Nechells Sports Centre – Saturday 18 October

Not for my regular sport, football, but as a spectator at a men’s competitive basketball match, to support the City of Birmingham (COB) Senior team in their debut season in Basketball England Division Four.

This is the club where my son is an Under 13’s player, in his debut season too in his chosen sport. Surprising maybe, for the son of a 5’5” asian guy from Solihull but something made me steer clear of football, despite it being the sport that I, like many, loved whilst growing up.  Over-zealous parents at kids football matches, fanatic rivalries, commercialisation, the lack of ethnic representation in higher places in the game, practically religious attachment and tribalism – it just doesn’t feel right any more.

So COB, kept together by the good people who volunteer to run it, is the start of a journey.  The men’s team is it’s flagship.  The hope is that, in time, the commitment of the many people included in it will push it to be the best it can be and attract a community to come together and achieve something special.

But, back to the present.

Waiting in opposition were the Doncaster ‘Danum’ Eagles.  No, they’re not sponsored by a french yoghurt company – Danum is the roman name for Doncaster.  No match for Beorma, the Saxon warrior Birmingham is named after, I thought.  But by all accounts these were a pretty handy outfit.  Their scheduled first match was awarded to them by default, when Birmingham Mets, to whom COB lost agonisingly in the final seconds of their first match, didn’t turn up for their match in Danone-caster – sorry, Doncaster – last week.

Things started ominously, as I started to regret my decision to sit behind the lady with the big hair, and things on the court continued in a similar vein as Doncaster scored within seconds, followed by a 3-pointer before COB had a chance to respond.  The visitors scored regularly from close in, along with a 3-pointer followed up by a successful free throw.  To their credit, COB didn’t concede too many fouls over the course of the match, and the referee did appear to struggle to keep up at times.  However, missing a number of their own 3-point attempts, a couple of free throws and chance on the break after travelling, COB found themselves 12-21 down for the 1st quarter.

The 2nd quarter was a closer affair.  Marc Lacey may have forgotten to put on his basketball socks, but his purposeful build up play was razor sharp, highlighted by a great disguised pass that nearly put in Matt Catlow.  However, along with Danny Williams, Catlow started finding his range in this period, both players taking advantage to score after some fantastic defensive blocks from COB near their own basket.  It was now Doncaster’s turn to miss some 3-pointers, however they managed some nice lay-ups and scores on the break. This saw them edge the quarter 13-15, which may have been different had one pass from Catlow not gone over Liam Sheridan’s head and back in to COB’s half to concede possession.

Plenty appeared to be going over the referee’s head too.  Following an apparent disagreement with his colleague, his excessive perspiration had started to saturate his monochrome shirt, which by now was displaying more shades of grey than a raunchy E L James novel.

The 3rd quarter was the most entertaining,  with an average of 2 points being scored every 24 seconds of match time, despite the supporters cries of “De-fence, De-fence!”.  Following a cracking 3 pointer from Lacey, Catlow proceeded to reach double figures in this quarter alone.  A foul on Sheridan bordering on common assault failed to garner a free throw, with continued questionable decisions by the referee, now with his charcoal grey shirt pasted firmly around his top half.  After failing to spot an infringement on Jordan Dawes, he penalised the player himself seconds later for a foul, much to Dawes annoyance.   COB saw a number of shots blocked, Doncaster managing to extend their lead by 9 points to end the quarter 45-65 up.

The final quarter saw Sam Coles return to the action, while Malcolm scored from a rebound to register points in each quarter of the match.  But COB failed to capitalize on a tenacious drive forward from Sheridan, saw a pass blocked, and a defensive mix-up. However George Franklin, belying his step up from the under-18s, showed ice-cool composure to put away some free throws.  Fouls were also conceded however, contributing to Doncaster gradually extending their margin.  The match drew towards it’s now inevitable conclusion, but not before Coles sunk a 3 pointer, and Dawes gathered himself to draw a foul and score both free throws. The final score of 62-88 reflected the Eagles’ strength in depth and ability to retain possession.  Doncaster, damn ‘em.

However CoB showed great heart and promise against a tough opponent.  Catlow, Williams and Malcolm top scored with 16, 13 and 9 respectively.

So I travelled home, wondering whether I had betrayed my beloved soccer in favour of this American sport.  But despite of the absence of any crunching tackles in the midfield, and the continuous obstructions that they call screening, I did quite enjoy it.  So having popped into Asda Walmart to pick up a large pan pizza for dinner, I wondered what the aims and achievements for the rest of the season would be. But when I got home and let my boy pick a film from Netflix, from that the answer came to me.  With me stuck in some place between Nechells and the States, he picked Cool Runnings, which reassured me; as long as the teams stick together and give it their all, as long as the fans carry on backing them, everytin’s gonna be irie.