Retro Sport: Wishing I’d stayed at home!
- Credit: Roger Mann
I felt honoured, in 1968, when Harry Smith, the former Torquay United full back, invited me to join Chelston Football Club, where he was the manager/coach.
He told me that he wanted an ‘old head’ in midfield, for his group of talented youngsters. I told him that he would get my “old legs” as well, but he didn’t seem to mind that!
The Exeter and District League was a step up from the South Devon League, and I remember my four years there, under Harry’s guidance, with great affection.
In the years that have passed since then, I have forgotten many of the highlights but can remember one Saturday, in 1970, when I wished I had stayed at home!
Harry and I worked together, so often drove to matches in my old van which would easily carry our bags, and the team kit.
One Saturday, in early October, we left work together and headed for Bow in mid Devon.
Just as we approached Exeter, Harry turned to me and said: “Rog, I’ve just found the store keys in my pocket. They won’t be able to lock up without them!”
I was happy to take the chance that all would be well but Harry was the dutiful sort and insisted: “I couldn’t rest if anything was stolen!”
So we turned back, locked up, and got back on the road, with one eye on the clock.
We bypassed Exeter, and had just sped through Crediton when blue lights began flashing behind us!
The greeting of: “In a bit of a hurry are we, sir?” soon ended with a lecture and an unwelcome ticket.
We arrived at Bow football ground just five minutes before the kick-off.
“Don’t worry too much, we can manage with ten men for a while,” said Harry, as I bound up my groin and pulled out the last shirt from the bag.
As I stumbled out into the sunlight, I realised that the game had not yet started.
“What’s up?” I asked Colin Davey, who was grinning.
He explained that our star left winger, Vyvyan Goode, had persuaded the referee to postpone the kick-off while he knocked on the door of a house, which backed on to the football field.
Vyvyan was an antique dealer and had noticed a valuable Victorian letter box lying in the back garden!
The householder had accepted Vyvyan’s offer, and the letter box was now back in our changing room!
After a 15-minute delay, the match got underway, and proved to be a very even contest. It was 3-3 at half time, and no further goals had been added when Bow won a corner in the last minute.
The kick came over, hit the crossbar and rebounded on to our centre half’s backside, and cannoned into our net. We couldn’t believe it!
No-one spoke as we showered and changed.
The South Devon League’s cure for a disappointing result was to have an extra pint but Harry’s methods were much more constructive.
After ten minutes, he began to put his arm around each of the youngsters, in turn, and offer some quiet encouragement.
But when he got to me, he whispered: “Well played Rog, but I thought you could have got back for their second goal!”
“Oh forget it!” I replied “I’ve already been done for speeding once today!”
He took the hint, and moved on to the next of his young disciples.
Slowly, the changing room emptied, and Harry collected the kit from each of the pegs.
“It’s been a lousy day today, and I’m stopping for a pint on the way home,” I said.
Sensing my mood, Harry nodded agreement, as we loaded the kit into the van.
At the top of Telegraph Hill, I remembered that Howard Radford, the old Bristol Rovers goalkeeper, had taken a pub in Chudleigh. I suggested we cross on to the Plymouth road, and have a pint with him.
Harry who used to play for Bristol City, thought it a great idea.
It was raining now, and, as we drove through Haldon Forest, the van suddenly juddered and stopped!
After some joint swearing, I told Harry that we had a company membership to the AA, so one of us had to phone them.
In those pre-mobile phone days, you had to find a landline, and, tonight, that was Harry’s job while I looked after the van.
In the pitch darkness, and the driving rain, Harry set off through the forest.
Two hours later, he returned to the van.
“Did you get hold of them?” I asked him.
“Yes! I found a garage and used their phone. I didn’t know the name of the road we’re on, but tried to describe it!”
As it turned out, the AA never found us, and, at 2am the following morning, we walked back to the garage together, and the attendant found someone to come out to tow us home.
I always started work at 5am. so didn’t bother to go home!
Fifty years ago local football was every bit as enjoyable as it is today.
We didn’t need wing backs or false nines, but, how we would have loved reliable vehicles and mobile phones!