Back row: Mick Byrne, Steve Chant, Craig Metcalf, Rob Bonnick, Marc Barfoot, Keith Moir
Front row: Martin Dowdall, Jason Colgan, Roy Lewis, Paul Philp, Joe Morant, Jon Rumsey
A summer of searching for sponsorship was drawing to a close and still no backer had been found to outlay the £35,000 price tag required to keep the team in the Carlsberg League. A contingency plan had been drawn up to enter the team under the Solent Stars name in the Fourth Division. Such a move would spell the end of top class basketball in Eastleigh for at least four years. Club director, Jim Rumsey, was quoted as saying, "We entered a team in the fourth division as soon as we realised the problems we were facing as we are anxious to keep the name Solent going at some level. If we have to come out of the Carlsberg League it will be a chance lost as we would then have to work our way back up again."
A week later, the Solent Stars club had to acknowledge the inevitable and withdrew from the Carlsberg League to play in the regionalised Division Four programme of the National Basketball League. Even this move was only made possible by the continued association with the club of David Varcoe-Baylis. He had overseen the Draper Tools sponsorship arrangements in an earlier era and had decided to stay with the club as its owner during the period of crisis over the summer months. Coach Mick Byrne said he would remain with the club. The team would comprise local youngsters such as Jon Rumsey, Marc Barfoot, Joe Morant and Martin Dowdall. Byrne was also hopeful that Roy Lewis and Mark Scott might remain with Solent should they not be able to find other clubs.
The club intended to remain at Fleming Park although the cost of the whole hall hire would be too high to sustain, bearing in mind the anticipated number of spectators who would want to support a team in Division Four. The league consisted of Oxford Coyotees, Oxford Park, Swindon Bullets, Herne Bay, Bristol and Camberley. Entry was also made into the National Cup and the Founders Cup. Byrne's final pre-season quote was, "It is a challenge for the local lads who will have to show a great deal of commitment. Although they're all young, we would nevertheless hope to win this league, especially if we manage to keep one or two of the more experienced players."
The Eastleigh Weekly News carried the headline 'Solent start in strange territory' prior to the first match, against Swindon Bullets, on October 6th. By then coach Byrne had also signed local teacher, Steve Chant, Jason Colgan from the Portsmouth area and Paul Philp was also back in the playing fold. Another of Solent's illustrious earlier performers, Nic Burns, was also going to help the club although mainly as an assistant to coach Byrne.
So it was that Solent met their first opponents in the half-hall setting at Fleming Park capable of holding no more than 200 supporters - a far cry from a few months previously. Byrne's starting five for the match were Paul Philp, Jon Rumsey, Jason Colgan, Joe Morant and Marc Barfoot. By halftime Solent led 45 - 28 as the youngsters tore into Swindon whilst Paul Philp orchestrated the team play. In a fast and furious game, Jason Colgan and Swindon's American Carl Williams both fouled out early in the second half. So comprehensive was Solent's superiority that there was a debut for 16 year old England triallist Craig Metcalf who managed to add eight points. Solent won 100 - 58 with the main scorers being Jon Rumsey (26) and Marc Barfoot (20). A debut was also given to a Southampton student Rob Bonnick who netted 4 points.
Solent Stars were quickly reminded, however, that they would not have things all their own way in Division 4. The next opponents were Oxford Park, an established team that used several Oxford University players in their squad. A very poor first half performance - described by new Echo reporter Wendy Gee as "Sloppy Stars given a rude awakening" - in this away game left Solent with a lot to do in the second half. At one time nearly ten minutes elapsed without Solent able to add to their score as they squandered chance after chance. The second half was a different story as Solent took charge once Jason Colgan and Jon Rumsey finally got their shooting act together to add over 40 points between them. However, things had been left too late and Solent lost 66 - 70. Byrne said, "Last year the onus wasn't really on the youngsters to score points as they knew that someone like Drew Sewell was there who could come and bale them out. Now the responsibility is on them and they have to concentrate on getting their shooting right particularly when things are going against them."
Nic Burns (left) and Mick Byrne
Another away game followed as Solent travelled to play Bristol Renegades. Making his first appearance of the season was Roy Lewis and he rattled in 35 points in the game. Although they were never able to open up a sizeable lead Solent always looked the likely match winners once they had established an early advantage. At halftime they were thirteen points in front and they retained this sort of cushion throughout the second half to win 94 - 79. Following Lewis in the scoring were Jon Rumsey (24) and Jason Colgan (14).
