Basketball: London 1948 - horse dung, low scores and no dunking

Last survivor of Britain's last Olympic basketball team recalls fondly an intimate, friendly Games

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Lionel Price is the last survivor of the British basketball team at the 1948 Games. London was different then. When travelling to the capital from his home in Dartford, as a child just after the war, the young Keith Richards said the smell he remembered was that of horse dung because petrol rationing had swept cars from the streets.

"Unless you lived through it, you have no idea how depressing London looked then," said Price, now a very jaunty 85. "Huge gaps in buildings everywhere, everything rationed. This was a country that had been through six years of war, six years of hardship.

"Newspapers had about a dozen pages and there was comparatively little coverage of the Olympics. They didn't stop the rationing for the Olympics, although the Americans flew in their own food because so much was unobtainable.

"You got a few ounces of butter a week and the same for cheese and meat. You lived off bread and potatoes to a great degree. No, we didn't have a dietician, we didn't even have a coach but we did have a manager and an undermanager, although the captain ran the show when it came to tactics."

Price had been playing basketball for only a couple of years, taking up the sport because, near where he lived, the Regent Street polytechnic – now the University of Westminster – possessed a basketball court. "I played right-forward. There was no dunking and the scores were tiny because there was no rule that said you had to shoot within a certain time as there is now."

The matches – all of which Britain lost – were played at Harringay Arena. The Olympic village was an RAF barracks at Uxbridge.

The London Games of 1948 were simpler and smaller events than the modern version. "Not better but far more intimate," said Price. "There was a great degree of friendship between the teams. We lost all our games but it really didn't matter. Baron de Coubertin was right – it is not about winning and losing, certainly not winning at all costs. It was important we took part; we had been through the war and we had survived.

"This time they have me down as a torch-bearer, although with the letter you get it does say: 'If you have difficulty carrying the torch for 300 metres, wheelchairs are available'."