A Saturday night watching the Plymouth Raiders used to be a unique but wonderful occasion for both the regulars who entered the Pavilions with their season tickets ready to be checked and the visiting supporters who claimed their game-night stubs from the ticket office.
You enter the arena from the bar, which was packed full of fans clad in the infamous Plymouth Raiders green, to the back of the room, the supporters club table was busy, selling raffle tickets and merchandise and overall, the atmosphere before you entered the main hall was positive and friendly.
When the teams were introduced, the Raiders faithful, backed by familiar faces that were fairly knowledgeable about the game roared as the beautiful Raiders dancers enthusiastically introduced the players to an electrifying pyrotechnic presentation.
“What I remember about the pre-BBL days was the family feel of the club,” said Steve Billing, Plymouth Raiders’ former team manager from 2003, who had been cheering as well as helping with the team for years until he stepped down in the summer of 2012.
“With no things like Facebook and Twitter around the only way to actually speak with the players was by simply hanging out with them. So on a game night you’d be willing them on for a win, but if they lost you’d be like no big deal lets get the next one. This family feel continued even into our entrance to the BBL after the continued success we had in the tier below.”
The Raiders, at the time, were led by Gary Stronach, a popular figure at the club and a very well respected coach. Stronach guided the Raiders from the successes of the second tier England Basketball League [now the National Basketball League] to the BBL and it was he who helped Plymouth secure their first bit of silverware in the top flight: the BBL Trophy in the 2006-07 season.
Then, at the start of the 2010-11 BBL season, Stronach decided to step down, but he walked away with the Devon outfit in good shape as a stable top flight team stacked with promising talent, a terrific fan base, and high hopes for what looked like a hopeful future.
But to most of the loyal fans, Stronach’s departure was hard to take in. And even though the Raiders put their trust in then-inexperienced playcaller Gavin Love, a fan favourite with the team as the evergreen starting point guard, those fans that once flocked to the Pavilions with season tickets in tow and filled the coach on away days, were deciding to fade and pursue other interests.
And like the fans, the players started to gradually fade away too.
Today, the Raiders are now widely regarded by rival fans and even some of their own as one of the most thoughtless teams in the British Basketball League. A once proud and bubbly franchise; now marred with an extraordinary high player turnover led by a controversial owner, Bob Widdecombe and Australian player/coach Daryl Corletto
In total, over the past two and a half seasons, 42 players have been signed by the Plymouth Raiders with an astonishing 20 of them leaving the team or being chopped during the season, to make way for a suitable replacement. The team’s current win percentage is at 36 percent over those two and a half seasons.
The latest player to be shown the door was popular Australian point guard, Josh Wilcher – a player widely regarded as the glue of the team. Several days after Wilcher’s release, the club then released a bizarre and poorly written press release regarding the current situation.
Wilcher, who originally came to Devon from National Basketball League, Division 1 side Reading Rockets where he won the league’s MVP award was a fan favourite and a consistent performer for the team until his departure because the guard asked for a pay rise for next season. Something the Raiders refused.
“Josh’s behaviour around games since the initial salary discussion has been poor, often swearing at coaches for substituting him, and being generally disruptive on the team bench,” the Raiders statement reads.
“Josh then asked to meet with Raiders Chief Executive Dave Briggs and Player Coach Daryl Corletto last Tuesday as he had an issue that he wanted to discuss. He has alleged that he was “abused” by a team follower sitting on the team bench, and requested that he be released from his contract. At no time has anyone from the Raiders organisation agreed to his release. Since that meeting, Josh has refused to attend training or games or any other team functions, including undertaking community coaching.
“Josh now thinks that because he has asked to be released from his contract, and because he wants to be allowed to join another team in the BBL, that we should forget that we have a contract in place, and that in that contract is a clause stating the transfer fee is still in place. This situation is no different to one in football – a player falls out with a club, but the only way that he can leave the club is if someone pays a transfer fee. Why should that be any different in basketball, than it is in football? It’s the exact same situation.
“We have written to Josh, explaining that if another BBL team; or indeed any other team in Europe really wants him, then we will gladly agree to his transfer once the fee has been paid. Are we prepared to negotiate on the sum of the transfer fee? Yes, we are, but we will not be held to ransom by a player that a) is refusing to attend training, games, coaching or team functions, and b) is currently under contract with the team. Have we done anything as a club to invalidate his contract? Absolutely not. Over the last week, Josh has made some very unreasonable demands of the club, and at this stage, we are not prepared to release him from his contract, although technically he is in serious breach of several clauses in his contract which will be discussed at next week’s management meeting.”
TalkBasket reached out to Wilcher who informed us that he would be in breach of his current contract if he spoke to any media outlets so he politely declined to comment.
On the court though, the Raiders’ form, since Marriott’s departure in October has improved. They currently lie in seventh with a 9-14 record. Corletto took over when the Raiders were 0-3.
Corletto though, regardless of people’s opinions is steering the team on the court into the post-season, but his presence among the once dedicated Plymouth base is not welcomed. The club, unfortunately look like they have lost a lot of their long standing supporters and they seemingly don’t care.
All this, it seems would not have happened under Stronach’s watchful eye.
“All this would not have happened if Gary [Stronach] was in charge,” one ex-Raiders player added on condition of anonymity. “Bob Widdecombe is a nice guy but some of his decisions have been terrible and at times, you actually feel like you are a prisoner, unable to leave and sometimes fearing for your career taking a hit.”
“Would say it has only started to go downhill when Gary Stronach left,” Billing admitted. “With the appointments of Gavin Love, then Jay Marriott, whose appointments split fans over suitability for the job, turnover of players, no supporters club, players and coaches not acting professionally is in turn alienating supporters.”
Since this article was published, the Plymouth Raiders have removed their statement regarding Wilcher from their website and social media outlets. TalkBasket has not received an answer from both Bob Widdecombe and Daryl Corletto despite leaving messages via telephone and email, respectively.