The Pre-Pre-History of Cambridge Ultimate (written May 2006)

This account of the birth of Cambridge Ultimate was kindly supplied by Philip Jones [[]] in response to the Pre-history of Cambridge Ultimate (written November 2001), which is included in our old picture index, and which describes Cambridge Ultimate in the 90s.

David MacKay, editor

Philip Jones writes

You might be interested to know a bit about the pre-pre-history of Ultimate Frisbee in Cambridge.

Wikipedia's history of Ultimate correctly pinpoints an upsurge in the formation of college and other teams in the UK around 1976, and highlights the Universities of Warwick and Cambridge as hotbeds of activity. Teams were formed in both these places in October 1976. I can speak with some authority, as I set up the Cambridge University Frisbee Association myself at the Freshers Fair, and my friend Richard Hicks began the Warwick club at exactly the same time. We had previously run a team at school (Latymer Upper in Hammersmith) and been involved in playing in the fledgling UKFA Championships against teams such as Purley (also mentioned in the Wikipedia article) [The Purley team, Lurkers continued to attend UK ultimate tournaments and organized a yearly Summer tournament regularly during the 1990s. Graduates from the Warwick Bears formed the following spin-off clubs: Stan, Druids, UTI Ed.].

College and University teams grew up initially around our schoolfriends. I established a team at Emmanuel, and my friends David Ceserani and Paul Chapman recruited in their own colleges (Queens' and Caius) and these remained the key colleges in the early days of Cambridge frisbee. Other ex-Latymerians set up an Oxford team - incidentally, Cambridge won the first Varsity match, which was held on Queens' Green in 1977. Early recruits to the game - some of the first Cambridge legends - were Steve Swallow, Dave Owers, and Richard Emslie.

Warwick remained our strongest University rivals throughout the late seventies, the most powerful non-University side being a collective of alternative lifestylers from Bristol who were known as the Samurai [Samurai disappeared in the 1990s, becoming replaced first by Headrush then by Bristol Plastic Factory as the dominant Bristol team. Ed.]. You will be pleased to learn that Cambridge won the UK Championships for three consecutive years after formation (1977, 1978, 1979), though of course there wasn't as much competition as today. You may be surprised however at how organised events were, even in those early days - venues included football grounds such as Colchester's Layer Road, and even (though this was a couple of years before CUFA) Stamford Bridge.

I completely lost track of what happened to Cambridge Ultimate after I left. Richard Hicks and I met up again in London and for a few years continued to play in a team called the Cruisers, which contained ex Warwick and Cambridge elements.

It was only recently that I discovered that Ultimate is still alive and well. (My daughter is now at Queens', and I spotted a report in her college magazine.)

If anyone is interested, I can supply more information; but I really thought you ought to know that Cambridge has a long, proud history in the sport!

BTW, you may be interested in how the 'Purley' connection came about. In the mid seventies, the organization promoting frisbee was the UKFA, which was in part promotional for Wham-O. It was headed by a guy named Jeremy Way. His kid brother, Nick, was at Purley High School and already playing the game. Richard and I came into contact with the Ways when we were trying to promote a sport we'd invented, a frisbee version of rugby called....ummmm..... frigbee. We played a demo game at the UK Championships in (I think) 1975 - this was the one held at Stamford Bridge and attracted quite a lot of coverage in the media. ("Nationwide" even sent along Sue Lawley..). Our game of frigbee petered out into a messy attritional combat reminiscent of the Western Front circa July 1916, but we joined in matches of Guts and Ultimate and soon after this devoted ourselves to the the promotion of Ultimate as the standard team game. In those days, the hippy element ruled disc world and any type of team competition was regarded with some suspicion; it seemed wise to combine forces. Over the next 18 months we played Ultimate as a group of school friends, including playing matches against Purley (I recall one at the Herne Hill Cycle Stadium) before heading off to our respective universities in 1976. We had an overt mission to introduce the sport at college level and recruit as many converts as we could. So it really is good to know it's still going strong!
photo from about 1981 from our London Cruisers days - you'll have to wait for the earlier Cambridge photos, I'm afraid. I'm on the left, Richard Hicks is second from right, wearing the shades, and the other two, as I recall, were both ex Warwick.

David MacKay
Last modified: Mon May 1 17:01:00 2006