New-look Worthing Thunder want to join the elite

Frank Gainsbury has supported three Sussex basketball teams in his time.

Now he wants to be at the forefront of a new power within the county by leading Worthing Thunder into the top-flight British League.

Thunder have applied for BBL status for 2008/09 and unveiled a new board of directors to take charge next season.

They face competition from a handful of other clubs, including Brighton Cougars, for a place in the league. Cougars have confirmed they will submit an application by next Friday's deadline.

Gainsbury, a Haywards Heath-based businessman who acts as stats man and one of the sponsors for Thunder, will be joined by head coach Gary Smith, supporter and sponsor James Heasman, press officer Alan Sweetman-Hicks, supporters club committee member Janet Smith and Worthing businessman Paul Bayliss on the board.

Dave Stanbridge, of current team sponsors Barker's (Tarring), will be a non-executive director.

Alan and Rosemary Dawes, the husband and wife team who were instrumental in keeping basketball in Worthing when the Bears left in 1999, will be stepping down at the end of the season.

The Dawes led Thunder to a string of successes in the second-tier EBL division one but have always been reluctant to move up.

Now Gainsbury, Smith and their supporters have put their hat in the BBL ring and are preparing to make a presentation to the league in the coming weeks.

Smith is well known in basketball circles. He made a record 232 appearances for Worthing Bears, played in the top flight for Calderdale and Sheffield and has been coach of Thunder for most of their nine-year existence.

Gainsbury, 52, is happy to have a less high profile but it is his arrival which has helped take Thunder to the brink of the top league.

He played cricket and football for East Preston, was a County League referee and Isthmian League linesman and has followed basketball for several years.

He was involved with Mid Sussex Magic and took stats for Brighton Bears before switching to Thunder.

Away from sport, he runs a chartered quantity surveyors' business in Haywards Heath and has directorships elsewhere. That sort of experience could come in valuable as he helps mastermind an operation which, if successful, will see Thunder pay £9,000 to the BBL up front and a total of £90,000 for the franchise, both figures subject to VAT.

The remaining 90 per cent of that fee is paid by way of a loan from the BBL.

Gainsbury admits Thunder are taking an ambitious step but is convinced the time is right.

He said: "We had a meeting last year about going into the BBL and it seemed there was big support but not quite the stomach for it.

"I have now spoken to a few people and they were keen to go for it.

"The club has the infrastructure, the venue, the history and the credibility to do it.

"I think the club could do better. The club could struggle where it is now because there are ony two or three really good clubs in the league.

"Teesside Mohawks were successful in this league for years and in the end everybody lost interest."

Sussex has been without a BBL team since Brighton Bears withdrew almost two years ago.

Gainsbury said: "I had nothing to do with the Bears organisation, I just did the stats.

"But the way the club left the league and abandoned season-ticket holders was far from satisfactory.

"We have a robust business plan. The numbers stack up."

Thunder have a big advantage over the Brighton Bears in that they do not pay for court hire.

Gainsbury said: "We are very well supported by the leisure centre. There is a huge amount of goodwill in Worthing."

He is confident of bringing in a naming rights sponsor and added: "Our budget for players would not be the biggest in the league but neither would it be the smallest."

Thunder would play mainly on Saturday nights while Cougars aim to stage matches on Sundays in Burgess Hill.

Gainsbury would love to see both teams make it. He said: "We would have our own areas and it would create interest."

Would you go to watch Worthing Thunder and/or Brighton Cougars in the BBL if one or both them make it? Add your comment below

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