Solent Stars 1989/90 Season

Back row: Drew Sewell, Roy Lewis, Nic Burns, Mike Spaid, Mark Scott, Paul Philp, Mick Byrne
Front row: Jon Rumsey, Martin Dowdall, Joe Morant, Jason Colgan

'Solent Live to Fight Another Day' read the Eastleigh Weekly News headline on September 13th 1989. The doubts over the summer had centred around Solent's ability to find the finance for the season once A&B Homes had pulled the plug on a second season's sponsorship. Their withdrawal plunged the club into another desperate search and support was eventually forthcoming in the shape of a £30,000 financial package provided by four local businessmen - who chose to remain anonymous. This money enabled Solent to hastily pull together a squad to play in the forthcoming season.

The task of assembling this group of players was given to Mick Byrne, who at the time had been coaching a successful Portsmouth Junior team. Efforts were made to secure the services of Billy Hungrecker from Worthing as Solent's sixth coach in as many seasons. When this failed, Solent turned to Mick Byrne to run the squad, having done most of the recruiting over the last few weeks.

Gone from last year were Phil Smith and Paul Stimpson. Still with Solent were Mark Scott, Drew Sewell, Nic Burns, Jason Colgan and Steve Carter. Rejoining the squad was Roy Lewis. 6' 10" England international, Mike Spaid, also signed from Leicester whilst a new American, Dennis Davis also came on board. Davis, a 6' 2" guard, had been spotted by Mick Byrne playing in a tournament in Ireland in the previous season.

Not only had Solent had an upheaval during the summer, but the Carlsberg League itself had changed dramatically. Gone were the two Scottish clubs (Glasgow Rangers returned to Kingston), Hemel, Crystal Palace and Olympic City. An addition to the league was London Docklands who were formed to play at the new showpiece centre, the London Arena. This left a league of eight clubs who were to play each other four times in the season, which would begin in October. Prior to that matches in the Nat West Trophy would take place. Coach Byrne stated that he would use those matches to weld the squad together to help prepare for the league programme. In the National Cup Solent had been given an away draw at Corby, which was to prove an important match in the annals of Solent's history.

An initial outing to Worthing, where Solent lost a friendly match 89 - 101, paved the way for the start of the competitive season.

The first competitive match was a Nat West Trophy game at Fleming Park against Bracknell. The home side's lack of match practice showed as they tried vainly to keep pace with the well-drilled Bracknell squad. Only Drew Sewell impressed for Solent as he scored 30 points in their 90 - 116 defeat. Newcomer Dennis Davis looked ill at ease in this company and only notched eight points overall. Mark Scott weighed in with 18 points but the rest of the Solent players could not contribute many points. Mike Spaid picked up an early season groin injury that kept him out of the game for a long period.

Solent's next match was at the new London Arena against London Docklands. The occasion was also being used as a publicity venture for the Docklands Corporation. So it was that the audience was comprised mainly of business people who had little knowledge of basketball and even less in the game in progress. The clink of wine glasses was often louder than the referees' whistles. Solent actually led an exciting game until the closing seconds when London snatched victory with a late basket. Even then Solent nearly levelled but Mike Spaid's shot rolled off the rim to complete a miserable evening for the visitors. Drew Sewell led the scoring (25) but did not play in the latter part of the game having cannoned into a wall behind the team bench whilst chasing a ball to keep it in play. Dennis Davis picked up three early fouls which meant he spent a long time on the bench.

Back row: Dave Heron, Derek Etherden, Jon Rumsey, Mark Scott, Mike Spaid, Joe Morant, Marc Barfoot, Mick Byrne, David Owen, Dave Gwyther
Front row: Roy Lewis, Drew Sewell, Nic Burns, Gary Johnson, Paul Philp
On floor: Ryan Owen, Dave Moss

Solent went into the third match of the Nat West Trophy against the only other team in their pool, Kingston. The team that last season had been Glasgow Rangers - and won the title - soon established their lead in the game, even without Alan Cunningham (injured). Leading 43 - 55 at the interval, Kingston did not miss a shot for the first five minutes of the second half and went on to win 89 - 108. Coach Byrne was hoping to persuade Colin Irish - a spectator at the game - to join Solent. Although Irish trained with the Solent squad he was reluctant to commit to the club since he had suffered a whiplash injury in a car accident in America over the summer.

