Beer flowed, sun shone... and it was all too late to matter
- Credit: Submitted
In 1994, Torquay Cricket Club had spent £50,000 to stage a spectacular cricket festival. The South African Test team had arrived for the big match, but an overnight storm had flooded the ground. The first morning was lost, but play would start at 2.30pm...
When the South African opening batsmen walked out to open their innings, they did so in front of just a couple of hundred spectators.
However, the corporate hospitality tents were full, and we heard that the beer was flowing freely!
Our team of volunteers had dried the wooden seating, and the deck chair team was ready for action, but, although the sun was shining now, it was all too late to matter.
The cricket was exciting, and, the day ended with the South Africans on 185-7.
When the spectators had gone home, the South African captain Kepler Wessels signed copies of his recent book, and former Torquay professional Fanie de Villiers kept everyone amused with his stories.
We had made the best of a disappointing start, but all realised that a financial disaster now beckoned!
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Before we left the ground on that first night, Ray Batten told me that Old Moore’s Almanac promised a sunny day tomorrow... but Old Moore broke his promise!
The next day was wet from the early hours, and, once again our 5,000-seater stadium seated no more than 500 bedraggled spectators!
Our sponsors, Apollo Leisure, had provided Jethro, and Jimmy Tarbuck, to cheer up the hospitality tents until play began at 1.30pm.
Once again, the afternoon’s cricket was worth watching, and, for the first time, the sun shone.
Some of the club’s colts’ team had volunteered to act as drink waiters, and, at last, they had some orders to deliver.
The South African assistant manager, Golan Rajah, had put Ray Batten into a spin by requesting a Halal burger. A car was sent out specially to collect one.
I will never forget Ray’s face when his customer thanked him, before eating it, covered completely by tomato sauce!
Replying to South Africa’s 249 all out, Minor Counties ended the day on 145-2, leaving a draw almost inevitable.
Just as play ended, Fanie de Villiers came up to me and said: “I’ve told the lads about the pub we used to go to when I was here before... you know, the one where I first tried Devon cider!”
"The Tally Ho! at Littlehempston,” I replied.
“Well! Can we take them there for a drink after dinner?”
I explained that it was not the ideal place to take a massive inter-continental coach, but knew him well enough to know that his enthusiasm would always outweigh his common sense!
Two hours later, I found myself driving my car through the lanes of the South Hams, with a huge coach in close pursuit.
It was dark as we turned left towards the village, and I feared the worst.
We managed to negotiate a narrow lane, but a twisting, hump-backed bridge was out of the question.
The players disembarked into the night, leaving a coach driver to figure out how he would turn the coach around!
The South Africans loved the ancient, beamed, interior of the pub, and the next hour passed in high spirits, and almost constant laughter.
When it was time to go, I collected my car, and, with Jenny and Fanie on board, headed out of the car park.
A hundred yards up the road, a dozen cricketers waved us down.
The coach had become wedged between a tree and a wall, and every one of them wanted a lift home!
Andrew Hudson jumped into the front seat with Jenny, and another three joined Fanie in the back.
As we reached the main road, Tim Shaw, a tall spin bowler, began moaning from the back seat. “Let me get in the front, Andrew, my knees are killing me, and you’re only a short arse!”
This moan continued all the way back to the Imperial.
As we said goodbye, he smiled at me and said: “Your back seat has just ended my career! I’ll never straighten my knees again!”
On the following morning, we were greeted with sunshine! It was a huge relief to watch spectators come through the turnstiles at last.
As I went in to the pavilion, to receive any instructions from the umpires, someone shouted down from the balcony.
I looked up and saw Tim Shaw. His left leg was bandaged from top to bottom. “I’ve just had an operation,” he shouted “and it’s all your fault!
"That’s another promising career you’ve ruined!”
And then he smiled, waved, and our first sunny day was underway.
Next week - The festival ends and the accountants take over!