"Paul Philp joins the ranks of player/coaches in Division One after serving Solent as a player for the past six seasons. In his career he has been at Kingston for one season and at Crystal Palace for a staggering ten years. So after all that playing how does he see the role of coach?
'It will be a tough job, there is no doubt about that. I will have to adapt. Sitting on the bench will be hard trying to analyse the game from a tactical viewpoint rather than a playing one. Obviously getting the guys to be geed up will be the main part of the job. I want a happy team rather than the one we had last season.
I think I will change the tactics. We played too much at getting the ball inside. We had players who could shoot long, but they were never given the chance to show this because the ball never came back out. The team must play to its strengths. I have devised a simple offensive plan that will give us much more flexibility and will fit the players as a team. They will be able to express themselves naturally and not knock themselves out doing something they can't.
My number one priority is to win games. If a trophy comes our way that will be extra - but it can be a lonely life as a coach.' "
The article then continued with a suggestion of which players might be joining Paul Philp's squad - Renaldo Lawrence (an American aged 25 and playing in Europe) and Sam Ellis. However, Sam would need six weeks before a work permit could be issued and so Paul Philp was also scouting for another, unnamed American. The article also stated that players continuing with Solent from last season would be TJ Robinson and Roy Lewis. Philp was also confident that he could persuade Mike Griffiths and Nic Burns to continue. Junior players would include David Brown and Dean Owen.
With just two weeks remaining to the start of the season, David Ogilvie, in the local Eastleigh Weekly News headlined the article - 'Hard-pressed Stars seek new sponsor.' The Sperring sponsorship had ended and whilst director, Roger Nash, had lined up a three year deal with a new sponsor, it would not begin until 12 months time!
As a result of the short-term financial predicament, Solent had to drastically reduce the number of personnel. Departures included Ron Whitehead, who was not re-engaged, Bryan Skeoch, now regarded as a foreign player because of the change of eligibility rules, Ken Nottage, who rejoined Sunderland, and Mike Griffiths, who planned to move to Kingston.
Joining the long list of departures was coach Steve Fitzsimons claiming other pressures meant that he felt he could not do the job justice. However, he had agreed to retain a strong connection with the club. Solent had appointed Paul Philp to take his place who it was felt would be able to make best use of the now scarce playing resources.
Philp still had not firmed up his squad with just the two weeks remaining before the start of the season. Only he, Roy Lewis and David Brown were signed. TJ Robinson had yet to agree a contract and the identity of the new American still remained a mystery.
The first home match - and Solent's only pre-season game - was a special game as part of the celebrations to mark the Borough of Eastleigh's 50th year. Bracknell were the opponents.
Prior to that game a Solent squad played in an Invitation Tournament at Bracknell. However, Solent had borrowed Nic Burns and Renaldo Lawrence to help them run up over 100 points against hosts Bracknell and also Tower Hamlets. Foul trouble in their third game, against Welsh champions Rhondda, was instrumental in a Solent defeat.
Solent's presence at this tournament played an important part in their forthcoming season. Coach Philp's eye had been caught by an American player who was guesting for the home side, Bracknell. He had been playing for a Cork-based team in the Irish League for four seasons. He had competition for his signature, though, since Bracknell were also talking to the player. However, after speaking to both clubs, Deora Marsh, 25 and Ohio born, decided to opt for Solent Stars Basketball Club. His debut was, ironically, against Bracknell in Solent's home pre-season game. Nic Burns had by now committed himself to playing for Solent and they were joined for this match by a second American, Larry Dassie. Dassie had been playing for local rivals Portsmouth, who were asking for a transfer fee of £5000. This fee plus the wage being asked for by the player meant that Solent would have to tie up a potential sponsor in very quick time. TJ Robinson had rejected a move to Peterborough to take up a new contract with Solent.
Marsh made a quick impression on the home fans, accumulating 23 points - the high spots of which were a trademark number of spectacular dunks. However, just like Burns and Dassie - and for that matter the rest of the Solent squad - Marsh began to tire in the second half as Solent's relative lack of match practice began to tell. Despite leading for almost the entire game, Solent were unable to repel a strong Bracknell team in the closing stages - though a succession of swift turnovers did not help - and Bracknell went on to win 99 - 104.
