Mollard helped create original blueprint for Raiders to follow
Marjon Plymouth Raiders’ in-game commentator Keith Mollard will tomorrow be presented with the British Basketball League’s Volunteer of the Year award for 2012. Mollard was one of three original directors who formed Raiders back in 1983. Here, he tells Herald Sport’s Glenn Bryant how the club may have changed over the years, but the ethos has remained the same. Mollard also reveals how Raiders teetered on the brink of extinction in 1986.
ARE you proud to be named BBL Volunteer of the Year 2012?
"YES, it's very nice and flattering to win an award, but you get to my age where you think, 'Hang on. There are a lot of other people who could've won'. But yes it's an honour for the club."
HOW has the club changed over the years?
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"I SUPPOSE you could say the club has grown up. We always set it up to be as professional as we could make it.
"Obviously, in the early days we didn't have the money to be fully professional in terms of players, but we made the best of the facilities we had at the Mayflower Centre.
"We had cheerleaders and we had music, and we always said if we were going to go into this we've got to make it a pleasant evening and put on a show, if you like, for the fans. That's how we started.
"Obviously the move to the Pavilions (in 1996) was a massive one for the club, because suddenly we had all the technology available."
HOW did you first become involved with Raiders?
"WE STARTED off in the old Division Two in the EBL (England Basketball League). There wasn't the BBL then; Division One was the top division.
"We went through the normal procedures to get into the league and put together a business plan, and that's how I came to be involved really.
"The old Plymouth Kanaries and Plympton basketball club were top dogs in the South West, and guys like Frank Pocock and Bob Karruck wanted another shot at the national league.
"So the idea, although it didn't quite work out like that because not many Plympton players got involved, was to merge the two clubs. We'd already had one year in the national league (in 1979/80), but it was a bit of a disaster, so we dropped out again. The league told them when they applied again: 'You can't just be a one-man band. You have to put together a business model.' So they pulled in a few of us like myself, who had been involved in basketball in the area and businessmen like Les Palmer, who was one of the top dogs at Wrigley's and we got together and set up a committee and formed a company.
"We went up to Nottingham, made a presentation to the league and took it from there.
"Originally we were going to play at Marjon, which was also going to provide accommodation for players etc.
"We held a pre-season friendly there, but it was chaos. We had to put up all the temporary seating ourselves and the few of us who did do it all were just shattered at the end of the day. We said, 'We can't do this every week', so we quickly shifted back to the Mayflower.
"We got Graham Nicholls in as coach with Bob Karruck as his assistant before, part way through the second season, Graham just opted out and Bob stepped in and took over.
"The players were purely amateur except for the two Americans, Dave Lutz and Don Nolan, and they were on £50 a week. They got by. I'm still in touch with Dave on Facebook, but no one's ever heard of Don after that first season."
WHY did you call the club Raiders?
"WE CONSIDERED calling ourselves Plymouth Cavaliers or Plymouth Armada, but in the end we went with Plymouth Raiders and it stuck.
"Our original sponsors Farley Health were keen we marketed ourselves properly and helped. We initially wore their brand colours, red and yellow, and the fox came into it then, because we talked about a mascot, so we talked about a fox raiding for chickens."
WHAT was the ethos of the club in the early days?
"I DON'T think we won too many games that first season, but we've always had the idea and the attitude that if we were going to do something we were going to do it well, and the club slowly built up.
"At the Mayflower we were getting decent crowds of 300-500 and we always thought it was going well and had the right feel that we wanted.
"It sounds crazy, but we wanted it along NBA lines as close as we could get it. Obviously the move to the Pavilions was ideal because then we said, 'Right, we can get much closer to it'.
"When the Pavilions first opened I had a meeting with the then manager about playing games there, but didn't get anywhere. Five or six years later (in 1996), the Pavilions' then leisure manager, a guy called Paul Clayton, happened to be someone I had taught and he just rang me up out of the blue one day.
"He said: 'Have you ever thought about coming down and playing at the Pavilions? We're looking to fill some slots.'
"So we went down and measured up and saw if we could get the court in and so on, and that was it. We moved in. The guys working on the technical side were terrific and immediately said what they could do to help us. And they've always been great. They may not have seen basketball before, but will do whatever we ask them."
WHAT different jobs have you done over the years at Raiders?
"OBVIOUSLY I started as director and general secretary. That evolved into becoming general manager, which I did for a number of years.
"For the first game at the Mayflower Centre, the league said we had to have a commentator and nobody wanted to do it, so I said: 'All right, I'll do it' and I've always done it ever since. I enjoy it. I prefer doing something rather than just sitting and watching.
"Part of the commentator's job is to inform the fans of what's happening on court, if there are any people in the crowd who haven't been to games before, in respect to rules and so on.
"And yes I do occasionally say things which don't go down too well with referees! As long as I don't go too far, the crowd love it, but you have to be careful you don't stir the crowd up.
"I still, because I was club secretary for so many years, get emails from agents touting players.
