Waiting game forced on fans

A clash of the champions was thrown into disarray last night after the visiting stars got left by the roadside.

A clash of the champions was thrown into disarray last night after the visiting stars got left by the roadside.

Irish basketball champions, the Cork Blue Dragons, were due to face Newcastle Eagles, current English champions, at the city's Metro Radio Arena in the first game of the season.

But thousands of expectant fans were left waiting following a catalogue of problems which saw the visiting team arrive nearly two hours late - after being forced to stand by the road while police officers investigated a high-speed crash.

The Dragons had originally been flying into Durham-Tees Valley airport but, when their bmibaby flight was cancelled, the Eagles made alternative arrangements for them to arrive in Newcastle and get a stretch limousine to the game.

Despite arriving late, the team were hopeful of making the arena less than an hour after the 8pm tip-off, but their plans were dashed for a second time after their vehicle got caught up in a five-car pile-up just miles from the airport.

Just before 8.40pm, a high-speed smash occurred on the A696 Wolsington bypass in Newcastle involving five cars including a VW Jetta, a Hyundai Trajet and a Rover, as well as their limousine.

Police were quickly on the scene and the road was closed - meaning replacement taxis sent to pick up the sporting stars could not get through. It was not until nearly an hour later that cars could whisk them to the arena.

Last night a Northumbria Police spokeswoman said the driver of one the vehicles had fled the scene, but was later tracked by a police helicopter using a heat-seeking device.

A 26-year-old man was last night arrested for driving while unfit. One woman was taken to hospital with broken ribs and a punctured lung.

Basketball fans who left the game early were offered a full refund.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer