Team GB Maxibasketball


I have a letter, on Basketball England headed paper that states that I am an “elite athlete”.  It’s going to framed and displayed somewhere prominent in the house (probably the garage/man cave).

Not bad for a 50 year old man with 75 year old knees.

The reason my athletic ability (or lack of it) at my age is being regarded as such ?  Many months ago, I signed up to try out for the GB Maxibasketball squad that would be travelling to Malaga, Spain, to compete in the European Championships.  The organisation had planned to take men’s and women’s teams representing 35+, 40+, 45+ and 50+ age groups (but only if the 50+ teams proved they could be competitive) this year but the global pandemic put a stop to that and we’re now aiming for next year (2022).

We are 2 weekend camps in to the programme and I’m still standing (just) !  The first camp back in April saw a small team of veterans in the 50+ age group  (as well as a multitude of players at the other age categories) which included some familiar faces; fellow Worthing Bears Andrew McKella and ex-teammate Phil Pearce whom I hadn’t seen in 31 years.  Coming during Lockdown 2.0 the whole weekend was incredibly well organised with all of us having to report the results of daily LFT tests to the Covid Officer to prove we were fit to play… 2 days of running and jumping would prove otherwise !

I approached playing with the usual intensity; you think I would have learned wouldn’t you ! The body may be 50 years old (parts of it may not have aged as well as others) but the brain still thinks it’s 18.  The usual hustle was rewarded with an elbow to the jaw and in the latter stages of the first day I managed to aggravate a torn bicep which took me out of action for the rest of the event.  My role went from eager participant to eager (yet slightly p*ssed off) cheerleader.  Still, I more than many,  know the importance of being a great bench player; I was lucky enough to play National League Division One for the Worthing Bears when basketball was in it’s prime in the UK.  League and Playoff Champions with regularly sold out games at our home venue, trips to Wembley and the Albert Hall for Playoff and Cup competitions as well as travelling the length of the country gave me an amazing experience.  I was lucky enough to play against some of the greats as well as with them too – these father figures in Adidas high tops helped make me the man I am today and gave me the work ethic on the court that I am proud of to this day.  I was more than aware that I was the 11th best player on a 10 man team and spent most of the three seasons playing at Britain’s top flight scared that I would soon be found out to be a fraud and my jersey stripped from me.  My number wouldn’t be retired and lifted into the rafters of the home court, more an effigy of me holding my head in shame.  To this day I still feel a little guilt that I made the team when there were (in my opinion) better players available.

38 years later and I find myself lacing up the boots with similar feelings but this time, with a new level of maturity and more confidence in what “my game” is I relish the opportunity to make up for lost time and make a positive contribution to what is looking like quite an impressive veteran team.

In the build up to the second weekend camp in Sheffield I’d been resting my bicep injury and tried to take it easy so as not to risk another “no show” when I should have been trying to impress the coaches to make the squad.  All was going well until, with 6 days to go, I managed to fall off the caravan roof whilst cleaning it.  This was supposed to be a sedate and safe activity; one that in the aftermath of the incident felt like a broken wrist and ankle but turned out to be just bad bruising (of both wrist and ankle but even more so – the ego and pride) !

Having missed the second day of the first camp I was determined to make an impression this time although I confided in my travelling companion (fellow 50+ veteran, Alan Elborough) that I had a feeling that this might be “the last time I was doing this”; lacing up the boots let alone trying to compete at the highest level at my age.

Saturday’s first session was the usual warm up to get the aged muscles working again followed by a sedate lay-up exercise.  I managed to last two layups before I felt something pop in my left knee (insert appropriate expletive here).  A trip to see the excellent physio staff suggested a damaged Popliteal muscle – after 35+ years of playing basketball and suffering numerous injuries (including a broken neck) I was weirdly excited to have injured a muscle I’d never heard of.  Suitably strapped to continue I re-joined my teammates for the next exercise; a 4 on 3 defensive drill.

The magic number seemed to be 2 again – two offenses in, on a lateral move to get out to the shooter to close them down the knee gave way big time.  It’s not pretty seeing a 50+ year old man cry but it nearly happened… not because of the pain in my knee (although that WAS pretty intense) but because I believed that my one last chance at hoop greatness had been stolen away from me.  Time to take some painkillers and attempt the cool down with the team before resuming my cheerleading role.

That evening was spent hobbling to the takeaway with the “Sussex Massive” (Alan E, Paul Goss and Danny Graves) before returning to be wired up to Paul’s muscle stimulating machine and then grabbing the last physio slot of the night.  You know that moment when you get to meet someone that you’ve looked up to for years and they turn out to be a complete dick ?  Well, the opposite was true in this case… I’d spent the late 80’s/early 90’s watching some great teams and players and now I was playing alongside 5 of them… and I was now lying next to (on separate physio tables I hasten to add) the great George Branch (ex-Birmingham Bullets).  We chatted about the good old days whilst groaning from the pain being inflicted and then hobbled our separate ways to shower and rest our aching bodies ready for the Sunday session.

My plan for the second day would be to have physio on my knee first thing, join in the team warm up and see how it felt; but I was almost resigned to the fact that I was done.  Thankfully copious amounts of painkillers, strapping, adrenaline and a pig-headed ignorance to not be beaten I managed to play through the pain and put in a pretty strong performance all day.  Just as well seeing as our numbers had dwindled due to other commitments and injuries.  At the end of the second day I think we (the 50+ team) had surprised quite a few people with our level of intensity and commitment.  I am excited to have managed to get back on the court to share the experience with a great bunch of guys.

It’s now nearly three weeks since the Sheffield camp… the knee is getting better, had no trouble from the bicep and, more importantly (after receiving an invitation to the August and September camps) I’ve still not been cut… yet !  It’s a real understatement to say how proud I am to be part of the GB Maxibasketball Programme.  What Sadie Mason MBE and Emma Parslow have achieved in setting it all up and with the support from some great coaches and an incredibly talented medical staff is very impressive.  The opportunity to represent my country is something that I thought would never happen (I just wasn’t talented enough “back in the day”) but now, with more hard work, physio and paracetamol it might just be within my reach.  But no matter what happens it’s been a real pleasure to be able to get back on the hardwood with a great team, catch up with some old friends and see some familiar faces; it makes all the pain worthwhile.

The 2022 50+ European Champions…. (too soon ?)

Photo 1 courtesy of Rafe Abrook Photography –

Photo 2 (Team shot above) courtesy of Sadie Mason