Worthing Thunder’s season, claims Gary Smith, has been “a marathon, not a sprint.” But could this weekend mark the final lap of the club’s stint in the British Basketball League?

The smart money says yes. It is widely expected that Saturday’s game against Cheshire Jets will be the last BBL tie in the town, at least for now, before the Thunder – sitting second from bottom – bow out 24 hours later in Plymouth.

It is not cheap to run a top flight team, even with few imports and a coach who takes charge only when his teaching job permits, following mid-week road games via the Internet rather than from the sidelines.

That regular absenteeism has been tough, Smith admits. “Regardless of the fact that it’s a part-time role, you still think about it on a full-time basis. In mid-week, on Friday’s it’s been impossible. My Year-11s are about to leave school and they need me there.”

Many of them will be too young to know the full extent of the BBL’s proud tradition in Worthing where the Bears were once dominant through players such as Alan Cunningham and Colin Irish.

Formed in 1973, moving through the divisions, their fortunes peaked in 1993 when the team won its only league title. Four more trophies followed inside two years.

The move to Brighton in 1999 was awkward initially. Eventually, three extra trophies – including another title – were claimed. In 2006, the Bears imploded and went bust.

Two years later, Worthing Thunder – originally formed in 1999 – brought top-flight basketball back to the south coast. Under Dave Titmuss last season, they even made the play-offs but it has been a battle against the odds.

Owner Frank Gainsbury went public earlier this year with a call for extra backing. It has gone largely unanswered, the economic climate a large factor in the pending demotion.

Smith (left) does not see such a move as the worst of all options.

“I think it would be a massive blow if there was no basketball in Worthing at all,” he states. “It would be huge because there’s a lot of history.

“Now if the directors decide that the BBL is too tough for us – with losing money because finding sponsors is so tough – it isn’t too much of a loss to go down to EBL.”

Twice past winners of the EBL championship, it could breed a new culture of success.

“It worked well before,” Smith adds. ”It’s manageable. You can look at it that way. Or you can stay in the BBL, with no money, still struggling to find sponsorship. Having to do a full-time job with part-time coaches and players, and struggle on the court.”

The losing has been consistent this term. Big hidings, narrow defeats, they have piled up for the Thunder. With just four wins to their credit, only Essex will sit below then in the final standings. It would have been easy to give up. His players have eschewed that opportunity, Smith notes, fighting against inevitabilities even when their coach was at home.

Now they have reached the end. One last push with only pride at stake as the season concludes.

“We want to come out of it saying: ‘We lost 19 in a row at the start but look where we’ve ended up. Have we got better?’ I think we’re much better,” Smith argues.

“We have an identity as a team. And certain players have stepped up. Adam Williams has stepped up hugely. Sherrad Prezzie-Blue has stepped up. Others have had big performances. That’s enabled us to beat Milton Keynes who have beaten Newcastle. We’ve beaten them twice. Beaten Essex twice.”

He adds: “Those things are the positives. And for me, this season, the positives out-weigh the negatives.”

Going out with a whimper, not a bang, but with heads held high.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • MySpace
  • Print

You must be logged in to post a comment Login