Solent had hoped to compete in another pre-season game at Brixton following the Bracknell match, but Brixton cancelled the game. Coach Philp was concerned about the lack of match practice and the defensive frailties exposed against Bracknell. With no other game in the pipeline, Solent faced up to their first stern league test, at home to Derby.
Paul Philp had promised an attacking game for the fans and he was proved right as the Solent team responded with a points total of 119 that had only been exceeded once in the previous season. Deora Marsh, despite admitting to pre-match jitters, scored 45 points alone in his home league debut. His crowd-pleasing scoring helped overcome some worrying defensive lapses that let Derby score 100 points. Although Marsh was the centre of attention, it was far more than a one-man show as all six players used in the game contributed to the scoreline. Roy Lewis with 36 points was also in prolific scoring mood. Solent led 49 - 47 at halftime but a topsy-turvy second half (Derby scored ten consecutive points to take the lead, before Solent replied with 15 unanswered points) saw Solent through to their 119 - 100 victory.
Meanwhile disquieting things were happening to the National Basketball League structure. Manchester Giants merged with Manchester United whilst Worthing folded and in the very week that the league got underway, another club disappeared when Uxbridge and Crystal Palace merged. The upshot for Solent was that their next league match - against Crystal Palace - was cancelled. This meant that the trip to Walsall to play a cup match would be the second game of the season.
Solent Stars had little difficulty in beating the Division Two club, Walsall, by 99 - 79 in an away game in the first round of the Prudential Cup. Solent were on top throughout, leading by 20 points for most of the time. The game was a scrappy affair that did not allow Solent to play with any fluency.
Solent then travelled, on the following Wednesday, to Bracknell to take part in a British Masters group game. Solent lost 112 - 116 in a match that would probably decide the group since the other two members, Rhondda and Swindon, were from lower divisions.
High scoring Solent Stars had double cause for celebration when they beat Bury and Bolton 107 - 93 in the next home league game at Fleming Park. Reason number one was supplied by Paul Philp's hard working side who sustained their encouraging start to the season by recording their third victory from the opening four games. Reason number two was supplied by Paul Philp himself when he revealed after the match that he had secured the services of two new players - Mike Griffiths and Phil Waghorn. After protracted negotiations with Kingston, Griffiths eventually decided to sign for his old club, Solent. Not so familiar to the fans, Waghorn came on a free transfer from the now-defunct Worthing. As a point guard he would have the role of covering for Philp who was Solent's only other specialist in that position.
Neither player, of course, played in the game against Bolton and Bury. After an even bout of early exchanges a Solent timeout was followed by a period of play where they went from 26 - 27 to 41 - 29, forcing Bolton to call a timeout of their own. Roy Lewis scored nine of the Solent points in that period, which also attracted a spate of Bolton fouls. After leading 52 - 35 at halftime, Solent kept Bolton at bay until four minutes from the end when a 15 point lead (93 - 78) suddenly looked threatened as Bolton seized the initiative to come back to 93 - 89. A late burst by Solent saw them home 107 - 93.
With two league wins under their belt and bolstered by the two recent signings, Solent travelled to Calderdale to take on the newly promoted team that had yet to win a game in Division One. The result, as any sports follower will know, was an inevitable defeat for Solent! A poor first half, where Solent could not find the target and Calderdale's Micah Blunt controlled the boards, left them with too much to do in the second half. Mike Griffiths was Solent's most consistent shooter but with only 80 points, Solent could not match the 92 that Calderdale put on the board. Philp commented, "It's the first time we played so poorly and we couldn't get out of the rut we found ourselves in."
Any apprehension of a repeat performance against Plymouth in the away tie for the second round of the Prudential Cup was dispelled as they encountered little resistance from the West Country side. Although the first half proved a reasonably tight affair, Plymouth were totally unable to bridge the gulf in class as Solent stacked up the points in the second. Deora March top-scored for Solent but it was the youngsters David Brown and Dean Owen who made most impression on coach Philp as they came off the bench and shot well to round off a successful evening for Solent, who won 110 - 76. Later in his career, Dean Owen was to spend several seasons with the Plymouth club.
