Pleasance Basketball Club, founded 1947.
Though the game was invented in the United States in 1891, by Dr James Naismith, a Canadian of Scottish descent, it did not arrive in Scotland officially until after the Second World War. Some basketball had been played prior to 1939 by American students at the Pleasance gymnasium in Edinburgh but it was on a cold, foggy night - the first of November 1946 that a group of men, recently demobilised from the services, sat round a table in the CCPR (Central Council for Physical Recreation) office at 21 St.Andrews Square, Edinburgh to lay the foundations of the sport in Scotland. They were led by a human dynamo of a man named J.A. (Jock) Kerr Hunter. With the minimum of resources and finance he set about his formidable task. His motto was 'NOTHING HAPPENS UNLESS YOU MAKE IT HAPPEN'.
With his urging the Amateur Basketball Association of Scotland and the East of Scotland Basketball Association were formed. The first recorded meeting of the East is 17/01/47. The priorities were planning, premises, and players. The planning part was fairly straightforward as people with organisational skills were in good supply which was more than could be said for playing facilities. The Pleasance, which had and still has one of the finest wooden floors, was the best available venue. Local army drill halls such as Dalmeny Street, Forrest Road, and Gilmore Place were utilised but were both cold and dirty with little or no changing facilities. Jock Kerr Hunter gave invaluable assistance in providing equipment from a 'shoe-string' budget but it was also the enthusiasm of the founder member clubs which helped to overcome these early difficulties. Heriot's FP, Pleasance, Polonia and Redford were the early clubs in the East. In the late 1940' and early 50's the local newspapers, mainly the 'Pink' Evening News and 'Green' Evening Dispatch, provided results, game reports, league tables, statistics and player profiles. Exhibition matches were also a feature. One of the highlights was the visit of the United States Olympic team to Edinburgh in 1948 to play at the Ross bandstand in Princes Street Gardens in front of over 1000 people. This team went on to lift the Olympic title in London.
Five Pleasance players were in the first international teams to play England in 1947. They were Ray Campbell, Jimmy Carter, Jock Fisher, George Hill, and Grant Hutchison. Campbell, Fisher and Hunter together with Alex Kirk, Arthur Wright, E Henrikson and Walter Smail, all Edinburgh, went on to represent Scotland at the European Championships in Paris in 1951. Pleasance won the first Scottish Cup Final in 1947 defeating Aberdeen University at the Kelvin Hall and defended their title successfully in 1948 beating Jordanhill in Princes Street Gardens.
Other names to the fore in these early days included Tommy Millar and Borys Szifris, founder of the Polonia Club, a former Polish army officer who was also an international table tennis champion. E.MacKay of Royal High School FP and I.Shaw of Heriot's FP also featured in these early Scottish teams.
Another character of these formative days was Alec Leslie, first as coach of Pleasance, then as one of the top referees in Scotland. In fact in 1954 Alec became the first 'professional' referee in Scotland. On the administration front David Young, an Edinburgh lawyer, acted as Chairman with Rab Foreman as Secretary. George Lightheart followed Foreman as Secretary and Adam Horsburgh took over as Chairman from Young. Adam went on to become Chairman of the Association. Alex Kirk was the first treasurer then Frank MacLeod took over the 'books' for a total of eleven years. A men's junior league was formed in 1949 consisting of five teams ; Pleasance, Trinity Academy, Craigmillar, North Merchiston and Holy Cross Academy.
The picture below shows the Pleasance team of 1950 with Alex Kirk, Grandfather of current Pleasance player Gregor Kirk, on the bottom left.
The 1990's started with a strong local league squad, which included Kenny Melrose, Graeme Muir, Rab Quilietti, Colin Wishart, Grant Gunn, Mark Benger, Norman 'Tatty' Shaw and Dave Graham, coached by George Baxter. A big landmark was a great performance to win the 1991 Lothian Cup in overtime against Edinburgh University, and the following year the team was unlucky to lose the Chairman's Cup final to Aberdeen Hoops, with much the same squad, plus Geoff Raper.
In the early 90's, Pleasance averaged 2nd or 3rd in the league, in the middle of a strong era for Boroughmuir and Reign. Other highlights included successive wins at the Penicuik tournament, and the Boroughmuir Blitz tournament at Meadowbank.
