25 years of Leopards – season 1
With no basketball to occupy us, and a General Manager who has far too much time on his hands, it seemed an ideal opportunity to look back at the 25-year history of Leopards’ basketball.
There are two distinct parts to the history of the Big Cats; The original club was formed in the summer of 1994 when a consortium of Ed Simons, Harvey Goldsmith and Robert Earl bought the Guildford Kings’ BBL franchise and launched a new club which would play out of London Arena. The Kings were arguably the most successful club in British basketball. As Kingston Kings they had won everything in the game, including 11 of the 12 BBL trophies in one three year period and in the final nine they won seven National Cup titles and while that sounds impressive but Kings weren’t allowed to play in the 1989 competition as spent a year playing at Glasgow! They also competed regularly in Europe. Kings’ final two years were spend in Guildford before selling up to the new Leopards. While several players moved from Guildford, the Big Cats never claimed the history of the Kings, it was a new club and a new beginning. Which is a bit of a relief because I haven’t got time to write 46 years of history and I haven’t got the help of some excellent scrap books from fan Maz Curtis.
After nine (generally) successful seasons, and Simons in sole control, the first era of Leopards came to an end. With the club based in Brentwood for the final few years, Simons had decided it was time to move on, and after a late bit from a group of fans failed to keep them in the BBL, the club closed down.
But rather than being the end, the club were reborn as Essex & Herts Leopards in the summer of 2004 after the supporters group bought National League Division One side Ware Rebels. The last 16 years have seen a variety of prefixes – but only one suffix – and many, many different venues (although the Brentwood Centre has been a key fixture during that period) and hundreds of games. There’s not time to cover them all, but hopefully you’ll enjoy 25 years of the Leopards. The hope it to publish one part every three days.
But back to that first season. It saw a reasonable start for the Big Cats, finishing sixth in the table and reaching the National Cup semi-final. The first game saw coach Billy Mims and marquee signing Robert Youngblood (who went on to be player-coach of the second version of Leopards) stuck in Ireland waiting for work permits as Leopards played at Manchester in front of a then British record crowd of 14,000. Not a bad way to start!