Lewis and Rumsey were again to grab the headlines in the following home game against Oxford Coyotees by rattling in 57 points between them, which was six more than the Oxford team could score in the match. The visitors had arrived with some useful form to their name having recently beaten their neighbours, Oxford Park. Jason Colgan and Craig Metcalf were missing from the team, and a debut was made by Peter Harrington who had come through the Solent Junior programme. He scored four points in the game. By halftime Solent had already scored more points than Oxford could in the whole game and were easy victors (118 - 51).
The next game was at Camberley against the unbeaten league leaders. Coach Byrne recalled 7' 1" Nic Burns to counter the rugged challenge posed by the big Camberley side. The former England international was barely needed as Solent showed that speed of thought and flexibility were far more potent weapons. After shading the first half by eight points, Byrne sent out his first choice five of Paul Philp, Jason Colgan, Jon Rumsey, Roy Lewis and Marc Barfoot to start the second half. His decision was instantly rewarded as Solent took firm control. With Camberley unable to penetrate a solid Solent defence, the visitors secured almost constant possession of the ball setting Lewis and Rumsey free for a number of unchallenged lay-ups. It was the kind of quality possession that the pair frequently made use of in the Carlsberg League, so against fourth division opposition the result was never really in doubt - especially when Solent established a lead in excess of 30 points. Lewis scored 35 points, Rumsey 20 and Jason Colgan, who had lifted the pace of the Solent game in the second half, recorded 16. In the event, Nic Burns only recorded six minutes playing time, and the coach expressed the hope that he would have more court time in the forthcoming Herne Bay match prior to Solent's appearance in the National Cup with a home tie against Chiltern Fastbreak.
The coach's plans however were thrown into disarray when Herne Bay cancelled their scheduled visit to Fleming Park at short notice. They claimed injuries to their players meant they could not raise a team for the game. The league programme schedule gave Solent two free weekends after the visit of Herne Bay (a result of the limited number of teams in the league) before Solent were due to play their next away game - at Herne Bay! With the National Cup match to follow that visit, Solent were faced with situation where match practice was in short supply.
A series of friendly games was quickly arranged, although it was difficult to find challenging opposition. On a Thursday evening, a Solent Stars side - which included Colin Irish for the first time - beat a REME team from Bracknell 100 - 70. Colin Irish was not playing National League basketball as a result of a whiplash accident suffered over the summer, but it was hoped that if he would have no ill effects after playing, he would consider signing for Solent. A second game arranged was against the Royal Corps of Transport and played at Fleming Park. Without Roy Lewis and Paul Philp, Solent were still far too strong for the visitors and won 100 - 46 (Rumsey 34, Barfoot 21). A third game, away against Oxford University, was also won although this time Solent were put to a more severe test before winning 81 - 72.
Preparations for the cup game were further interrupted when it was announced that Herne Bay had withdrawn from the league, leaving Solent without any meaningful fixture for four weeks prior to the National Cup game. However, there had been some important moves off-court that were of benefit to Solent Stars. Car firm Marshall Rolfe, through ex-Solent director Roger Nash, had agreed to sponsor the home National Cup match against Chiltern Fastbreak which meant that once more, Solent could move back into the whole arena for the first time in the season. Additionally another sponsorship had been secured through Gibraltar-based financial consultants Ocean Group which was headed by former Solent Stars director, Trevor Nichols.
Roy Lewis fights for the ball as Jason Colgan looks on
So it was that after three months of half hall ignominy at Fleming Park, Solent Stars once again warmed up on the court of the main arena for their Coca Cola National Cup First Round match against Chiltern Fastbreak from Division Three. Colin Irish had decided not to commit himself to competitive basketball following his accident so Mick Byrne started with his strongest five - Nic Burns (making a home debut), Paul Philp, Roy Lewis, Jon Rumsey and Jason Colgan. It soon became apparent that the five who started were far stronger than the starting five from the opponents. With the height of Burns posing numerous problems for Chiltern, Solent mopped up the rebounds at either end as the marched into a commanding halftime lead of 54 - 36. By then the match was virtually decided and Solent ensured that this was so with a flurry of early second half points. The final score was 112 - 71 and, in theory, a cup upset with the lower division team winning. Scorers in this important game for Solent were: Lewis 30, Rumsey 24, Bonnick 12, Barfoot 12, Morant 8, Colgan 6, Dowdall 4, Philp 4, Burns 2.
