Each week, I sit down and decide which of my sporting memories to recount for this column. I label some as too bland, others as potentially interesting, and some as almost too bizarre to put into words. This memory comes from the latter category!
Thank goodness that some of my ex-team mates are still around to confirm it!
It was a late September afternoon, early in the 1966 season, when my team, Collaton United, travelled to Broadhempston for a match in the Junior Division One section of the South Devon League.
We had started the season well, but, today, we were struggling.
After 80 minutes, with the score at 2-2, George Loye, our centre-half, sent a long ball right into the Broadhempston penalty area. We all chased it, in search of the winning goal, but their goalkeeper beat us to it.
He punted his clearance back over our heads and, as we turned to chase it, we realised that their centre-forward had stayed behind, in our half, and was tying up his boot laces.
The clearance bounced close to him, he got up quickly, controlled it, and beat our goalkeeper from ten yards!
The home team’s linesman, a little chap in a cloth cap, signalled a goal, and the referee pointed to the centre.
“But he was ten yards offside, ref!” said Jock, our full-back, and, of course, Jock was absolutely right.
Discipline was never Collaton’s strong suit, and the last ten minutes were utter mayhem!
After the final whistle, Brian Carter and I went over to the referee, and suggested that the three of us wait behind to allow tempers to cool.
We sat on a wall talking together, and the referee admitted his mistake.
He told us that, in the heat of the moment, he had, simply, accepted the linesman’s decision.
Ten minutes later, all friends now, the three of us walked up through the village to the changing rooms.
Someone had stolen the light bulb, so our changing area was in semi-darkness. Naked bodies were fighting over the three galvanised iron baths, which had been dragged into the room, and filled with hot water.
I sat down and took off my boots. Mud from the wooden floor oozed up between my toes, and I tipped a detached big toe nail from my sock!
Today was turning into a disaster!
Just as I was feeling sorry for myself, someone shouted over the bedlam.
“We don’t want him in ‘ere! Get him out of it!”
I looked up and saw the referee, by the door, with one of the Broadhempston players.
“He’s lost all his clothes, and wants to see if there are in here,” said the player.
“Don’t expect my ‘elp,” someone replied.
Just as we began searching in the half light, George, shouted from one of the baths: “Is this what you’re looking for?”
He pulled a white shirt from the water. A sock followed, and then a black blazer.
“I wondered what I was sitting on, when I got in,” George said, as he clambered out of the muddy water.
The referee was close to tears, and two lads from the home team ushered him out through the door.
“Which stupid b.....d did that?” asked Brian, but no-one replied.
In due course, we apologised to the referee, and one of the local lads gave him a spare tracksuit to wear on his journey home.
We retrieved his clothes, wrung them out, put them in a black bag, and then drove back to Paignton, with our tails between our legs.
There was no voting procedure to join the committee of Collaton United. You just had to be in the London Inn, pint in hand, by 8pm on a Tuesday night.
On the following Tuesday, Brian Carter addressed a committee of at least a dozen of us.
He told us all that he had been unable to discover the culprit, so feared that the club would be found guilty, and we would all be punished.
However, he knew a solicitor who played local football, who might defend us, and hoped we would agree to foot his bill.
In due course, the official notification of a disciplinary hearing arrived, and the South Devon League advised Brian that it did not allow legal representation at a hearing, unless the representative was an active member of one of the clubs.
Together with others, I was horrified at the prospect of being associated with such a contemptable incident, and promised to attend the hearing.
Little did I realise then, that it would turn out to be one of the most extraordinary evenings of my sporting life!
More next week!