We're now more familiar with the Us these days, but Cambridge City are the original team from that part of the world for Boro'...
Photo: Cambridge News

We’re now more familiar with the Us these days, but Cambridge City are the original team from that part of the world for Boro’. The original and, in our opinion, the best. Now, before we get angry letters from esteemed residents of that city who follow the Amber Army, let’s back up our wild claim. First, the Lilywhites pre-date the oikish Abbey upstarts by a clear four years. That, and we first met City nine years before United popped up on our radar.

Now, we’ll get to that. Or will we? After all, we’re not here to talk about Cambridge United. It’d be very rude to set it up for Cambridge City – only to ramble on about the team they’re forced to share the same city with. Lilywhites, we get it. We’ve had to share a division with the Us for a long time now. If they weren’t so forthcoming with the points, we’d be be more miffed about it. But the all-important question you both need – and want – to know here is: How have we fared against the Lilywhites?

Who are Cambridge City?

Formed in 1908, you couldn’t even call Cambridge a city back when the Lilywhites entered this mortal universe of ours. So, it can’t be a shock to learn that Cambridge Town would be their first name. It wasn’t ’til 1951 that Cambridge got city status. But, even then, it wasn’t quite as simple as switching from Town to City. Why? Well, because Abbey United wanted the name Cambridge City too.

The Lilywhites got their application in first, however. So, Abbey United had to settle on the name Cambridge United. Madness.

Now, we’ve skipped ahead nearly half a century. So, we’ll go back and fill in the gaps. At the start, the club competed in the Southern Amateur League. In 1936, they even turned down an invitation to join the Football League. It seems the men in power wanted to bring the professional game to East Anglia; Norwich City the only side flying the flag for the region at the time. The Lilywhites’ reason? When they formed, they commited themselves to playing as amateurs. Joining the Football League went against that.

After the dust had fallen on World War Two, the Lilywhites joined the Spartan League and won that title three times between 1946 and 1950. At this point, they decided to move into the Athenian League; rockin’ the new City moniker from 1951 onwards. In 1958, however, came another move. This time, it was into the Southern League. And it started a long-term association with the competition.

Why do we know Cambridge City?

How times had changed. After passing up a golden chance to join the Football League, the club turned professional upon joining the Southern League. Between 1959 and 1974, the Lilywhites applied to the Football League five times. Every single time, they were told “no”. They had their chance – and had blown it. And it wouldn’t help that United were elected to the League in 1970. The regret the Lilywhites must’ve felt!

In their time as a Southern League side, they were crowned champions at the end of the 1962-3 campaign. As runners-up in 1970 and 1971, they did come close to repeating the feat. But there’s a theory that United’s rise into the League wasn’t helping their cause off-the-pitch. In 1976, they were relegated from the Premier Division into Division One North. After being put in the Midland Division after a restructuring of the competition, they made the switch to the Southern Division in 1982. And, finally, their fortunes started to improve.

After winning the 1985-6 Southern Division title, the Lilywhites were back in the Premier Division. And straight to the top end of it they soared; eyeing up another promotion up to the Conference. The closest they came saw them fall nine points short at the end of the 1987-8 campaign. And it was a season in which we met them for the first time. We were in Vauxhall Opel League Division One during that season; a level below where they were (for all intents and purposes). And it’d be an FA Trophy tie that would pair us together.

What is our record against the Lilywhites?

The short answer is ‘forgettable’ or ‘regrettable’. We’ll excuse it to a point for our first-ever meeting in November 1987; a battling Boro’ narrowly going down to a 2-1 loss at the City Ground. It ended our FA Trophy run at the Third Qualifying Round stage; falling just short when in sight of the First Round proper and a shot at Poole Town. The Lilywhites eventually crashed out in the Second Round on the road at Lincoln City.

So, we can say ‘fair enough’ on that one. The Lilywhites were the stronger side at the time. And it ultimately counted in the end. The same can probably be said for the next time we met. Two years on, the FA Cup First Qualifying Round saw us host them at Broadhall Way. They were still slogging it out at the top end of the Southern League. We, meanwhile, were looking for promotion back up from Vauxhall Opel League Division Two North.

With two divisions now between our comparative levels, they wore the favourites tag yet again. In an entertaining match, Boro’ scored three times against the higher-placed team. Sadly, they scored five – and went through at our expense again. But, not for the first time, we have to say ‘fair enough’.

So, third time lucky? You’d think so. The FA Cup Second Qualifying Round draw brought us back together (after a brief hiatus) in September 1994. By now, we were getting used to life in the GM Vauxhall Conference. As we soared up the Isthmian League, the Lilywhites had a couple of rough seasons in the Southern League. But that went out the window as they won 2-0 at ours to record what has to be seen as a mini-upset.

What did it cost us? Well, in the short-term, a Third Qualifying Round tie at Hitchin Town.

Cambridge City: Boro’s Record

Our head-to-head: P 3 — W 0 — D 0 — L 3 — F 4 — A 9 — Pts 0 — WR 0%
Our last tango: Stevenage Borough 0-2 Cambridge City, 24 September 1994

What happened to them?

Like us in the 1990s, the Lilywhites hit a plateau; avoiding relegation in 1999 by one single point. Otherwise, there’s nothing much to report ’til 2004. But, for the start of the 2004-5 season, they’d line up in the brand-new Conference South; a season in which they made it into FA Cup Round Two too. And, with the Us falling down into the Conference, both sides from Cambridge were separated by just one division for the first time in ages.

There’d be no meeting of minds, however. After coming second in their first Conference South season, the league finishes started to tail off amid off-field cash issues. Their City Ground home was sold and ridiculous plans were revealed to bin the first team; instead making the Lilywhites nothing more than a feeder to the Us. This led to the creation of a supporters’ trust, who soon took over the club.

In 2008, a 14th-place finish in Conference South was clearly enough to stay up. Sadly, their City Ground (still home to them) failed an FA inspection. It meant they were forced back to the Southern League. After several near-misses with promotion, they started to struggle on the pitch – and move around off it. In 2013, they moved in with Histon; then onto St Ives in 2015 and back to Histon in 2018.

A 2017 relegation saw them plunge from the Southern League Premier Division to Division One East – albeit for one season, before they moved across to Division One Central. And in 2019, it was all-change again; the Lilywhites joining the Isthmian League for the first time in Division One North. As we all now know, that campaign would be abandoned due to Covid-19. Whether they get through a first full season there this time around remains to be seen.

• WANT TO KNOW MORE? – Cambridge City club profile