My friends and I had grown up playing local soccer, and had loved every moment of it.
But now, it was 1972, and our mood was changing fast!
We had reached our early 30s and faced Saturday afternoons ‘on the bench’ or ‘in the seconds’ or, worst of all, ‘shopping with the wife!’
Our precious soccer lives just could not be allowed to end like this!
Then, one day, after a muddy cup tie at Armada Park, it dawned on us... why not form our own club which scorns bad habits like training, selection on merit, and confrontation but celebrates the skills, comradeship and good manners of bygone days?
Our club would revive the Corinthian values of the 19th century, and give us ten more years of playing soccer together - let’s go for it!
The following day was spent in the library studying the recommendations of Lord Kinnaird’s ‘Football for Gentlemen’... and yes, we would become the ‘Torbay Gentlemen’.
Taking Kinnaird’s lead, we began to list our club rules, one by one. In brief, they were: All members must be over 30 - team selection by rota only – suit and tie to be worn to matches – referees to be paid in guineas (only tradesmen were paid in pounds) – no foul play tolerated (any player booked would not play again that season, and, if sent off, would be expelled from the club) – no local soccer charity would ever be refused a donation – a choice of wines to be served at half-time (pre-match orders taken by the substitute) - all opposing teams and referees to be invited to dine with us after matches.
Things were moving fast now. Membership applications were coming in every day. We designed a 19th century kit with long shorts, and shirts tied at the neck with a lace.
Admiral liked it so much that they offered to provide 30 sets, free of charge, if they could use us in their advertisements!
We applied to join the South Devon League, and, on August 25, 1973, we played our first match in Division Six, at Kingsteignton British Legion. Despite sometimes giving our opposition 200 years’ start, we won most of those early league matches.
Regular post-match dinners meant our ladies were beginning to show interest in the club. Most had purchased Victorian costume but didn’t fancy wearing it in the deep mud of the South Hams on a Saturday afternoon!
In 1975, we came up with the perfect answer - abandoned in a scrapyard near Plymouth, we found a 1934 double-decked Bristol bus.
With 550,000 miles on its clock, it had once belonged to the Maidstone & District Motor Co.
From early August, until late December, up to 20 members spent every Sunday bringing it back to life. We sanded it down, then sold advertising space on its panels to pay for the cost of the work. Finally, we gutted the top deck, and fitted a bar, complete with stools and optics.
By Christmas, our ladies were watching South Devon League matches in mud free comfort, sipping their gins and tonic. Corinthian soccer at its very best!
By 1976, we had been promoted to Division Four, and our membership was still growing.
Then, during that summer, we were able to fit the last piece of our jigsaw!
One of our keenest supporters, Joe Ellinas, had spotted a restaurant for sale, right alongside Torquay Harbour.
“Why don’t we buy it together, and use it as the club’s headquarters?” he asked me.
On September 27, the ‘Torbay Gentleman’ restaurant opened its doors to the public, and we now had our perfect soccer club... and still a few miles left in our gnarled old legs!
In the following years, we turned the top floor into a club meeting room, and the restaurant prospered.
Five overseas tours followed, and over a million pounds were raised for local charities.
Each year, the club paid for a local lad to attend a national soccer college, and, best of all, each of us made friendships and memories which will last for ever!
One thing is for certain... The South Devon League will never see our like again!