From 1960, I played my Wednesday League football for Hotels & Caterers.
I was making my living by supplying local hotels, and this was a great way to get approval from the people who mattered.
Jimmy Mason, from the Imperial Hotel, was the manager, and our team was usually a mixture of local lads and Italian waiters.
We enjoyed our midweek league matches, but the icing on the cake was the annual fixture against the London Hotels.
This year, it was London’s turn to host the match, and, at 5am on a wet November morning, our team met at Torquay station.
Wally Southcott, from the Palace Hotel, was smoking a fat cigar, Albert Moore was fussing round us: “Have you got a set of long studs if it’s muddy, Roger?”, and our little Italian full back, Luca Degatta, gave me a thumbs up and whispered “Greata Day!”
When the train arrived, we headed straight for the dining car.
During breakfast, two girls passed by. “Are you boys a football team?” one said. “Yes! Chelsea Reserves,” replied George Loye. “What? With your gut?” she smirked, and left the rest of us sniggering into our cornflakes!
When we arrived at Paddington, we were met by a group of shady looking men in black coats and fedoras, who took us to lunch at the Station Hotel.
Steak, and Cotes du Rhone, was followed by a coach journey into the leafy part of Surrey, and our arrival at a soccer pitch that, to us, seemed just like Wembley.
It was absolutely flat, bright green, with not a daisy, nor a cowpat, in sight. Perhaps that was why we were 0-2 down at half time!
Don Clarke pulled one back for us in the second half, but an equaliser against both a useful team, and the effects of the Cotes du Rhone, proved beyond us.
As we trooped off, Luca elbowed me gently and offered: “Greata Game!”
I’m not sure he knew we had just lost!
Jimmy Mason was waiting for us in the heated dressing room.
“The bus is waiting for you, boyos,” he said, in his lilting Welsh drawl. “They are taking us to the Bunny Club, so don’t be long, just get the mud off your faces!”
Two hours later, we were stepping out of the coach, and blinking into the bright lights of Park Lane. A rag-tag group of lads in ill-matching tracksuits, and Torquay United scarfs, were ushered past the bouncers, and into the palatial reception hall of the newly opened London Playboy Club.
A po-faced attendant hurried us into an area called ‘The Club Room’ where private enclosures, for groups of four, were reserved for us.
Jimmy handed out ten shilling drink vouchers. “Have a drink on the London Hotels team, and no hanky-panky please!” he said, and headed off into the ‘Playmates Bar’ with our hosts and the rest of our management team.
“I could get used to this,” said George, admiring the gold edged glass table shared by four of us. “Win or lose, we’re on the booze, eh?”
Ken Hill was a much calmer influence: “None of that stuff George! Let’s try and be a bit classy, just for tonight”
“No brown splits lads, just order lagers eh?”
Suddenly, no-one was listening as a blonde, in a bunny girl outfit, and a penny-in-the-slot frontage, wafted past our table.
“Can you take our drinks order?” shouted George, and stopped the young lady in her tracks. She tip-toed up, leaned over towards George, and purred “I’ll ask your bunny to hop over to see you, sir!”
We didn’t have long to wait.
“Oh! God!” said George as our lady approached.
Svelte she was not!! And with one long ear flopping in front of her face, she was definitely more rabbit than bunny!
“I’m Fifi,” she said “...and I’m yere to take yer order, gentlemen.”
“Don’t I recognise that accent?” said Ken.
“Well sir, I’m from Kingsteignton.”
“Oh no! That’s it!” said George, as the bubble burst: “Get me a brown split!”
At ten shillings a pint, that turned out to be our only drink of the evening.
Thoroughly disillusioned with bunnies and football, we were taken back to Paddington. The train was crowded, and, somehow, we squeezed into two non-smoking carriages.
As we pulled out of the station, I felt a nudge, and a little voice said: “Greata Day!” I have always regretted replying “Oh! Shut up, Luca!” before I fell asleep.