Retro Sport: From behind stumps to behind bars

Chelston Cricket Club 1st XI 1969 team shot with players lined up in two rows

The Chelston team which played Exeter St Thomas in the final of the Rothmans Cup in 1969, at Exeter. Back row, from left, John Bradley, Dave Cater, Alan Bearne, Peter Madge, Dave Traylor, Ken Zaple. Front, from left, Roger Mann, Bill Traylor, Dave Mitchell, Tony Mann, Mike Nickells - Credit: Roger Mann

Among the applicants for a driving job, was a wicket-keeper from Manchester, so I signed him for my club, but he has girl-friend problems! I tell this story knowing that Dave would approve. He told his life story, around Devon, for many years as a counsellor for Gamblers' Anonymous 

Once Dave’s tearful girlfriend had left the cricket ground, he climbed out from behind the bush, and I introduced him to his future team-mates.

After tea, when it was our turn to field, we all wanted to have a look at our new wicket-keeper.

We didn’t need long!

Dave was lightning sharp behind the stumps, and conceded just a single bye all afternoon.

Afterwards, in the Drum Inn, he mixed well, and we couldn’t wait for the new season to begin.

During the months that followed, he became recognised as, easily, the best wicket-keeper/batsman in the Bay, and was never without an attractive girl on his arm.

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At work, all of our customers liked him, and, before long, we put him in charge of our delivery section.

He loved Torquay, and made friends wherever he went.

Then, one day, early the following summer, my brother came into my office and mentioned that he had given Dave a flat in his house, because 'his landlord had kicked him out for owing two months’ rent'!

That evening, after net practice, I asked Dave why he had been short of money, and he told me that he had gambled his wages and lost!

“I have never told you, Rog, but, when I left Manchester, I left a well-paid job as a police officer, a wife whom I loved dearly, and two beautiful children.

"I have an addiction, you see, and when it calls me, I have to gamble every pound that I have. Nothing less will satisfy it!”

Maybe I should have sympathised but, instead, I said: “Ah well, thank goodness it doesn’t happen too often! Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.”

The incident was soon forgotten, and, in 1969, Dave played a key role in Chelston beating Torquay 1st X1, Paignton 1st X1, and South Devon to reach the final of the Rothmans Cup. 

That winter, a vacancy for a driver/salesman occurred on our Brixham round, and I offered it to Dave.

 He jumped at the chance to earn more money, and thanked me for 'providing him with a new life which he was enjoying so much'. 

He was a natural salesman, and, within weeks, was breaking sales records... until one day that all changed.

One evening, after work, he came into my office and I greeted him with: “Had a good day, Dave?”

“Yes, my best day of the week,” he replied. “£1,450 on accounts, and £480 in cash... but I spent all the cash!"

It was a long evening in the office, that night, as he explained that he had put £480 to win on a horse which had started at 50/1.

When I asked him why he would make such a wild bet, he told me: “I have to lose, Rog! When my addiction calls, I get no satisfaction unless I lose!”

I suggested that we both slept on it, and made decisions in the morning, but he disagreed. 

“I will repay the money but I can never work for you again.”

He got up, and hugged me, and I felt his tears running down my neck.

A week later, he sent me a package with £480 inside it, and a brief letter which said: “I have borrowed this from a wealthy girlfriend. Don’t worry, I will make sure I pay her back!

"My addiction is still calling me and I know that I can never be free until I hit the rock bottom, and I don’t want you to be there when I do.

"I’ll contact you again when I come out the other side, and make you proud of me!” 

That was the last I heard from Dave... the rest I read in the newspapers.

He went to work at the Casa Marina Club, and then moved to London where he certainly hit rock bottom.

Brixton, Pentonville, and Wormwood Scrubs each followed, and they stole the best years of his life.

For nearly 20 years, we exchanged letters while he was 'away' until one day, I got the message that I had prayed for.

It began: “I’m coming home, make sure my pads are white!”

Next week: Dave straps his pads on once again, and makes up for lost time!