Solent clinched a place in the second round away to Leicester Riders. The last time the two teams had met in the equivalent competition was in the 1984 final in a packed house at London's Royal Albert Hall. Solent won then making them the first team to lift the trophy three years in succession and confirming their status as England's premier basketball outfit. Mark Saiers, one of those outstanding Stars of those heady days, had been present at Saturday's game against Chiltern and was one of the first to congratulate the club on its resurgence.
National interest in the club was such that following the cup win an article appeared in The Times …….
"As surviving members of the Solent Stars squad which defeated Leicester by 19 points to capture the cup for the third successive season almost seven years ago, Paul Philp and Roy Lewis will do well to purge themselves of nostalgic memories before the teams meet again in the Coca Cola Cup early next month. In 1984 Philp and Lewis were among the highest paid team in the land, which under the American coach, Jim Kelly, was certainly the most skilled. Now, according to Solent director, Jim Rumsey, the players are 'one step away from having to pay to play'.
The only option for the club after its latest and most severe financial crisis last summer following the withdrawal of sponsorship by Trevor Adams, the Bashley FC chairman, was to drop down from the Carlsberg First Division into the fourth division.
With the continued help of Lewis, scorer of 30 points on Saturday, Philp, who has appeared in more National League games than anyone, and Nic Burns, another long servant, Solent have prospered in the small time. They are top of the fourth division and their 112 - 71 victory over third division club Chiltern has set up the visit to Leicester.
'What we have had to do is to persuade the players to play for nothing,' Rumsey said. His son, Jonathan, a member of the England Under 22 squad and scorer of 24 points in the Chiltern game, is among the band of local youngsters contributing to Solent's existence at a lower level.
As someone who doubles up as the English Basket Ball Association's vice-president of development, Rumsey Senior is also delighted at the success of the club's enforced youth policy. 'In a sense, we have a situation we have always wanted - with local players.' "
The Christmas break followed Solent's cup success, so Solent's next match was the Coca Cola Second Round game in early January away to Leicester Riders. The timing was bad for Solent who were without any intervening fixture and only limited training opportunities because of the holiday season. A second blow for the team was the absence of team captain Paul Philp (holiday) and Jon Rumsey (illness).
With only three minutes to play, and despite their handicaps, Solent Stars found themselves just ten points behind and threatening to spring a cup upset at the Granby Halls, Leicester in front of a big crowd. However, three quick baskets from Leicester ensured that there was no cup upset as Solent - having previously wiped out most of a 30-point deficit in the game - lost by 17 points (72 - 89). With the exception of Roy Lewis and Nic Burns (playing in only his second match of the season) it was a very young squad that took the floor against the experienced Leicester team. Belief in themselves grew as Solent began to claw their way back into the game after trailing 32 - 58 at halftime. Lewis and Rob Bonnick spearheaded the Solent fight-back as at one stage they outscored Leicester 17 - 2. Just as impressive was Solent's defensive display which restricted Leicester to just 31 second-half points. Scorers in the game were: Lewis 18, Bonnick 16, Burns 10, Colgan 10, Metcalf 8, Barfoot 6, Dowdall 2 and Morant 2.
It was further cup action for Solent in their next game which was the home tie in the second round of the Founders Cup against Plympton. The visitors played in the Fourth Division (South West). In a match which heard the referees' whistles blowing at frequent intervals, both sides lost players on five fouls. For Solent it was Marc Barfoot and Jason Colgan who had to sit out from midway through the second half but, by then, Plympton had lost one influential player and had several others on four fouls. They were also hampered by having only seven players in total. Solent were 40 - 29 ahead at the break but once Plympton's heads went down, a free scoring second half saw Solent progress to the next round with a 113 - 73 win. At this match it was announced that Solent would be applying to join the National League Division Three in the forthcoming season.
Nearly two months had passed since Solent had played in a league game when they entertained Bristol Renegades at Fleming Park. Jon Rumsey returned to the team after illness but there were injuries to Roy Lewis, Jason Colgan and Nic Burns. Although the latter two did suit up for the game, it was left to the younger players once again to demonstrate their ability to play at this level. Bristol in third place were just ahead of Solent, who were quite a few games behind in the league programme. Jon Rumsey (20 points) and Rob Bonnick did most of the scoring as Solent ran out easy winners (100 - 62) to keep up their record of having reached three figures in all their home league matches.
