From Clennon Valley to the kasbah

We all stand and watch as Dana Shepherd takes her turn at riding a camel

We all stand and watch as Dana Shepherd takes her turn at riding a camel - Credit: Roger Mann

It’s February 1975, and The Torbay Gentlemen have been invited to play four matches on The Rock as guests of the Gibraltar FA.

Yesterday, they played Gibraltar Over-30s, in the National Stadium, and attracted its biggest crowd for six years... and won 3-2!

According to our schedule, today was a free day, so we had tried to arrange a match on the other side of the Mediterranean - in Tangier.

When we got a positive reply from Tihad Tangier FC, we booked our flights, and began to dream of playing a match in Africa for the first time!

However, later on, they asked for money upfront, so, assuming that it was a scam, we cancelled the fixture.

Since we had already booked flights, we decided that we would content ourselves with a day out, and forget football just for once.

Our early morning flight landed safely in Tangier, and, as secretary, I had booked a bus to meet us and to show us the sights.

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After a tour of the modern town, we arrived at the kasbah which is a maze of narrow, mysterious, ancient streets within the old city.

From the moment we left the bus, we were swamped by wide-eyed young lads, and wizened old men, all wanting to sell us something useless.

In all my years as a club secretary, nothing has ever been as challenging as trying to look after 38 people, for two hours, in that kasbah!

With children grabbing at my shirt, and vendors shouting in my ears, my own group was treating me like a Citizens’ Advice officer.

Harry Smith bought a pair of slippers from a lad who handed him a sealed box.

He had opened it and found it contained just a brick!

“Did you see him, Rog? I’m not leaving here until I find him!” he said.

Reg Rawle bought a bottle of Eau de Cologne only to find that the 'Eau' was genuine enough, but that the 'de Cologne' was just wishful thinking!

Brian Clarke had bought a fez, and was doing Frankie Howerd impressions to anyone who would listen.

The only ones who were not getting jostled, were George Loye and Malcolm Bidder who were both well used to throwing their weight about in crowded penalty areas.

Sensibly, the locals were giving them a wide berth!

Eventually, we found our way out of the old city, and into a local restaurant for lunch.

We ducked as we entered a tiny room, lit by candles, and smelling of incense.

The walls were hung with carpets and four men were playing strange looking instruments on a raised platform in the corner.

The food was good, and while I was enjoying a strong coffee, one of our unmarried lads came up to me and said: “Rog, one of those waitresses, the attractive one, just rubbed up against me and whispered something confidential to me... do you know what she meant?”

 “What did she say?” I asked “Something like “efwana”, I think” he replied.

I told him that I couldn’t speak Arabic but would ask the waiter when he gave me the bill.

I still remember his disappointed expression when I told him it meant 'excuse me' or 'you’re in my way'! 

After lunch, we asked the coach driver to take us out into the semi-desert, and to find some camels for us to ride.

Half-an-hour later, we came across a group of Arabs riding beside the main road.

For a few English pounds, they agreed to let us try our luck, and provided us with some photos which we will always treasure.

It is amazing how quickly you can lose every shred of dignity as a camel simply rises from a kneeling position!

Eventually time beat us, and we had to shake the sand from our shoes, and head back to the airport.

As we passed the kasbah, Harry Smith shouted from the back of the coach.

“That was him, I’m sure” but we couldn’t stop. 

But, at least, Harry had a brick to remind him of a memorable day in Morocco!

 The Torbay Gents fight their way through the Kasbah

The Torbay Gents fight their way through the kasbah - Credit: Roger Mann

Brian Clarke brings his Frankie Howerd impression to the Kasbah

Brian Clarke brings his Frankie Howerd impression to the kasbah - Credit: Roger Mann

Ray Slocombe does some bartering of his own

Ray Slocombe does some bartering of his own - Credit: Roger Mann