A heavenly match at Stoodley Knowle

Hotels and Caterers in 1968 - back, from left: Stan Neal, Derek Dodd, Brian Carter, George Loye, Geoff Pearse, John Haycock, Roger Mann, John Grant, Albert Moore, Jimmy Mason. Front, from left: Keith Hare, Peter Northcott, Dave Moore, Don Clarke, Tony Mann

Hotels and Caterers in 1968 - back, from left: Stan Neal, Derek Dodd, Brian Carter, George Loye, Geoff Pearse, John Haycock, Roger Mann, John Grant, Albert Moore, Jimmy Mason. Front, from left: Keith Hare, Peter Northcott, Dave Moore, Don Clarke, Tony Mann - Credit: Roger Mann

Back in 1968, Torbay Wednesday League football was very well supported.

Saturday players, who could get Wednesday afternoons off, flocked to join its local clubs, and its competitions were keenly fought.  

I played for Hotels and Caterers, and, one night, in the police canteen, after a match against Torquay Police, there was only one topic of conversation.  

A new team, Moorlands Bible College, had joined the league this year, and they had just lost their first six matches!  

We were due to play them next week, and every new pint spawned a new joke. “Do I have to be baptised to play, skip?” “Will they serve us loaves and fishes afterwards?” “If they get a penalty, I bet they convert it!” ...they kept coming! 

Somehow a bible college didn’t seem to fit into the mud, muscle, and merriment of Wednesday League soccer, nor the pints and profanities which usually followed it!  

A week later, we found ourselves in the changing room, at Stoodley Knowle, waiting for our new opponents to arrive. 

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The referee had changed, and was looking at his watch, as a coach pulled up outside.

Moments later, the door opened and 11 neat and tidy lads filed in. 

Each one shook our hands, muttered “God bless you!”, and passed on into the home dressing room. We were stunned into silence.

They changed quickly, and were soon back with us. Before I knew it, one of them was holding my hand, and pulling me into what he called a 'circle of friendship'.  

“Please pray with us!” their captain said, and began  

“Dear Father, we thank thee for our health and fitness, and ask you to bless this match, each one of us, and our worthy opponents.”

By now, the referee was getting fidgety and we made our way on to the pitch. We lost the toss and were playing up the hill.  

As usual, I looked for their number 8, the man I must mark, and was relieved to see that he was just a little guy. 

The game started and it was easy to see why Moorlands Bible College had lost their early matches.

They were fit lads, but four or five of them chased after every ball, without any apparent positional sense.  

Then, suddenly, after just five minutes, a George Loye clearance came down out of the clouds.

Their number 8 caught it on his instep, and in one movement, thumped it into our net from 20 yards! We stood and stared!  

After half an hour, he added a superb free kick. And we were 0-2 down!  

At half-time, the manager called me aside and said: “He’s making a monkey of you, son!” then, leaning towards me whispered: “Kick him, before we lose this match!”

As a regular church goer myself, I was appalled! 

“Are you asking me to 'kick' a man of the cloth?” I asked. “No-one’s been asked to do that since Henry VIII was on the throne!”

“Go and do it,” he replied.

Playing down hill was much easier, and we got back into the match.  

Fairly soon after the break, I barged into number 8, and sent him flying.  

He looked up at me and smiled gently. Twice more, I bowled him over, and, each time I put out my hand to help him get up.

“Bless you” he said with a soft Bristolian accent.  

Just before the end, I had one more lunge at him.  

This time he saw me coming, and, gently, flicked my leg from underneath me. I did a cartwheel, and crashed down on my head.  

“I’m so sorry,” he said “I do hope you are not hurt.”

In the pub afterwards, my team mates were still laughing at my fate!  

“Do you know who that was?” asked one, adding “It was Derek Virgin, who used to play for Bristol City! He certainly dished you out a bit of Old Testament justice, eh?” 

Eighteen years later, I was taking my Senior Cricket Coaching Certificate at a primary school in Bedminster, Bristol.  

Part of the syllabus required me to demonstrate, to a local teacher, how I would organise a group coaching session for eight year olds.  

A teacher and 20 children were supplied, and I worked with them for an hour.  

Afterwards, the teacher congratulated me. “You were really good, Roger! I’m just glad you weren’t coaching them football!”  

When he had gone, I glanced down at my approval form and it was signed  

“10/10 – D.V. – an admirer!”