There was success for Solent at the fourth time of asking, when London Docklands visited Fleming Park for the return Nat West Trophy game. The noteworthy event in the game was the 50 points scored by Drew Sewell as he neared the 53-point record set by Phil Smith against BCP London in January of the previous year. Coach Byrne was anxious to stress that it had been a team performance, nonetheless. Mike Spaid added a further 20 points and Dennis Davis scored 14 in Solent's 105 - 83 win. However, as Solent faced their first league fixture, Davis was considered a doubtful starter. It seemed that whilst playing in Ireland he had not applied for a work permit and finally the authorities had caught up with him.

Davis was absent for the first league game, once again against London Docklands, at Fleming Park. Unfortunately for Solent he was joined by Drew Sewell who had twisted his ankle whilst moving a pile of bricks. Nonetheless, after beating them by 22 just one week before, Solent should have been confident of a win. By halftime they led 38 - 33 and this lead had been extended (69 - 58) with just eight minutes remaining. Disaster struck when Martin Dowdall, the replacement for Davis, was stripped twice inside his own half and London added points. In an incredible five minutes they scored 21 points as Solent's defence fell apart. Mike Spaid was top scorer with 26 and Nic Burns added 22 more, but Solent lost 81 - 90.

Whilst negotiations were still taking place about the work permit for Dennis Davis, he and the club agreed to terminate his contract. He wanted to return home to take care of his sick mother and the club agreed to release him.

Davis' last minute decision to return home left no opportunity to find a replacement before Solent's visit to Kingston for the Nat West Trophy return match. Extended court time was given to Martin Dowdall, Jason Colgan and Jon Rumsey as Solent battled to stay with the powerful play of Alton Byrd and Joel Moore. Drew Sewell returned from injury to score 13 points, but it was Mark Scott who led the way with 20, whilst Jason Colgan netted 13 points. It was all in vain as Solent went down by the biggest margin of defeat so far in the season (74 - 108).

Another defeat followed at Bracknell as Solent ended their interest in the Nat West Trophy. Solent lost 96 - 121 but Drew Sewell scored 31 points.

The next league match was to prove one for the record books as Solent played host to Kingston. Unfortunately the record concerned was the margin of defeat suffered by Solent. Never before had the club lost by as many as 54 points which was the margin of this defeat (76 - 130). Without Mike Spaid's (injured) height, Solent had no answer to Alan Cunningham and Micah Blunt. For the first part of the game teenagers Joe Morant and Jon Rumsey fought hard and with Mark Scott and Roy Lewis collecting points, only two points separated the teams (32 - 34) within six minutes of halftime. But those six minutes were to prove expensive as Kingston piled on the pressure to lead 39 - 57 at halftime. If those few minutes were poor for Solent, the first ten minutes of the second half were abject as Kingston outscored Solent 2 - 40! It was not surprising that the largest crowd of the season were seen streaming from the courtside minutes before the end. They must have looked enquiringly at another spectator at the game - Phil Smith.

Phil Smith had tried to find a continental team for the new season but had not been successful. He was persuaded to re-sign for Solent after their poor start to the season. Smith was to be joined by another American, Larry Hotaling. Hotaling was a 27-year-old, 6' 7" forward who had played for the first division team, Corby two years previously. He had been the top rebounder and second leading point scorer in the division. He was unable to find a Carlsberg League team during the previous season so had joined the Harlem Globetrotters tour as one of the supporting players.

Both the players had watched Solent's humiliation at the hands of Kingston and both were selected to play in Solent's next game - away to London Docklands. In the event, the result of this league game was the same as the Nat West Trophy game six weeks earlier, a two point defeat for Solent (86 - 88). 23 points from Phil Smith proved not quite enough to reverse the earlier result. Hotaling had a quiet game, only scoring five points. Mike Spaid was still not fully fit but had added ten points to the Solent total. The team had been delayed by traffic in central London for this mid-week game and it took until the second half before they recovered their composure and took the lead in the game. This lead was held until the closing seconds of the game when poor defensive work allowed London to score two quick baskets to seal the victory.

