It was a mild Wednesday night in Guildford. The Surrey Sports Park was as usual, a hectic place – with members of the public occupying the outside astro-turf pitches for 5-a-side football while indoors, the swimmers were going through their paces and the rock-climbers were grabbing attention from the on-lookers.
But the main focus of the evening at the SSP was a BBL Championship match between the Guildford Heat and the visiting Worcester Wolves. A match that was in serious doubt just after Christmas, due to the club experiencing reductions in the amount of government funding available for the community programmes, which almost led to the Heat closing down.
A local business woman and fan, Alison Reeve, took over the ownership from previous owner, Alan McClafferty and reportedly invested money from her own purse into the club, along with the £25,210 raised by the loyal supporters, who gave their all to save the club. Reeve is adjusting to her new role, despite the extra work-load.
“I’ve been so incredibly busy, trying to absorb everything, and to put people in the right places,” Reeve explained, and continued: “I haven’t got round to dealing with everything yet, but we are definitely on the up.”
A month-or-so on from being saved, it’s business as usual now – and there is a sense of relief that you can feel, the moment you walk through the automatic double-doors of the SSP on a game-night.
“Sales had gone down, as people were putting money in to save the club, they were all paying to save the club. But, now, we’re back to average sales, and the crowd at the weekends are a lot bigger, so our turnover is better,” a club-volunteer said, as she was selling basketball merchandise next to the upper entrance doors. Whilst chatting to her, I noticed a healthy queue of excited fans waiting to purchase various NBA and Guildford Heat related items.
While the SSP was by no-means full, you could still see the passion in the fans faces, as they cheered vigorously as their hometown club took to the court for the warm-up, even the visitors from Worcester got a round-of-applause.
The game was lively; oddly officated at times, personal highlight was one referee blowing his whistle for a bench technical whilst Guildford’s Tayo Ogedengbe was releasing the ball from his grasp at the free-throw line – but the game was tightly contested until the fourth quarter, when the hosts pulled away, winning the game 102-83 and forcing 24 turnovers off the visiting Wolves side, coached by Guildford’s old mentor, Paul James.
The fans were pleased with the result, some even travelled from as far north as Newcastle to see the game and one commented that ‘Guildford were value for the win.’
The players at the end were mobbed by fans and friends who came to see them play. Autographs were signed, pictures were taken. Coach Creon Raftopoulos studied the stats and was overall satisfied with the win, skidding a two-game losing streak. And when I caught up with the Zimbabwe national, he was just happy for his team to play without any worries.
“We get an opportunity to focus now on our basketball,” Raftopoulos said.
“When you don’t know when your next pay-cheque is coming from, it doesn’t matter what walk of life or profession you have, it’s going to affect you. But credit to the guys, we’ve all tried, we’ve all had to really hustle it out and playing with a frustration of not knowing about a pay-cheque and, at the time, we were playing without a point guard – which wasn’t easy.
“It’s good now, we have a Trophy Final at the O2 Arena to look forward and an owner who understands what the Guildford Heat is about.” Creon went on to say.
Going back out into the arena, numerous volunteers as well as the SSP door security staff were dismantling the stands, folding and storing the advertising boards and putting away the baskets, when I saw one volunteer, with a broom sweeping a section of the seating area that was covered by empty sweet-wrappers and drink cans. He was doing this though, with a smile on his face, whilst joking around with the security staff.
“I’m just happy that we get to finish this season and I’m also happy that I can look forward to supporting the guys (Heat) next year,” the smiling volunteer said.
“In honesty though, it’s old news now – bring on the future, forget the past. We’ve had some great memories whilst at the (Guildford) Spectrum (Heat’s old venue), but now we can move on and look forward to a better future,” the volunteer proudly stated.
Couldn’t of said it better myself.
John Hobbs for TalkBasket.net