Established in 1976, Nottingham Wildcats is Britains leading Woman’s basketball club providing basketball for all levels. The club runs several sides starting with Mini-Ballers, juniors and senior woman’s basketball. Mini-Ballers introduces boys and girls to basketball from 6 years old through to 14 years old, training sessions are held Saturday mornings with mini-games throughout the year. Under 16’s compete in the national league offering the chance for young women and girls to play at the national level.
The club has a strong focus on promoting the sport of basketball in Nottingham, promoting women’s sports and being a positive influence within the community. This is supported by committed coaches, strong local partnerships, volunteers and sponsors that help the club provide this through our basketball programs.
We use basketball as a way to help educate young people from all backgrounds. Helping them develop into mature, confident and self-motivating individuals within a safe and supportive environment. Here at the Nottingham Wildcats, we promote discipline, teamwork, effort and commitment to help every individual achieve the excellence that we believe every person who walks through our doors is capable of.
The origins of Nottingham Wildcats can be traced back to September 1976 at the Dayncourt School in Radcliffe-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire. In the late 1970s, 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 the decision was made to amalgamate the two teams, this happening in time for the start of the 1978/79 season.
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 cartoon logo made its first appearance, adorned sports apparel, playing kits, letterheads, etc. for over 25 years before eventually being replaced in 2011.
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 very productive for men’s basketball in Nottingham, with the team winning promotion to the 1st division, later to become the BBL, but was unable to take up the sport due to financial constraints.
For season 1984/85 the combined club had a new sponsor in Wakefield Storage Handling. However, as the season progressed the men’s and women’s programmes drifted apart, and it became clear their different priorities were becoming irreconcilable. At the end of that season, May 1985, the Wildcats’ Directors sold their stake in the men’s club to Wakefield Storage Handling, who became the club’s owners as well as the sponsor. Two seasons later the Nottingham Knights folded, leaving a void in senior men’s basketball in Nottingham that was never really 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 review 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 a non-British 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 any national titles, the team was always competitive and produced more players to represent the National Team than any other club. This emphasis on the development of local talent persists to this day and now over 100 players, coaches and managers have represented England and Great Britain at the various age group and senior levels. During that period, 1985 to 2003, no team finished higher than the Wildcats, with purely English players and many famous and illustrious clubs who did not invest in player development have disappeared from basketball altogether.
With the ever-increasing number of teams and the influx of players to the club, the cost of court hire for playing and training was becoming the major expense of running the club. It is at this point that the Wildcats considered two possible courses of action. Increase the subs paid by players to cover court hire, ultimately paid by parents, or look to either build a basketball venue that would be owned and run by the Wildcats club. Thus, alleviating the major cost of court hire. The decision made at this time would help shape the philosophy of the Wildcats and become one of its underlying principles. By not choosing to enter a spiral of player subscription increases the club made a statement that it wished to be as inclusive as possible. The Wildcats recognised that cost was a major contributory factor to why young people did not engage in sport, and this disproportionately affected ethnic minority groups. This principle is as strong today as it was back then and it helped shape the Memorandum and Articles of Association of the Nottingham Wildcats Community Basketball and Sports Trust, which was formed in December 2000, to progress the aim of building a basketball centre.
The Nottingham Wildcats Arena opened in October 2001 and became the first purpose-built basketball venue in the UK owned and operated by a basketball club. It also proved to be the 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. However, over time the input from the school into the Trust began to diminish and eventually they decided to withdraw altogether. At this stage, the Arena took on its current name, 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 alongside the Nottinghamshire County Council’s Nova Basketball Programme and rather than duplicate provision the Wildcats had supported the Nova programme. However, this programme was erratic in its delivery, some seasons not operating at all. Although the Wildcats were purely a senior women’s club at this time, parents of aspiring young female basketball players began to ask the Wildcats if they would start a junior programme. The club initially entered teams into the local Maid Marian League but gradually the Wildcats entered 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 last age group team to enter the National competition was the U14s who at the start of the 2007/8 season were a local league side. However, in October 2007 the Wildcats were approached by a national league club that could not fulfil its fixture, due to a lack of players. The Wildcats decided to step in rather than see these young players lose an opportunity and 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 the 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’ introduce 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 the 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 the 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 known, 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 numerous times and are the only club to always field the regulation number of girls in each game. Many of the girls go on to represent the Wildcats club at the age-group level in the National League and some even the England U16 National team. The boys also progress into the National League via either the Nottingham Hoods or Nottinghamshire Nova.
2011 also saw the retirement of the ‘famous’ Wildcats logo which 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.
It was a very busy year in 2011 as the Wildcats personnel were instrumental in delivering an Institute of Basketball, with the Nottingham Academy. Both female and male 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), invited Nottingham Academy to become a Regional Institute of Basketball, one of only two in the country that was proposed. Unfortunately, this initiative was shelved by BE, who chose to take a different direction in their support of elite player basketball development. The whole situation around player development is extremely fluid and a constantly changing picture. It is therefore difficult to predict what or when the next initiative will arise.
The partnership with Nottingham Academy, although productive, was very much on an informal basis with no overall strategic plan or key performance indicators in place. In September 2018, after nearly two years of negotiation, the Wildcats Trust signed a 5-year Service Level Agreement with Nottingham Academy to deliver an elite student-athlete basketball development programme. Whilst the student-athletes can train every day with qualified full-time basketball coaches, physios and strength and conditioning coaches, they also are required to do extra-curricular academic studies. The ethos of the programme, which has become known as the Nottingham Academy Wildcats, places as much emphasis on academic achievement as on basketball development and this emphasis has seen numerous student-athletes gain scholarships to American colleges and British Universities.
The NAW is closely linked with the Wildcats’ Development Programme, with many of the Wildcats’ U18 National League teams being part of both programmes, as well as the WBBL squad. 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. The Wildcats have since gone on to win two more BCC tournaments before it became the WBBL Trophy, as well as the WBBL League Championship twice and the WBBL Cup making them one of the most successful clubs in the WBBL.
The additional cost and demands of the WBBL have required the Wildcats’ club to seek continual growth both in terms of the number of club members and their income streams. This has led to a professionalisation of its operations with the Head Coach now a full-time paid post and over half of the WBBL squad being paid to play. A Sports Scientist, a Physiotherapist and a Dietician 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.
Unfortunately, in February 2020 the Wildcats organisation suffered a tremendous blow, when founder member Pauline Prior died, after a battle with cancer. Pauline had started as a player for Nottingham back in the mid-1970s, but when the Wildcats club formed in 1976, she was their first captain and went on to win numerous MVP awards. After her playing career came to an end Pauline became a coach, team manager and any other job that needed doing. She was also team manager for England and GB age group teams as well as the senior women’s team, winning a Commonwealth Championship gold medal in 1990. In 2001 Pauline gave up a secure and influential management position at Sport England to take on the less secure and completely new post of manager of the Wildcats Arena. The growth of the Arena both financially and as a successful part of the local community owes much to her vision and drive, which remained even after her retirement. Perhaps the thing Pauline will most be remembered for, other than her fiercely competitive nature, is the Wildcats Mini-ballers programme. This was close to her heart until the end, and she barely missed a Saturday morning despite her illness.
In just over 40 years the ‘Cats’ have travelled from that school gym to their own purpose-built Basketball Arena and to the very pinnacle of the women’s game in the UK. 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.