Retro Sport: Defying the dragon

Dave watching cricket at the Recreation Ground

Dave watching cricket at the Recreation Ground - Credit: Roger Mann

I employed Dave, from Manchester, as a driver, and a wicket-keeper for my team. We became close friends until, one day, he revealed his gambling addiction, and left town. 

After about 15 years, I received the letter which I had prayed for.

“Rog, I have beaten my addiction! I always told you that I had to hit rock bottom before I could beat it, and I certainly did that! I am coming back to Torquay to repay my friends and rebuild my life.”

When we met again, it was clear that Dave had been through a tough time.

Gone were the confidence, the sharp suits, and the ready wit.

After a spell as a window cleaner, he applied for a job, with my company, which involved learning how to ripen bananas.

Many years ago, he had answered my advertisement for a driver, and had got the job because he was a great wicket-keeper. 

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Now, here we were, over 15 years later, in the same position all over again! 

“Are you still a wicket-keeper?” I asked.

“Yes, but a very old one!” he replied.

We laughed, and, once again, he signed on for both jobs!

By now, I was the ageing captain of Galmpton Cricket Club, and knew that Dave would be the ideal man to inspire our many promising youngsters. 

The Galmpton team of 1986. Front row: Andrew Levesque, Mark Faulkner, Roger Mann, Dave Cater, Richard Horrell and Derek Perry

The Galmpton team of 1986. Front row: Andrew Levesque, Mark Faulkner, Roger Mann, Dave Cater, Richard Horrell and Derek Perry. - Credit: Roger Mann

His wicket-keeping had lost its sparkle, of course, but his friendly nature made him very popular within the club.

Despite his advancing years, Dave remained just as competitive as he had been all those years ago.  

One day, in my late 40s, I was standing at the top of my run-up, and about to open the bowling in a league match, when I noticed that Dave was stood up right behind the stumps.

Feeling a little hurt, I motioned to Dave, and said: “Go back at least ten yards, Dave, I’m not that old yet!”

He didn’t retreat even an inch, grinned, and took all six balls with one hand!

My son, Justin, still values the advice he received from Dave in the 1980s.

Dave and I celebrating W.G. Grace's birthday in 2007

Dave and I celebrating W.G. Grace's birthday in 2007 - Credit: Roger Mann

After a few more years behind the stumps, Dave retired from cricket, and spent his time watching the game at Torquay Cricket Club, where I was a committee member.

He became the car park manager at the Recreation Ground, and, in due course, was rewarded with a lifetime membership of the club. 

Anxious to help others to avoid the pain that he had suffered, he gave talks about his life at Gamblers' Anonymous meetings, and loved telling everyone about the number of youngsters whom he had managed “to teach to defy the dragon!” 

He assisted me in my winter talks to cricket clubs around Devon, and ended his long career in the fruit trade as one of our most valued telephone salesmen. 

In his first life, he left behind a swamp of broken dreams, but, in his second life, he set about repairing the fences, and ended up as a friend of whom we were all so proud. 

Great courage rarely goes unrewarded, and Dave received two great blessings.

Firstly, he found a wonderful lady to look after him, and, secondly, he enjoyed the company of two of the most marvellous dogs in the animal kingdom. 

Anyone who remembers Dave from his days in the 'sentry box' at the Recreation Ground, will remember those dogs who, at times, seemed almost human.

Then, one day in 2011, Dave came to my house excited, and told me that he had managed to contact his daughter, Debbie, whom he had never seen since he left Manchester 43 years earlier!

Instead of the rebuttal that he had expected, she had said that she wanted to come down to see him! 

“What shall I say? What will she think of me? Should I hire a suit? Do you realise that I haven’t taken a lady to dinner for 30 years?!” 

I waited until he had finished, and then said: “She’s not the Queen of Sheba, you know, Dave!” 

“To me she is!” he replied!

When the great night arrived, I gave him a lift to their meeting place. 

I have never doubted that he was the perfect host that night... his natural charm never left him. 

As I drove away, in my rear-view mirror, I saw him wrapping his daughter in a huge bear hug.

Sadly, that moment turned out to be the last time that I ever saw Dave.

The reunion was tragically short-lived but perhaps all the more special for that!

RIP Dave, the world is a drabber place without you.