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History – Nottingham Wildcats

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The origins of Nottingham Wildcats can be traced back to September 1976 at the Dayncourt School in Radcliffe-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire.    In the late 1970’s there were 2 national league women’s teams in Nottingham, the Dayncourt Wildcats and Nottingham.  Both had performed creditably in the 2nd division but individually lacked the resources and playing strength to make an impression at the highest level.  To compete at this level a decision was made to amalgamate the two teams.  This happened in time for the start of the 1978/79 season and the club has gone from strength to strength.

For the first few seasons the newly formed, Nottingham Wildcats, yo-yoed between the 1st and 2nd divisions. However securing their first sponsorship combined with strengthening the administrative and coaching base enabled the club to grow in strength and in 1981 the Wildcats joined the elite of English Women’s Basketball and has remained there ever since.  In the same year the Wildcats famous logo made its first appearance and it adorned sports apparel, playing kit, letterheads, etc. for over 25 years before eventually being replaced.

Wildcats Old Logo

That first sponsor and arguably the most influential for the club was double glazing firm Ashfield Glass.  At the same time as this sponsorship was secured the administration of the women’s national league team, Nottingham Wildcats and the men’s national league side Nottingham Knights combined.  The Wildcats provided three Directors of the new club and the Knights one.  This period became the most productive for men’s basketball in Nottingham, with the team winning promotion to the 1st division, but was unable to take up the spot due to financial constraints.

For season 1984/85 the combined club had a new sponsor in Wakefield Storage Handling.  However as the season progressed it became clear the sponsor was really only interested in the men’s side of the club and at the end of the season, May 1985, the Wildcats’ Directors sold their stake in the men’s club to Wakefield Storage Handling.  Two seasons later the Nottingham Knights folded, leaving a void in senior men’s basketball in Nottingham that has never really been filled until the Nottingham Hoods formed in 2009.

The Wildcats were now established as one of the leading women’s clubs in the country, but the loss of the sponsor forced the club to revue its priorities.  Like most other top clubs the Wildcats had two professional players, others who were not full-time were paid travelling expenses and one player had a sponsored car.  Whilst there was still a strong base of Nottingham players at the Wildcats, there was no junior or development programme.  Due to the constraint of funds the Wildcats made the decision to only register players that qualified to play for England and start a development programme.

This policy of England qualified players lasted until the start of season 2003/04 when the Wildcats again engaged an American player. In those intervening years between 1985 and 2003 the Wildcats club progressed rapidly expanding the number of teams, coaches and volunteers.   Although the Wildcats’ senior team did not win National titles, the team was always competitive and has produced more players to represent the National Team then any other club.  Currently over 80 players, coaches and managers have represented England and Great Britain at the various age group and senior levels.  (See Wildcats Honours List for full details).  During that period, 1985 to 2003, no team finished higher than the Wildcats, with purely English players and many famous and illustrious clubs have disappeared from basketball altogether.

The opening of the Nottingham Wildcats Arena in October 2001 proved to be a catalyst for the next stage of development in the Nottingham Wildcats Club.  The proposal to build the Arena started as a joint initiative of the Jesse Boot School and the Nottingham Wildcats and for the first 3 years this was reflected in the name given to the Arena, ‘Jesse Boot Wildcats Arena.’  The school are no longer involved in the Trust and therefore the Arena is now known as the Nottingham Wildcats Arena.

The securing of as much court time as the club needed through the building of the Arena enabled the Wildcats to embark on a development programme for all junior players. For most of the nineties the Wildcats had worked along side the Nova Basketball Club and rather than duplicate provision the Wildcats had supported the Nova programme.  However, more and more parents began to ask if their children could join the Wildcats and gradually the Wildcats began to enter age group teams into the National League.  The club now has teams playing at U14, U16 and U18 levels and regularly makes the Final Four Tournament each year.  The most spectacular success has to have been the U14s winning the 2007/08 National Championship.

The Wildcats had U14 players at the club, who played in the local Maid Marian league, which operated out of the Wildcats Arena.  In October 2007, when a failing club could not fulfil its National League fixture, due to a lack of players the Wildcats decided to step in.  Rather than see these young players lose an opportunity the Wildcats asked England Basketball if they could take over the fixtures.  Combining players from both teams they went unbeaten for the whole season winning the National Championship six months later.

