The hunt for missing W.G.
- Credit: Roger Mann
The committee of Torbay’s W.G. Grace Appreciation Society was not used to drama.
It raised a glass to the great man on his birthday, and, once a month, met to rehearse its anthem 'Amazing Grace' in one of Torbay’s more tolerant pubs.
But, one day, in 2007, a news story broke that shocked the society to its core.
James Boase, the landlord of the Coppa Dolla Inn, Broadhempston, who was, himself, an avid follower of cricket, reported that an icon of W.G. Grace was either missing, or had been stolen, from the public bar! Could we help?
An emergency meeting of the society was called, a sub-committee of three was appointed, and an urgent search began.
One of the sub-committee members, Martin Neal, volunteered to check all the other local pubs in case the icon was on display elsewhere.
A second member, Dave Cater, agreed to visit all nearby bookmakers in case it had been tendered in settlement of a gambling debt, and, finally, Simon Mann offered to search the local lanes on his motorbike.
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Despite all their efforts, no trace of the icon was found, and we had almost abandoned the search until we remembered that W.G. had gone missing once before!
The Australian touring team of 1886 was full of heavy drinkers, and, after a match against Gloucestershire at Cheltenham, some of its players became very drunk.
During the evening, one of them spilled a pint of beer all over W.G. and he felt so insulted that he got up, and walked straight out of the pavilion.
Sometime later, he recalled the incident, and said that he had walked three miles back to the team hotel before he had calmed down.
Now, as we sat down together, and considered the facts, we began to look for a completely different answer.
James, the landlord, had, unknowingly, exposed our hero to a shocking catalogue of abuse!
Firstly, the icon, which was missing, turned out to be a doorstop in the image of the great cricketer!
W.G. used as a doorstop? The very thought brought tears to our eyes!
A man who had fielded at cover point for England, at Lord’s, had been reduced to fielding as a doorstop for drunks, in Broadhempston!
Secondly, W.G. was a doctor who spent a lifetime treating others for the common cold.
Now, he, himself, had been doomed to spend his life, on the floor, and exposed to the fierce draughts of an ancient country pub!
But, then, while were considering these lesser offences, the awful truth suddenly dawned on us.
None of us had noticed that, whilst he was holding the door open, W.G. had been placed in a position right below a beer pump drawing from a keg of XXXX!
So, the man, whose very presence made the Aussies tremble, had been condemned to spending his later years being splashed upon by slurps of Australian lager - the humiliation was now total!
It was quite clear that history was now repeating itself, and, once again, 121 years later, England’s finest batsman had decided to walk straight out!
James, the landlord, apologised for his lack of respect, and our society replaced the icon, which now stands, where it belongs, high up in the bar, looking down on the rest of mankind.
So, when you next call in at the Coppa Dolla, tip your hat to W.G. before enjoying its unique atmosphere, and its special two-In-one pies.
W.G., when captaining the England team, always provided his opening batsmen with one glass of champagne before they faced the enemy, to 'more quickly release their artistry' he used to say.
It’s a tradition which we enjoy respecting on his birthday!
In this enlightened age, we now have a parallel society for ladies called the Women Appreciating Grace Society (WAGS for short).
So, dear reader, if you find yourself in a pub with us on July 18, please come over and join us.
But, more importantly, whenever you are driving in the lanes, north of Totnes, please keep one eye open for an old man who is, probably, still heading for a hotel in Cheltenham.