We lose our first match - 2-0 to Sangria

We set off through the orange groves on donkeys

We set off through the orange groves on donkeys - Credit: Roger Mann

When I woke up, in Benidorm, on the second morning of our first foreign tour, it was Saturday January 18, 1974, and I was worried.

We were due to play FC Nacional tomorrow, but in order to persuade them to give a fixture to a team with an average age of 39, three of us had, secretly, offered them £50 if they beat us!

So why the secrecy?

Although we had not got our Victorian soccer strip yet, we had founded the Torbay Gentlemen in strict accordance with the principles of Lord Kinnaird, and the first of those was “We shall not value a result above the joy of taking part!”

Last night, I had lodged the £50 with the hotel manager, as our opponents had insisted, but, this morning, I was feeling uncomfortable with keeping it secret.

After all, you can’t have a secretary who makes the rules, and then breaks them!

In the meantime, I had more pressing issues to worry about because today was our only 'free' day, and we had booked a coach for 11am to take us around Benidorm and on to nearby La Paz.

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At 4pm we would go for a run to loosen up for the big match tomorrow, and tonight we would go 'clubbing'!

It all started well as every one of us assembled in the foyer, on time, and the bus dropped us off at La Paz on schedule.

As the secretary, I saw it as my job to organise a relaxing day which would suit the ladies as well as the men, so, as a surprise, I had planned to take us to a local viewing platform, on top of a hill, from where we could take photos of the area. 

But we would go up the hill on donkeys, and have lunch in a cosy little Spanish restaurant on the top!

At the stables, we were each allocated a donkey, and set off through the orange groves in good spirits.   

There was plenty of shouting and laughing before, eventually, we finished the climb, and dismounted at the little restaurant. 

The landlord was having a quiet day and sensed that a dozen, thirsty, veteran footballers and their partners might just improve his takings! 

He came out to greet us with a bottle, and a tray of glasses. 

“Thees special dreenk from Espana... you try, no monies.”

So, of course we did, and it tasted good!

In 1974, you couldn’t buy Sangria in your local English pub, like you can today. We had heard of it but very few of us had been to Spain to fall under its spell!

Now, it was scorching hot, we were in a holiday mood, and we were all thirsty! 

We gathered round the little tables, and the jugs started coming.

Full of fruit and ice cubes, one jug followed another. 

Someone shouted “My round next!” and another followed with: “It’s just like fruit juice!”   

Two of the girls started singing “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree” and soon everyone joined in with the chorus. 

Even the landlord was shouting “Ole” as he slammed down two more jugs on to the table! 

By three o’clock, I had given up thoughts of a training run, and began wondering whether we would be able to walk back down the hill! 

Paul is on the trail of bandits

Paul is on the trail of bandits. - Credit: Roger Mann

Paul Hellyer was shooting imaginary bandits, George Loye was calling the landlord Don Quixote, and our striker, Johnny Heard looked at me and said: “This stuff is stronger than Double Diamond!” and keeled over! 

Sangria gets the better of Johnny

Sangria gets the better of Johnny - Credit: Roger Mann

Eventually we helped Johnny down the hill, rang for our bus, and packed him off to bed.

Somehow, later on, we managed to walk down the street to the night club, and ended the day dancing.

Our captain suffers in silence!

Our captain suffers in silence! - Credit: Roger Mann

That is everyone except our captain Jock McCargow, who had developed a taste for Sangria! 

Jock was sitting on his own, in the corner, with his head on his hands.   

We went over to help, and he muttered some Scottish curse before passing out! 

We had lost our first match, against Sangria, by 2-0, and were due on the football pitch in less than 12 hours!

That £50 was in greater danger with every hour that passed...