Solent Stars - Memories

by Paul Coates

Paul Coates epitomises the many fans that have followed basketball in the last two decades. Here he writes of his experiences with the local teams.

"There have been three constant threads running through my 20 years as a basketball fan - Solent Stars, Colin Irish and Alan Cunningham.

So when the two legends ended their competitive careers at Wembley wearing Solent vests it wove them together perfectly. Panji Grainger's knee injury ended their hopes of going out in a blaze of glory so it was great that we were able to give them a proper send-off in their farewell matches at Solent and Portsmouth.

For although Solent was the first club I ever supported - on Channel 4 as a 13-year-old in 1982 - the fact that I live in Portsmouth meant Alan and Colin were the stars of the first one I saw play live. And as Solent's fortunes waxed and waned I tended to alternate spells of watching them with others of watching the dynamic duo, first at Portsmouth and then Worthing.

But them all coming together successfully for three years meant Fleming Park became the place to be again - as it was during those early television years of Mark Saiers, Karl Tatham, TJ Robinson, the cliff-hanging cup final win over Birmingham and the trophy treble in 1984.

I kept my affection for Solent during Portsmouth's three-year existence - so when Portsmouth edged them out 84-81 at the Mountbatten Centre in December 1987 I was relieved title-chasing Pompey won but disappointed that Solent just missed a major upset.

By then I was attending Fleming Park regularly too and finally saw Solent win with Phil Smith's famous step-back three-pointer on the buzzer against Leicester after the clock ran backwards.

After Solent left the top flight I didn't return until 1992 when Jason Colgan's team won Division 3 at Wembley. Division 2 began okay but as Solent struggled our travelling clan followed Cunningham and Irish to Worthing. I thought Solent needed a miracle after winless relegation in 1997 - and it happened.

I knew AC had gone to Solent but was amazed to see Colin there to complete the double act again! The first campaign was exhibition stuff as they were several classes above their rivals - great entertainment that gave us the title and playoff victory in Manchester. But I rate winning the league in 1998-99 as Solent's greatest achievement since '84.

When Swoop and Colin's Worthing veterans completed a Wembley hat-trick in 1995 we said: "They're not old, they're experienced!"; a motto illustrated in the pandemonium of Plymouth at home - working a play at the end of a fantastic game and battling to score the crucial bucket off a third rebound!

Circumstances worked against them in the following year but there were great nights to prove that with everything equal they were still the best at that level - the third quarter blitz and fourth quarter keep-ball to stun Derby, and the shut-out of Worthing in the closing minutes of the playoff semi-final.

To Alan and Colin - thanks for making Solent winners again, and thanks for giving us 15 years of great south coast basketball that will be impossible to follow."

No comments: