Ironically, Solent signed a player from Birmingham. His name was David Brown, a 17-year-old who had exciting prospects. However, Solent's main new signing came as a great surprise when coach Jim Kelly announced that Dan Callandrillo was joining the squad from Bracknell. Dan's impressive form in the prior season had made him a prime target for Solent. One drawback was that he became the third American player in the team, which meant that some form of rotation would have to take place since only two would be allowed to play in any one English league match. Recognising this, Solent had also acquired Bryan Skeoch, a 6' 11" Canadian international player.
The latter two signings were not made until mid-September, so Solent did not have them in the squad for the pre-season matches that took place. The first of these games was a baptism of fire with a match against the England squad. With England not at full strength, Solent took advantage to build up a convincing lead before a Paul Stimpson-inspired performance pulled the England squad back into the game. Solent held on for a 75 - 71 win, but coach Kelly said there was still much to do.
He then took the team on a pre-season tour with matches in France and Belgium, before returning to Fleming Park to take part in the first official British and Irish Basketball Championships staged this time at Fleming Park. Solent's group included Falkirk, Rhondda and Dublin. The other teams were Murray, Cork, Warrington and Glasgow.
Solent winning the BIBF Trophy at Fleming Park
The tournament enabled Solent Stars to win their first trophy of the season. In the Pool matches, Solent beat Dublin 87 - 65, Rhondda 92 - 61 and Falkirk 66 - 61. The final was against Warrington, a team strengthened over the summer by the signing of Colin Irish. Solent soon ran into foul trouble with Skeoch, Tony Watson and Mike Griffiths on four fouls by the midpoint of the second half. At 70 all, the match looked set for a grandstand finish, but Solent began to hit the target whilst Warrington squandered a series of free throws. Solent won 91 - 80 with Callandrillo top-scoring for Solent (22 points) and also picking up the Most Valuable Player of the tournament. John Johnson had been restricted to just one match through an ankle injury.
Another new competition, the Anglo-Scottish Cup, provided the next match for Solent. For this competition, Solent played their three home games at the new Mountbatten Leisure Centre in Portsmouth. The first of these was against local rivals Worthing, who had moved, as a club, from Brighton. A basket eight seconds from time by TJ Robinson gave Solent the narrowest of victories (80 - 79) in a game that Worthing might have won had they not missed three consecutive free throws in the last minute whilst leading by one point. The small crowd (358) for this first venture into Portsmouth disappointed the club.
Champions, Solent Stars made a fine start towards defending their league title with an impressive victory (79 - 66) at the newly formed Watford and Hemel club. Solent were always in control in the game and with Callandrillo (25 points) and Johnson (20) in good shooting form they never looked troubled, despite Watford reducing the arrears to two points early in the second half.
This victory heartened Solent for the their first home game in the European Cup against French champions, Limoges. Solent were at a height disadvantage with Skeoch ineligible and TJ Robinson left out as the third American player. Limoges had five of their squad at 6' 7" or over and were able to use this factor as they built up an early lead. At one point in the second half Limoges led by 25 points, despite Solent having only a two-point deficit at halftime (44 - 46). Johnson and Watson were both closely guarded - a result of the scouting trip undertaken by the Limoges coach at the earlier Championship tournament at Fleming Park. Only Dan Callandrillo prospered as he worked tirelessly to keep Solent in the game. His reward was a total of 52 points as Solent slipped to a 101 - 114 defeat.
For the second time in a week, Solent were up against Worthing, this time in their first home league match of the season. After the close attention given to them by the Limoges defence, Solent were able to benefit from the greater freedom. Bryan Skeoch and TJ Robinson were restored to the team but by halftime, Solent were not able to break away from Worthing. Indeed, it was not until they outscored Worthing 22 - 7 midway through the second half that Solent took command. By then the Worthing team had grown particularly frustrated at referees' calls that had given two points for a basket when they believed that the new three-point rule should have been invoked. The referees later blamed the numerous, and confusing, floor markings at Fleming Park for their indecisions. Solent completed a second win over Worthing within a week (111 - 95).
Solent then travelled to Crystal Palace to play a much-changed team in the Anglo-Scottish Cup. The Stars were always in control and Johnson (28 points) TJ Robinson (24) and Callandrillo (20) top-scored in the 95 - 78 win. Following this victory, Solent went to Limoges to try and overcome the first leg deficit of 13 points. In front of 7,000 spectators Solent could not reverse the previous result. The match followed a similar pattern to the first leg and even the score 97 - 111 was of a similar order. John Johnson scored 33 points in this tie, which ended Solent's European involvement.