Solent then played away to Leicester after a ten day break. The result was disappointing with a 78 - 100 loss recorded. Coach Mick Byrne kept the team in the changing room for a long time after the game. Solent had completely lost their way after Phil Smith was withdrawn early in the second half with a hamstring strain.

Finally Solent tasted success in the league when, on the next evening, they played host to Leicester. This game, played in mid-November, was only Solent's second home league success in the year. What a difference 24 hours made as Solent tore into Leicester and did not let them settle. Even when Leicester went ahead on a couple of occasions in the second half, Solent came back to re-establish their lead. Mike Spaid helped himself to 23 points against his colleagues of last season and Drew Sewell scored 19 and offered plenty of encouragement from the bench when not on court. Phil Smith was again withdrawn from the fray five minutes from the end after he had scored 26 points but was reduced to hobbling around the court.

Having lost to Kingston already in the season by 19, 34 and then 54 points, it was a creditable performance that Solent put up on their next league visit to Kingston. This time the gap was only 13 points (91 - 104) which was worthy of note as Solent were without Spaid (groin strain) and lost Phil Smith five minutes into the second half with the inevitable hamstring pull. At that point, Kingston had opened up their largest lead in the game, but Solent were able to dig into their resources - having gained confidence from the Leicester result - to make sure that they stayed in touch until the end of the game.

Once again injuries plagued Solent as Mike Spaid and Phil Smith were both unavailable for the trip to Derby. This fixture should have provided an opportunity for Solent to post a first away win of the season. However, without Smith's scoring and Spaid's rebounding Solent never looked capable of upsetting the home team. Derby led throughout and Solent eventually lost 73 - 87.

The longest trip of the season - to Sunderland - followed for Solent. Still without Smith and Spaid, the portents did not look good. Surprisingly, for a team rooted firmly at the bottom of the league, Solent had let Larry Hotaling go prior to the trip north. Despite his success in Division One with Corby, Hotaling had made no impact in his five games with Solent. Their defeat at the hands of second-in-the-table Sunderland was almost inevitable once the depleted Solent squad started the game. In the event a 21-point gap (76 - 97) away to a top team was not as bad as it could have been.

Although Mick Byrne, the coach, considered his team capable of a mid table position, David Ogilvie writing in the Eastleigh Weekly News reported that those who turned up to watch the home game against Manchester would have seen no reason at all to subscribe to that view. "What they saw in fact was a shameful performance that was entirely consistent with their current tenancy of bottom place in the league." Coach Byrne had taken a gamble with both Smith and Spaid in asking them to play, but it was painfully obvious from the outset that neither would be able to contribute much to the game. Indeed, Smith only scored eight points before being withdrawn and Spaid was unable to turn quickly at all and in no time reached foul trouble. Manchester, on the other hand, produced a good team performance that demonstrated why they had lost but once in the league programme. Solent crashed 89 - 111.

Phil Smith's continuing injury problem would only be cured by rest and the Solent board decided that since he had missed four of the last five matches, and the prognosis did not look good, they would have to release him. This hammer blow for coach Byrne happened at the end of the away match at Bracknell and it was left to Byrne to break the news to the player at the post-game reception. Earlier in the evening, Solent had lost their 15th out of 17 matches played so far in the season. The 103 - 121 defeat was also their 18th defeat out of the 19 away games played in 1989. One crumb of comfort was that Solent passed the three figure mark for only the second time in the season. With just a few weeks left to recruit another American - three had now left in the season - Mick Byrne decided he would visit the Club Championship Tournament to be held over the Christmas break.

Prior to that event was the small matter of hosting the current league leaders, Kingston, at Fleming Park. Without an American in their side, Solent battled gamely against the star-studded visitors. Had they not done so the final difference of 16 points (83 - 99) would probably have been trebled. As it was they only just averted a rout. Midway through the second half, Solent were trailing by 32 points and facing another humiliating reverse but determination, aided by a touch of carelessness by the visitors, ensured that the result was at least respectable. Alan Cunningham led the Kingston scoring with 28 points whilst Roy Lewis (24), Drew Sewell (23) and Mike Spaid (22) all scored well for Solent.

