Leopards – how it all started

This history is about Leopards Basketball Club. They first took to the court in 1994, playing nine seasons in the BBL, skipped a season in  2004/5 before playing 16 seasons in the England Basketball League. They initially played at London Arena, played the majority of their history at the Brentwood Centre but also played all over Essex as well as playing most of the aborted 2019/20 season at Oaklands College in St Albans.

In July 2020 they became Oaklands Wolves ending 25 season as Leopards.

But the history of the club can be traced back before World War II with the club originally based at Central YMCA – the world’s first YMCA. It’s unclear when Central started playing competitive basketball but they reached the final of the English National Championship Cup in 1939/40 – the fifth season of the competition – losing 35-30 against Birmingham Athletic Institute at the original London Arena.

Kingston (yellow) 90 Portsmouth 85
National Cup final 198788. Pic: Paul Coates

They became national champions in 1957 when they defeated London Polytechnic 63-51 at London Arena and retained the title the following year with a 48-40 win against East Ham at the same venue. They won the competition again by beating London Poly 95-62 in 1960 and after finishing runners-up in 1961 they went on to win the competition in three straight seasons between 1962-64.

They won the national title again in 1967 with a two point win against Vauxhall Motors and collected their eighth title in 1969 with a 70-62 victory against Aldershot Warriors at Crystal Palace.  A merger with Romford YMCA saw the team rebranded as London YMCA Metros and entered the fledgling National League in 1973.

The Metros enjoyed several successful seasons and a variety of exotic names – due to sponsorship naming deals – throughout the 1970s, but in 1979, owner Malcolm Chamberlain uprooted the team and relocated them from London to the suburbs of Kingston-upon-Thames and to the Tolworth Recreation Centre, and rebranding as Kingston Kings.

Kingston (yellow) 95 Portsmouth 87
National Cup final 1986/87
Pic: Paul Coates

Kingston were one of the first entrants into the new British Basketball League, finishing second in the inaugural 1987-88  season. In 1988, the franchise was bought out by Rangers F.C., and became the Glasgow Rangers, although the team played in Falkirk. Rangers were league champions in 1988–89, but were sold off after just one year and returned to Kingston, where the franchise enjoyed their most glorious period. From 1989 to 1992, they won every League Championship as well as many other trophies and competitions. In 1992 the franchise was moved yet again to the brand new Spectrum Arena in Guildford to become the Guildford Kings. The Kings competed for two more years in the BBL and European competitions, until 1994, when the franchise owners were unable to negotiate a viable contract with the owners of the Guildford Spectrum and Leopards were born.

The rest, as they say, is history. And there’s a lot of it here.

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