Solent Stars - Memories

by Bob Everett

It's funny how picking up a phone can change your working life sometimes. If I hadn't picked up the phone in the Southern Evening Echo Sports Department early in 1980, someone else would probably have been the paper's first Solent Stars basketball reporter - and I would have missed out.

Picking up the phone led to three years of helter skelter, often crazy, work for me. Almost always fun too. The phone call was from a man called Harry Smith. He told me he was creating a team which was the future of basketball, oh, and buying the old Pirelli club in Southampton to turn it into a Health Club - which he saw as a sort of base for the team.

He sounded a bit nutty to me, but others in the room knew him as a wealthy enthusiast, so what the hell, I went along to a game. I was hooked instantly. The atmosphere at Fleming Park, even at that early stage, was pretty charged - the coach, Tom Wisman, had a touch of class (I still have some basketball books that he let me borrow to help learn the game - sorry Tom!), and so did the players. Jimmie Guymon, Mark Saiers, Karl Tatham, Ken Walton and Paul Philp wasn't a bad starting five for a Division 2 side!

I realised how good when they came within three points of beating Team Fiat, then the top team in the country, in the cup.

Promotion was a certainty, and cigar-smoking, Rolls Royce driving Harry Smith was good copy in the unlikely event that the team flagged.

It was also clear that Harry was putting his money where his mouth was - players like these cost money. Marvellous Marvin Johnson, (perhaps the best shooter English basketball has ever accommodated?) probably cost even more the following season as Solent won the Cup and went so, so close to winning the league and bombed in the play-offs. (Marvin departed for the Philippines).

One player, who shall remain nameless, told me that the team spent enough of Harry's money on petrol for their team cars in the first six months to fly a rocket to the moon, and Saturday night at the Solent Health Club was generally party time after a home game.

The game may not have been football, but it had pizzazz, it had live Channel Four coverage (how did the safety regulations at Fleming Park cope with all those people at those Monday night televised games?), and it was FUN!

Other highlights for me: being mistaken for Steve Fitzsimons by a national newspaper when I had a barny with Harry Smith after a game at Warrington (headline read something like "Coach and Chairman in bust up"). European nights, when Jim Kelly took over the reins, and Stars went so close to conquering Europe. Winning everything in '83. The characters - crazy Ken Pemberton, TJ Robinson, always worth a quote. The remarkable consistency of Mark Saiers on court (has there been a better centre in British basketball?)

Biggest disappointments: Not making the trip to Milan for a European semi-final first leg when Solent Stars destroyed the best team in Europe at the time (and had their bus stoned on the way out of the place!). And watching as the money ran out, and the steam ran out of the team.

Proudest moments: Writing Karl Tatham's Player of the Year tribute for the Wembley programme (1981?). Watching Tatham cut the net at the Royal Albert Hall after joining BBC Radio Solent as Sports Producer and commentating on yet another Solent Cup final triumph at the Albert Hall.

Thanks for the memories!

Bob Everett, TV producer, BBC South

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