Solent's next game was their fourth meeting of the season with Bracknell, with the series standing 2 -1 in their favour. This mid-week home league game was played in front of a near-capacity crowd who were constantly on the edge of their seats as the two teams fought out a thrilling and dramatic finale to equal any of their great matches of recent years. Typically the formula had involved Bracknell getting well in front only to see Solent storm past them in the final decisive minutes. This match was no exception as Solent stole through at the end to deny Bracknell their first ever victory at Fleming Park.
Solent only took the lead with just over four minutes remaining. Even after that, they let Bracknell lead again briefly. Sam Stiller, who Solent had sought to sign, proved to be the main thorn in Solent's side as he punished the home team with accurate shooting. Solent, who had been summoned for extra practices after their Calderdale defeat, showed no signs of having gained from that as, with the exception of Roy Lewis, no one could hit the target accurately. Trailing by 47 - 54 at halftime, they fell further behind as Bracknell extended their lead to 12 points before losing Sam Stiller through a technical foul. The crowd became involved as Mike Griffiths scored two successive three pointers to take Solent into an 88 - 87 lead. Peter Scantlebury replied for Bracknell, but almost immediately the Bracknell coach, Mark Dunning, picked up a second technical foul from which Mike Griffiths added another two points to the Solent total. Indeed, no fewer than 17 of the last 25 points came from the free throw line as fouls and mistakes flew thick and fast in the frenzied atmosphere. It was Mike Griffiths again who went to the free throw line with 14 seconds remaining, after Solent elected to take the throws instead of keeping possession after a Bracknell foul, as the rules at the time allowed. With Solent just two points ahead, a miss could spell defeat. However, both were scored a Solent won 102 - 98.
This match had been noteworthy for another reason also as Solent announced a new sponsorship deal with Draper Tools. Drapers also sponsored Southampton Football Club who were still majority shareholders in Solent Stars Basketball Club.
Solent's next away game was a mid-week match at high riding Kingston and the result was the expected defeat (104 - 132).
After Solent's next home game, against Sunderland, Paul Philp felt that he had to offer a public apology following his team's performance. Whereas the team had performed well at Kingston, Philp was so shattered by the mediocrity on view that he was at a loss to explain it. "I can only do so much at practice. Once we got out there we didn't play with any guts and there's no excuse for this lack of commitment".
Sunderland had effectively managed to shackle the twin scoring threat of Marsh and Lewis thanks to some heavy scouting on the part of the Sunderland club. Solent led for most of the first half against the team from the lower end of the league. Eight late points in the first half gave Sunderland a slight lead at halftime (31 - 35) in a low scoring half. They then added ten more quick points at the start of the second half, but Solent rallied and a basket by TJ Robinson put Solent into the lead (59 - 58) with eight minutes remaining. A dreadful finale ensued for Solent who were guilty of unnecessary panic and giving the ball away. Lewis, who along with Marsh was one of the main culprits of wasted shots, missed again and compounded his error with an intentional foul on ex-Solent player, Ken Nottage. His free throws then sealed Solent's fate in a 72 - 79 defeat.
On the following Wednesday Solent took part in a rather bizarre match against Swindon. This was a second game in the British Masters series, against a team from a lower division. Swindon must have felt apprehensive about the occasion because they telephoned Solent on the day of the game to say that they did not intend to honour the fixture. A series of urgent telephone calls followed which finally persuaded Swindon that the fixture had to be played. At tip-off time only three of the visiting team were present and two of these admitted to bad injuries which would make their participation impossible. With the modest crowd getting restless and only evidence of TJ Robinson's newly-sported severe haircut to interest them, it was with some relief that a further six players arrived. The match started 40 minutes late. Billy Hungrecker scored 53 points for Swindon in a game that would only ever have one winner, Solent Stars (129 - 89).
Whilst this game was not seen by coach Paul Philp as an ideal warm-up for the coming Prudential Cup quarter-final game against Manchester United, the game on the following Saturday - at Bury and Bolton - proved more of a test. TJ Robinson was rested from the trip north for this specially arranged challenge match. Roy Lewis could have settled the game in normal time but he missed a shot seconds before the final buzzer. He redeemed himself however in the dying seconds of the first period of overtime when he sank a three pointer followed by the one shot penalty awarded for the accompanying foul that he attracted on his shot. This tied the scores again and took the game into double overtime. Solent then got their noses in front and hung on for a 110 - 107 win.
Next came the visit of Manchester United for the Prudential Cup quarter-final. Originally scheduled to be played at Bracknell in front of live Channel 4 TV cameras this game was switched to Fleming Park and was to be recorded by Channel 4 for later highlights. As such the green carpet floor was again rolled out for the game.
In five previous meetings between the teams, Manchester had triumphed each time. Solent strolled into a 25 - 12 lead, but this proved a false dawn as Manchester responded and took the lead later in the half. Solent came back into the game to lead 41 - 34 just before halftime but a late Manchester rally meant that at halftime Solent led by just one point (43 - 42). Manchester dominated the second half although Deora Marsh scored some spectacular dunks for Solent to keep them in the game. With three minutes remaining Solent were behind (79 - 84) when a Roy Lewis three pointer gave them hope. More missed shots in a panic strewn sequence by Solent saw Manchester go six points ahead before Roy Lewis again brought them within range with another three point score. In the final seconds TJ Robinson blocked a shot and Lewis was sent away on a fast break. Having done all the hard work, Lewis missed the lay-up and Manchester were able to see out the game to a win (85 - 88). This was Solent's third home defeat and each of them by just three points.
Wednesday, November 12th saw Solent at their best at Fleming Park in a match against Leicester, as they fulfilled some of the promise that they had fleetingly displayed on occasion throughout the season. Inspired by Roy Lewis and Deora Marsh, who provided most of the points, Solent kept battling to the end which was just as well as Leicester threatened to snatch the spoils from the home side as they drew level inside the last two minutes. However, Solent were not to be denied and two quick baskets from Nic Burns followed by some quick strikes as Leicester were forced into all out attack sewed up Solent's fourth league win of the season (112 - 104).
This display had filled coach Paul Philp with confidence for a return match with Manchester at Old Trafford. It took only minutes for the Solent players to undermine Philp's confidence as they were thoroughly outplayed in a first half that saw them, at one stage, 30 points in arrears. Although Solent rallied in the second half, the damage had been done as the final score of 86 - 113 demonstrated. This meant that Solent were still without an away win in the league.
Whilst not winning away, Solent needed to gain every possible league point in their home games. Hemel and Watford were the next visitors to Fleming Park. This proved to be an error strewn match in which both teams contrived to make more errors than the other. Solent had to chase the game for most of the time (46 - 48 at halftime) and this led to an exciting finish. It came when, following a hectic series of scrambles under each basket, TJ Robinson and Mike Griffiths finally strung together two successive scores to give Solent a 97 - 96 lead with just over a minute to play. In that time Roy Lewis lost possession and fouled to give two successful free throws to Hemel. Then Deora Marsh threw the ball away for a Hemel player to get it and run through to score again to cause another home Solent defeat (97 - 102).
A tough trip to the successful Portsmouth side followed for Solent. It proved to be an interesting though one-sided derby game. Portsmouth's impressive array of talent was just too much for the Solent squad, despite a brave battle. Most of Portsmouth's best moves were initiated by Karl Tatham who was voted Man of the Match, although Alan Cunningham with 39 points was the top scorer. For Solent, Deora Marsh scored 32, TJ Robinson 27 in a game that they lost 101 - 133. Mike Griffiths, in particular, had a good game for Solent and it was significant that the game ended as a contest when he fouled out midway through the second half.
Another away defeat followed for Solent the following weekend when they visited Birmingham at the Aston Villa Leisure Centre. Having weathered early Birmingham pressure, Solent began to take control of the game. Going in ten points down at the interval, they gradually whittled that away until they took the lead shortly before the end. Not for the first time, however, they failed to take advantage of the situation as the ritual last five minute collapse set in and they eventually lost 87 - 93.
Respite from league action came in the pool games of the British Masters Tournament. Solent travelled to Plymouth without Philp, Marsh and Lewis who were all attending the funeral of Larry Dassie, who had been killed in a car crash. Nic Burns (28) led Solent's canter to victory with Griffiths (23) Robinson (16) Waghorn (16) Brown (12) all weighing in with contributions in the 105 - 70 win.
