I knew it was coming at some point. Not because I have some kind of sixth sense or I’m particularly insightful. But because the CEO of Brentwood Centre, Roger Davinson (a man who would have a statue built if Leopards had done such a thing) told me a while ago that it was utterly fucked.
If we hadn’t already known that the only way forward was to move to Oaklands, Roger’s tip off would have pushed us that way. We knew there was no way we were getting back in during 2020, if we’d waited and hoped for January, I doubt we’d be playing this year.
But this was our spiritual home. While it could be argued that accolade should belong to London Arena, we were only there for the first five years of the original club. The old Leopards finished life at the Brentwood Centre, the new Leopards were formed by people who wanted to bring basketball back there. And when we could no longer use it regularly over the last couple of years it hastened the end of Leopards as we knew it.
We had some fantastic memories there. Winning the league with Youngblood in 2015 with me, Tracy and Roger lugging more and more seats in, beating Giants in the BBL Trophy, Bob Donewald riding in on a motorbike and chucking a bag of practice balls all over the court after being ejected against Sharks. Beating Towers there in the final home for the original club, a couple of other wins against Towers in front of capacity crowds. Oh, and busting my big toe (again) after a Friday night loss against Sharks. That first home game for the new Leopards when we beat the all-stars of London United, parading the National Cup there after stunning the world in our second season, and those big, big games where we showed the NBL how to stage a game and packing the court out with coaching sessions before games.
It was often bloody hard work there, but when it went well it really felt like we’d achieved something more than just staging a basketball game.
I feel for the staff who’d been there forever, especially the bar staff who knew me as “Cider Dave”. We won’t get to stage Keith’s memorial game there – we’ll do something at Oaklands when the madness has ended – and I knew six months ago we’d never play there again.
I hope they save our old home. Brentwood – or the south east in general – doesn’t need any more flats. It needs more basketball courts