Long-awaited Leicester Riders cup win is celebrated by fans
Twelve years of hurt have come to a triumphant and emotional end for devoted Leicester Riders fans following the stunning victory in the British Basketball League Cup Final at the weekend.
The players' hard-fought 85-80 victory over championship rivals, cup holders and favourites Newcastle Eagles, secured the club its first silverware since its championship play-off win at Wembley Arena, in 2001.
It has been a rocky road for the club in the intervening years – they were forced to move from the city to Loughborough in 2000 and faced the prospect of folding completely just four seasons ago.
However, all that was forgotten for the impressive Riders faithful among the 7,500-strong crowd in Birmingham's National Indoor Arena on Sunday.
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Ursula Routledge, 62, of Victoria Park Road, Leicester, has followed the club through thick and thin for 40 years.
"It's just fabulous," she said. "I've seen all the highs – when we had crowds of 3,000 at Granby Halls – and the lows, like when we had to leave Leicester.
"This is right up there. I'm still on a high. When I looked around the arena on Sunday and saw a sea of red it gave me goosebumps.
"We all shed a few tears afterwards – it was just fantastic.
"This is the best bunch of lads we've ever had. They are just lovely.
"They give me and my friend Karen a hug every game and we went to the team hotel to celebrate with them.
"I didn't get back home until midnight, when I watched the game back on TV. I didn't get to bed until 3am."
Basketball fans have looked on as Leicester's illustrious rugby and – to a slightly lesser extent – football clubs have hogged the headlines and newspaper column inches. "This is our time," said Mark Ellis, 50, from Wigston, who has been following the club since 1991.
"What a game. The final quarter, when Newcastle fought back, was really nerve-wracking.
"They made us suffer in the final quarter, but you expect that from a Leicester sports team don't you?
"This puts us well and truly back on the sporting map after years in the wilderness.
"It's something the whole city and county should feel rightly proud of.
"Being the oldest club in the country, with such a fine tradition, makes it extra special to see us back up there at the top.
"It's been a long time coming but well worth the wait."
Russell Levenston, Riders' general manager, paid tribute to the club's supporters.
He said: "This one was for the fans and sponsors who have supported the club through many ups and downs."
Founded in 1967 as the Loughborough All Stars, the Riders moved to Leicester in 1981, but had to leave the city for Loughborough with the closure of Granby Halls in 2000.
In 2004, they returned to the city thanks to a sponsorship deal with De Montfort University, and they now play at the university's John Sandford Sports Centre.
Fans helped stave off liquidation in 2007 by forming a consortium to raise funds and, when financial crisis loomed again the following year, county builder Jelson Homes stepped in to save the club.
Darren Chown, 36, of Earl Shilton, said: "We've had some hard times but it makes Sunday's triumph all the sweeter."
Alan Johnson, 65, from Narborough, said: "Brilliant. I've been watching the Riders home and away since 1984.
"It's a world away from being so close to folding.
"Coach Rob (Paternostro), the management and owners deserve so much credit."