Rhondda were Solent's opponents at Fleming Park in the next British Masters tie. Solent started with a second string five, but soon were made aware that Rhondda, several times Welsh champions, were up for the game. Solent were forced eventually to call a timeout in the fourth minute of the second half when they trailed 65 - 74. Solent then took control but Rhondda proved their resilience by drawing level at 113 all two minutes from time. Phil Waghorn scored three free throws to help Solent to a total of 119 when six seconds from the end a foul on a Rhondda player gave them an opportunity to draw level. The first was scored, the second missed and Paul Philp - from a mighty scramble under his own basket - sprinted the length of the court and scored to seal a 121 - 118 win.
Solent's all-too-rapid descent in the Carlsberg League Division One continued when they visited BCP London and lost 86 - 104. London were 15 points up at the break and Solent were effectively out of the game when early in the second half they lost Philp, Marsh and Lewis all on foul trouble. Indeed, Solent racked up 30 fouls (to London's 16) in this game.
The next game was the nadir of the season so far when Solent played the final British Masters pool game at Bracknell. With Bracknell already in the driving seat after their earlier victory, it was always going to be a difficult fixture for Solent. However, to muster only 83 points in the game was a severe dent to Solent's pride as they chased the 90 points racked up by the home team.
Three days later Solent Stars then gave their fans some festive cheer as they approach the Christmas period. The visitors were Calderdale Explorers who had recently just lost to Portsmouth in the semi-final of the Prudential Cup. After the Bracknell game the confidence was low and it was no surprise that they trailed 44 - 51 at halftime. Given the circumstances in which they found themselves, the way Solent started the second half was nothing short of incredible. As Marsh (22) and Lewis (18) began to hit the target with more welcome regularity, Solent outscored Calderdale 27 - 10 to establish a ten-point lead, 71 - 61. The visitors then re-established the initiative and with four minutes remaining led 81 - 85, but then threw the game away with a series of poor shots and desperation fouls as they watched Solent pull away to win 92 - 87.
Solent joined the Portsmouth club's invitation tournament over the post-Christmas period. The other invited teams were Sao Paulo, Brazil and the Australian Institute of Sport.
Solent played Sao Brazil in the opening match of the tournament. Having led 42 - 40 at halftime, Solent then opened up a 19 point gap against the South American junior champions, before undergoing the usual relapse. The lead was thrown away in a period of six minutes and Solent led by just one point as a Brazilian player launched a shot that hit the rim but fell outside the basket. Mike Griffiths was top scorer with 24 points in a 90 - 89 win.
Portsmouth easily beat the young Australian side (104 - 44) to set up another meeting with Solent. Alan Cunningham again proved to be Solent's nemesis as his inspirational play took the hosts to a 53 - 45 halftime lead. 32 points from Deora Marsh were not enough to give Solent the total they needed to win and Portsmouth emerged fairly comfortable winners (97 - 105) to pick up their first ever trophy - albeit in their own organised tournament.
Kingston withdrew from the, by now downgraded, World Club Championship and Solent were invited at the last minute to replace them.
However, Solent crashed out of the Tournament in the first round when they went down by ten points (81 - 91) to Swedish club Solna on New Year's Day. After that defeat they were paired with an American College team, Wingate - another first round loser - to decide the final placings. Without Nic Burns, Solent were always struggling to contain the College team but it was the conceding of rash fouls at the end of normal time and the first period of overtime that allowed Wingate off the hook to tie up the scores with free throws. Finally, Solent succumbed in the second period of overtime to lose 115 - 118 (Marsh 41, Griffiths 26) and finish the tournament by sharing 11th place.
Solent were now without an away win in the league for nearly a year as they travelled to Bolton and Bury to play the bottom club in the league. After the game, Solent coach Paul Philp had no excuses to offer after seeing his side plunge to possibly their most embarrassing league defeat of the season. A completely inadequate Solent performance saw them crash to a humiliating 16-point defeat (72 - 88). The match was played in a freezing cold gym that was hardly an ideal setting for an important league game.
