MICK Byrne – one of the leading lights of English basketball – is calling time on his National League involvement after 36 memorable years.

Byrne first emerged on the national scene in the 1970s as coach and secretary to the ladies’ national league side Scandinavian Homes Solent.

It was while with that team that he was asked by the owner, Harry Smith, to get together a men’s team for entry into the National League.

Three years later, in 1980, Solent Stars were formed and began to take the National League by storm.

With Byrne, pictured below, as director and adviser, Stars won every domestic trophy and flew the flag in European tournaments.

Byrne had left the Royal Navy in 1981 and his love of coaching led to the establishment of a Portsmouth Junior team. With his connection to Solent it was not long before he was invited to bring his team to form a junior section for Solent.

However, in 1984 he was poached by the newly founded Portsmouth Basketball Club to be their manager. Byrne returned to Solent in 1989 and was instrumental in keeping the club at national level just as the team was in danger of folding. From playing in a regional league, Byrne led the young team to national success at all levels, enabling Solent to eventually play top-flight basketball again. His record, documented in ‘A Sporting Rollercoaster’ (amazon.co.uk), shows he coached 203 games and won 95 in that period. He was also coach to the Royal Navy for a few years.

Byrne has been synonymous with basketball locally since he started playing in Portsmouth in the late 1960s.

He was England team manager for eight years and served on the National Executive Committee, helping to shape the English game’s administration. A qualified senior coach tutor, referee and table official, there is no part of the game he has not been involved in.

Byrne will keep his hand in by continuing to coach his local men’s and women’s teams in the future.

When asked about his most satisfying experience, Byrne remembers the success of a very young Solent team. “We had won Division Three in our first season back in the National League and then went to Wembley to play in the Championship Play-Off,” he recalled. “Our opponents at Wembley – Crystal Palace – were humbled by a first-rate performance by our youngsters.”

Saluting Byrne’s contribution to basketball, former Solent director Jim Rumsey said: “So many people have so much to thank him for the tireless efforts he has put in over the years.

“The national scene will be poorer for his retirement.

“The home spectators at Fleming Park will remember the passion he showed on the courtside.”