25 years of Leopards – season 6

In many ways the 1999/2000 season proved to be a key one in the history of the original Leopards with a change of coach and home venue.
The club entered Europe for the first time but a weakened team caused by restrictions on imports and Robert Youngblood’s naturalisation failing to happen in time were hammered 111-75 by IRB Reykjanesbær. The Icelandic side’s inclusion was controversial as they weren’t actually a club but a combination of the top two clubs in their country, and they were dominant in the home leg with Big Cats’ forward Kenya Capers being ejected late in the game. The home leg was won 80-78 thanks a buzzer-beater from Capers at a near-deserted London Arena.
After a poor start to the season the Big Cats appeared to have turned the corner with a big win against champions Manchester Giants but the club shocked the world the following day by sacking coach Billy Mims. The early exit from Europe and clear tensions between the play-caller and the owners had reached boiling points and five (and a bit) years Mims departed. In his place came the flamboyant Bob Donewald junior who had previously coached at Derby and Leicester but there was no upturn in fortunes as the new boss tore apart Mims’ side and brought in his own men. The most notable departure was captain Youngblood when his British passport arrived, and he moved to a German club.
The other big departure was Leopards leaving London Arena. Since a change of ownership for the Docklands venue and the arrival of London Knights ice hockey team it had been fractious relationship with the arena rarely set up properly and after a 99-74 defeat against Thames Valley Tigers under acting coach Rohan Thompson that club announced that the Brentwood Centre would now be their permanent home.
After such so much turmoil it came as no surprise that Leopards missed out on the post-season for the first time, finishing fifth in the newly-look Southern Conference with an 11-23 record.

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