WAS trying to build a successful British Basketball League club in Milton Keynes too much to ask for? Well, the answer appears to be yes, writes Simon Downes.
The news that MK Lions had been forced to finally give up the fight to find a permanent home in the city sadly didn’t come as much of a surprise in the end.
Some things are not meant to be, and for Lions it was a case of fourth time unlucky as the club’s 15-year stay in Milton Keynes was brought to an unfortunate end on Monday morning when chief executive Vince Macaulay agreed a deal to move the club elsewhere.
Since arriving in the city from Hemel Hempstead in the late 90s, Lions have proved an outstanding addition to the MK sporting map, lifting the BBL Cup in 2008 while becoming one of Great Britain’s biggest clubs – also leading several youth sides to national success.
But Lions have been plagued by bad luck and poor management – not on the part of the club, but by those who allowed their old home venue at Bletchley Leisure Centre to disappear and those who saw fit to approve the sale of their most recent den in Winterhill for retail space.
A short stay at Middleton Hall in thecentre:mk came in between, and with the promise of the arena adjacent to stadium:mk becoming more and more unlikely down the years, this week’s confirmation that Lions would leave Milton Keynes seemed almost inevitable.
“When we came to looking at the idea of putting up a big top in Campbell Park we knew we had reached the end,” said Macaulay.
“We’re hugely disappointed that we can’t finish the job we’ve started in MK, and I’m devastated for our fantastic fans.”
Macaulay points to the demolition of the old Bletchley Leisure Centre as where it all started to go wrong for Lions, with the new building design not taking the club into consideration as the gym is not big enough to stage professional basketball.
The original plan had been for Lions to swap Bletchley for the newly built arena next to the home of MK Dons, but delays to that project saw them take up an offer of playing in the city’s shopping centre.
For a few months that was fine, but a row with thecentre:mk over when and how Middleton Hall was used saw them forced to pack up and move for a second time.
After a lengthy search Macaulay struck a deal to use a warehouse in Grafton Court – where the Lions logo is still proudly displayed – but that proved to be just another short-term fix as the property owners sold the site for retail space, backed by Milton Keynes Council.
So after another summer of searching for a suitable place to play, Macaulay was forced to admit defeat, beginning an extremely exciting adventure elsewhere – the type of offer that makes you wonder why he tried so hard to stay in Milton Keynes.
But that reason is history – 15 years of it that has seen Lions become an intrinsical part of the city’s sporting landscape, averaging crowds of around 1,000 in recent times and giving thousands of kids the chance to play the game.
Macaulay says Lions will maintain links with Milton Keynes College to bring basketball to city youngsters, but it won’t be quite the same.
Those who have stood by and watched the club struggle for years – and ultimately be forced to leave Milton Keynes – should be ashamed of themselves.
In respect of the club’s wishes, the Citizen will not reveal where Lions are moving to until instructed.