On their return to England, Solent travelled to Telford and won 123 - 87 in a match played in an old-fashioned aircraft hangar. This was Solent's third league win. Solent then sprung a surprise by cancelling their arrangement with the Mountbatten Centre, Portsmouth, to move their home Anglo-Scottish tie against Kingston to Fleming Park. The reason given was lack of support at Portsmouth where the crowd for the first game had come mainly from the Southampton and Eastleigh area. The Mountbatten Centre protested that Solent had failed to advertise their matches at Portsmouth. In the previous season, a Portsmouth team had entered the National League. It had finished bottom of Division Two with only three wins. The Solent club had agreed to take the Portsmouth set-up under its wing, and during the rebuilding phase, to play some of its games at the Mountbatten Centre. In the meantime, Solent would support the junior team - coached by Mick Byrne - so that they might provide future players for the club.
There were many empty spaces at Fleming Park for the rearranged game against Kingston. Kingston had recently been boosted by signings Steve Bontrager and Dan Davis. The Callandrillo/Bontrager (67 points in his previous match) dual was loudly trumpeted prior to the game and proved to be a feature. Solent just held their own throughout, despite missing the height of Skeoch (injury) because of the accurate shooting of Johnson (33 points). The final score was 111 - 108 as Solent saw out a barren second half spell without letting go of their grip on the game.
Solent's next visitors were Birmingham Bullets, who had recently been rocked by the departure of Russ Saunders and Dip Donaldson to Glasgow. Karl Tatham was given a warm welcome by the crowd on his return to Fleming Park. Birmingham were no match for Solent and, largely due to one period of play when Solent outscored them 31 - 4, they saw Solent win 106 - 75. Tony Watson with 30 points was Solent's top scorer.
The next game was an Anglo-Scottish cup match played at Fleming Park with Crystal Palace as the visitors. Despite a close score (97 - 89) the game was far from a classic. Crystal Palace - in a rebuilding phase - tried too many ambitious outside shots and Solent were able to establish a comfortable lead for most of the game. Disaster struck when John Johnson sustained a serious ankle injury - which kept him out of the next England game - and Solent lost their way to allow Crystal Palace to come within one point (79 - 78) three minutes from time. Enter Roy Lewis to score 10 quick points to put the result beyond doubt in Solent's favour.
Johnson's enforced absence in the next game was another opportunity for Roy Lewis to prosper. Solent had ceded home advantage (Fleming Park was unavailable) to Swindon Sonics in this second round Kellogg's (formerly ASDA) National Cup tie. Tony Watson was also absent for this game with a back injury. It was Lewis, in partnership with Dan Callandrillo, that swept aside the Swindon challenge as they both regularly stole the ball and each scored 36 points in the game to give a convincing Solent win 117 - 86 against opponents from the second division.
Whilst the injuries to Johnson and Watson did not affect the outcome of the Swindon game, their absence in the next three matches proved a handicap too much. In the first game, an Anglo-Scottish cup game at Worthing, a further blow was suffered when Dan Callandrillo was sent off - along with Alan Cunningham - for fighting in the third minute. It was a reverse from which Solent never really recovered and despite the efforts of Lewis (17 points) and TJ Robinson (16) they were beaten 63 - 73.
The mini-run of reverses continued as Solent slipped to their first league defeat at Manchester (80 - 93) despite leading 41 - 40 at the break. Solent's problems were further compounded by a transfer request put in by John Johnson for reasons of taxation changes proposed by the Inland Revenue! Matters got even worse for Solent as they met Kingston, at Tolworth, in the last of the pool games for the Anglo-Scottish Cup. Solent suffered their biggest ever reverse under coach Jim Kelly in this game (115 - 134) the result of which meant that Solent had to go to a future play-off game with Leicester to decide their progress in the competition.
So it was with relief that Jim Kelly was able to welcome back John Johnson (now off the transfer list) and Tony Watson for the home game against Sunderland. Johnson was rusty, with only one training session prior to the game, and it took the introduction of Tony Watson with the score at 21 - 21 to inject new life into Solent. Watson helped Solent surge ahead 51 - 35 by the halftime break. With Callandrillo, Watson, TJ Robinson and Johnson each scoring over 20 points, Solent's all-round scoring strength put them back on the winning track (104 - 79).
