach. Winning only one game and scoring just 40 points, they were bottom of the South conference, resulting in them being relegated to Division Two.
2006 saw them surge back to success under Head Coach Rick Bice, finishing with a 5–4–1 record, barely missing out on the playoffs. In 2007, further success saw them qualify for the playoffs after finishing second in the South East conference with a 7–3 record before losing away to the South Wales Warriors 13–7 in the quarter-final.
In 2008, the Cats were moved into the Eastern Conference and recorded their strongest showing since 2003, finishing top with a 9–1 record and achieving an automatic spot in the playoff quarter-finals by virtue of one of South Wales Warriors nine wins coming by way of forfeit. They met the Warriors at home and beat them 21–12 to set up an away semi-final at the London Cobras, a team who had won their group with a perfect 10–0 record and conceded just nine points all season. The strength of their London opponents proved too much, with the Cobras winning 32–0.
2009 saw a change in leadership as Coach Rick Bice handed the head coaching reins over to Bob Shaw.
Marco Fasulo took over as Head Coach from 2016. The 2016 season started off with some difficulty due to low player numbers. However, the fall of the Peterborough Saxons meant that plenty of veteran players were now available to join the Cats. This change in fortune saw the Cats regain strength by numbers and reached the play-offs of Division 2 in the BAFA National Leagues.
The quarter final saw the Cats play on the road against the Berkshire Renegades. The Cats managed to win 27-13, propelling them to the semi final. Again on the road, the Cats had a close game against the London Hornets. The Hornets always proving themselves a tough team to beat, held the score to just 9-0 in favour of the Cats.
The BAFA Division 2 Final was played at the John Charles Centre for Sport, Leeds on Sunday 11th September. Despite their previous good fortune, the Cats found the Oxford Saints just too much to handle, losing 24-2. However, promotion to Division 1 was now guaranteed.
Division 1 in the SFC Eastern Conference was billed as the most competitive in 2017 by the Britball community. Featuring teams such as the Kent Exiles, London Olympians, and London Hornets, the Cats had to work hard to ensure they didn’t become the new whipping boys. But the Cats managed to win 32-0 at home against the Olympians very early in the season, giving them a massive boost. The first season in Division 1 2017 ended with a modest 5-5 record.
2018 began with the departure of long serving Cat, Ray Palmer as Defensive Co-Ordinator. But the Cats managed to bring in Andy Whiteoak to fill the position. This transformed the defensive structure and ushered in a new era of dominance that keeps the Cats heads above water on many difficult occasions. The 2018 season showed a steady improvement to the Cats as they ended with a 7-3 record.
The 2019 season is the last conventional season, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. With the Kent Exiles and London Olympians promoted to the Premiership, only the London Hornets remained to give the Cats a run for their money. True to form, the Cats won one against the Hornets and lost one in kind. But the remaining teams did not manage the same fortune. The Cats finished the 2019 season with an impressive 9-1 record. The quarter final game was at home against the Sussex Thunder. The Thunder are a very well drilled and motivated team. However, the Cats have been building on their successes over the last 3 years. In the (rainy) end, the Cats were victorious at 27-15. The semi final was away to the Solent Thrashers. Starting QB Mark Rivett was side-lined early due to a hand injury, which left the Cats struggling to be consistent when in possession of the ball. Defensively, the Cats played very well. But the Thrashers were able to get the upper hand. On the last drive of the game, the Cats were 30 yards from clenching the win before time ran out. But it wasn’t meant to be and the final score was 20-13 to the Thrashers.
The 2020 season didn’t take place due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But it did see a new Offensive Co-Ordinator with Running Backs coach, Steve Playford stepping up. Alongside talented player/coach, Dan Lloyd, they build a much difference type of offence than the Cats usually played. But preparations were halted by March, and plans were put on ice until March 2021.
BAFA announced in March that they would organise a season that would place teams together locally, regardless of their position in the divisions. This gave the Cats 8 games to test their new offensive system. The result was a success. The Cats finished 8-0. As this was not a conventional season, there wasn’t a play-off. But the Cats are ready to go again in January 2022 with promotion to the premiership in their sights.