Retro Sport: The brightest stars burn out the fastest

Torbay Weekly

Before I get down to writing this column, each week, I sit down in my 'Mann cave', surrounded by photos of football and cricket matches from days gone by, and wait for a memory to push its way to the front.

At Christmas time, every year, one memory elbows out all the others, and my mind goes back to my playing days alongside the wonderful Dave Meredith.

Let me tell you why!

The year 1964 was my first year in business, on my own, and its success depended on getting, and holding the business of Torbay’s biggest spenders, and, in my field, the Imperial Hotel was near the top of that list.

One day, I got a call from Jimmy Mason, the head waiter at the Imperial, asking me if I would play for his team, Hotels and Caterers, in the Wednesday League, and, thinking it would help secure their business, I agreed immediately.

Within weeks, I was playing alongside a man whose consummate skills made me feel like a complete novice.

He always controlled the ball instantly, and would find me with delicate little lobs, deft little back-heels, or flicks from the outside of his boot.

Half of the time, I would fail to gather them, or fall over in the attempt, but Dave would brush my apologies aside, and give me a smile which reminded me of my ever-patient maths master!

In the 1960s, local football was a highly physical sport, and, of course, Dave was often the target of the local 'hard men'.

Sometimes, he would be sent flying every few minutes, yet, each time, I can see him now, climbing to his feet with a wry smile on his face, shaking his head from side to side, as if to say: “Was that really necessary?"

Dave never held grudges, but just flitted away over the thick mud, to paint another masterpiece, like Banksy, and wait for it to be vandalised by those like me, whose skills were so inferior to his.

Dave controlled games from middle of the pitch, and never needed to shout.

We all knew that he was the boss anyway, and played with one eye on him at all times.

In the changing room, Dave was always quietly dignified, and every single one of us liked him.

I never knew how he made his living. He was just the guy who changed next to me each week.

We all showed off our latest boots, but Dave was happy with his ancient clodhoppers.

Brian Carter used to say that he probably inherited them from Billy Meredith who played for Manchester United before World War One!

After an easy match, I would turn to Dave and say: “They were a load of rubbish, Dave.” And he would take his time before replying: “They’re only young, Rog, and they’ll give us a good game next year!”

Ever the gentleman, always unselfish, Brian used to call him 'The Bishop of Stoodley Knowle'.

Dave had a brother called Ian, who was also a cultured footballer in the Wednesday League.

Ian was a nice chap, too, but not as retiring as his brother.

One day we were playing against St Marychurch Rovers, and, with the score standing at 1-1, and the ball in midfield, the referee suddenly awarded us a penalty.

Jimmy Mason and Peter Waldron were dancing for joy on the touchline but no-one knew what it was awarded for!

The referee explained that St Marychurch had changed their goalkeeper without advising him, so as soon as he touched the ball, he was going to be guilty of hand-ball!

As always, Dave walked up to take it, and to our horror, simply rolled it towards their goalkeeper.

He ignored all the cat-calls and smiled quietly to himself.

We knew that it was just Dave being Dave, and we never wanted him to change!

So why do I always remember him at Christmas?

Well, as I greet my grandchildren, and pen yet another sporting memory, I can never forget that Dave passed away, nearly 50 years ago, at the age of 38, and never had any of these blessings!

I remember that he used to talk about his two children with great affection.

I just hope that this little memory will brighten their new year.

If he ever finds out that I wrote it, he will smile, shake his head, and say: “Was that really necessary?”