Warrington vs Solent at the Spectrum Centre, November 1984
Next, on a Thursday evening in Warrington, came a Channel 4 TV game - the quarter-final of the Kellogg's Cup. Solent had not won at Warrington for over two years, and when they led 57 - 48 nearly halfway through the second half, it looked as if the jinx had been laid. With Tony Watson nursing an injury, Solent were put to the sword by Colin Irish, who drew a cluster of fouls from Solent's rapidly diminishing defensive resources. With three minutes remaining, Roy Lewis missed the chance to put Solent ahead from the free throw line. Warrington's Will Brown immediately responded by scoring a three pointer and added a further point because Callandrillo had fouled him. A late revival by Solent brought them back to within two points (83 - 85) before losing in bizarre fashion (83 - 87). As Mike Griffiths fouled out, in the last minute, the game clock decided that it had enough. After several minutes of wrangling, the officials decided that 49 seconds remained. Warrington decided to take possession each time they were fouled and despite frantic attempts to secure the ball, it was all too late and Solent's reign (unbeaten in the Cup since 1981) was over.
The next match for Solent followed two nights later when they were at home to Bracknell, undefeated in the league. There was not a free seat in the house when Bracknell arrived with a huge, vociferous following to give a magnificent atmosphere for the occasion. However, despite out shouting the home crowd, the Bracknell supporters could do little about their own team being outplayed on the court. Solent rose to the occasion and, in particular, Mike Griffiths who scored fourteen first half points as veteran Stu Turpie tried to man mark him. In an amazing display of power basketball, Solent went from 50 - 47 to 74 - 51 in the second half to leave Bracknell's unbeaten five game opening to the season in tatters. Solent won 107 - 96 with Watson top-scoring with 22 points.
Crystal Palace, the next visitors to Fleming Park were accused by their coach, Jimmie Guymon, of throwing the game away when in a leading position. Indeed with just over one and a half minutes remaining, Palace, through Pete Jeremich were on the free throw line with an opportunity to go ahead in the game. Controversially, the referees scrapped Jeremich's free throws because he took longer than five seconds to shoot them. Solent swept down court and scored a three-pointer from Tony Watson. Solent outscored their opponents 11 - 2 in this closing phase to earn a respectable (if undeserved) 95 - 88 win.
Coach Kelly then took the team off to France for a couple of friendly matches before the next home game, against Bolton. Having been promoted two seasons before, this was Bolton's 45th match in the top flight. In that time, they had managed just one win! Solent were in no mood for charity as they set about continuing their table-topping position. Only Terry Crosby, with 55 points in the match, offered any opposition as Solent steamrollered their way to a 127 - 107 win, despite the absence of Saiers, Griffiths and Lewis through injury.
Warnings of financial distress for the club were given to the coach and playing staff prior to the sudden death play-off against Leicester in the Anglo-Scottish Cup. With no other competition remaining for Solent - save Division One - a cup run could generate much needed income. Despite this warning, and in testing circumstances, Solent's hard fought performance went unrewarded as they went down 83 - 87. Ironically, Leicester were the visitors to Fleming Park just four days later and Solent were to gain revenge (95 - 91).
On Thursday, December 13th 1984, the Eastleigh Weekly News carried a banner headline on its sports page - 'Solent Stars on the Brink of Oblivion'. In the article it stated that England's premier team might have played its last-ever basketball match. "Due to financial difficulties the Eastleigh-based club has ceased to trade and will go into voluntary liquidation on December 17th unless they can raise at least £20,000 which is needed to see the season through" stated the article.
The following week's paper reported that an anonymous donor had put up the money to hire Fleming Park for the remaining two home matches before the Christmas break and three schoolchildren had raised £233.05 through asking fans to contribute so much money for each point scored by Solent Stars on the night. More importantly a receiver had been appointed to manage club finances.
The first of the two games was a convincing win over Doncaster (113 - 89) to keep Solent on top of the league. However, by the time of the second game, measures had been taken by the receiver which meant the cancellation of players' contracts and no option of receiving any of the two months back pay owed. This led to John Johnson and Dan Callandrillo disappearing without warning immediately prior to the game with high-riding Warrington. Solent's cause was further hindered by the controversial first half dismissal of TJ Robinson for allegedly striking an opponent. A thrilling game ensued but Solent lost 67 - 70.
Just three days later Solent lost away to Kingston (101 - 119). To complete their tale of woe, Tony Watson then decided to leave and without the injured Roy Lewis as well, Solent promptly made a first round exit from the prestigious Philips World Club Basketball Championships at Crystal Palace at the hands of Murray (54 - 67).
Financial matters were still very much to the fore at the beginning of 1985. The EBBA had permitted a change of club ownership (Solent Stars 1985 Ltd) but still Solent needed to raise a substantial sum of money. Solent's first home game of the new year was at home to Hemel Hempstead. With plenty of height still in the squad - Skeoch, Robinson and Saiers - Solent were able to restrict Hemel's scoring, but now without Johnson (now with Kingston), Callandrillo and Watson, Solent were unable to match even the low Hemel total and lost 71 - 79. Despite a last minute bid by the Portsmouth Football Club - which would have moved Solent to the Mountbatten Centre - Solent Stars were saved by the successful bid of the consortium led by TJ Robinson. The Portsmouth bid had come hot on the heels of Manchester United taking over the Warrington club. But the Solent (1985) group - TJ Robinson, Roger Nash, Richard Tear and Martin Eastwood had mounted a counter bid that kept Solent at Fleming Park.
