Vince MacaulayOver five years ago, in the busy city-centre of Milton Keynes, was a warehouse that held several hundred employees who printed Barclays Bank cheque-books. Several redundancies and let-go’s later, this warehouse was empty (trust me; this is a basketball-related article).

Five years later, this particular warehouse is now the permanent home of the Milton Keynes Lions.

“We are delighted to be here at the MK Lions Arena, and I am very happy at the resilience shown by our fans in backing us throughout what has been a traumatic time, however it’s not over for us because we now have to make it work to ensure that this is a blue print for other clubs,” commented Lions chief executive, Vince Macaulay. Who helped with the planning of the new arena.

“After we had scoured every available building in the city – this building (MK Arena), situated just 2 minutes from the train station and from the city centre was recommended to me by a friend, when I walked in I knew it would work,” Macaulay envisioned.

Lions chief executive continued: “We knocked down a dividing wall then we went about identifying what we wanted; changing rooms, sports bar, we had to install toilets for the public etc. So we implemented some temporary items and started, one side was cleared seats we had bought from Bletchley were brought in and a floor, all the services had to be checked, water, gas, light, heating and we were ready for the first game.”

The new Lions den opened its doors to fans under two months ago when Milton Keynes hosted Essex Pirates on November 28th.  Lions defeated the league’s bottom club, 79-73. Despite the new arena not being fully completed, the idea to transform an abandoned warehouse into a professional, slick-looking basketball gym came from ideas from other basketball countries.

“If you look across at some of the mid-European Leagues: Belgium, Holland, most of the clubs have a similar arrangement, it just means we don’t have this situation where no basketball club has a base,” Macaulay explained.

“Basically you go into any town or city in the UK and you can always find the football team – they’re in the stadium. You look for the Ice Hockey team, easy they’re at the Ice Rink. Look for the basketball team and who knows where to look.

“We have all been at the mercy of Leisure centres or Arena’s. The Arena’s cost too much, take your income and you can’t set up a base there,” Macaulay went on to say.

The majority of British Basketball League teams play out of multi-sport leisure centres. The leisure centres during the week have badminton, squash, and aerobics classes frequently – so for Milton Keynes Lions to have a venue specifically for basketball puts the Lions at a great position to turn the city into a thriving basketball-mad area.

“The leisure centres are concerned about badminton and other casual users and invariably they are not of the standard required,” Macaulay said.

“The way we want to go is have our own home base, any income generated stays with the club and hopefully we can survive and prosper, irrespective of what happens with commercial sponsorship or government grants. I have had the idea for a long time and am just glad to be on the road.”

While the off-court progress is racing away, progress on the court has lagged behind the pace, and despite a recent win against Worcester Wolves last weekend, the team sit third from bottom of the BBL (10th) with just three wins in 11 games under new coach, Mike New and a virtually new team.

“Mike is a terrific guy, he is very respected in the game intelligent and astute,” Macaulay said about New.

Continuing on: “The players respect him (New) a lot and want to be half the professional he was as a player. He is not strange to the Lions system obviously after having played for me and also coaching our Academy programme.

“At the club we have a system top to bottom and Mike knows it inside out and right now is just adjusting to how you influence games as  a coach as opposed to a player, because he could easily step out there now and make things happen, doing it from the sideline is totally different and I am happy with his progress.”

With, what is a new team drafted in by Macaulay and New, the team are gelled and adjusting to their new surroundings, and for some, still, a new league. A lot of Lions fans were upset at the departure of crowd favourite, Dru Spinks – a veteran of Britain’s top league for 15 years.

“Dru was a terrific asset to this club just as other have been in the past, Leon Noel, Nigel Lloyd, Jason Siemon,  Victor Payne were all fan favourites but I am sure as Lions fans they will continue to support the club as we develop after all they are Lions fans through and through,” Macaulay stated.

“We have never shirked taking tough decisions and that will always be the case, I do wish Dru well and said so to him face to face and I know he is now playing in Hemel and having a very positive effect there.”

A new side, a new arena, things are certainly looking up for the Lions, just requires a little patience.

John Hobbs for TalkBasket.net

Note – picture to follow..