Bobby Merrilees coached the team in 1993, and developed a very attacking style of play, with the team averaging over 100 points per game. That year, we finished 2nd in the league to a National League standard Boroughmuir team. Five of our players featured in the end of season Lothian select squad ; Kenny Melrose, Mark Benger, Graeme Muir, Grant Gunn, and Geoff Raper, with two other squad members ; Frank White and Les Baker later to join Pleasance.
By 1994, with Rab Quillietti taking over the coaching reins, the club then merged with the Tartan Club, to shore up the roster numbers. This brought people like Kenny Moretta, Fergus McRae, and Darren Haddow, among others to the team, all of whom were to have a long term part to play in Pleasance's future. Kenny Moretta took over coaching, then being out of commission with a cruciate problem. Dr Fergus was particularly renowned for causing injuries to both friend and foe, and then patching them up before onward transmission to A&E.
A sad moment for the team was the loss of Paul Williams in a motorcycle accident, and his humour and sense of fun was much missed.
Other recruits in the second half of the 90's included Rob Melbourne, Sascha Polka, Richard Windmill, Nick Courtney, Frank White and Les Baker.
In 1997, Takis Patsilinacos joined as coach and began the lengthy task of teaching the guys to play in a slightly more structured way. It's still a work in progress that one!!
Throughout the decade, Graeme Muir finished in the top 2 of the scoring charts every year - a fantastic achievement, and testimony to the number of passes the other guys give him!! In all seriousness, if assists had been measured, its certain that Kenny Melrose would have figured similarly, as Muir / Melrose were our Stockton / Malone of the 90's, and similarly with rebounds, Mark Benger would have figured every year at both ends of the court.
The history of Pleasance Basketball Club between 1974 - 2000
by Rab Qiliettui
I played for Pleasance Basketball Club for 26 years, spanning 1974 to retirement at age 45 in 2000. During this time I was player, coach, secretary, treasurer, first-aider, launderer, marriage guidance counsellor and much more. I was a fresh faced 19 year-old when an acquaintance Joe Aitchison took me up to the Pleasance Trust hall to join up with the team. This court was home of the Pleasance since the glory days of the 50's and 60's and was formerly the Scottish international court, although it had a low ceiling and was not quite full size. The floor though was, and probably still is, the best basketball surface in the country.
In 1974 the team was still a force to be reckoned with, but only in the Lothian League second division. Big Joe (about 6'3") was our big man, the only other 6 footer being George Baxter who always played taller than he was. Everyone else was less than 6 foot tall: Stan Haston Jimmy McLaughlin, Jimmy Veitch, Malcolm McCallum, Alan Ross, Derek MacDonald and Tom Mooney. This 'wee' team was famous for its fast break (and virtually no defence!) George Baxter was a stalwart of the Pleasance club right into the 90's when he played and coached past his 50th birthday. Another character then was Derek MacDonald who I still think holds an (unofficial) Scottish record of being disqualified 8 seasons in a row.
After many seasons in the second division and a regular turnover in personnel the Pleasance entered the Lothian First Division when Danny Kaye, the Lothian B.A. Secretary arranged for all games to be played on Friday nights at a central venue (at that time it was the Jack Kane Centre). After a few years struggling at that standard we gradually attracted better quality players. Mark Benger came back to us, having had a season with us before as a teenager (he's still there!), and lads like Colin Wishart, and Grant Gunn along with myself and the evergreen George Baxter formed the backbone of the team After we recruited players from the struggling North Berwick club, we suddenly found ourselves with a strong squad which regularly challenged for the first division title. This was mostly down to Kenny Melrose and Graeme Muir whose telepathic understanding used to rack up the points, with Mark Benger regularly contributing big numbers. Alas, we never won the first division, with teams like Edinburgh University, Boroughmuir and Dunfermline Reign always seeming to come up with combinations good enough to win. We did though win the Lothian Cup in 1990 (with Grant Gunn out through injury I recall) when we beat the University. It was 72 - 72 at full time and I remember we scored an incredible 21 points in 5 minutes overtime to beat the hot favourites. This was the team's first proper trophy since I joined in 1974. We did win regularly at invitation tournaments such as Penicuik, Tigers and memorably at Inverness where we travelled up a number of times for the weekend. The stories are legendary.
There are too many individuals to mention (and to remember) who donned the Pleasance vest during the 26 years that I was involved, but they will all have their own memories. I am sure they will agree with me that it is encouraging to see from this web-site that the old club is still going strong and in good hands.