Too old for a 'proper' game of football!

The secretary waits by the pool as the others jump in.

The secretary waits by the pool as the others jump in. - Credit: Roger Mann

Readers of this column will know that, in 1972, with the help of some fellow ageing local footballers, I formed a club for the over-30s, and called it the 'Torbay Gentlemen'.

From the outset, we wanted to continue to play competitive football in the South Devon League, but, also, to use our 'brand' to raise money for charity, and maybe, to even tour abroad together.

Eventually, of course, we achieved all those objectives, and our many tours were subsidised by the countries which invited us to visit them.

But... in the beginning it was all very different! 

Within six months of forming the club, the members were urging me to arrange a match, in the winter, 'somewhere warm'.

Our special Victorian kit had not yet arrived, so we would be travelling as just a group of old blokes with football boots! 

My brief was as follows... it mustn’t be too expensive, the weather must be warm, there must be plenty of nightlife, and the hotel must have a pool! 

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It sounds easy these days, but, back in 1973, everything had to be done by letter! 

As luck would have it, I read about a lady who arranged football fixtures, in Spain, for groups from England, as long as they made their hotel bookings through her agency.

It seemed a good place to start, so I wrote to her.

She sent me a form to fill in, and promised to try to find a team to host us.

The months passed, and I had heard nothing so, eventually, I decided to telephone her in Spain.

She was sorry, but told me that she had received plenty of responses, but then whispered apologetically: “Most clubs see that your average age is 39, and say that they want a 'proper' game of football, while others think that 39-year-old 'gentlemen' are probably a gay team!”

In my wildest dreams, I had never imagined that others would see us in that light!

I asked her for the name of one team which had turned us down because of our age, and she paused for a moment to consult her file. 

“Here we are,” she said, “FC Nacional of Benidorm phoned me last week.”

I didn’t fancy the thought of a holiday in Benidorm, but knew I must act quickly. 

“OK!” I said “We may be old, but offer them £50 if they beat us!” (£50 was a lot of money in 1973!) 

“That’ll make sure they have a 'proper' game on their hands!"

She laughed and promised to make them the offer.

Two weeks later, I had a letter saying that our wager had been accepted, and suggesting that Hotel Reymar in Benidorm should be our base. 

We held a club meeting, and the members were worried about the cost.  

After a vote, they decided that we should restrict our stay to just three nights but make sure that we made the most of every moment! 

In the months that followed, I found two members who would join me in underwriting the £50, and we decided that we wouldn’t mention the incentive to the members since it was unethical for gentlemen to play for money! 

The chairman of FC Nacional, Pau Caballe, confirmed the fixture, and promised to meet me at the Reymar when we arrived.  

He suggested that the £50 wager should be lodged with the manager of the hotel!

At the airport in Alicante

At the airport in Alicante. - Credit: Roger Mann

Early on Friday, January 17, 1974, our group of 'has-been' footballers, and their long-suffering partners, flew from Gatwick, and arrived, in Alicante, in brilliant sunshine.

Hotel transport collected us, and, within an hour, most of the group were stripped off, and laying by the pool. 

Our hotel, The Reymar, in Benidorm

Our hotel, The Reymar, in Benidorm. - Credit: Roger Mann

That is, all except the secretary! I was condemned to sit, in my winter clothes, waiting for Mr Caballe to arrive two hours later.

Later that day, we had a look around the town, and enjoyed some lunch together in the shadow of Benidorm’s skyscraper hotels. 

Exploring our new surroundings in Benidorm.

Exploring our new surroundings in Benidorm. - Credit: Roger Mann

In the evening, we found a nightclub, and before long, we were singing and dancing, and realising that these three days just might turn out to be memorable!

Next week, I will tell you about a day out which most of us will never forget!