Retro Sport: Dave Thomas provided the luck we needed!

The victorious Oatlands team, with the Rothmans trophy... and Dave wearing his lucky trousers!

The victorious Oatlands team, with the Rothmans trophy... and Dave wearing his lucky trousers! From left: Mike Hughes, Terry Friend, Roger Mann, Alan Hitchman and Dave Thomas. - Credit: Archant

Back in the 1970s, the sporting fraternities of Paignton each had their favourite watering holes. The footballers would gather in the London Inn, or the Polsham Arms, whereas the cricketers, and the rugby lads, headed for the Oatlands Club.

Alan Hitchman, who owned the Oatlands, was a tall, former Devon cricketer, with a loud voice, and intelligence to spare.

He was a popular landlord who had strong opinions on almost everything, and often expressed them unedited!

The Oatlands Club was an enthusiastic member of the Torbay Quiz League, but Alan’s real passion was for its sporting alternative, the Rothmans Sports Quiz.

In May 1973, Oatlands had lost in the final, and now, Alan had his sights on revenge!

One by one, he eyed up potential team members, beckoned them to the bar, bought them a drink, and whispered in their ears. “Are you free on Wednesday nights?”

By the following winter, he was proudly announcing that he had signed up Torquay United coach Mike Hughes, and Paignton Cricket Club’s Terry Friend, to join Dave Thomas and me, for the 1974 campaign!

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Readers of the Torbay Weekly will know that Dave Thomas is a walking encyclopedia of local and national sport. Mike had spent a lifetime in football, Terry would look after rugby, and I was there for the cricket.

Alan was thrilled to bits, and even pinned a photo of his team on the club notice board!

Each year, so many teams entered the sports quiz that it had to be divided into separate Torquay and Paignton sections, and was played on a ‘knock-out’ basis.

We started the Paignton section well, and progressed through the early rounds fairly easily. Mike had memorised every Grand National winner since 1839, and I had spent long nights studying Wimbledon champions. Alan bought the drinks!

By Christmas, we had reached the quarter-finals, and were drawn to play against ‘The Coverdale’ at the Torbay Inn.

That night, Mike, Terry, and I, were in the bar early, when, suddenly, Mike looked around, and collapsed into a fit of the giggles.

Dave Thomas, normally a very conservative dresser, had just walked in wearing the most gaudy, multi-coloured trousers we had ever seen!

Luckily for him, the quiz was due to start before the ribbing got out of hand.

By 10pm, we were celebrating another victory, but with reservations. “They were a good team,” said Mike “But we were so lucky with the questions.”

We all concluded that it was Dave’s ‘lucky’ trousers which had seen us through! “See you all for the semi-final,” said Alan, as we left, “...and, Dave, make sure you wear those trousers!”

The semi-final was played against Standard Telephones B, in front of a big crowd at the Preston Conservative Club.

It was a tight match that turned on one answer.

“Which football team is known as the Robins?”

Their answer ‘Swindon Town’ was deemed wrong, while we won the point with ‘Bristol City’.

Afterwards, both teams agreed that either answer was, probably, correct... but we had Dave’s lucky trousers on our side!

Rothmans staged the grand final between Oatlands and the Torquay winners, Torbay Police, at the Torbay Hotel, on May 1, in front of a full house.

We knew that the Police were a really strong team, and so it proved.

The teams were level at the halfway mark, and continued, neck and neck, until the Police missed their last question, and we answered it.

Now one point in front, we needed our last question to win!

Mike whispered to me, in his lilting Welsh accent: “If ever we need luck, we need it now!” I nodded, as the question master squinted at his text, and then announced: “Which Association footballer has won most caps for Wales?”

The whole room went silent.

“Billy Meredith, I think,” whispered Dave. “More likely, Cliff Jones,” said Terry and I. Then we all looked at Mike, who was grinning from ear to ear: “Don’t worry lads! I know this one! And then, in a loud voice, answered: “Ivor Allchurch.”

“CORRECT!” said the question master, and the crowd burst into applause.

We received the trophy from the Rothmans area manager, and Alan was delighted with us!

Afterwards in the bar, we asked Mike how he knew that final answer.

He replied: “It was dead lucky really. Ivor Allchurch lived next door to my Auntie in The Mumbles!”

So Dave, if you have still got those trousers, make sure you wear them to Plainmoor for the rest of the season!