Meanwhile, events were happening on the national scene. The Carlsberg League had only eight clubs and two of those were expressing doubts over the long term future. A report had been commissioned into the future of the basketball's league structure. Solent had to put out a denial that they were considering becoming a part-time club with entry into the National League - effectively a second division - from the start of the following season. Director Jim Rumsey was reported as saying, "It looks as if we are saying one thing and doing another. By preparing an application for the National League we are covering our options, with the current set-up in widely acknowledged disarray."

It was to the National League that Solent went for their next match, an away game in the Coca Cola Cup at Corby. Nothing in the preceding events so far in the season could have prepared anyone for the events that followed. Gary Johnson was the fourth American signed by Solent. He had, until released at Christmas, been the player/coach at Leicester. Solent fans would have seen him years before as the force behind Calderdale in their Carlsberg League days. This was his debut match for Solent and he scored 12 points and contributed 22 assists in the game. Without a win since November, Solent simply tore into their lower league opponents. Even though Solent were bottom of the Carlsberg League, the difference in class was simply astonishing as Solent piled on the points. In the end, it was Solent's biggest ever win (157 - 57) whilst the number of points conceded equalled the club's all-time defensive best. The 157 points scored by Solent was their highest ever, but still someway short of breaking the British record. The 76 - 34 halftime lead set the scene as Johnson prompted and probed and Corby had no answer. The lion's share of Solent's scoring was done by Drew Sewell who established a club record with his 59 points - 2 more than the entire Corby team. Mike Spaid, still struggling with injury contributed 16 first half points before sitting out the second. Jon Rumsey scored 16 and debutee Marc Barfoot weighed in with 8 points.

Returning to Fleming Park for a league match against Derby, Solent's new found confidence helped them to an 84 - 77 win. A fairly sparse crowd had watched as Solent led throughout. A stormy finish ensued as Derby completely lost their discipline and Trevor Gordon and Ron Whitehead unsuccessfully argued against a series of referee decisions. Although they narrowed Solent's lead to a precarious five points inside the last two minutes, two baskets from Mike Spaid gave Solent the win (Sewell 29, Lewis 20).

The next visitors to Fleming Park, just three days later, were Sunderland. Drew Sewell was again in scoring mode at the start of the game and contributed 31 points in the first half as Solent at one time led by nine points. But Sunderland came back into the game, led by Russ Saunders, and were comfortably ahead at 88 - 100 towards the end of the game when - encouraged by the strong home vocal support - Solent rattled in four successive baskets to finally lose by a narrow margin (102 - 107).

Ten points in the final 90 seconds of the match enabled Solent Stars to survive a difficult second round Coca Cola Cup match at Hemel. The home team were now playing in the National League, but had enough experience to man mark Sewell and Johnson and make life difficult for Solent. At halftime the visitors were ahead 47 - 38 but the home team fought back and were level (81 - 81) with two minutes remaining. A quick basket from Sewell and a three pointer from Mike Spaid gave Solent a breathing space. As Hemel pressed forward, Mark Scott got in behind their defence to add two more points and the killer touch was added by Gary Johnson's three pointer on the buzzer.

The second away trip to Sunderland awaited the Solent team for a league game. Sunderland's Clyde Vaughan had recently been named Player of the Year and he illustrated why he had received that award when he scored 40 points in the game against Solent. Not that he had it all his own way. Solent's new spirit shone through as they pulled back from a 67 - 85 deficit to level the scores (104 - 104) at full time with a last gasp basket from Mike Spaid. Spaid scored the first basket of the overtime period but then fouled out. When Mark Scott also fouled out soon after, things looked grim for Solent. In the end it was poor defensive work that allowed Ken Nottage to score the final basket of the game and condemn Solent to another defeat (114 - 116) as Johnson's final attempt from the halfway line fell some way short. The Solent scorers were: Sewell 34, Lewis 25, Scott 15, Johnson 12, Burns 6 and Rumsey 2.