The problems of the new owners were immediately magnified when, after a 77 - 86 defeat at Worthing, the Solent coach, Jim Kelly, handed in his resignation. In a statement he said that his goals had always been the winning of trophies, but he now saw that the club was in for a long period of rebuilding. Solent had held their own in the Worthing match until Skeoch, Robinson and Griffiths had all fouled out.
The next visitors to Fleming Park were billed as Telford - currently also in financial trouble and propping up the league. In these turbulent times, it came as no surprise when on the night the visitors played under the banner of Portsmouth Football Club. Unsuccessful in his bid for Solent, the Portsmouth Football chairman, John Deacon, had moved in on ailing Telford. The two previously troubled financial clubs then fought out a close encounter which Solent won 106 - 91. Steve Fitzsimons was once again the coach to the Solent Stars.
Solent then went to Birmingham and achieved only their second away win in four months (90 - 78). On the same night Portsmouth used the Fleming Park venue to play Kingston (who included John Johnson in their line-up). This was because Portsmouth had been unable to book either of their normal home venues. Portsmouth lost 72 - 115 and Johnson was roundly booed whenever he appeared on court.
The first defeat under Steve Fitzsimons came in the next home game against Manchester Giants (88 - 97). Despite Roy Lewis recording 37 points, Solent suffered when three of their main six players reached four fouls with seven minutes remaining. A trip to Manchester United in the following week led to a second consecutive defeat at the hands of a Manchester team (64 - 87) this time the one that held second place in the league. Solent themselves moved to third in the league table when they visited Sunderland and after a powerful first half performance that gave them a 50 - 26 lead and silenced the home supporters, they ran out 87 - 78 winners.
Roy Lewis had suffered an ankle injury at Sunderland and missed the next trip to Bracknell. A full house saw Solent once again establish a halftime lead (45 - 33) and despite not as convincingly as at Sunderland, the week before, Solent held on for a win (87 - 75) with TJ Robinson bagging 34 points.
Gloom settled over the club when they travelled to Crystal Palace and lost 89 - 105. However, the first goal of the new Solent set-up was achieved with an away victory over basement club Bolton (106 - 91). This achieved the mathematical certainty of a place in the play-offs leading to Wembley. TJ Robinson scored a massive 39 points in Solent's win.
The Fleming Park faithful were treated to a good Solent performance in which Solent overcame Leicester 104 - 89. Once again, TJ Robinson laid down his marker with ten of the first sixteen points and an overall tally of 34 points. He was ably supported by Mark Saiers who unusually scored with a series of three point shots as the Leicester defence retreated. Only a chipped ankle injury to Roy Lewis marred the win.
Solent continued their good away form with a 94 - 91 win over Doncaster to confirm fourth league place for the season prior to their last home match against league winners Kingston. It was a packed Fleming Park that saw Solent trail by 17 points in the first half before staging a remarkable rally to take the lead (74 - 73) midway through the second half. Kingston's John Johnson fouled out - much to the delight of the home crowd - but vitally for Solent they lost Griffiths and Skeoch in the same manner. With Lewis out, David Brown was brought in but his inexperience was exposed when at 94 - 94 he tried an impossible shot that lost Solent possession. Solent lost 94 - 98 but won many friends with their performance on the night.
In the first game of the play-offs, Solent visited Worthing. With an admirably disciplined performance they unlocked the door to Wembley's championship when the won the game 95 - 91. Worthing were unbeaten in their last five matches. In an amazingly accurate piece of shooting Paul Philp ran up 22 points including a trio of three pointers to slam the door shut on any Worthing revival.
The second game, in the best of three format, was played before a capacity crowd at Fleming Park. Solent were missing Bryan Skeoch with a viral infection and Mark Saiers was struggling with 'flu. Solent led by 10 points at one stage, but with Robinson on foul trouble, their defence was not good enough to stop a Worthing victory (86 - 103).
The deciding game, also at Fleming Park, led to heartbreak as Solent crashed to a 90 - 115 defeat. Once Worthing had established a 41 - 64 halftime lead, with Alan Cunningham (who scored 42 points in the game) and Billy Hungrecker causing mayhem, there was no way back for Solent. So the season ended for Solent, but it could have been worse. Only the intervention of a group of local businessmen meant that the season had been completed.