Retro Sport with Roger Mann: I sign a driver/wicket-keeper

Torbay Weekly

During a lifetime of sport in Torbay, I have come across some amazing characters.

Last week, I recounted my meeting with Mike Antonucci and it got me thinking of others who would live up to that billing.

Those of my readers, who have followed the ‘Tics for many years, will remember a kindly, friendly, gate-man called Dave, who manned his 'sentry box', with his little dog, in all weathers.

You would be forgiven for thinking that, perhaps, he had led an unremarkable life.

Perhaps he was a retired postman who preferred the company of his dog to staying at home with a nagging wife on a Saturday afternoon... or, perhaps, he had spent his life running a corner shop in Upton...

How wrong you would be!

The truth is that if Warner Bros had made a film of his roller-coaster life, only Oliver Reed or Errol Flynn could have done justice to the lead role!

In his prime, Dave Cater was a dashing, popular, intelligent, athletic man-about-town, with great social skills, and the gift of a honey tongue which could charm the birds from the trees.

I first met Dave on a Monday afternoon in March in the mid-1960s.

I had advertised for a delivery driver, and returned from lunch to find a long queue of applicants snaking from my office door.

All I needed was a reliable, experienced lorry driver, who lived locally, and who seemed likely to be pleasant to my customers.

Before long, I had found the perfect fit, but resigned myself to going through the motions of interviewing all the others, rather than give them a wasted journey.

It was nearly five o’clock when I called out 'next please' and in walked a smart young man in a grey suit.

He explained that he had been a policeman in Manchester, and had driven down to Torquay earlier that day.

“Why Torquay?” I asked, and he replied: “My wife told me to get as far away from her as I could!”

We laughed, but my interview form was full of crosses until I reached the question: “Do you have any hobbies?”

“Mainly sport,” he said, and my ears pricked up! “Which sports?” I asked.

“Well! I have kept wicket for Lancashire seconds, and played cricket in the Lancashire League. I have also kept goal for Barrow, and the England Police XI.”

At this time, I was playing soccer, and cricket, for Chelston and knew that we really needed a wicket-keeper for the coming season.

George Wellington had retired and we, urgently, needed to replace him.

“OK! You can have a trial for this job... come down to Cockington tonight, and bring your pads!”

Needless to say, the trial was huge success, and a long friendship was born.

Dave found a flat in Torquay, and I was very popular with my team mates when I told them who I had just signed for the coming season.

On the following Saturday, Chelston was playing its first friendly match of the summer, at Cockington, and, of course, Dave had been picked to keep wicket.

The game was due to start at 2pm but at 1.45pm, our new man had not turned up!

“I’m sorry Bill, but I’m sure he will be here soon... perhaps he’s got lost,” I said to Bill Traylor, our captain.

Luckily, we won the toss, so Bill chose to bat rather than to field without a wicket-keeper.

I took a deckchair, away from the others, and just prayed that Dave wouldn’t let me down!

As I sat there, I heard someone whispering my name, and looked around.

There, crouching behind a bush, was our new wicket-keeper.

From behind the bush, he explained that a girl had followed him down from Manchester, and she was sitting on a seat near the boundary!

Seeing that I needed to know more, he told me that she was in love with him, but he owed her £100. She had told him to marry her, or pay back the debt!

Unless he made his mind up, she was going to make a scene wherever he went!

I spent the next hour, tending to a young lady with a northern accent, and promising that I would pay her the money, and deduct it from his salary.

When she had stopped crying, I walked back to the pavilion wondering just where this new friendship might lead me!