Grandpas on The Rock - part one

Torbay Weekly

I don’t suppose that any of my readers paid much attention to a World Cup qualifying match, just two months ago, which ended Gibraltar 0 Norway 3.

The match was played at the Victoria Stadium, under floodlights, and brought back memories of the week, 46 years ago, when 11 veterans of Torbay also took on the Gibraltar national team, in the same stadium, also under lights!

The Torbay Gentlemen, formed just two years earlier, had allowed one of its Saturday South Devon League matches to be filmed by Visnews, and the resulting documentary had received worldwide attention.

Just two days after the film’s release, I received a letter, via the Gibraltar embassy, inviting the team to spend a week in the territory next February.

If we accepted, it gave us just three months to plan the trip, and would mean that our league programme would need to be re-arranged.

When I brought the invitation to our committee, there were no second thoughts, and almost everyone wanted us to make the trip.

In the days that followed, the Gibraltar FA arranged four matches for us.

Two were against British ships stationed in Gibraltar, one was against the veterans of the Gibraltar national team, and the other against the current national team itself!

The last two matches would be staged at the Victoria Stadium.

What a prospect for a collection of ageing Torbay footballers who had thought that their most exciting soccer days were way behind them!

As club secretary, my work had been made easy by the Gibraltar FA, so I began to have dreams about 'putting a cherry on the top'.

What about extending the tour by a day, and adding on a match in Africa?

Before Christmas, I wrote to the Moroccan FA, hardly expecting a reply, but asking for a fixture on the February 16 with a midday kick-off.

In early January, I got a reply saying that our invitation had been accepted by a club called Tihad Tangier, and that I could expect a contact from its secretary.

I managed to extend the tour by a day, and to book flights from Gibraltar to Tangier, and then held my breath that nothing would go wrong.

By the time February arrived, we had booked a return coach to London, BEA return flights to Gibraltar, full board for eight nights at a four-star hotel, return flights to Tangier, and all airport transfers... all for £52 each!

And, I remember thinking that it might be too expensive for some!

I needn’t have worried, because, at 1am on February 13, 1975, 38 club members met outside the Golden Butterfly, and piled into a Snell’s coach bound for Heathrow, and an 8.40am flight to the Mediterranean.

We arrived in Gibraltar at lunchtime, and were met at the airport by the Sports Minister, Hon. Horace Zammitt, and a posse of reporters and cameramen.

They told us that our match against the Gibraltar Veterans had been reviewed on television last night, and that the demand for tickets had been unusually high.

The Gibraltar FA had arranged for a coach to collect us, and to take us on a tour of 'The Rock' before delivering us to the Caleta Palace Hotel.

When we arrived at the hotel, I was handed a letter with a Moroccan stamp on it.

It was from Tihad Tangier Football Club asking for money 'up front' to allow the club to pay for its pitch and refreshments. I suppose I should have known!

On the following morning, most of us had a wander around the town, but, by the afternoon, the sun had persuaded us back to the hotel sun loungers, by the pool.

Tomorrow, we would play against the Gibraltar Veterans, and our captain, Roy Clarke, had some plans for us.

Roy was a good captain, a fine footballer, with a Manchester United pedigree, but he took his responsibilities seriously, and that was a mistake!

As we relaxed on our loungers, Roy began to tell us that on a big pitch, like the National Stadium, we must get the ball out wide.

He had forgotten one of the doctrines of the Torbay Gentlemen... 'Tactics are for toddlers, not for grandpas!'

Before he could utter another sentence, he was thrown, fully dressed into the pool, and an unforgettable tour had begun just as it was to continue...