Paul Blake has turned Newcastle Eagles into British basketball’s most successful franchise, but he told chief sports writer Luke Edwards why he needs the rest of the league to catch up
IT has been a remarkable journey which has put Newcastle Eagles miles ahead of their rivals as a franchise and a trophy-winning force.
From a loss-making franchise which almost folded at the turn of the century to a club which is the envy of British basketball, playing in a sparkling new £30m Arena, with 13 trophies in the last six years to celebrate.
Winning has not only become a habit as far as the Eagles are concerned, it has even got to the point where it has become a little too predictable in a league full of franchises who are desperately trying to make up lost ground by following the model it constructed.
Managing director Paul Blake would never describe the winning feeling as boring.
He has loved seeing the club he has transformed dominate domestic basketball like no other has done before, but he is also wary of it.
The gap, in truth, has closed. Newcastle completed a clean sweep of trophies in 2006 but, despite not matching that feat since, they have won the BBL four times in the last five years.
The only problem is, if they keep winning every year, the league ultimately suffers and without a strong league Blake – who combines his job on Tyneside with the role of BBL chairman – fears the Eagles will never grow into the club he aspires it to be.
Blake, who came to Newcastle as a student studying sports studies at Northumbria University in the early nineties, said: “There is no point us running away with it every season in a lot of respects.
“I have been chairman for five years and if I had taken all those hours out of that and put them into the club we would be light years ahead of the rest.
“There is no two ways about it. Even now, if we did things slightly differently, reduced our staffing levels and put it into the playing budget, we would be light years ahead, but what is the point?
“I do not want to win everything every year, it would be to the detriment of the league.
“I don’t want to be sitting here every Friday winning by 50. I do not think anyone else does.
“What we want is more games like we had against Everton Tigers last week, even though it hurt a lot to lose.
“It was a fantastic event. That is where the sport should be across all the venues.
“It was a benchmark, but there is a long way to go.
“That keeps me involved, it is growing and it is improving. The league needs to be stronger, richer, with better players across all the franchises. “
Blake added: “If we can get to a stage where the league has a few more teams and everyone is pulling in crowds of between 2,000-5,000 at their own arenas, we will have made it. That is where the sport can be in this country.
“We are waiting for the rest of the league to catch up.
“The club has done everything it can, but the club is not going to move forward without the league moving on.
“It needs the league to improve to release the ability for this club to move on another step.” Where Newcastle should be is Europe, but it remains a pipe dream.