Retro Sport with Roger Mann: Answering our critics

The Recreation Ground all set up to stage the festival

The Recreation Ground all set up to stage the festival - Credit: Roger Mann

Even though we felt that it was our turn, the Devon County Cricket Club had awarded its lucrative 1993 Nat West Trophy fixture to Exmouth, once again.

When I had asked its chairman, Derek Cole, why we had been overlooked, he had replied, in front of a room full of members: “We don’t trust Torquay to handle a match of this importance properly!”

When I reported back, our committee was furious, and I resigned from my position with the DCCC.

“How could he say such a thing?” progressed to “Let’s prove him wrong!”

Moments later we had concluded that there was only one fixture more important than the Nat West match, and that was the Minor Counties annual three-day game against the tourists.

To be selected to host this fixture meant making a better offer, to the Minor Counties Cricket Association, than any other club in the whole of England!

In 1994, the South Africans would be making their first visit to England for 29 years. Could we get them to Torquay?

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We might if we could find a really generous sponsor!

The search began, and weeks passed until, one day, our chairman Vaughan Hosking, and I, met Apollo Leisure UK Ltd in the Festival Theatre in Paignton. We sold them our dream, and a £10,000 sponsorship followed.

Late in June 1993, we heard that the MCCA had accepted our tender, and that the South Africans would be coming straight to Torquay, for three days, after the Second Test in Leeds.

First the celebrations, and then, of course, the realisation of just what we had let ourselves in for!

We would need marquees, tiered seating, portable toilets, chairs, caterers, scorecards, and a public address system. The list was endless!

And then, one day, early in August, we had a thought that took our breath away! One of our potential suppliers quoted us £2,000 to hire two marquees for three days, or £2,800 for a month!

We soon realised that all of our hire costs would be similarly reduced if hired for longer.

I didn’t sleep much that night, and rang Vaughan early the next day.

“Do you think that the club would dare to stage a Festival of cricket?” I asked. “Why not?” he replied immediately.

At its next meeting, and to its eternal credit, the committee backed the idea to a man. Almost every member of the club volunteered his, or her, services for the whole month of August, as required.

Attracting fixtures in August wouldn’t be easy, but the project might be fun!

We could offer a ground, now adapted to seat 5,000 spectators, on the sea front, in a popular resort, during the peak holiday season.

Surely we could sell a facility like that... but, having hired all the equipment, failure, of course, would mean almost certain bankruptcy.

As winter set in, we got down to work.

First to sign up for the festival was the Nat West Old England Eleven, who had a spare date on the last Sunday in July. We wouldn’t need a sponsor, and the gate receipts would be shared between RNIB and the Sports Aid Foundation (SW). It was the perfect start!

Just as the going was getting tough, we had a brainwave. In the 1970s.

John Childs was playing cricket for Kingskerswell. 

Since then he had won two caps for England, and was now playing with Essex. 1994 was to be his Benefit Year, so, surely, a benefit match in Torquay, would appeal to him.

He jumped at the chance, and promised to bring a strong Essex team to play us in late August.

We now needed just one more game for the middle of the month.

After a number of disappointments, Brian Rose, at Somerset, promised to bring down a Somerset team, and a celebrity eleven, on a Tuesday, between Championship fixtures, if we could get a sponsor.

St Regis Paper promised the necessary amount of support, and we had reached our goal!

By mid-July 1994, the Recreation Ground was ready to present the most spectacular cricket festival ever staged in Devon.

Sixty-Six Test cricketers were expected to feature in the four matches but one thing was for certain... Derek Cole would get a complimentary ticket to come and watch!