THE Newcastle Eagles have taken a big step towards fulfilling their European dream by raising the 20,000 bond required for their tilt at Continental competition.
Eagles chief Paul Blake now rates the chances of a first foray into Europe as “very likely”, with the Eurochallenge competition looking the favoured option for the BBL champions.
The Eagles have a spot open in the Euro Cup, the second tier of European competition, but Blake is set to turn it down to take part in the third tier Eurochallenge, which would still represent a major step up from the calibre of opposition Newcastle are used to in the BBL.
Blake admits it would be a step into the unknown with plenty of potential headaches – but feels it would also enable the Eagles to take a huge step forward.
“It’s looking very likely now,” he said. “We’ve still got a few questions to ask the governing body about various logistical things but we have raised the money that we would need to pay for the bond, and that’s a significant step.
“The bond is repayable at the end of the season and we would only lose money from that if we were fined but it is still a significant commitment, and I think it shows how serious we are.
“There are people working behind the scenes who I can’t name yet but who have been very supportive of our attempts to go into Europe and I would like to do it for them. I’m not sure yet whether we would be able to strengthen the team in order to play in Europe, that will depend on various other issues, but my feeling is that we need to do it and see how it works.
“We can probably assess how it works commercially after that and build from there.
“I’m wary of saying it will definitely happen until we have actually committed 100%, but it’s fair to say that we are further on now than we have been at any time in the club’s history.
“It will be a bit of a risk – but I feel that we have to give it a go.”
The Eagles will certainly find it easier recruit top players this summer if they become the first British side to play in Europe since the Guildford Heat in 2008.
Although Blake will be careful not to put the club’s future at risk by spending heavily on a European tilt, the lure of playing against some of the Continent’s top teams will be a big lure to the likes of Trey Moore, one player under consideration for a return.
Newcastle have had verbal commitments from most of the roster that they would like to return although no contract offers have been made yet.
“Our conversations haven’t extended much beyond pretty informal talks at this point but Fab has spoken to the guys and they’ve all said they’d like to return,” Blake said. “It is obviously very early in the summer and we have seen before what can happen the later it gets.
“But I know that playing in Europe is something that the guys were excited about so if we can make that happen, it is a significant boost.”
Another issue still up in the air is a possible move away from their home at the Arena to Northumbria University’s newly-constructed indoor arena.
Blake is reporting no significant progress in solving the minor issues that are still holding up the move.
However, further meetings will take place between the Eagles hierarchy and university staff this week, and a final decision will be taken on the week starting June 7.