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Roger West, aged 80, is driving force behind new basketball club Kempsford Kings

All Areas > Sport > Basketball

Author: Roger Jackson, Posted: Thursday, 26th March 2020, 09:00

Roger West, back row, right, in his Fairford Fury basketball days Roger West, back row, right, in his Fairford Fury basketball days

Roger West has been setting up a sports club for youngsters in the village where he lives.

Nothing too unusual about that you may say, there are any number of very well-meaning people who want to ensure that as many kids as possible are given the chance to enjoy all that sport has to offer.

Except that Roger West will be 81 in September and it’s fair to say that weren’t too many people in their ninth decade who are doing what he is doing before the coronavirus pandemic.

Roger West is something of a one-off and if anyone can get a basketball club up and running in Kempsford, which is some 11 miles south west of Cirencester, then it is surely him because he has certainly lived a very interesting and varied life.

“I was born in south London in the same month that World War Two started,” he said. “When I was three the whole of our street was demolished by a V-1 rocket.

“I was watching my brother playing cricket in the street and only my brother and I survived of the 13 of us who were there at the time.

“I didn’t get off to a good start!”

Things obviously got better as the years went by for West but those early years were certainly tough for the West family.

“We moved around a lot during the war,” West continued. “My dad got injured in the Normandy landings and he went into a convalescent home for a number of years.

“I didn’t really get to know him until I was 10.”

That coincided with his father getting a job with what is now HM Revenue and Customs in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

“That’s where my sporting interest started,” said West, who has turned his hand to most sports over the years. “We lived on a council estate just north of Newcastle, it was a huge estate. There must have been 20,000 living there but there were no facilities, so my dad started a residents’ association.

“I helped him set up a youth club and a football club called Montague Athletic, I think they’re still playing.”

The young West was clearly a bright boy – he attended grammar school – and when it was time to go to university it was the bright lights of London that were his chosen destination.

“It was the Swinging Sixties!” he said with a laugh.

And it was while there that he first learned to play basketball, a sport that is still very dear to him today.

“I played for London,” he said. “They were a very good team, they were better than England. I wasn’t tall for a basketball player – 6ft 1 or 6ft 2 – but that didn’t matter.

“You need to be agile and have a lot of bounce to play basketball, you need good reactions.”

And it was those attributes which stood West in good stead when he took up rugby after heading west to this part of the world in his late 20s.

“I got a job working for an electronics company in Swindon and lived in Baunton, just north of Cirencester,” West said.

“That’s when I started playing rugby, I took it up so I could bond with my brother who had just come back from Malta – he worked for the Admiralty – and had moved to Bath.

“I was 28 when I played my first game.”

That was for Cirencester RFC and he quickly made up for lost time.

“They put me in the second row because I was a jumper,” he said. “In those days there was no lifting at lineouts like there is now.

“If you were a good jumper and had quick reflexes you were worth your weight in gold.”

And it was also a golden period in Cirencester’s history too.

“It was a time when Cirencester were very good,” said West. “Steve Mills was our hooker – he went on to captain Gloucester and play for England. He used to put the ball in for me and we were able to dominate games.”

That was certainly a successful period for both West and Cirencester and away from sport the dad-of-two was a very successful inventor who has 70 patents to his name.

“I started Probe Engineering in Cirencester,” he explained. “We had a purpose-built factory on Phoenix Way. I sold the business to an American multi-national company.

“I then bought a high-tech company in East Anglia and sold that to the Americans as well.”

That was obviously very good business and West, who is married to Wendy and has lived in Kempsford for the past 40 years, has also enjoyed plenty of success when it comes to sport.

“I played rugby for Bath towards the end of my career,” he said. “I played at the Rec for the 3rd XV. They played me at number eight, I was probably a better number eight than second row. I played my last game of rugby when I was 45.”

He also played cricket for Kempsford and golf at Cricklade.

“I didn’t take up golf until I was 70,” he said. “I played off 18 and was Cricklade’s champion in 2016.”

Sadly, the club closed soon after, but West added with a laugh: “I’ll be their champion forever!”

He also played a bit of bowls at Fairford but admits that was one sport he didn’t enjoy as much as the others.

“It’s an old man’s game,” he said with a chuckle. “I didn’t really get on with it, I don’t consider myself an old man!”

And that’s great news for the wannabe basketball players in Kempsford, of course.

West admits that basketball is his “great love” when it comes to sport and he has plenty of experience when it comes to setting up clubs.

“I founded Fairford Fury Basketball Club 15 years ago,” he said. “We ran three teams and played at Fairford Community Sports Centre.

“The sports centre asked me to set up a team. I’m a qualified coach and they paid me to coach – it was the first time I’d been paid in a sporting capacity although I put all the money back into the club.”

West was still playing the game as well.

“I played into my 70s,” he said with understandable pride. “I was the oldest registered player in the country.

“You need to keep fit to play basketball. I’m less fit than I should be now although I still go to the gym.”

His team-mates at Fury included one-time Olympic 400-metre runner Derek Redmond, whose son and daughter also played for the club.

Sadly, the club were forced to fold when the sports centre was closed but now West is putting all of his considerable energy into establishing basketball in Kempsford – they play at the MUGA - with the appropriately named Kempsford Kings.

And given his past record, you’d expect them to be hugely successful.

Other Images

Roger West outside his factory in Pheonix Way, Cirencester
Roger West took up golf when he was 70

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