A home match against Championship contenders Portsmouth followed next. Solent were able to announce the return of Tony Watson for this match. Tony was returning after two years out of the game since he last played for Solent. After being forced out of the game through a back injury, Watson had returned to the USA for a year of treatment. Meanwhile, Solent had kept his registration and so were able to include him in the line up for this game - despite his arriving in the country only the day before. He was obviously short of match practice and Solent only introduced him two minutes before halftime, but were rewarded when he tipped in his first points with his initial touch. He went on to score 15 of Solent's total (Mike Griffiths top scored with 18) as Solent were hampered by an ankle injury to Deora Marsh. Portsmouth were always in command through top scorers Alan Cunningham (25) and Colin Irish (24). Solent lost the game 85 - 98.
Solent then travelled to second-from-bottom Derby to play the team that had sacked its coach earlier in the week. Solent trailed by twelve points at the break and received a tongue-lashing from coach Philp. This had the desired effect and Solent - for the first time since the previous February - picked up an away win (101 - 96).
It was a brilliant performance by Tony Watson that helped Solent keep alive their faint chance of reaching the play-offs as they moved into eighth league place with a home win over Birmingham (104 - 97). Solent had quickly found themselves in trouble as TJ Robinson picked up two fouls followed by a third, technical, foul for disputing the second call against him. With a number of other decisions going against them, Solent found themselves trailing 11 - 23. The introduction of Watson (21 points) and Nic Burns helped rectify this as Solent went ahead 29 - 27. A further surge by Solent saw them to a 52 - 41 halftime lead. Solent then wobbled and with 30 seconds to go Birmingham's Butch Hays scored a three point shot to leave Solent just 100 - 97 ahead. With 16 seconds to go, Deora Marsh was fouled after a scramble for the ball. Solent made the agonising decision to send Marsh to the free throw line rather than take possession of the ball. Marsh calmly sank both to give him a match total of 31 points. Roy Lewis (20 points) sealed the victory with a late breakaway.
Meanwhile Solent Juniors were beginning to make an impression in the National League under coach Tom Craver. They moved into a top four place with a win over Kingston (133 - 78). Jon Rumsey (29), Dean Owen (18) and Dave McCormack (15) were their leading scorers in the game.
Having won two successive matches for only the second time in the season, Solent were hopeful as they travelled north to play cash-starved Sunderland. The hosts had threatened to cancel the game in mid-week when their financial problems came to a head. Solent may have wished that it had been cancelled. They never recovered after going 15 behind in the first four minutes, having failed to register any points themselves. Sunderland turned in one of their season's best performances to complete the double over Solent. Although Solent rallied they were never ahead in a game that they eventually lost 99 - 107.
Once again, Manchester United took the court on a Sunday afternoon at Fleming Park as Solent hosted them for the fourth from final league match of the season. The Sunderland defeat and the forthcoming match against unbeaten Kingston meant that Solent's play-off hopes relied heavily on a couple of upsets. It could possibly have seemed on the cards in this game as Mike Griffiths' late basket gave Solent a slender 51 - 49 at halftime. However, it all went wrong for Solent with the score standing at 55 all. A dreadful five minute spell ended with Manchester leading by 18 points (60 - 78) and the game as good as over. TJ Robinson (27 points) had been unable to keep up his early scoring level and Solent were unable to put enough points on the board and trailed 89 - 101 at the end.
Earlier in the afternoon, the Juniors had moved closer to a play-off place with a 104 - 99 win over Hemel and Watford (Owen 33, Rumsey 27).
On the following Wednesday evening the visitors were Kingston, who came in unbeaten in the league after 18 successive victories. A large crowd saw Solent put up some early resistance and by halftime trailed by just nine points (45 - 54). However, the start of the second half saw Solent able to score only two baskets in the first seven minutes whilst Kingston rattled in a further 21 points. Indeed, the Solent performance was so abject in the half that many of the near capacity crowd were leaving before the end, upset at what they considered a capitulation when sterner efforts were required. Kingston inflicted Solent's biggest-ever home defeat (76 - 113) at Fleming Park.
A visit to Leicester followed in a game where Solent in part redeemed themselves with a gutsy performance. However, they once again committed hara-kiri when having led by 11 points in six minutes to go, they were forced to score a basket seconds from the end which looked as if it would take the game into overtime. Leicester had other ideas and immediately went down court and scored the winner on the buzzer. Solent's fate had been sealed in part when Deora Marsh had earlier got himself fouled out of the game. This defeat meant that Solent had lost 10 of their 11 away matches.