Injuries plagued the team for the next game, away to Oxford Coyotees. Solent were without their three most experienced players, Paul Philp, Roy Lewis and Nic Burns. At first their experience was missed as Solent were unable to dictate the pace of the game when Oxford started off in high gear. Gradually, however, Solent came into the game and then took it over completely in the second half taking a first half lead of eight points to a comfortable winning margin of 37 points (94 - 57). Bonnick (20 points) and Rumsey (17) were the top scorers.
The next match was the Founders Cup quarter-final at Sutton. Sutton played in the London League and were currently lying third under the coaching of ex-England and Crystal Palace player, Richard Rudd. Solent's Jon Rumsey was working in Guernsey and would normally have been expected to stay the weekend. However his firm, Burnett Swayne, sportingly agreed to pay his fare home for the weekend so that he could play in the game. Roy Lewis had recovered from his back injury and he and Nic Burns were recalled to the team despite being short of match practice. Lewis' importance to Solent was that he gave them another option up front which had been lacking in recent matches. As usual he provided a regular supply of points as well as setting up others for baskets, notably Jason Colgan and Jon Rumsey. It was Colgan's three point shot on the buzzer at halftime that gave Solent a ten-point cushion against awkward, bustling opponents. Another burst of scoring just after halftime took Solent into a commanding 20 point lead which they were able to hold to the end of the match, winning 118 - 94. There was even an opportunity for coach Byrne to give his whole bench court time and they responded by all of them getting on the scoresheet. The leading point scorers were Lewis 27, Colgan 27 and Rumsey 21.
A week without a game followed and then Solent were at home to their only conquerors so far in the league season, Oxford Park. In the earlier game at Oxford, Solent had only managed 17 first half points. At Fleming Park, Solent had established a lead by halftime that was more than that first game total (55 - 35). Nor did the team ease up as they sought to put that earlier defeat behind them. Roy Lewis, who had missed the earlier game, scored 30 points in Solent's 127 - 79 win.
As Solent's success began to be noticed, the crowds started to rise in number at the home matches and the biggest crowd of the season assembled to see Solent's next home game, the Founders Cup semi-final against Hounslow. The visitors had been finalists in the previous season and were an experienced side. A close game was expected and in the first half fortunes swayed this way and that. Solent initially looked disorganised at the back and this coupled with frustration at some refereeing decisions meant that with four minutes of the first half remaining only one point separated the teams. Enter Martin Dowdall. He was successful in countering the Hounslow zone defence with accurate outside shooting and when Hounslow moved out to nullify that threat other Solent players were free to drive through to score. The result was a 62 - 41 halftime lead! Roy Lewis contributed 46 points and Jon Rumsey 29 plus some important rebounds. The final score of 134 - 82 proved a fair reflection and gave the crowd much to cheer about.
The very next day Solent travelled to Swindon Rakers. Already missing Jason Colgan whose ankle injury had kept him out of the semi-final tie, Solent were also without Nic Burns and Roy Lewis. Any chance of a form upset was ruled out by a devastating performance by the Solent side who beat the hapless Wiltshire team 107 - 35 with Jon Rumsey (25) and Rob Bonnick (20) as the top scorers. This was Solent's seventh successive league win.
For the next home game, Solent exorcised the spirit of a traumatic year by putting themselves in reach of a league and cup double with a sparkling win over Camberley. All ten players got on the scoresheet as Solent virtually wrapped up the National League Division Four (South) title by beating the only team who harboured any hopes of catching them. Not even the late withdrawal of Nic Burns (chicken pox) could blunt Solent's cutting edge as they romped home in front of their largest crowd of the season - just under 400. Solent hit Camberley with a devastating scoring burst seven minutes from the interval when two three pointers from Martin Dowdall helped his side register 12 points without reply as they motored to a 53 - 34 halftime lead. Camberley rallied at the start of the second half but never got within 12 points of Solent. Solent were even able to maintain their home record of passing the 100 mark in every game as they won 103 - 80 (Lewis 24, Rumsey 21).
Back row: Keith Moir, Mark Barfoot, Steve Chant, Rob Bonnick, Martin Dowdall, Nic Burns, Paul Philp, Mick Byrne
Front row: Roy Lewis, Jason Colgan, Pete Harrington, Joe Morant, Jon Rumsey
Four days later, on a Wednesday evening, Solent were back at Fleming Park to play in a game which would confirm their league championship. The opponents were Swindon Rakers who must have felt overawed by the occasion as Solent piled on the pressure to run up their highest score of the season to win 145 - 70. Roy Lewis recovered his form to hit 51 points and thereby nearly threaten the club record. Jon Rumsey (22) and Joe Morant (19) also figured in the scoring and there were points also for a 14-year-old Mark Jackson making his debut.
