A History of the Lightwater Vipers. 1987 to date. A rich past and a bright future!
The club’s first incarnation was as “Farnham Flyers Basketball Club”, established in 1987. Working with an enthusiastic management team at Farnham Sports Centre we ran a couple of “taster sessions” to see who was in the vicinity and wanted to play the game. The founder member was Peter Everett. A lot older now – a lot more grey hair – but still coming off the bench to make a modest contribution. In that first year we basically scrimmaged and established a small group of regular players – we tried to establish some basic level of common purpose and wondered what next. Some of us had played at other clubs in other regional leagues; some had played at University; we all fancied competition again. Of the others some recalled PE lessons at school – and some were absolute beginners – more used to Sunday league football but were now trying something new and indoors! It was a mixed ability and sociable bunch.
Summer ’88 things got a little more serious. A few people had walked away – a few new faces had showed up; and most importantly we had started to run some sessions for kids in the hope of getting players from local schools to join us. Of the new faces we had a couple of Americans – a nation whose foundation and love of the game is the stuff of legend. Larry Jones (Guard) and Gary Stonedahl (Centre) proved to be long serving and inspirational club members. They were key to our early successes and were generous with their coaching to younger and less experienced players. By now we had approached the Wessex Basketball Association with a view to joining their league structure. Sadly being new the all this and a little slow off the mark, we missed the cut off for league entry but were allowed to enter the Wessex Area knockout cup competition known as “The Karl Taylor Shield” together with its shadow competition “The Karl Taylor Plate” for 1st round losers in the main shield competition.
We had not played any competitive games at all. We were drawn against reigning Division 1 Champions “Camberley Eagles” and a win for them was widely predicted. Well they had one hell of a shock! I still remember that game today. Camberley were a great team, but we were unknown quantities and had nothing to lose. It was close all the way through. Both teams trading baskets, possession, fouls and momentum. In the end Camberley ran out winners 89-83. But we had shown up and they knew they had been in a game. In the end it was that old basketball truism whereby their ‘best 5’ beat our ‘5 best’. All was not lost for the Farnham Flyers. We went on to win the Plate Competition against an established army team “42 Survey Group” based near Newbury. Later that summer we were admitted to the league for the first time to play in the ‘89/90 season and were put straight into Division 1.
By now our core of players was starting to gel. We had picked up a few more locals who had been elsewhere but now enjoyed the fact they had a local team to join. Overall our squad numbers were still small, although we often had more than enough for one team… but not quite enough for two teams. Our first season in Division 1 was good. We came 4th with an 8 wins and 4 losses behind the established and experienced 1st teams at long established clubs of Camberley, Woodley and The Aztecs. But we learned a lot and made many friends. By now we were beginning to be known and picked up a couple more players and our juniors program was starting to bear fruit. We had some eager teenagers which meant we could fill a bench and run two teams. Most notable of the new intake was Pemble Bristol. A prodigious young athletic talent with an audacious ability to ‘jump out of the gym’. He’d been travelling to Kingston to play and now we were here on his doorstep. Also John Goode gets a name check as both players eventually went on ‘graduate’ from us and went on to play national league.
So, by the time of the start of the 1990-91 season we had a team in Division 1 and a team in Division 3. The first team – now imaginatively called “Farnham Flyers 1” – started the season well, running out to an unassailable 11-0 win record which sowed the season up with games to spare. That year it was all about who would finish 2nd. The two games of that season that stay with me are a cup game and a league game, both at Woodley. First there was the cup game; Woodley Warriors 1st team against our new young juniors. (Woodley had just come off a three year consecutive run Division 1 winners.) A couple of us 1st team players went along as coaches and as taxi for the young guys. Woodley did it all wrong. They had the game won from the tip! But instead of letting our juniors play and giving their own bench players a run out they made a point of scoring over 140 points – and completely overwhelming our youngsters who scored about 7 baskets! We told the Woodley players what we thought and warned that the up-coming league game would be very different! We had a score to settle. Two weeks later, duly fired up we played in a ritualised ‘war game’ against Woodley and hit them hard. We left them battered and bruised both physically and mentally as we won by a narrow margin in the end. I don’t recall any handshakes that game – just a lesson taught! Towards the end of the season we also picked up a new player, Buddy Rogers; another American but one who had played at the top of the US college game. Things continued well for us. We went on to the “Tournament of Champions” an inter-area weekend event between the top flight winners of the Wessex, Solent and Ox+Bucks leagues. We won that too, defeating the team from the US Air Force base near Bicester in the final. I will always remember our warm up drills for that game for the number and variety of dunks we put on show! (Oh to be young again).
The 90/91 season was a close run thing from the beginning with strange wins and losses cropping up. By now we were no longer an unknown quantity and some teams were starting to work out ways to frustrate us and sometimes defeat us. In the end the Division 1 competition was three way tie between ourselves, Camberley and Woodley. When a new ‘mini-league table’ was drawn up comprising just the games between us three we came second to Woodley. Our club had continued to grow. We now had three teams and we had booked a second court to get the extra training and matches fitted in. We also had 2 or 3 of
us in the area referees pool and were contributing in that way too. The 2nd and 3rd teams were in Divisions 2 and 3 respectively and they competed honestly and honourably but were never quite able to win promotions. In the 91/92 season we picked up our first “7 Footer” as Richard ‘Stretch’ Kinchington joined us. We returned to winning ways, taking the Division 1 title again with the new, flashy, NBA inspired name of “Farnham Jazz”. We grew to 4 teams, keeping the 4th team for the teenagers/ schoolboys who had come through our weekend junior programme. They lost virtually every week, but they learned a lot, never gave up and many of their number stayed with us for many seasons thereafter playing up into the 3rd and even 2nd teams.
By the 92/93 season our first team was beginning to change as careers took players away to new chapters in their lives. We ran with 4 teams for several more seasons but silverware eluded us. We became a permanent fixture in all 3 Divisions of the Wessex League and by now we were also represented on the Wessex Area committees. Later, I forget exactly which year, along came our Ladies team. Astley Gayle – another regular Men’s 1st team player – got this going and showed everyone what was possible with good basic drilling, the right tactical coaching, doing the simple things right and team spirit. This was a team where the whole was most definitely greater than the sum its parts. They confounded many opponents and never disappointed.
By the mid-late 1990’s some of us started having children too – so priorities changed somewhat. We were unable to maintain our high standards and so could not hold on to our position in Division 1. Regrettably that team had to disband. The club remained and we played well in Division 2 and 3. Sadly, player numbers continued to dwindle a little because life moves on. As the founding or long serving members retired, changed jobs or otherwise moved; also the people able commit regular time to junior coaching became fewer and fewer to the recruitment of juniors inevitably began to dry up. We also started to notice how the facilities at Farnham were getting tired. After one breakage of the ring, (not by us I hasten to add), which simply took too long to get fixed – we decided to start afresh in Lightwater in the early to mid ‘noughties’. This change of venue was quite a decision after 20 years in Farnham. It also affected numbers as not everyone was willing or able to the new venue. A core of long-standing club members served us well over the years, (if not decades), and we have thoroughly enjoyed ourselves; name checks here for Tim Tostevin, Dennis Adams, Adrian Bryant, Paul Iverson, Neal Peters and Mike Church.
The last few years has seen some new blood join us, and some old friends return. We have acquired a renewed attention to personal and team improvement in training.
Keeping fit; getting some new set-play offences; above all - having fun.
What does the future hold… we shall see.