Coach Philp, anxious to keep his team in match practice, arranged a practice match against Rhondda which Solent lost 112 - 126.
So Solent came to their last two league games looking for the elusive victories. In a match that was billed as the game Solent must not lose, against BCP London, they did just that. Worse news for the Solent faithful fans was that, despite the importance and urgency of the occasion, several of the players had failed to arrive at practices in the week prior to the game. This indifference to their situation had been a constant source of complaint from coach Philp throughout the season. Prior to the game, the resignation of two directors - Malcolm Le Bas and Roger Nash - had been announced. Whilst Le Bas declined to comment, Roger Nash, it was understood, had resigned because of poor performances and lack of effort on behalf of the team.
Perhaps then it was surprising in the home match against BCP London that Solent dominated the early exchanges as Deora Marsh (voted Player of the Season) celebrated with a series of spectacular dunks. London then came more into the game as Solent ran out of ideas. Solent lost 95 - 111 despite having come within three points (93 - 96) before London's Paul Stimpson scored a couple of quick baskets to kill off any last ditch effort.
Solent Stars then blew their last chance of appearing in the end of season play-offs when they suffered their eleventh away defeat of the season, this time at the hands of Hemel and Watford. Although they offered a much better challenge than in recent matches it still was not good enough to stop Hemel winning by two points (98 - 100) and putting them in the eighth play-off spot that had been the reward for victory in this game.
Though the league season had ended for Solent at the end of February, the British Masters competition was reaching its knock-out stage. Through the vagaries of the rules, Solent were paired with earlier Pool opponents, Rhondda, in the first round of the knock-out (two-leg) stage.
On March 1st, Solent went to Rhondda and came away with a ten-point advantage (135 - 125). It could have been more if Solent had pressed home an earlier 15 point advantage, but Rhondda were allowed back in the game and with Solent's lead just seven points, coach Philp decided to bring himself back on court to replace Phil Waghorn. An obviously disgruntled Waghorn kicked over the chairs as he went to the team bench and Solent watched as two more points from the free throw line were added to Rhondda's score. Fortunately, the long term effect was to aid the team as Philp restored some pattern and discipline into their play and they were able to extend their lead by the end of the game.
Waghorn's reaction may have had more to do with a general situation. Just prior to the game, Solent through its newly restored administrator - TJ Robinson - had announced that all player contracts were cancelled and players would be playing for expenses only for the rest of the season.
As an act of faith, the Supporters Club announced that they would be financing the return Rhondda match at Fleming Park. It was not surprising that with so much going on off-court, the match itself took on a mundane up and down court aspect. However, with five minutes to go Solent found themselves trailing by seven and with 90 seconds left, the score was still in Rhondda's favour by six points. Suddenly, Solent woke up and Nic Burns, Tony Watson, TJ Robinson and Philp himself scored in quick time to give Solent a 109 - 107 win (244 - 232 on aggregate).
Solent were not about to go out of business yet, according to TJ Robinson. Once the transfer fee for Ken Nottage was paid and the share of league sponsorship money was released by the English Basketball Association that would be enough to clear Solent's debts. A major sponsor was still being sought, but efforts had so far proved fruitless. TJ Robinson said that he would presently be a millionaire if he had a pound for every refusal received. Of the squad only Paul Philp and Roy Lewis had been on long term contracts and the financial crisis hit them hardest, coming as it did with little or no warning.
The next round of the Masters tournament was made into a single game contest by the National Association because of a fixture congestion for the opponents, BCP London. What was worse was that it had to be in London, therefore depriving Solent of any home revenue. The club was furious, but it spoke volumes for the players that despite not having trained for two weeks, they all arrived for the London game. It was less surprising that Solent could not bring a fairy-tale element to the occasion and finished their season with an 87 - 102 defeat.
It also left many of the players wondering if they - or anyone - would be wearing a Solent vest in the future.
|8||Hemel and Watford||24||8||15||2281||2341||-60||16|
|12||Bolton and Bury||24||6||17||1944||2199||-255||11*|