With memories of a lifetime in local sport, ROGER MANN takes a look back to the days when football was football:
It was 1960 when my first club, Ilsham Vale FC, got its first taste of South Devon League football.
We had gained promotion from the Minor League and were now a group of teenagers enjoying every moment of our first season playing ‘grown-up’ soccer.
King George V playing fields seemed like a Watcombe Wembley to us. Rain and mud didn’t matter one bit... we were playing in the big time now!
Not only were we loving it but we were winning matches too! By October, we were top of SDL Junior Two, and still in the Junior Cup. Life was perfect... nothing else mattered!
And then, to cap it all... a phone call from our manager Les Collier: “Roger, guess who we’ve got in the next round of the cup?” “Who, Les?” “Kingskerswell away!” “Wow!”
Kingskerswell, recently relegated to Junior One, were a big club, with a huge pitch.
Our trainer, the late lamented Gordon Jennings, doubled our training nights, and, a fortnight later, he smiled and announced: “We’re ready for them!”
After a fortnight of sleepless nights, the Saturday arrived. It had been raining all week, and we got to the ground early. The Friday night paper had predicted a home win saying: “The Kingskerswell team might be ‘getting on a bit’ but would ‘know too much’ for a bunch of kids.” The muddy pitch seemed to support that prediction.
We watched the ‘Kerswell team arrive at the ground. None of them smiled, they didn’t even glance at us. I remember thinking that most of them seemed to be built like ‘Hoss from Bonanza’. My heart missed several beats!
What seemed to be a huge crowd had gathered for this vital cup tie. Probably 200 villagers surrounded the pitch and, by the sound of them, a good few had just left the Lord Nelson!
While we were urgently going through our pre-match drills, the home team were content to chat with the crowd, or have a last drag on their Woodbines. Gordon gave me a few practice headers before referee Ron Carter blew his whistle for the toss-up.
We lost the toss and were asked to play towards the village. After ten minutes, we were 0-1 down, and then, soon afterwards, a second goal followed. The crowd howled for more!
The centre-half, who was marking me, was old enough to be my dad. Every time I got the ball, he charged me, turning his massive backside into me as he did so! Time after time, I went down in the mud. But, at the other end, our goalie, Les Smith, was playing a blinder.
One save after another relieved the pressure on our goal and then, against the run of play, Keith Jackson broke away to score our first! It was ‘game on’ now, and we all felt a new confidence flowing through us. They were old and would soon tire... we could still win this match!
After 40 minutes, Les Smith shaped to take a goal kick. I glanced over my shoulder to see if it was being aimed in my direction when I heard a gunshot ring out.
Les staggered, and grasped a goalpost for support. Somehow, he remained standing, but not for long! A second shot rang out and he fell, face downwards, on to his goal line.
It seemed like an age before it dawned on us all that our goalkeeper had been shot!
We rushed to help him, half wondering if we were risking more bullets. Les was moaning with pain, and Gordon was soon on the scene with his bucket and sponge.
We all carried Les to the changing room before the match was restarted.
In those days, substitutes were not allowed. It was a man’s game and matches were not abandoned just because one of your players had been shot!
We played the second half with ten men. Keith Jackson went in goal and we lost the match 8-1.
After the final whistle, back into the changing room, Les was still laying on a bench. No-one had called an ambulance!
Ron Carter, the referee, took him up to Torbay Hospital where bullets were removed from his thigh and his back.
Some days later, the police issued a statement: “We understand that it was purely accidental, therefore will not be making any more enquiries.”
For years afterwards, we used to say to Les: “You’re not much good with crosses but, as a shot stopper you’re the best in the business!”