When we formed the Torbay Gentlemen in 1972, we had thought through the initial challenges, and had soon overcome them.
A manufacturer had sponsored our Victorian football strip, second hand morning suits were easy to find, and wines for half-time, even easier!
Our wives, who would play such a huge part in our plans, had begun to buy Victorian dresses, and looked splendid during our team photos.
BUT………we had completely overlooked the fact that ladies, in dresses designed to hide even an ankle, are simply incompatible with the muds of the South Hams, in winter!
By 1975, fewer and fewer of our ladies were coming to our South Devon League matches, and those who braved them, were condemned to an afternoon in the car!
The whole fabric of our idea was beginning to unravel, so we decided that the answer was to try to buy a double-decker bus!
In those days, you couldn’t google “Double decker bus wanted”, so I had to write a letter to every bus company in England asking if it had any old buses which were no longer in use.
From fifty-four letters, I got one reply. It came from the Maidstone & District bus company, in Kent, who said there had been an old abandoned 1934 Bristol bus in a nearby shed, for the last twenty years, which belonged to a collector, who seemed to have lost interest in it.
I drove to Kent, with one of my mechanics, and two weeks later a fruit & veg lorry towed a double-decker bus back to Torquay!
The collector had agreed to let us have it for nothing, if we were prepared to refurbish it, and make it roadworthy, then return it to him, when we were finished with it.
His only stipulation was that it must remain in the Maidstone & District livery.
The members loved it! It had been in service until 1949, and the engine had been “round-the-clock” five and a half times, but it was ours, and that was all that mattered!
My two mechanics drooled over its Gardner diesel engine, and, after it had had an oil change, and a new battery, it fired up straightaway!
Every Sunday from early August, until late December, the club members spent the day working on “our” bus, and very soon it was beginning to look like “new”.
The members donated the cleaning materials, and the elbow grease, and, when it was finished the club had to pay £70 for a new set of tyres, and £40 covered all the other expenditure!
We defrayed these costs by selling advertisements on its panels, and donating the petrol money, which we would have spent, if we had gone to the match by car.
By mid-December, we were beginning to realise that we had created a modern version of an “Upstairs & Downstairs” Victorian England!
The men were seated downstairs, on shiny leather seats, with their kit bags tucked under the stairs, whilst the ladies lounged in luxury on the top deck!
Under the inspirational guidance of June Way, upstairs had been transformed into a Victorian Lady’s boudoir.
The girls had laid a plum-coloured carpet, hung tasselled curtains to match, and created a bar in the front which stocked an endless supply of gin and tonic!
To complete the picture, on one corner of the bar, was a beautiful Victorian aspidistra!
It often seemed such an unfair world as we battled the sleet in mid-winter, at Beesands, whilst our ladies waved a delicate gloved hand from the top deck!
In due course, the bus became ready for service, and we decided to give it a first outing on December 14th, when we were booked to play in a Charity match at Beacon Down in Plymouth.
I had managed to get a bit of practice driving it around the yard, but the “crash” gear box was taking some getting used to!
As the day approached, I began to worry about finding my way……………After all, a bus driver has no-one in the cab to help him!
But, perhaps, my worries were nothing compared to those of an old lady who was about to take forty of us on her first journey for twenty-six years!
Next week we head for Plymouth!
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