£1500 was the bargain of Vince Macaulay’s life.

The sum reportedly stumped up for the team he once played for to become its owner and cheerleader-in-chief.

It is 22 years since the Liverpudlian took control of the-then Hemel Royals and dreamt of turning it into a kingdom.

However, just months after ceding control of the franchise now known as London Lions, the 59-year-old will be compelled to imagine a loftier realm on Tuesday in the Bulgarian outpost of Botevgrad in his, and the club’s, first European venture.

Quite a pivot for a franchise that flirted with despair so often during the past three decades, a spell in which it courted a nomadic existence through flits to Watford, then to a shopping mall and a converted warehouse in Milton Keynes, before scoring the prize of a home to call its own at The Copper Box constructed for the 2012 Olympics in the capital.

Yet with rich benefactors in Miami-based 777 Partners now funding a whole new ball game in east London, the affable Macaulay must put his wits against Neptunas Klaipeda on Tuesday afternoon (2.30pm BBC Sport) in the first of two qualifying rounds which lead to a spot in the group stages of the Basketball Champions League.

“The last three years, we’ve had an invite to qualify for the Champions League and we’ve turned it down each time,” he revealed. Even after claiming their maiden British Basketball League title in the spring of 2019, entering the continent’s third-tier competition was a leap too far.

Financially, logistically, recruitmentally.

But no longer. Which is why the Lions have not travelled east as the longest of long shots as Leicester Riders were on their initial BCL foray two years ago.

Eye-catching signings such as former NBA duo Byron Mullens and DeAndre Liggins have seen to that. As has the corralling of a group of talented Brits and a sprinkling of additional foreign help.

“The desire is there for London to have success on that front,” Macaulay acknowledged. The same sentiment expressed by his new bosses who have an eye on using this as a platform to ascend, one day soon, into the realm of EuroLeague.

If the first hurdle is cleared, the Lions will leap onward to a one-off play-in on Thursday against the winners of the tie between Tsmoki-Minsk of Belarus and hosts Balkan Botevgrad for a spot in the eight-team group phase.

Lose, and there is the safety net of dropping into the FIBA Europe Cup, slated for a delayed start in January.

Not the ambition that has been drilled into the players by their paymasters, Mullens underlined.

“They have big expectations,” he told MVP. “Nothing short of a championship in the BBL and their goals in the Champions League. Anything else would be a failure.”

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Neptunas have residual experience in Europe, including a season in the EuroLeague six years ago amid a streak of nine consecutive campaigns battling on foreign fronts.

Fourth in the domestic LKL last term after being ousted in the BCL’s group stage, their roster has been weakened by a string of departures abroad. Still, expect Neptunas’ head coach Tomas Gaidamavičius to arrive with organisation instilled and offense drilled in what is now a fully Lithuanian line-up.

Liggins, signed foremost for his defence rather than his scoring, will be central. London must be about more than throwing the ball inside to Mullens and relying on his NBA-tested talents to prevail.

“We have to find our own way to play in Europe,” Macaulay told the tournament website. “We can’t try to be what we’re not. That’s the development process we are going through. We know it’s going to be very hard but we are eager and we feel we have some points to prove,” he said.

“We are a very up-tempo team. We like to get up and down the floor, we like to score as quickly as we can, and we like to be aggressive defensively. The style in the UK is very quick.

“The style in Europe is more physical, it’s bigger, and it’s more stretched out. We know what we are going to have to face defensively. Our question is what can we do offensively to cause issues for slower, bigger teams.”

The question is also whether other BBL teams might subsequently follow London’s lead. 777 Partners’ investment into the Lions might yet be supplemented by a £5m injection into the domestic league by the American investment fund managers if a proposed deal is signed off this week.

Although the general population – even, in truth, much of the UK’s hoops community – will remain blissfully unaware of events in Bulgaria, there is surely a tantalising spinoff for the sport if the reigning domestic champions can finally restore a semblance of credibility for British b-ball on the international stage.

He may no longer be the Lions’ main shareholder. But make no mistake, Macaulay has every bit of skin in this game.

“I’m enthused by it,” he declared. “I know I can put teams together. I know I can get teams to win.”

The stakes are immense to accomplish that here. The challenge is enormous.

Two victories, unmistakably, would be quite the royal achievement.

Photo: BCL

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