The Wildcats Club is not all about National League and it has had teams in the local Maid Marian League since its inception.  In 2001, with the support of the Wildcats Arena, the Maid Marian League became central venue offering the opportunity for clubs across Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire to play their games on a Wednesday evening.  The local male league, the Sherwood League, also centralised their junior divisions and these play every Friday evening at the Arena.

The 2002/03 season saw the ‘Cats’ introduced a second senior National League team by entering a team into the Women’s Division 2 North.  This was felt necessary for 2 reasons.  To bridge the gap between age group basketball and Division 1 women and frankly most of the younger Wildcats players did not get enough competition from their age group games.  Success soon followed and in season 2004/05 the Wildcats won the League Title and the National Trophy with a team containing six U18 players.

In August of 2007 another of Wildcats’ age group teams had success.  This time the U18s won the prestigious Flanders International Tournament in Ghent becoming the first Nottingham team to win a tournament abroad.

In January 2008 the Arena, with the support of a grant from England Basketball’s Community Club Development Programme, opened a mini-basketball centre, which is attached to original Arena.  This facility puts many leisure centre facilities to shame, as it not only has 2 purpose built mini courts, but a further FIBA regulation adult court, giving the Arena 3 full size courts in all. In the spring of 2008 the Arena piloted mini-basketball sessions for U12 girls attracting 50 children on a regular basis.  The mini basketball initiative was fully launched on 8th November 2008 and the ‘Mini-ballers’ as they have become know, train every Saturday morning and is for both boys and girls.

September 2009 saw the ‘Mini-ballers’ enter the Nottinghamshire Mini Basketball League for the first time.  During the season, which saw the team finish 2nd in their league, over 30 different players represented the club.  The ‘Mini-Ballers’ have since won the title 3 times and are the only club to always field the regulation number of girls in each game.  Many of the girls go onto represent the Wildcats club at age group level in the National League and some even the England U16 National team.  The boys also progress into the National League either with Nottingham Hoods or Nottinghamshire Nova.

The Wildcats’ Development Programme has also enabled nine young women to gain basketball scholarships in the United States.  Three have yet to finish college, but the other six have returned and either coach age group teams or play for the Wildcats WBBL team.  The WBBL is the women’s professional league in the United Kingdom and its first competitive season was 2014/15.  The Wildcats club was a founder member of the league and remains a driving force in its development, which will ultimately see the standard of players and teams improve significantly.

The Wildcats finished runners-up in three of the four WBBL competitions in that inaugural season, but in the fourth the Betty Codona Classic they broke their drought of not winning a senior trophy, by defeating the Leicester Riders in the final.  Fittingly the tournament was staged at the Nottingham Wildcats Arena.

Since 2011 the Trust have supported and sponsored the Nottingham Hoods senior men’s team and are currently well on the way, with the Hoods, to forming an umbrella organization for basketball in Nottingham, which will be called the Nottingham Basketball Alliance.  The clubs will retain their separate identities but will integrate their administration, child protection and fund raising functions.

2011 also saw the retirement of the ‘famous’ Wildcats logo and has now been replaced by a more contemporary NW.  At the same time the main Arena was rebranded and now players, spectators and visitors are not left in any doubt, that it is the home of the Wildcats.

Wildcats New Logo

It was a very busy year in 2011 as the Wildcats personal were instrumental in delivering an Institute of Basketball, with the Nottingham Academy, where student athletes can combine education and vocational studies whilst playing basketball as part of their curriculum.  Such was the success of the venture that the National Federation, (Basketball England), have invited Nottingham Academy to become a Regional Institute of Basketball, one of only two in the country.  The first student athletes will enroll in September 2016 and will raise the programme to an elite level.

The Wildcats club continues to grow and professionalise its operations.  The Head Coach is now a full time paid post and there are four paid players on the WBBL team.  A Sports Scientist and a Physiotherapist have been added to the staff along with an Events and Promotions Manager.   However, none of this would be possible without the army of volunteers that do everything and anything that is necessary to ensure the club remains successful.

In 40 years the ‘Cats’ have travelled from that school gym to their own purpose built Basketball Arena.   Not only are the Wildcats the only club in the UK to own their own facility, but probably one of the only ones in Europe.  Theoretically the Wildcats do not own the Arena, it is owned by the Nottingham Wildcats Community Basketball and Sports Trust Ltd.  However the Wildcats have a majority of seats on the Board of Trustees so too all intense and purposes it is owned by the club.

The history of the Nottingham Wildcats is far from over and as more and more players make a name for themselves at home and abroad the name of the Nottingham Wildcats will live on beyond its current members.

Revised January 2016.

Chris Prior.

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