From Maryland to Merseyside, the idea of a midnight basketball league is catching on in Liverpool. Hundreds of players have signed up for the free to play scheme run by community organisation, Toxteth El8te, with funding from Merseyside Police.
Anyone age from the age of 12 now have the opportunity to play basketball for free, at LJMU Sport, the impressive hub at Liverpool John Moores University.
The initiative is regarded as an ‘overnight success’ by organisers, and the launch of the first ranked “Midnight League” adds a competitive element.
Co-founder Emile Coleman is excited to see growth and development for the grass roots initiative: “We’re looking forward to the expansion of the league format, we used the starting weeks of our Midnight League programme to draw up a large player pool, so that it was accessible for anyone.
“We didn’t want anyone to feel like they were put off and couldn’t be part of a team. So the open format has helped everyone forge relationships and now start teams together.
“We can really see a community is starting to build around the sessions.’’
Toxteth El8te was launched in 2022 and the programme is a beacon in the community, delivering high-level inclusive basketball. All sessions are free of charge, with the programme ensuring a safe place to socialise and stay active.
Originating from Glenarden, Maryland, the midnight league initiative was introduced to tackle the growing crime rate and anti-social behaviour. Between 1990 and 1994, incidents dropped by 30% in the founding city, proving the model successful.
With sport a strong part of Liverpool’s identity, Coleman knows how important it is for the community to offer opportunities.
He added: ‘’We are living in dire times economically, and sadly more so in this city. Poverty levels are more stark than ever and having something that anyone can access for zero cost is phenomenal.
“One thing we noticed is that sport has a financial barrier and we have manged to remove that, which is something we’re proud of.’’
Funding comes from Operation Stonehaven, run by Merseyside Police in an effort to combat drug dealing. Through the Midnight League, young adults are also being steered from crime to the basketball court.
Coleman admits sustainability could have proved an issue, although receiving a year’s funding is something he described as ‘amazing’.
He said: “It was a no-brainer. I contacted Merseyside Police about basketball as an intervention and the dramatic effect it can have as a tool.
“We took a lot of the successful aspects of Midnight Leagues in the US, which is something I’ve been obsessed with since the 90’s and it had never been done before in Liverpool.’’
With similar events set up in London and Birmingham, it hasn’t proved easy to organise in Liverpool, with Coleman addressing the city’s lack of facilities. Despite this, the league’s potential it seems can only get better.
The founder added: ’’The environment is amazing, it’s fun. It’s almost like the Wizard of Oz, you pull back the curtains and there’s this wild thing happening on two courts, with mountains of young men and women playing!
“It’s a really good model of what can be rolled out nationally.’’
With Liverpool’s new league leaping to new heights weekly, Coleman says anyone who wants to get involved should sign up.