Gary Johnson

With no league form to consider, Solent's only ambition could be a good Coca Cola Cup run. The third round was an away draw at Derby. Since Solent's recent home win over Derby, one of the Derby stalwarts - Trevor Gordon - had been sacked because of discipline problems. Because of the importance of the game, the Solent club hired a coach to convey them to the game. Unfortunately, what should have been a relaxing ride for the squad in the 53-seater coach that the company had sent turned out to be anything but. The driver did not apparently know the way to Derby and at one stage Solent found themselves passing the Hemel court where they had played the previous round. The ensuing time taken meant that the last part of the trip on the M1 was done in a madly swaying vehicle that arrived at the court with only a few minutes to spare before tip-off. Whether or not Drew Sewell had been affected by the trip or not is difficult to say but it was the fifteenth minute before he was able to put any points on the board. Only Mike Spaid (25 points) produced anything like his true form as Solent slid to an 82 - 98 defeat.

Solent bounced back with a good first half performance against Bracknell in the next home league game. Leading 60 - 56 at the interval, Drew Sewell had hardly missed a shot as the team were fired up by the large home crowd. The second half was a different affair as Bracknell stamped their mark on the game and despite two Mick Byrne timeouts, the game slid away from Solent until a late rally brought them to a narrower defeat than before (105 - 112). Drew Sewell (31) and Gary Johnson (24) led the Solent scoring.

Another defeat (71 - 95) followed at the hands of Leicester in the Granby Halls. It was a poor game between the two sides at the bottom of the league. Drew Sewell gave a lacklustre performance and only managed six points in the first half that left Solent trailing 33 - 47. He was nonetheless Solent's top scorer (22 points) by the end of the game.

Four days later the two teams met again, this time at Fleming Park. Coach Byrne said that he kept the players for a longer than usual talk prior to the game to extol to the players that they should show more pride and effort in their performance. This seemed to have the desired effect as by halftime they led 57 - 40 and were able to maintain their momentum to win 98 - 85 with Drew Sewell scoring 31 of the points.

Next came an away trip to Kingston, who were suffering several injuries and had just lost to Sunderland. With Mike Spaid back to full form Solent were hoping to dent the Kingston confidence. But in a game that followed a similar pattern in both halves, Kingston always held the upper hand. Drew Sewell only managed eight points. Roy Lewis was forced out of the game in the second half with an injured thumb, but not before he had contributed 23 points. Extended court time was given to Joe Morant and Jon Rumsey as Solent's foul count mounted up.

Off court Solent's problems were also mounting as a move to give Solent Stars cut price use of Fleming Park Leisure Centre was challenged at an Eastleigh Borough Council meeting. The reduced charge concession would be worth £3500 to Solent Stars who would be paying £5000 to use the Centre on 20 occasions for matches and twice weekly for training. In the previous season the Council had waived the charges, but if done again it would be equivalent to an £8500 sum. A vote to axe all the subsidies was defeated when it was pointed out that most of the players were local and the club currently had financial difficulties.

A controversial basket at the end of the game gave Solent a close league win over Derby (93 - 92) when a basket interference call was given on Kenny Scott who swatted Gary Johnson's shot away. With only three seconds left on the clock when the shot was taken, this left Derby - who hotly protested the decision - with no time to take a shot of their own. Roy Lewis (25) and Mark Scott (23) had kept Solent in touch throughout.

The fortunes were reversed a few days later when Solent lost to Derby (81 - 90).

Throughout the largely disappointing season coach Mick Byrne had frequently said that his inconsistent Solent Stars side was capable of beating one of the top four sides in the league. His faith was impressively rewarded as Solent produced the most powerful display of the season at home to Sunderland. Admittedly Sunderland were without top scorer Clyde Vaughan (injured). Driven forward by man of the match, Roy Lewis, Solent led for all but a few of the opening minutes as they chased and harried the Wearsiders to only their sixth defeat of the season (114 - 105). With Solent's defence providing some unaccustomed solidity, Byrne's side found themselves an astonishing seventeen points clear at one stage. Sure enough, near the end of the game the Sunderland team had narrowed the gap to just six points but then Mark Scott broke free on two occasions to score and with Sewell adding another basket, Solent completed a satisfying win. Sewell (33), Roy Lewis (27) and Mike Spaid (24) - who was playing despite a stomach upset - were the main scorers.

