History: Ely City Make Their Competitive Debut at the Unwin Sports Ground
After plying their trade at the Paradise Recreation Ground for almost a century, Ely City finally made the move to Downham Road in 1986. The new complex is around a half-hour stroll from the cathedral and the 150 capacity seated stand offers superb views of both the pitch and the surrounding areas.
It was formally known as Downham Road for just over 13 years before being officially renamed the Unwin Sports Ground in tribute to the club’s long-serving president, Doug Unwin. Having been a figurehead for well over 30 years, and universally loved by fans of Ely City, it served as the perfect tribute to a man who had played an integral part in the club’s history since 1924.
Match 56 – Eastern Counties League Premier: Ely City vs Thetford Town @ The Unwin Ground pic.twitter.com/0drxIpKWMK
— Travelling Fan (@TravellingFan) March 6, 2020
Although there was understandably a significant amount of affection for the old place, there was also a tangible excitement amongst supporters as they filed into the Robins’ new home for the first time ahead of their sides FA Cup preliminary round fixture with Tiptree United. The club was able to boast some of the best facilities in the division, and there was a tremendous amount of pride amongst the home faithful ahead of this tricky opening encounter.
Sadly, Ely City weren’t able to mark their debut at the Unwin Sports Ground with a victory as they went down 4-1 to the impressive Essex outfit. Kevan Cambridge had given the hosts brief hope of a comeback, but despite plenty of encouragement from the bumper crowd in attendance, they were unable to able to rescue the tie, and unfortunately, their progress in the competition came to an abrupt halt.
The club may not have been able to reach the first round of the FA Cup since 1955; however, they have played their part in some memorable cup matches since they relocated to the Unwin Sports Ground. Although they’ve endured a fairly poor record in the competition over the last five years, they finally gave the fans something to cheer in August 2019 with a comfortable 2-1 victory over Potton United.
The historic knock-out competition is always one of the highlights of the season for Ely City and finances can be significantly boosted by a successful FA Cup run. Although they’ve been unable to put their name in the hat for the first round of the tournament for over 60 years, it does offer fans the chance to fantasise about the possibility of the Robins being drawn against high-flying EFL opposition. These money-spinning ties have helped keep many non-league clubs afloat with Chichester City, Carshalton Athletic and Chippenham Town all financially benefitting from recent runs in the competition.
— ‘DW’ (@essexfootie) April 12, 2016
Although none of these sides were able to go beyond the third round of the 2019-2020 FA Cup, some part-time outfits are occasionally able to secure a dream tie with a Premier League outfit. The likes of Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea typically start as favourites in the football betting markets for FA Cup success; however, despite their lofty position, they rarely get an easy ride when they visit non-league grounds in this competition.
Ely City regulars will be hoping that their side can improve their FA Cup fortunes over the next five years. However, despite the heavy loss, fans will still have very happy memories of their opening encounter at the Unwin Sports Ground. The stadium will soon be celebrating its 35th anniversary and the supporters will be keeping their fingers crossed that they’re able to mark the occasion in style.