"I send them onto (current Raiders coach) Gavin Love, but he gets so many. Frank Pocock is the one who spends hours trawling through university rosters looking for players with British passports. He comes in every week with a player and says to me, 'Look at him! He's got a passport'. I say, 'Tell Gavin!'"
WHAT was it like at the club in its early years?
"THE club's much bigger now than it was. The finances in those days were nowhere near like what they are now. I think the first main sponsorship deal we had was for £2,000 and that plus the gate money was all we had to work with. Crazy.
"We did have a pretty horrific blip (in 1986/87) when we had to put off the first game of the season because we had problems.
"We sat all the players down in pre-season and said, 'Look, we're going to pull out the league unless you all chip in £50 to get us going. Once we get going we'll be okay'.
"That's what we had to do and that's what we did. We had lost all our sponsorship and were left with nothing really. We struggled that season.
"It could've all come to an end then, but thanks to the players chipping in we kept going and got going again.
"I later did an interview with The Herald (in December 1992), saying, 'We're in dire trouble'. The day after the article ran, we got a phone call from Wolferstans solicitors, who said they were interested in sponsoring us and they still support the club. And they've always been handy with legal problems, because there have been one or two!"
WHAT has been Raiders' highlight for you in their history?
"THE highlights for me have probably been the two play-off finals at Wembley (in 1997 and 2001). The atmosphere there in those days was amazing and to win those games was fantastic. It was reckoned we took 600 fans to Wembley in 1997.
"The highlight, on paper, I suppose has got to be winning the BBL Trophy (in 2007), but I wasn't there to witness it. I've done very little travelling with the team in the BBL era."
WHAT have been the lows?
"THE lows came in the early days when we had financial problems and with the nomadic lifestyle of playing (home games) in different venues. They were hard times and a lot of work had to go in to trying to get some sort of crowd to games."
WHO, in your opinion, has been Raiders' greatest ever player?
"I THINK you would find myself and Frank Pocock would immediately come out with the same answer – Dave Downey (1984-88). He had been there and seen and done it, and was a fantastic player.
"We were lucky to pick him up. We got to November that season (1984/85) and our Americans decided they wanted more and more money, and we had a lot of money at that time, because we had a club lottery and were pulling in a lot.
"Our Americans were getting paid then as much as the top players get paid now. It was ridiculous really, looking back, so we said, 'No, you can't have any more money. You already get more than anyone in the league'. So they said, 'We're going home then'. We said, 'You can't go home', but they did and packed up and went.
"Luckily, we had got to the stage of the season where European leagues had started their play-offs and clubs cut their Americans if they're out.
"Somehow Les Palmer heard of Dave Downey who had been cut by a team in Holland. Les got on to Dave, who was probably on big money and said, 'Come and play with us for the rest of the season' and he did.
"Dave came in and the first game he played he scored 50-odd points. He was a centre, 6ft 9in and phenomenal and to me is the club's number one player ever.
"I'm still in touch with him on Facebook. He lives in Florida now. Great guy. Another player would be Chris Hughey (1987-91), who was also 6ft 9in and built like a brick outhouse as they say. Great character and also a great pianist. The other one I would mention is Daniel Okonkwo (1997-99), who was a great player.
"If you're talking about great ambassadors for the club then Jon Goodemote (1988-94). He was the club's first American who really spent a lot of time in schools in the area coaching. He's a teacher now back home in New Hampshire and has even called one of his sons Devon and another one Britain."
FORMER Raiders players often retain a great affinity for the club. Why?
"THE one thing we have always said is we will treat players right and never fail to pay them.
"We know a lot of cases at other clubs where players have not been paid, but we've said, 'If we're offering to bring these guys over and pay them, we'll pay them'. And we've always looked after players properly and found them decent accommodation."
ARE you from Plymouth Keith?
"I WAS born in Penzance and moved to London at 16, because I had a couple of years as an apprentice with Chelsea Football Club. I was a goalkeeper.
"Then I had to do national service in the North West for two years. Then I went to college in Exeter to train to teach PE, and my first two years teaching were in Middlesex. Then I came back down here in 1961 I believe and have been here ever since.
"I really got into basketball at college in Exeter, as a training game for ball handling because I was a goalkeeper and played football in goal for the college.
"I found I could play it and started playing basketball for the college team and took it from there.
"I still played football for Penzance when I came back down here in the old South Western League, but injured my back and had to stop playing, but still played basketball and then got into refereeing and coaching in basketball."
WHAT are your hopes for basketball in Britain in a home Olympics year?
"LIKE everyone involved in basketball in this country, I'd like to see more coverage on television, which would then hopefully attract a bigger fanbase to the game.
"That would hopefully lead to clubs playing in bigger and better facilities. But it's difficult. Basketball in this country has to compete with so many other sports like rugby and cricket behind football.
"Perhaps one of the biggest problems the BBL has is such a wide variety of quality of arenas. I gather some like Newcastle's and Glasgow's and Sheffield's are pretty good, and some are pretty bad."