A fourth successive home win was achieved when Solent overcame London Docklands 124 - 88. The London team arrived without their two American players. The team had only won two league games - both against Solent - but were never going to improve on that record once Solent exposed their defensive weaknesses to establish a 58 - 41 lead at halftime. The home team then went on to record their highest score of the season, which might have been higher had not coach Byrne given valuable extended court time to youngsters Martin Dowdall and Jon Rumsey. Drew Sewell was top scorer with 41 points and there were nine Solent scorers on the scoresheet. This was Solent's biggest win of the season in league matches.

The next home game was against championship chasing Bracknell, a team not beaten by Solent in three years. Having led by fifteen points in the first half, before cancelling out an 11 point second half deficit, Solent seemed poised for a fifth successive home win until foul trouble denied them the services of Mike Spaid with seven minutes remaining. He was quickly followed by Roy Lewis as Solent had levelled the scores for the eighth time in the second half (92 - 92). It was ironic that Solent, who had committed far less fouls than Bracknell, should lose two key players whilst Bracknell lost none. Drew Sewell (33) had kept Solent in contention until the end but Solent just lost out (99 - 103).

The teams met again on the following day at Bracknell and the full extent of Solent's efforts on the previous night was noticeable as they were unable to raise their game because of tiredness against a Bracknell team that had strength in depth. The score of the game that was Solent's sixth successive defeat at the hands of Bracknell was 91 - 115.

The lack of depth in the Solent squad had often been evident throughout the season and so it continued right up to the last home match, against Manchester. The visitors had already obtained third place in the league before the back-to-back fixtures with Solent and were looking to finish in second place to league winners, Kingston. Without the injured Roy Lewis, Solent looked to Drew Sewell to keep them in touch and he responded in typical fashion by scoring 34 points. With teenager Jon Rumsey offering the kind of useful assistance that belied his relative inexperience and Mike Spaid turning in another strong performance, Solent matched Manchester for long periods of the game. Once again Spaid fouled out, this time with thirteen minutes remaining. With Nic Burns struggling for form and Gary Johnson conceding a club record 14 turnovers, coach Mick Byrne was forced to turn to the bench - where he found only youngsters available. Hard though the likes of Marc Barfoot, Joe Morant and Jon Rumsey battled they were no match for Manchester's seasoned professionals. Having closed the gap to 80 - 82, Solent scored only three baskets in the final nine minutes to lose 86 - 109.

Once again, for the second year running, Drew Sewell was the supporters' choice as Player of the Year. Solent also took the opportunity to announce at the presentation that in the coming season a second team would be formed to play in the National League to mark the number of talented young players in the area. This decision may have proved to be a rather presumptuous one, as later events would reveal.
Gary 'Cat' Johnson, Mark Scott and Drew Sewell were all chosen for the South All Star team to play in the match against the North at Leicester.

The final game of the league season was at Manchester. The home team, now runners-up in the Carlsberg League, paid particular attention to Gary Johnson and as a result his flow of defence splitting passes was reduced to a trickle. Unusually Mike Spaid (33) outscored Drew Sewell (32) but without the injured Roy Lewis, Solent were reduced in their scoring effectiveness and went down 95 - 119.

What was not known at the time was that the fixture in Manchester was to mark the end of an era. This would be the last time that the team would play in the top flight of English Basketball after a decade that had seen them win all the major honours on the national stage.

(Division 1)
Played Won Lost For Against Difference Points
1 Kingston 28 25 3 2852 2406 +446 50
2 Manchester Giants 28 21 7 2758 2437 +321 42
3 Sunderland 76ers 28 20 8 2752 2592 +160 40
4 Bracknell Tigers 28 20 8 2850 2577 +273 40
5 Derby Rams 28 10 18 2385 2562 -177 20
6 Leicester Riders 28 7 21 2437 2476 -39 14
7 Solent Stars 28 7 21 2558 2823 -265 14
8 London Docklands 28 2 21 2128 2847 -719 4

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