Ageing gladiators became teenagers all over again

Torbay Gentlemen's team before the big match. Back: Ray Slocombe (trainer), Malcolm Bidder, Percy Wo

Torbay Gentlemen's team before the big match. Back: Ray Slocombe (trainer), Malcolm Bidder, Percy Worrall, Tony Leach, Alan Smith, Dave Phillips, Gerry Way. Front: Brian Slocombe, Roger Mann, Maurice Travis, Tony Addis, Roy Clarke - Credit: Archant

Having seized an opportunity to replace Brian Clough's Notts. Forest team as guests of the Maltese Minister of Sport, in 1976, the Torbay Gentlemen are about to find out whether they can live up to their bravado!

The ladies wave to the crowd

The ladies wave to the crowd - Credit: Archant

As we left the aircraft, and stepped on to the tarmac of Luqa Airport, we were met by a lady with a sign saying 'Torbay Gentlemen'.

She ushered us towards a line of dignitaries, and a mobile television camera. One man stepped forward, introduced himself as from the Ministry of Sport, and offered his hand.

'Welcome to the island of Malta' he said, and then, 'This is Flight Lieutenant Fogarty, from the RAF base at Luqa,' and, finally, 'This is Joe de Battista from the General Workers' Union, who tells me that you are going to raise some funds for his monument!'

As he spoke, a bus pulled up beside us.

The Torbay Gentlemen leave the hotel to walk to the stadium

The Torbay Gentlemen leave the hotel to walk to the stadium - Credit: Archant

'The minister looks forward to meeting you all tomorrow night. In the meantime, please use this bus during your stay with us.'

Hopefully, he didn't notice the nudges and raised eyebrows which were passing between us. We thanked him, boarded the bus and reached our hotel in time to see our arrival featuring on the televised evening news!

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On the following day, the bus took us for a morning tour of Valletta, an afternoon match against the RAF at Luqa, and then on to a dinner and cabaret as guests of the Minister of Sport.

We couldn't believe what was happening to us!

Adverts for the match appear everywhere we looked

Adverts for the match appear everywhere we looked - Credit: Archant

The Friday saw us taken to a boat for a guided tour of the island of Gozo, and on the Saturday, we played our second match of the trip, against St Andrews.

Things were going well. We had won both soccer matches, and made lots of friends.

So far, Brian Clough could not have done any better!

But... tomorrow was the day that really mattered!

The National Stadium was within walking distance of our hotel.

It was free this Sunday because the Maltese national team was playing in a World Cup match in Izmir, Turkey, and we were scheduled for a 10.30am kick off.

Giant posters, advertising our match against the Maltese Gentlemen, had sprung up everywhere, but the big question still remained... could we attract the 5,000 crowd which had been predicted for the Notts. Forest match?

The Minister hoped so, and the Workers Monument depended upon it!

When Judgement Day dawned, we had an early breakfast, and assembled, in full Victorian costume, in the hotel lobby.

As we strolled down the main street of Sliema, towards the stadium, cars hooted and people stopped to shake our hands.

We had ordered flowers to hand out to the crowd, and, with these in their arms, our ladies looked absolutely stunning.

The players were shown into the bowels of the stadium, and 11 Torquay lads set about preparing to face 11 ex-internationals, live on television!

I watched as some bound up their thighs with strapping, others were joking to ease the tension, and one, with the television in mind, was trying to tease a wave into his otherwise straight hair!

We could hear the crowd gathering, and, every now and then, a loud cheer.

At 10.20am, the FIFA officials called us and, as the band struck up, they led both teams out into the blazing sunshine.

Our ladies were in the centre circle waving to the crowd, and the two teams were introduced to the Minister of Sport.

Roy Clarke, our captain, won the toss, and 22 ageing gladiators became teenagers all over again!

I would like to be able to report that we gave the Maltese a footballing lesson - but we didn't!

We tried our hardest but found ourselves 0-2 down at half-time, and ended up losing by 1-4.

The television commentator thought we had provided 'stiff opposition', and referred to us all as 'grey-templed maestros'!

But the best news was still to come... the crowd had numbered almost 8,500!

Television and radio interviews followed, and the GWU was so delighted that it arranged a farewell reception for us.

That evening ended with an invitation to return, as its guests, in 1978.

An invitation which we accepted... but that's a story for another day!

We had lost a match but so what? We had enjoyed an unforgettable tour, and, with our contribution, the Workers' Monument was finally erected in 1980.