THE AMERICAN INFLUENCE


I
n the mid 1950's a small United States Air Force Unit took occupation of the RAF station at Kirknewton, Midlothian, some five miles West of the Edinburgh City boundary. Lacking a proper basketball court they converted a hangar to a gymnasium and started playing matches with teams from other US Military bases in the UK and Europe. The team was christened the Kirknewton Comets and Edinburgh enthusiasts found ways of travelling to the remote location to watch matches with visiting teams. These matches were of a much higher standard than local Scottish teams could achieve, but the cold hangar, even with the use of huge hot air blowers, was impractical. The Comets eventually were persuaded to play home games at the Pleasance Gymnasium. These games became very popular with the local basketball community. Sitting on benches behind the baskets and around the court sidelines in addition to hanging from the wallbars, more than 200 spectators would squeeze into the hall.

A second string Kirknewton team named the Knights, entered the East of Scotland League and played their home games at Redford Barracks. This arrangement continued until a new facility was opened at Kirknewton in 1959. It was the first full sized basketball court in Scotland . With provision for about 400 spectators on tiered "Bleacher" seating, it was a revelation. It featured a sprung wood floor, transparent backboards, a high ceiling and excellent lighting. As such it was the perfect venue for the inaugural four country tournament organised to select a Great Britain team in 1960.

The small number of USAF personnel at Kirknewton meant there were hardly enough players to support an intra-mural league. Heriot's F.P. and the fledgling Boroughmuir Basketball Club were invited to join the league and play games on a weekly basis. The Boroughmuir Boys, mostly still at school, had to cycle out to Kirknewton for each game. The more mature Heriot's team would squeeze in to a couple of cars. Sadly from an East of Scotland point of view the USAF closed down their Kirknewton operation in the late 60's.

The United States Navy had recently opened the controversial Nuclear Submarine Base at the Holy Loch and established an on-shore base for maintenance staff. Naturally a gymnasium with full size basketball court would feature in the recreational facilities. Enthusiastic officers on the base encouraged local clubs to travel to Dunoon for games with the US Navy Team. A similar situation developed when the USAF opened a small communications unit at RAF Edzell in the county of Angus. Once again a full size basketball court with provision for spectators had been built and local clubs were invited to play against the base team. Following discussions between the ABAS and the authorities at Dunoon and Edzell it was agreed to establish the Scot/Am League with Boroughmuir FP, Pierce Institute (Glasgow) and St Michael's FP (Dundee) basketball clubs joining the two US military bases.

By the time the US Navy closed the base at Holy Loch and the USAF vacated Edzell the Scottish National League was a thriving entity. Paisley basketball club started a new trend - inviting the first American player to come to Scotland and bolster their team. Chuck Chambliss made an immediate impression and Paisley went on to participate in the Scottish Cup Final. Murray Metals followed suit and brought in Kurt McKeown. Soon other Scottish clubs copied their lead with Boroughmuir, Falkirk and Perth recruiting American players.

The International Federation, concerned about the growing number of American players being signed up by the leading European clubs, introduced a regulation limiting to two, the number of foreign players allowed in a team. The ABAS adopted this policy. Murray International (MIM) signed Americans Lewis Young and Charlie Williamson while Falkirk recruited the charismatic Bobby Kinser later to be joined by Terry Manghum. A rivalry was born.


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