Seven days of the most generous hospitality I have ever experienced
- Credit: Roger Mann
The Reverend Fred Preston had invited the Torbay Gentlemen to visit the British base at Osnabruck, in Germany. We had arrived, played two warm-up matches, and were being treated like kings! It was now the last day of the visit, and we lined up for the big match against the officers.
Bonhomie, created during three days of sharing the mess bar, was soon forgotten, as the referee got play underway.
We had a strong team that day, and it wasn’t long before we took the lead through Alan Parker. Ray Spencer bossed the midfield, and we ended with a well-deserved 4-1 victory.
After the match, we were all invited to a party at Rev Fred’s house to celebrate.
Knowing we had a big day tomorrow, most of us said goodnight at midnight.
However, Eric, our star full-back, was still thirsty, and we left him hiding behind a brandy glass, seated among Rev Fred’s collection of bibles!
The next day dawned early, and the coach, to take us to Hamlin, arrived.
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Because Torbay was twinned with Hamlin, we had been invited as civic guests of the mayor.
Today, suits and ties replaced our traditional Victorian costumes, and 26 of us set off on the sixty mile journey to another adventure!
An hour later, the coach delivered us to Hamlin Town Hall where we were met by the mayor and the civic dignitaries.
After the pleasantries, we were taken on a guided tour of the city, and, at midday, we were driven to a banquet in our honour.
We knew that this wasn’t the best preparation for a big match, but the food at the picturesque restaurant, on Klut Hill, was too good to resist!
The tables were decorated with the national flags of England and Germany, and the deputy mayor made us all feel very welcome.
But all good things come to an end, and, as we blinked our way out into the sunlight, we faced up to the realisation that we were now going to face the veterans of a German league team in their own stadium!
We blinked again as the coach dropped us outside the Weserbergland Stadium!
Built just 12 years earlier, to hold crowds of up to 14,000, this place seemed a million miles from our home ground at Clennon Valley.
At that moment, I knew that I should never have let my friends face the hammering which now seemed inevitable!
We were ushered to our changing room by a huge man with a voice more suited to Nuremberg than Hamlin.
He was the president of Preuben Hameln ’07... the local team which represented a city of almost 60,000 people, and the local team whose veterans were about to give us the thrashing of our football lives!
As we changed, Ray Spencer and Geoff Cox smiled and joked, telling us that: "We can give these boys a lesson!"
Privately, I mused that their words were like getting a painkiller before your execution!
Time and tide waits for no man, and now, after my stomach had finally digested my last slice of Baumkuchen cake, I found myself running out into a professional football stadium with ten other old fellas!
I will never forget the game that followed!
Somehow, we kept the Germans at bay, and then, against all the odds, Maurice Travis put us into the lead, just before half time, with a back header!
The second half belonged to Derek Aplin, our goalkeeper - he was truly unbelievable! Their goalkeeper was Fahrian, the German World Cup goalkeeper, but Derek was every bit his equal.
We hung on, as the minutes ticked by, and claimed a victory which none of us will ever forget!
The German lads were wonderful hosts, and invited us to join them for supper.
“You beat us on the pitch, but we will beat you in the bar!” their captain said, and kept his promise!
What a night followed! Camaraderie in sport is just so spontaneous.
For a whole evening, 40 people smiled and embraced each other yet didn’t understand a word of what was being said.
Krombacher was tasty, Erdinger was even better. Veltins made me burp, and the Spaten got spilled... beer followed beer, and the smiles grew broader.
At midnight, after hugging every German in sight, we piled back onto the coach.
I don’t remember the journey back to Osnabruck, nor the long trip back to Torquay. I just remember seven days of the most generous hospitality that I had ever experienced!
Some months later, I received a letter from Preuben Hameln ’07 thanking us for our visit to their city, and for being such sporting opponents.
The post-script added “We all enjoyed the supper and the party too! Except for our president (the one with the loud voice) who lost his driving licence later that night!”