Next came the first leg of the Founders Cup Final away to Liverpool. The Founders Cup is a competition for non-league clubs. But it was not the first time that the teams had met in a cup final. Ten years before Solent had defeated Liverpool 119 - 78 in the final of the National Trophy.
Nic Burns returned from his bout of chicken pox and it was his influence at both ends of the court that enabled Solent Stars to gain the early initiative. After the team missed several early lay-ups, three successive scores from Jon Rumsey steadied Solent who moved to a 24 - 12 lead forcing Liverpool to call a timeout. At one stage Liverpool were 17 points behind in the first half, but then staged a rally to come more into the game. Solent were in no mood to be denied, however, and once again a quick burst of scoring early in the second half took the game out of Liverpool's reach. The highlight of the second half was a 30 foot defence splitting pass by Jason Colgan which Jon Rumsey then laid up for Nic Burns to dunk. Victory by 102 - 79 (Lewis 31) set up Solent for the home leg.
Over 600 spectators turned up at Fleming Park to watch the second leg of the Founders Cup Final for which Solent Stars held a 23-point advantage from the first leg at Liverpool. It was not a classic game as Solent barely moved into top gear as they saw off the Merseysiders 103 - 76. Jon Rumsey, who top-scored with 19 points on the night, was named man-of-the-match. The biggest cheer was reserved for Roy Lewis who had been voted by the fans as the winner of the Player Of the Year award (Jon Rumsey was runner-up). Coach Byrne was the first to admit that the performance did not rank among their best. Only Rumsey's consistent shooting kept them one step ahead of Liverpool in a scrappy low scoring first half which finished 47 - 33 in Solent's favour. Jason Colgan, Nic Burns and Rob Bonnick all fouled out in a physical second phase, but Solent's strength pulled them through to a commanding 50-point aggregate victory. The scorers in the game were: Rumsey 19, Lewis 17, Colgan 13, Morant 12, Dowdall 10, Bonnick 10, Philp 10, Burns 8 and Chant 4.
Photo taken after the Founders Cup victory
The final action for the Solent Stars season was to take part in the Play Off Championships for the winners of the eight Division Four Regional Leagues, at Melton Mowbray over a weekend. Coach Mick Byrne's team selection was hindered by the absence of second top scorer Jon Rumsey (viral illness) and an ankle injury to Roy Lewis. This meant that Lewis was unable to take full part in the mini league competition format of the first day.
The first opponents were Hyson Green, Nottingham, who had won the tournament in the preceding year. They were effectively eliminated in the first year of their defence of the title as Solent strolled to a 67 - 48 victory. Martin Dowdall punished a succession of technical fouls by sinking four consecutive free throws in a 17 point haul in the second half. An impressive defensive performance from Marc Barfoot provided the foundation of Solent's 69 - 42 success over City of Leeds. The final Pool game threatened to be the most troublesome as Flaxman - winners of the Central London League - restricted Solent to a two-point halftime lead. Ten points without reply after the break put Solent in a commanding position and with Jason Colgan scoring 21 points and Roy Lewis 15, Solent ran out comfortable winners (63 - 44).
Sunday's semi-final paired Solent with Liverpool! Although Solent led from the start, they found their advantage narrowed to a single point midway through the second half, before Liverpool levelled the scores at 39 apiece. In a tense finish, Solent enjoyed slightly more luck in front of basket where Nic Burns swept up a number of rebounds in a 19-point tally. Although Paul Philp was called for a technical foul near the end, Liverpool were unable to make use of the possession as Solent won 51 - 46.
The final paired Solent Stars against a strong Warley line up. The team from Birmingham included former Birmingham player Ian Pollard and ex- Portsmouth and Leicester player, Jimmy Smith. Warley led 19 - 24 at halftime and were still in front midway through the second half as Solent struggled to retrieve the deficit. In a defence dominated match, Solent proved to be the more resolute as they denied Warley a basket for seven minutes while establishing a lead of their own. Twelve unanswered points put Solent in firm control and they refused to release their grip on the match as they recorded a 46 - 37 triumph. Man-of-the-match Jason Colgan scored 18 points whilst the only other scorers in the final were Lewis 13, Burns 9 and Bonnick 6.
Shortly after Solent had picked up their third trophy for the season it was confirmed by the English Basketball Association that their application for inclusion in National League Division Three for the following season had been successful.Solent Stars were back on the national scene.
(Division 4 South)