ONE of the city’s greatest sporting benefactors has criticised Milton Keynes Council for throwing MK Lions “on the scrapheap” after the club announced it was leaving last week – an accusation strongly refuted.
Marshall Amplification bosses Jonathan Ellery, Graham Young and David Cole have written to council leader Councillor Andrew Geary, to express their “deep dismay and disappointment” at news that the British Basketball League club had been forced to leave the city after 15 years because they cannot find a place to play.
With the late Jim Marshall a huge supporter of Lions and other sports clubs in Milton Keynes, the iconic music industry giant backed the basketball outfit to the tune of £200,000 over a three-year sponsorship period ending in 2009, and in the letter seen by the Citizen, the company’s managing director, operations director and financial director blamed the council for not doing enough to help the stricken club.
“Vince Macaulay and his team have worked tirelessly to keep the MK Lions going over the years, despite being pushed from pillar to post with promises of use of the arena at the MK Dons Stadium and the premises they secured at Winterhill being sold from under them to a commercial venture,” they say in a joint statement.
“How short-sighted and hypocritical in this historical London Olympic year with the motto of ‘Inspire a Generation’ that it appears money is paramount and the needs of the community disregarded.
“It seems that money can be wasted by the Road Traffic Department in re-developing the bus lanes at Milton Keynes Station and other numerous short term and short-sighted ventures such as the proposed Fenny Lock travellers’ site and the skate park fiasco at Broughton Gate.”
Council leader Andrew Geary strongly denies the claims made in the letter, as does his brother, Councillor Peter Geary. They claim some of the statements made by Marshall are “factually inaccurate” and they are seeking an urgent meeting with them to address the “misunderstanding”.
Peter Geary, cabinet member for sport, said: “No one is more sorry than me to see Lions leave. I’ve put hours and hours into trying to find a resolution to their problems.
“But I honestly can’t think of anything else we could have done, other than give the club four acres of commercial development land worth £4 million for nothing.
“We are very, very sorry to see Lions leave, but sometimes we have to accept that we can’t have everything in life.
“We are disappointed with the letter from Marshall and are urgently trying to meet with them to discuss where they got their facts, some of which are inaccurate.”
The letter from Marshall adds: “Over the years we have made a substantial investment in the MK Lions and we are extremely upset and angry at the way they have been treated. We were under no obligation to sponsor them or any other organisations, but as a public-spirited company, we realised their potential and benefit to the community, an insight which you seem to be sadly lacking.”
Marshall Amplification were the main sponsor for MK Dons in their early years in the city, and the company also continues to support the MK Victors Boxing Club and Milton Keynes Athletic Club – the breeding ground for Olympic long jump champion Greg Rutherford.
The letter goes on to say: “No stone should have been left unturned in efforts to keep them in Milton Keynes, but it appears they were just thrown on the scrapheap and we cannot emphasise strongly enough our disgust with the way in which this matter has been handled.
“If this is the attitude that Milton Keynes takes to support local sport then Marshall will have to reconsider how we promote and get involved with Milton Keynes in the future. We would be interested to receive your comments as to how you have allowed this situation to arise.”
Both the city’s MPs declined to comment on the story.