CHESHIRE basketball fans are celebrating after securing the future of their club.
Having been pushed to the brink of extinction twice in the past four months, the team formerly known as the Jets has been reborn – as Cheshire Phoenix.
An action group has managed to raise £50,000 to ensure that the troubled club, which began life as the Ellesmere Port Jets in 1984, can continue to play in the British Basketball League (BBL) this season.
The group was led by local businessmen Andrew Donaldson and Terry Hearfield, former Jets coach Mike Burton and Cheshire team manager Andy Green.
Donaldson, a director of Chester firm BiG Storage, said: “In the middle of a recession to raise this kind of money from local businesses and fans is incredible. It has been a crazy few weeks but I could not have lived with my conscience if I had not tried to do something.”
Hearfield, of Frodsham-based Aspect Construction, said the devotion of the club’s supporters, who helped attract sponsors and donated their own money, was key.
He added: “Looking at the situation from outside it seemed like madness to get involved. But I quickly realised that the devotion of the fans is immense and they are among the most sincere people I have ever met.”
The crisis began in August when the Jets were put up for sale by owner Pete Hawkins just five weeks before the start of the season, sparking a search to find a new owner.
Businessman Haydn Cook agreed an 11th-hour deal to take control, but soon found the financial burden of running the club too great to bear.
The BBL intervened, removing the Cheshire franchise from Cook and giving the club’s fans a few weeks to raise funds and rescue the team.
After hitting the £50,000 mark last Friday, the BBL agreed to transfer the franchise over to the supporters’ action group.
Trademark issues relating to the old Jets name and logo meant a new moniker for the club was required – so it was reborn as Cheshire Phoenix.
The Phoenix will become a not-for-profit Community Interest Club and will be run by the community for the benefit of the community.
They have already agreed a partnership with fan-owned Chester FC and the man who designed the football club’s crest – Martin Huxley – has produced a similar badge for the Phoenix.
The Phoenix will continue to play home matches at Chester’s Northgate Arena, although a return to Ellesmere Port remains likely if a replacement leisure centre for the EPIC is built in the town.
The Phoenix played their first matches under their new guise at the weekend, beating Mersey Tigers 92-65 last Friday before losing 96-73 at home to Newcastle Eagles on Sunday. They entertain Glasgow Rocks on Sunday (5.30pm).