Retro Sport: Never too old to attract a talent scout

Torbay Weekly

Some weeks ago, I told the tale of how, in 1976, the Torbay Gentlemen were invited to visit Malta as a replacement for Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest.

We were met at the airport by Lorry Sant, the Minister of Sport, and played three matches, ending up with a game on the National Stadium in front of 8,500 people, and live on television!

When the concept of forming a team of over-30s first occurred to me, I had absolutely no idea that, within four years, we would be on our fourth overseas tour, and, this time, as guests of the Maltese government!

Even now, that sounds ridiculously far-fetched, but, in fact, one detail of that tour was even more amazing, and, looking back I can hardly believe it ever happened!

In the early negotiations for the tour, I was told to deal with the Minister’s assistant, a Mr Joe de Battista.

Joe was really helpful, but always had one crafty eye open for his own interests.

As we confirmed arrangements, he told me that the first match would be against the RAF and the third match would be the big one in the National Stadium.

He hadn’t confirmed our opponents for the second match, until just before we left for the tour.

At the last minute, he phoned me and said: “The original opponents have pulled out, so you will play against my team St Andrews.”

Clearly, he thought we would pull in a good crowd for him, and, when we arrived to play the match, it was clear that he was right.

There must have been 1,000 people at the ground to watch 11 old blokes from Torquay, dressed in Victorian soccer kit, play against his local lads.

As it turned out, we got a bit of a run-around, but, thanks to our goalkeeper, Tony Addis, we ended up as 3-0 winners.

Tony was unbeatable that day, and even the locals ended up cheering him.

Although short for a goalkeeper, Tony was very agile, had huge hands, and could pick the ball up in just one of those massive shovels.

He just had one of those 'once-in-a-lifetime' days which most sportsmen experience now and then.

He had a few drinks bought for him that night, but, by the following morning, we had moved on, and Tony was not the sort to mention it again.

In fact, his heroics might have been forgotten altogether if it hadn’t been for a letter which I received from Joe de Battista a month after we had returned home.

The letter explained that the secretary of the St George’s club had been at the match, and was so impressed by Tony’s display that his club wanted to sign him!

Would I let Joe know what sort of transfer fee we would be demanding?

Would I agree to deal through Joe, who would act as his agent, and get a slice of the fee?

I blinked and tried to gather my thoughts!

St George’s were a Maltese First Division club, from the city of Cospicua, and the oldest club in Malta.

Joe said that they had just signed a local 15 year old for £1,500, so had the money to back up their bid!

Eventually, the bid was for £3,000 - today worth over £20,000 - Tony would be offered a two-year contract, and our club would pay 10 per cent of the fee to Joe!

Tony was a happy-go-lucky 36 year old with his own building business, and, after a career with Windsor United and Upton Vale, was hardly likely to want to turn professional... but, of course, I had to ask him!

When I met him on his building site, he simply laughed at me.

It was only when I showed him the letter that he listened to me, and even then, he thought I had written it myself!

I told him that the previous highest transfer fee for a Victorian footballer was £100 - Willie Groves to Aston Villa - so he would enter the record books, and perhaps even make Torbay Gents the first South Devon League club to receive a transfer fee.

Sadly, Tony passed away in 2020, but I can see him now, with hands on hips, roaring with laughter.

He never gave me an answer, because he simply never, at any stage, believed me!